Shooting the stars with the Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Acclaimed astrophotographer Mark Gee had spent long nights under dark starry skies trying for his perfect shot, until one night in 2013, when the heavens aligned with his Canon EOS 6D. After a year planning the shot, the skies over Mount Victoria were pristinely clear, and the wind was at bay, but, most important, there was a huge globular golden moon rising above the hill. The result: his viral Full Moon Silhouettes time-lapse.
So, it was only natural that we should suggest Mark step out  under the stars again, this time armed with the second-generation Canon EOS 6D Mark II, to put it to the ultimate test.
 

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZE Lens, 15mm, 30s, f/4, iso 3200

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZE Lens, 15mm, 30s, f/4, iso 3200

The long-awaited Canon EOS 6D Mark II is finally available, but, before it hit the stores, some of the earlier reviews weren’t 100-per-cent positive. Having owned a Canon EOS 6D for the past four years, I was eager to see how the Mark II performs with astrophotography, and whether it is an improvement on its predecessor. So I took it into the field to shoot some shots under different conditions to see how it fared with low light and long exposures.

Before I get to the image quality, I’ll mention some new features introduced in this model. The one feature I’ve found most useful is the new tilt and touch screen. There are many times, especially when shooting time-lapses, that I need to put the camera low to the ground to get the composition I want. To see the LCD on my EOS 6D, I always had to get right down, or even lie on the ground, but now, with the Canon EOS 6D Mark II, I simply swivel the screen into position so that it’s easy to view from these tricky angles. The touchscreen makes life easier when changing settings, especially in the dark. I also found it really convenient when I was focusing in daytime using live view. You simply tap where your subject is on the screen to focus. This was great when shooting video, and you could even do a rack focus that way, and it would also track with your subject.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZE Lens, 24mm, 30s, f/4, iso 6400

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZE Lens, 24mm, 30s, f/4, iso 6400

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II also has a built-in interval timer, which is handy for time-lapse or automating the shooting of multiple photos of the night sky for image stacking. To operate this, you simply set the interval and then the number of shots. The only downfall is that the maximum number of shots you can set is 99, which will only give you around three to four seconds of time-lapse. You can set it to unlimited, but then the only way to stop the time-lapse is to actually turn the camera off. And, yes, it does say to do that in the instruction manual …

As an addition for astrophotographers, there is a function to stack and average up to nine shots in camera for less-noisy images. This is great for the foreground, but obviously doesn’t work so well for the sky, since it’s continually moving. If I’m stacking, I would generally shoot around 15–20 images, so I’d much rather use the interval timer for that and deal with the stacking part in post — but this function could come in handy for some.

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is a 26.2MP, full-frame-sensor camera, which makes it ideal for astrophotography. I wanted to test this camera under different conditions, so I chose a moonlit scenario, a slightly light-polluted environment, and a totally dark sky environment. Under all three conditions, the camera performed very well, and, after having read the less-positive reviews of the camera, I was pleasantly surprised with the resulting images. The image noise from shooting with a high ISO was controllable in post, and I was also able to pull a fair amount of detail out of the shadows with very little artefacting or magenta colour cast, resulting in nice clean images.
 

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens, 24mm, 30s, f/4, iso 6400 (54-image stitch)

Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens, 24mm, 30s, f/4, iso 6400 (54-image stitch)

I also wanted to test the Canon EOS 6D Mark II alongside the original EOS 6D, so I set up a series of tests at different ISOs, and then pushed the exposure in post without any noise reduction for each test, to compare the image quality between the cameras. The tests I shot were at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. I pushed the exposure in each of those tests to +4, +3, and +2 stops, respectively. The results showed that the original Canon EOS 6D sensor performed better, with superior colour stability, less noise, and more detail in the shadows. I have to say, this is a disappointing result, and I would have expected much better sensor performance on a newer model camera. However, with my current processing workflow, I personally wouldn’t ever push my images that far in post like that, and the results were positive in the other image tests I did using that workflow.

CANON EOS 6D — ISO 1600, EXPOSURE LIFTED FOUR STOPS IN POST CANON EOS 6D Mark II — ISO 1600, EXPOSURE LIFTED FOUR STOPS IN POST CANON EOS 6D — ISO 3200, EXPOSURE LIFTED THREE STOPS IN POST CANON EOS 6D Mark II — ISO 3200, EXPOSURE LIFTED THREE STOPS IN POST CANON EOS 6D — ISO 6400, EXPOSURE LIFTED TWO STOPS IN POST CANON EOS 6D Mark II — ISO 6400, EXPOSURE LIFTED TWO STOPS IN POST  

CANON EOS 6D — ISO 1600, EXPOSURE LIFTED FOUR STOPS IN POST
CANON EOS 6D Mark II — ISO 1600, EXPOSURE LIFTED FOUR STOPS IN POST

CANON EOS 6D — ISO 3200, EXPOSURE LIFTED THREE STOPS IN POST
CANON EOS 6D Mark II — ISO 3200, EXPOSURE LIFTED THREE STOPS IN POST

CANON EOS 6D — ISO 6400, EXPOSURE LIFTED TWO STOPS IN POST
CANON EOS 6D Mark II — ISO 6400, EXPOSURE LIFTED TWO STOPS IN POST
 

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is my main camera for astrophotography now, and I’m certainly enjoying getting out under the stars and shooting with it.

So, in conclusion, despite its shortfall in sensor performance compared with the original EOS 6D, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II still performs very well for astrophotography, and it’s a camera I would recommend — especially to those looking at upgrading from a cropped sensor to a full-frame sensor. 

Canon EOS 6D Mark II
Low-light marvel

Sensor                35.9x24mm
Megapixels        26.2
ISO                     100–40,000 (50–102,400 exp.)
Shutter               1/4000s
Burst shooting  6.5fps
Autofocus          45-point cross-type phase-detection
Lens mount        EF
Dimensions       144x111x75 mm
Weight                765g

To find out more about the Canon 6D Mark II, and to purchase, visit canon.co.nz.