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[Hands-on Review] EOS R6 in Dance Concert Photography

How does the EOS R6 perform when shooting action in low light? We got dance photographer Bernie Ng to take it into the theatre for a show, and she shares her experience. (Photos by Bernie Ng, account as told to the SNAPSHOT team).

All images in this article are from From Here On by Singapore Dance Theatre in collaboration with Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, supported by the National Arts Council.

Images were shot on EOS R6 and RF70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM except where specified.

 

In the theatre, low light capabilities matter

As a dance performance photographer, I constantly seek to capture the expressive moments in dance and preserve them in timeless still images. Shooting in dim theatres with stage lighting as the only available light is the norm, and under those conditions, having gear with excellent low light capabilities matters.

For years, I have been relying on my two trusty EOS 5D series DSLR cameras and EF lenses, which had taken me through countless shows and shoots. It was therefore with much curiosity and excitement, perhaps mixed with a little apprehension, that I took the opportunity to test out Canon’s new EOS R6 mirrorless camera together with the RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens in From Here On, a dance production by Singapore Dance Theatre as one of the Esplanade Theatre's pilot small-scale performances with a live audience.

 

First impressions: Size, weight and handling

Next to the EOS 5D Mark IV, the EOS R6 is much smaller and lighter, with a solid grip that feels good in the hand. I’m petite in size and usually prefer to use the EOS 5D Mark IV and the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM with a monopod; the EOS R6 and RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM is certainly easier to hold and manoeuvre handheld.

Size and weight of EOS R6 vs EOS 5D Mark IV


Highly responsive

Before trying out the EOS R6, due to previous experiences with other mirrorless camera systems, my main concern was the responsiveness, important for handling the rapidly changing action on stage. My worries turned out to be unfounded: shooting with the EOS R6 was a smooth, very pleasant experience.

Satoru Agetsuma, “Don Quixote Act III pas de deux”
Flexible-priority AE mode, f/2.8/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 2500

I’ve always believed that one shouldn’t rely on continuous shooting but instead, learn to time the shot perfectly—even for jump shots like the one above. The responsiveness of the EOS R6 was perfect for my shooting style.


Easy one-handed operation

I liked how other than the ON/OFF, Menu, and Rate buttons, almost all of the camera’s main controls including the dials were on the right-hand side, making one-handed operation easy.

EOS 5D Mark IV

EOS R6

Compared to the EOS 5D Mark IV, the button and dial layout on the EOS R6 is better optimised for one-hand operation.


The handy 1.6x crop mode

I shot from the back of the theatre, from a spot where I would usually use a 300mm lens. The 1.6x crop mode was useful for taking close-ups up to the equivalent of focal length 320mm on the RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM.

 

AF: A very smart camera. Not 100% perfect, but performs impressively

Chihiro Uchida and Kenya Nakamura, “Configurations” (Choreographer: Choo San Goh)
Flexible-priority AE mode, f/2.8/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 640

To me, what stood out on the EOS R6 were the capabilities of the new Dual Pixel CMOS AF II system. Even in the dim lighting, the EOS R6 had little trouble focusing on and tracking the dancers.


Face and Eye Detection AF: Keeping the focus on facial expressions

Akira Nakahama and Etienne Ferrère, “Nutcracker Act II pas de deux”
Flexible-priority AE mode, f/2.8/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 2000

On other systems, it can get quite easy for the focus to become “distracted” from the dancer’s face by movements such as a sweeping arm or high kick, but the EOS R6’s Face Detection AF and Eye Detection AF is useful for keeping the focus where I want it to be.


The following two shots in 1.6x crop mode were taken barely a second apart:


The AF found the dancer’s face even though it was to the side, and when she turned to face the front barely a second later, it swiftly detected her eye.

 

I don’t usually shoot pirouettes, but took a high-speed burst sequence to test the camera. The above GIF image was created from 15 images, and the red frame indicates the in-focus AF frame as displayed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional app. The AF stays locked on the ballerina as she turns, switching rapidly from face to eye to head detection and then back to face detection.


Kwok Min Yi and Satoru Agetsuma , “Don Quixote Act III pas de deux”
Flexible-priority AE mode, f/2.8/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 800

At default settings, subject tracking was brilliantly on point most of the time. While it did lag a little for faster movements such as the leadups to big jumps, tweaking the subject tracking sensitivity settings would probably improve the success rate further.

 

High ISO speeds: Captures fine details even at ISO 16,000

Performing arts photographers probably have a higher threshold for high ISO speed noise compared to other photographers, as capturing the moment takes priority. That said, it always helps to be able to achieve cleaner, more detailed images at high ISO speeds. The EOS R6 features an image sensor adapted from the one on Canon's flagship DSLR, the EOS-1D X Mark III, promising similar excellent high ISO capabilities.

I wasn't disappointed. The following unedited images were shot just a second apart with the same exposure settings at ISO 16,000:


EOS R6 + RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

f/7.1/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 16000


EOS 5D Mark IV + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

f/7.1/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 16000

The noise grains are much finer and less visible in the EOS R6 image.

The improvements to image quality become more obvious when we crop in onto the sequins on the ballerina’s tutu:

 

EOS R6 @ ISO 16000

100% crop from RAW file

EOS 5D Mark IV @ ISO 16000

100% crop from RAW file, resized to match the EOS R6 image

Even at the same high ISO speed, the EOS R6 resolves details better.

Chihiro Uchida and Kenya Nakamura, “Swan Lake Act II pas de deux”
Flexible-priority AE mode, f/3.5/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 4000

 

Overall thoughts: “It makes things so easy, I hate it and I love it!”

Shooting with the EOS R6 was a very pleasant experience: it was such a breeze that I both love it and hate it.

I hate how it makes some of the technical skills I worked so hard to master possible with just the click of a button. Achieving a shot that is properly exposed and focused—the bare minimum for a technically good image—is now so easy, even for beginners to performing arts photography.

At the same time, photography is more than just about creating technically good images, and for the same reasons, I love the camera. Its excellent AF performance lets me devote more attention to framing and capturing the moment. In fact, a few weeks after I returned the camera, I found myself wishing I had it when I was shooting a fast-paced, dynamic theatre production.

It would be interesting to see how the camera would perform in a darker venue with more intricate backdrops, more people on stage, or lighting that is less consistent. But even for this show, I was impressed. The EOS R6 is indeed a very tempting upgrade.


More images from the EOS R6

Chihiro Uchida and Kenya Nakamura, “Configurations” (Choreographer: Choo-San Goh)
Flexible-priority AE mode, f/2.8/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 5000


Kwok Min Yi, “Don Quixote Act III pas de deux”
Flexible-priority AE mode, f/2.8/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 1250


Akira Nakahama and Etienne Ferrère, “Nutcracker Act II pas de deux”
Flexible-priority AE mode, f/2.8/ 1/250 sec/ ISO 2500

 

Learn more about the EOS R6 in:
EOS R6: Designed for Visionaries

Deciding between the EOS R5 and the EOS R6? Check out:
EOS R5 vs EOS R6: 5 Key Differences to Note

 


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Bernie Ng

Bernie Ng

Bernie Ng is the main photographer for many major dance and performing arts companies in Singapore, such as Singapore Dance Theatre and T.H.E Dance Company. She also regularly collaborates with and photographs arts groups from different disciplines, as well as photographs for Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay when international artists and companies visit Singapore. Her work has been published in international dance magazines such as Dance Europe. Through her dance photography, Bernie hopes to create images for and with dancers that will bring them joy and fond memories.

Website: www.MsBernPhotography.com
Instagram: @msbern