It's safe to say that the EOS M5 was the first mirrorless camera from Canon to really impress us. So when the firm recently announced the EOS M6, which promises to pack similar flagship skills into an even more compact body, we were keen to get our hands on it. Read on to see what we made of the upcoming camera when we went hands-on at The Photography Show 2017.

The Canon EOS M6 is a high-end, but compact, mirrorless camera. The US$780 shooter boasts features including a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, an ISO range of 100 to 25,600, and a top shooting speed of 7 fps (frames per second). It also packs 5-axis digital image stabilization, a tilting rear touchscreen, and wireless connectivity.

To allow for the more compact size compared to the EOS M5, Canon has had to make a couple of design changes, like ditching the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and compromising on physical controls. As such, when we got the chance to go hands-on with the M6 we were keen to discover whether it felt like a more capable EOS M10, or a viewfinder-less EOS M5.

In the hands, the Canon EOS M6 initially seemed much like the M5, with a similar size and weight, and offering the same ergonomic grip on the front which instantly makes it more comfortable to hold for long periods of time than many other mirrorless cameras. However, when you start to shoot with the M6 you begin to notice the differences between this and its flagship stable-mate.

The big one is that because it lacks a viewfinder there's no holding the camera to your face when composing shots, instead you are going to be using the rear monitor. This will be a deal-breaker for some photographers who are used to a viewfinder. While the M6 can be used with an optional EVF, we didn't have one to hand during our time with the camera. It's also worth noting that buying that EVF brings the M6 to the same price as the M5, which has a viewfinder built-in.

On the top of the EF-M mount camera there are a number of control changes compared to the M5, too. All of the controls have been moved to one side, to make way for the pop-up flash. This unfortunately means there's less space for physical controls than on the M5, which is bad news for settings-tinkering enthusiasts.

For example, we'd really liked the top Dial Function button on the M5, and the speed at which it had allowed us to change settings, but it hasn't made it to this camera. However, at least there are still considerably more dials and buttons on the M6 than on cameras like the entry-level M10.

It's better news on the rear of the camera, where the lack of the electronic viewfinder is the main difference between this camera and its flagship sibling. Physical controls include a rear control wheel and an array of buttons, and there's a tilting rear touchscreen which works nicely with Canon's visual interface. For the selfie-inclined, the monitor on the M6 also has the benefit of tilting upwards 180-degrees so that you can see yourself when the camera is on a tripod.

In terms of image quality, the exhibition hall at The Photography Show wasn't the best place to put the M6 through its paces. That said, we were able to make a few observations, and they were mostly positive. Image quality was, unsurprisingly, on a par with the M5, which also puts it up there with the EOS 80D. High ISO performance looked good from what we could see (though we weren't able to take away our shots to review them properly) and autofocus performance was pleasingly snappy for a mirrorless camera.

The use of Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS AF also meant focusing was smooth and accurate when shooting video, which unfortunately maxes out at Full HD 1080p 60 fps, and not the 4K we've seen from rival cameras like the Sony A6500 or the Fujifilm X-T2. Despite this, our quick test footage looked good from what we were able to see on the rear of the camera.

We can't wait to get a bit more time with an EOS M6 and test one in the real world, but from our brief hands-on it looks like Canon has produced another very capable mirrorless camera. The similar specs but different handling (and lack of EVF) compared the the EOS M5 arguably put the duo in a similar position the the EOS 800D and 77D. They can both be used to produce the same quality content, but with a different user experience to get there.

While the M5 is still more likely to appeal to enthusiasts and current DSLR users, the upcoming M6 appears to be targeted at smartphone photographers and users of other mirrorless systems who want to upgrade to a powerful, but not overwhelmingly complex camera. We see a viewfinder as being integral to all but the most casual shooting situations, but there are a growing number of photographers who actually prefer shooting with just a rear monitor, and this camera could be for them.

The Canon EOS M6 is due to be available next month priced at US$780 body-only, $900 bundled with a 15-45-mm kit lens, or $1,280 with a 18-150-mm lens.

Product page: Canon EOS M6

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