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2017-05-06 07:00 by Karl Denninger
in Product Reviews , 349 references
[Comments enabled]  

The Canon EOS M6 is the second in the latest-generation of the "M" series cameras.

Canon and Nikon have both "resisted" the mirrorless camera movement; Nikon is still sticking to their guns, but Canon (weakly) waded in with the original EOS M.  It wasn't very inspiring, to a large degree because it had to use contrast-detection autofocus, which is very slow.

The M3 went to a sort-of-hybrid system, and was somewhat better, with a higher-resolution sensor -- but lost a material amount of battery life.  But for tracking of any sort it was miserable, especially in other than bright light.

Neither of these were helped by the "kit" lens included (18-55mm), which was uninspiring.  A 22mm "pancake" f/2 lens showed up, however, and pretty-much made the argument for it as a "pocketable" camera with excellent image quality, as that lens was pretty darn good, and nicely-priced.  A lens adapter is available for $200 from Canon (MUCH cheaper for the third-party knock-offs) and since it's just a piece of metal with contacts (no electronics) there's little reason other than fit and finish to pay Canon's tax on that -- and using it allows you to run any of your existing EF-S or EF series lenses with full automation.

However, all the way through the M3 you were limited to contrast-detect autofocus with them, which while accurate was maddeningly slow and worse, in video mode "hunted" since the camera had no way to know which direction to move focus originally.

In the meantime competitors were and are out there.  Sony, with their 5000 and then 6000 series shooters and a whole host of micro 4/3rds cameras.  In reality the m4/3 cameras, other than the Olympus PEN series, are not really comparables -- they're heavier and a lot bigger.  The Sony's are true comparables.  But all of them suffer from "meh" lens quality (they all cheat bigly with "auto correction" for JPEG pictures) and very high, comparably-speaking, lens prices.  Remember that with any interchangeable lens camera the camera body is only a part of the investment -- lenses often cost more than the camera does!

The u4/3ds mostly have either hybrid autofocus systems or contrast detection, which is (again) accurate but very slow.  There are exceptions, but they're in the high end bodies.  Some of the exceptions, such as in some recent Panasonic u4/3rds cameras, are proprietary to their lenses which defeats one of the big reasons to buy into a standard platform (such as u4/3rds) in the first place.  True phase-detect autofocus is found in a few of these bodies, but not many, and the ones that do have it tend to be quite pricey.

Sony has PDAF, but you also get the (IMHO very nasty) Sony menu system.  Oh, and you get high lens prices too and a proprietary ("E") lens mount to go along with it.

On the video side, on the other hand, the competitors have won "bigly."  Nearly all of them will shoot 4k video in some fashion (although their competence and color depth varies a lot), where Canon does not.  Does this matter? It can, but be aware that none of these cameras have global shutter which means on a pan you're going to get a rolling-shutter or "jello" effect on anything vertical, and yes, it's very visible and there is exactly zero you can do about in editing later.  Many of these cameras are also extremely challenged when it comes to autofocus in video mode; in short, without true phase detect tracking or racking focus during video shooting with any sort of decency is very, very hard.  This doesn't matter much for "set up" shots where you would use manual focus anyway, but it sure does for casual use -- or any sort of impromptu video where you can't control the shot (think street video, newsy things, etc.)

Enter the EOS M5 and, now the M6.  The two are basically the same camera except that the M5 has a built-in electronic viewfinder and the M6 does not -- and is $200 cheaper.  There is a hot-shot clip-on available for the M6 if you want it, at (big shock) about $200.  For me the M5 made no sense, because the reason to buy one of these (either of them!) is for the tiny size with the excellent sensor, and the ability to use smaller and lighter lenses -- plus all my existing EF glass if I want to.  Further, since I wear glasses, I need some projection of the viewfinder from the back of the camera body or I can't see the full frame without mashing my glasses into the camera.  This is not a problem with my 5d3 but it sure looked like would be with the M5.  If I decide I need the viewfinder later I can add it, and it's a bit "higher" and thus should present less of a problem for eyeglass wearers.

As for Sony (which has the EVF included in the 6000 series) they're damn near impossible to use if you're left-eye dominant!  That's the price of having the EVF on the left far side of the body; you pretty much can't use it if you shoot with your left eye -- and I do.  Thus the Sony line was instantly eliminated from my consideration.

What's the attraction of this camera over a dSLR or one of the other mirrorless options?

First, the reason you buy one of these in the first place, in my opinion, for stills is that you want or need something small and light.  My 5d3, which is excellent, along with the 24-105L lens on it is a four-pound package and it's not small.  Yes, I've taken it hiking.  No, I didn't like it and there are plenty of times I'd like to have a small but really nicely performing camera.  This fits that bill well; it shoots as well as any of the other 24mp APS/C cameras because the sensor is in fact exactly the same.  It's also a quarter of the size and mass of my 5d3 with an appropriate piece of L-series glass on it.

So what else is on the "why this one" list?

A few things, in my opinion.

First, it has true phase-detect autofocus in the camera body on-sensor.  This means it will autofocus quickly and knows which way to move the lens in both still and video shooting whether using a native lens or an adapted one.  Having had the pleasure of PDAF on my dSLRs for a good long time I will not give it up for an inferior focusing system.  This instantly reduces the list of available mirrorless cameras to consider buying by far more than half.

Second, it's very small and light.  With a pancake lens it easily goes in a jacket (not jeans) pocket.  But even with the kit lens, which incidentally is newly redesigned and not bad at all and is an 18-45mm (~28-70mm equivalent) it's pretty darn small and light -- the whole rig weighs right around 1.2lbs with the strap, battery and memory card in it.  While the new kit lens does have some distortion and peripheral shading issues they're nowhere near what I've seen on other mirrorless lens cameras in terms of native performance, which means I can shoot in RAW -- which is a big, big plus as it retains all of the original dynamic range and information the sensor captures for later massaging.  The trade-off with the M-series zooms is that they are not wide-aperture lenses by any means and this does interfere with low-light performance.  Light, small and wide aperture are simply not three words that can be put in the same lens description when it comes to zooms -- it's a matter of physics.

So let's take a look at how it performs.

In short, pretty-much like any of Canon's better APS-C format cameras with the 24mp sensor -- which means the T6i and beyond.  Phase-detect on the sensor means it focuses quickly and accurately provided you have a reasonable amount of light.  It is not capable of quick autofocus in very low light conditions -- it reverts to contrast-detection in that situation, and can "hunt."  It behaves much like a T7i in "live view" mode, in short -- which is darn good.  It loses to a pentaprism/mirror dSLR -- any of them -- in the autofocus department, especially as light levels fall, so don't kid yourself in that regard but that's true for any mirrorless camera in my experience -- manufacturer claims notwithstanding.

The M6 also has greatly-improved buffer depth over the previous M3.  Shooting bursts is now something you can truly contemplate; it really wasn't before.  Between that and the autofocus limitations the M3 was never a camera I gave serious consideration to.  With that said this is not a sports camera and if you try to use it like one you're going to be disappointed.  There is some blackout on the screen when shooting bursts -- that's the price of an electronic screen instead of a pentaprism that simply lets light go to your eyes when the mirror is down.

Finally, the "face and object tracking" detection really works, including in movie mode -- with no hunting problems at all.  I'm extremely pleased with the capability there -- Canon has really stepped up the CPU power in these cameras and it shows.

The limitation in movie mode, incidentally, which will cause some people to say "no way" is the lack of 4k shooting.  The best you get is 1080 @ 60fps, which allows for a roughly 2:1 slow-motion effect.  I understand this is a turn-off for a lot of people but for me it simply isn't -- this for me is a camera that shoots excellent stills and very good video, not the other way around, and while 4k would be nice even on my fairly expensive and capable 4k HandyCam I often don't use that mode because of the rolling shutter issues and drop back to 1080.  (BTW the price of "getting rid of that" starts around $50k for a camera without this limitation, so no, it's not reasonable unless you're shooting professionally!)

The "newer" kit lens that comes with the M5 and M6 is surprisingly good.  I'm used to them being just one step away from literal trash and in fact contemplated the idea of sending the kit back and getting the body only plus whatever lenses I wanted if I thought this one sucked.  But I gotta say -- Canon has upped their game.  It's not a wide-aperture lens at all, so you need decent lighting, but that's the price of small and light - especially in a zoom.  On the other hand for still subjects the IS (stabilization) really does work -- just remember that it won't stop subject motion.  The corners are a bit soft but far better than the older version, and the center is quite-acceptably sharp.  The kit lens, in short, doesn't win awards but it produces very good images, it's small, light, and has a decent "up the middle" zoom range.  For about $110 over the price of the bare body it's a good deal and not a throw-away like most.  Allegedly the 11-22mm EF-M zoom is excellent (there are some people who have knocked its peripheral shading and accuse the camera but this is idiotic; if you look at some of the EF wide-angle zoom lenses you'll see what I mean) and I intend to check this one out for an ultra-wide -- it too is the same (physical) size!  The two lenses plus the body will come in materially under 2lbs which makes for a nice, light travel camera kit that scares nobody unlike a big fat professional-looking 5d3 with a big red-ringed lens on it and yet covers the ultra-wide to mild-telephoto (~17mm - ~70mm) range with a very usable set of glass.  If you want a mild wide-angle prime with a decently-wide aperture add the 22 pancake to the kit; it weighs nearly nothing and takes up almost no space -- but you got to bring another couple hundred bucks for it.

The other thing that's interesting is the integration of both WiFi and Bluetooth in this unit.  The latter is nice because you get a "free" remote shutter release!  The usual answer for that is one of the IR things, which I have, but being able to simply have your phone do it is a nice option.  I have had some issues with Canon's software, however -- it's finicky on my Android DTEK60, and works sometimes but not others.  Meh, but it's there.

I also like the plethora of dials and buttons essentially all of which can be reassigned, so I can set it up so it shoots almost-exactly like my much-bigger 5d3.  In particular I like "back-button" focus when shooting stills; it puts the "focus and lock" on a separate button from the shutter, which leaves exposure unlocked until the shutter is half-pressed.  This makes focus-and-recompose easy, but what's even nicer is that on the 6M you don't have to screw around to set a focus point -- the touchscreen is active just like on your cellphone.  Touch the point you want to focus on, hit the button and shoot -- no focus, hold, recompose and fire.  Nice.

The other interesting point is that in my brief use thus far object and face tracking (two separate modes) work quite well.  The camera is very good at keeping track of what's going on in the frame and following it.  It's not as good at tracking moving things as my 5d3 is, which can nail birds-in-flight on a high-speed burst repeated-frame basis but it also isn't a $3,000 camera.  It radically outperforms anything else I've seen in the mirrorless world with the possible exception of the Sony 6300 -- which gets pretty darn close if not exactly comparable.

The "Q" menu system is exactly what you expect on a Canon and makes quick adjustments easy off the touch screen.  It's arguably easier and faster than my 5d3 in that regard, which is really saying something.

The ability to use all of my existing EF lenses is a huge plus. I have several EF-series lenses and all have their purposes, from macro to wide-aperture portrait to sports and wildlife to starscapes.  The M6 autofocuses very fast (for single-shot use almost as fast as my 5d3!) on my EF lenses, with one exception -- I have a Tamron 150-600mm and it refuses to run in autofocus mode with that lens at all. This is almost-certainly a compatibility issue as it's not a Canon lens; it's fine manually focusing, but the lack of autofocus is somewhat of a bummer since that would give me a 1,000mm telephoto effective length and shooting at birds and such (anything moving, really) without autofocus is damn near impossible at that focal length.  My 70-200mm and other lenses, however, work flawlessly and fast.  The only "gotcha" is that the IS (image stabilizer) is engaged all the time when the camera is on, probably because of the PDAF on sensor and "continual" focus point selection.  I suspect this might have a material impact on battery life, but other than that it's a non-issue.

Update: I sent the Tamron in for a firmware update and it now operates perfectly on the M6....

The point of this exercise was to get something that I can comfortably add to my pack when hiking and not go nuts, while at the same time getting an effective "backup camera" for my big dSLR that can use my existing lens investment.  It's not waterproof (the 5d3 has a much-superior water resistance rating) but on the other hand no camera is really waterproof and thus I always wind up double-wrapping anyway when it might get wet.  It also will be a great addition to stuff in the car or just have with me -- I need to find a nice, small carrying pack that is just big enough to fit it and the second wide-angle zoom, at which point it could almost be a constant companion.  That will simply never happen with a full-size dSLR, and the best camera for any particular circumstance is always the one you have with you.

Finally, there's (thus far) a dearth of decent case options. No, I don't want a huge dSLR case.  Yes, I'd like something that would hold this with either the kit lens or the 11-22 on it and the other in a neoprene pouch.  I've not yet found the correct carrying case option in either a sling or "chest pack" style, but I suspect it's out there.

In any event this thing massively outshoots anything in a cellphone, ever, period, and it's as close to dSLR performance as I've found in something that's half the size, mass and really not much more expensive than the lower-end dSLRs in price. 

IMHO Canon has a big winner here when it comes to this market segment, either in this model or in the M5, provided you can deal with the lack of 4k video and want a small, lightweight and mirrorless setup.  While there certainly are more-capable cameras out there in the micro 4/3rds and other mirrorless formats you won't find them in this price bracket nor in this size-and-mass bracket either.  The only real competitor, IMHO, is the Sony 6300 -- if you like where the EVF is, you can deal with the menus and the price of additional Sony glass doesn't make you scream in horror (I'm not at all impressed with the 16-50mm kit lens they sell with those cameras and with the better lens available in a kit, the 16-70 which is a decent piece of glass albeit quite heavy you can almost buy two M6s kits!)


  • Small and lightweight; with a pancake lens will fit in a vest pocket
  • Grip is comfortable while not being large; fits in the hand well compared against similar models
  • Same sensor as other current Canon APS/C format cameras; exceptional image quality
  • On-sensor PDAF autofocus is fast and accurate in reasonable lighting conditions
  • Touch-zone focus works very well
  • Face and object-tracking works exceptionally well in both still and video modes; no focus hunting
  • Reassignable buttons and the Q-system (common to other Canon cameras) are retained
  • Multiple dials and buttons can be reassigned and make adjustments easy
  • Dedicated EV-compensation dial is nice (I like to ETTR about 1/3-2/3rd stop when shooting raw)
  • Adaptable at low cost (third party adapter) to reasonable cost (Canon adapter) to any EF or EF-S series lens
  • The kit lens is actually of decent quality, and the ultra-wide zoom is allegedly exceptional (and reasonably priced at $400)
  • Starts up quickly, shoots fast and has decent buffer depth
  • Micro tripod foot (but not a full-sized one) will allow battery door to be opened and is on lens center
  • Value for dollar spent - the only rationally-comparable body (Sony a6300) wins on 4k and some water resistance which Canon does not have but loses somewhat on money with the (IMHO inferior) kit lens. If you upgrade the glass to a more-decent kit lens you lose big on both money and mass; that's an entirely different class of device IMHO.  Ditto for the GH4/5 series Micro4/3rds models and similar.


  • No water resistance
  • Only shoots video at 1080p/60fps; no 4k
  • Some third party EF-compatible lenses will not autofocus on the adapter (at all)
  • ISO "auto range" behaves in a silly manner (I don't use it but some people might want to; maybe Canon will fix this with a firmware update)
  • With the M6 an EVF (viewfinder) is an extra-cost option for the hotshoe (M5 includes at a small penalty in size)
  • Not a large lens selection unless you use adapted EF-S or EF lenses and "M" series zoom lenses are narrow-aperture (which can interfere with low-light shooting performance)


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As promised here's an update after some time with my new BlackBerry DTEK60. You can read the original here.

Let's go down a bullet list and then we'll get into some specifics.  Buy this phone if:

  • You are on either AT&T or T-Mobile, or any of their MVNOs (e.g. Straight Talk, etc.)  It is not compatible with Verizon or Sprint as it doesn't have a CDMA radio in it.  (One note on AT&T below.)

  • You want a flagship-level device at a reasonable cost.  The phone benchmarks comparable to phones such as the Samsung S7 and is faster than anything in the previous class (pre-820-class CPUs.)  However, I caution people that "raw geeky stuff" rarely matters to actual overall performance -- although people do tout it frequently.  There are times that it really does matter (e.g. heavy-duty gaming), but they're rare for most users.

  • You find RF performance to be extremely important.  This ought to be one of the primary criteria when it comes to picking a phone, but usually isn't for most people.  This device is clearly superior in that regard.  Even in the first couple of days it was obvious that I had a single-grabbing monster in my hands, and it has not disappointed since.  This phone's ability to get and hold a signal reminds me of my old Nokia 3390 -- it's that good.  There's an airport over here that shares runways with Eglin AFB and the road that goes past it is always a "dead spot."  Not only does the DTEK60 not lose the signal it doesn't lose LTE!  It gets close, but never falls back.  At my home where everything else I've owned drops back to HSPA+  (I'm in somewhat of a black hole) again the DTEK60 holds a functional LTE signal.  I do not know if the QFE2250 antenna tuner (which the Qualcomm 820 supports) is in there, but whatever they've done in the RF area it is wildly successful.  My Blackberry Passport was pretty impressive in this regard -- the DTEK60 is better.

  • You want excellent cameras on both front and rear.  The Priv was known for an excellent rear camera and a crappy selfie cam, the latter forced by the slider and space considerations.  The DTEK60 has no such impediment; both are excellent.  Note that the main camera sensor itself is functionally identical to that in the Priv, and DXOMark rates both equally on a technical basis.  More on camera later; it's not the best available but it is excellent.

  • The form-factor works for you.  Let's face it, form-factor (size, etc) is important.  This is not a small phone, but it's not a huge one either.  It's the same size as other 5.5" devices, basically, and some people will consider that to be too large.  I don't, but if you do then this is a factor to be considered.

  • Security matters.  It ought to, and with the BlackBerry Android phones it is built-in.  DTEK tells you exactly what an app is doing and when, and gives you a quick and easy interface to shut off permissions if you find those actions objectionable and, if that winds up being insufficient, just uninstall the offenders.  As soon as you start looking at this you're going to find a lot of offenders and be either greatly restricting permissions or uninstalling things -- this comes from over a year's experience using the Priv.

I have no quarrels with build quality at all; it's just flat-out excellent, as is "in-hand" feel.  One point to be aware of if you run phones "uncased" is that the camera "bump" is there (as is the case with many devices) and that means running uncased is potentially hazardous not only to the glass back of the device itself (which is beautiful but since it's glass a sharp impact may shatter it) but also to the camera cover.  That cover, by the way, appears to be glass rather than plastic, which is great for optical clarity and scratch-resistance (important!) but makes it possible to damage it by impact.  I noted this is a phone you probably want in a case in my first look and I still feel that way, never mind the impact resistance a case gives you for the screen of the device.  Note that the Alcatel Idol 4s cases will fit this phone, should you want a wider selection than BlackBerry offers.  I am at present using an Incipio DualPro and like it a lot; it provides excellent protection (roughly "Otterbox" grade), keeps the "camera bump" slightly recessed and doesn't add too much bulk.  The case BlackBerry includes is functional as well, is a bit smaller in terms of its impact on device size and bulk but leaves the camera slightly protruding.

If you're wondering whether 4Gb of RAM matters here's your answer -- it does.

RAM matters more than raw CPU speed if RAM is constrained.  The difference between an app being cached (that is, already in RAM) .vs. having to re-activate it which involves reading it from storage, starting it and going through whatever initialization it requires is massive when it comes down to user-perceived performance.  3Gb devices are constrained by comparison to 4Gb ones -- it's that simple.  The counter-balance is that more RAM requires more power, and it requires it all the time since you must strobe RAM continually for it to retain its information.  We could wish that Android was more efficient with RAM use, but it is what it is as Android has always been a bloated mess from the outset and the reality is that with today's workloads and today's Android versions 4Gb is the sweet spot.  4Gb is also the limit for a 32-bit architecture and while today's processors tend to be 64-bit there is overhead involved in 64-bit operation that 32-bit doesn't have, so unless you need the capability the 32-bit system will actually be faster (even if only slightly), all other things being equal.

Now let's talk about the cameras since everyone and their brother seems to think this is arguably the most-important aspect of a phone these days.

There are multiple aspects to camera performance, and only some are captured by technical specifications.  DXOMark has tested the (main) camera and says its "equal" (in score) to the Priv, which had an excellent technical score.  I generally agree with this, but with that said let's talk about the differences, because there are some.

For background and to put some context on what follows I have been a photographer for pretty-much my entire life, starting as an early teenager.  I used to have my own darkroom back in the film days and have shot nearly everything, including cold-camera astrophotography for a few years when I had "at will" access to a very nice telescope setup in northern Michigan that cost far more than I've got available for such endeavors (and which at the time was so far beyond my personal means that it boggled my mind.)  Today I own a Canon 5d3 with a gaggle of lenses for various purposes and a very nice Sony 4k video rig, along with the usual plethora of tools to make use of those images (Adobe's suite, Vegas Video Pro, etc.)

The Priv's camera tended toward oversaturation of colors, which some people "like" but it is not what you actually saw when you looked at the scene.  It also had "ringing", probably related to that oversaturation, evident some of the time, and high-contrast edges often had minor artifacts that were visible in 100% crops.  Generally speaking performance was outstanding for a shooter on a phone, but I'm trying to pick some nits here.

The DTEK60 uses the same basic sensor as the Priv, however, it uses the entire 21mp frame instead of being limited to an 18mp one.  Why the limit on the Priv?  Simple: The Priv has OIS and a different lens system than the DTEK60, and both of those meant that illumination wasn't complete on the sensor, so only 18mp was used.  This means the DTEK60 has the same pixel size.  The lens on the Priv was f/2.2; on the DTEK60 it's claimed to be f2.0 but the embedded EXIM data claims f/2.2, so the DTEK60 either has a small (1/3rd of a stop) but real advantage in light gathering or is identical to the Priv, depending on which is correct.

The DTEK60 also does not exhibit the oversaturation that the Priv did.  I'm not sure why since the camera software (at the application level) is the same, but the firmware in the camera module is likely different.  Whatever the cause the oversaturation issue is gone.

Is the camera perfect?  No.

The large-mp-count sensor means that even with an f/2.2 lens under low light you're not going to get the same sort of performance you'll get from some of the cameras showing up in phones with 12mp.  There's a reason that Google, Apple and a few others went to smaller megapixel-count sensors -- it makes the pixels bigger, and thus the amount of light gathered per-pixel larger.  This in turn allows for a faster shutter speed for a given ISO, all other things being equal, which means less risk of motion blur and less sensor noise in low light conditions. Yes, you get less resolution but as with all things there are trade-offs, and some vendors have gone that direction.  BlackBerry did not. There is no free lunch, however, and in good lighting conditions resolution wins.  You choose; to get you must give.

The camera also does not have OIS, while the Priv did.  Does this matter?  Not as much as you might think, but under low light with a stationary object being photographed it can, quite materially, sharpen the image you obtain because it reduces (by a lot) camera shake.  Phones, of course, are hard to hold steady due to their shape.  This also matters during video shooting, but electronic stabilization can be used there, and the DTEK60 supports it.  The question to ask is how often do you shoot stationary objects in low light.  A person or group of people (or any scene containing people, animals and similar) is not stationary.  Neither is anything that can be impacted by wind or other movement sources. I can show you examples where the Priv outperformed the DTEK60 in this regard, allowing a slower shutter speed and a crisper image, but this actual scenario in real use is rare -- although darn easy to contrive for a test.  My personal view is that OIS is nice but not necessary and I consider it a minor, but real, ding to not have it.  It has not impacted my ability to take good shots at all.

The flash has less power than the Priv's by a small amount but it doesn't appear to impact the image quality.  Again, the issue is on the fringe of the range where you can use flash; the Priv will cover a modestly larger area than the DTEK60 in that regard.  I personally detest on-camera flash no matter the camera for the lighting field and effect it produces, but there are times you either use it or get no picture.  When the camera is pushed in low light but with a lot of dynamic range performance degrades in a reasonable fashion and while the defects are clearly visible with 100% crops you won't see them looking casually at the images.  Note that most uploads to social media or to blogs, including this one, are going to be cut down as the original files produced by the camera tend to be about 4Mb each so there's little point in trying to show you what the camera actually produces on a blog.  You simply need to either look yourself or find someone with the dedicated bandwidth resources for multiple huge files you can download and view at the 100% level.

BlackBerry's camera app has been updated a number of times since the Priv's first release and it is found on the DTEK60.  Beyond very simple exposure correction (which is nice) and touch-to-focus and take exposure lock (also nice) it allows for full manual exposure control should you wish.  Manual controls only work, obviously, when you have time to compose, set and shoot, but when you can use them the flexibility is appreciated.  Note that the one thing you cannot change in a cellphone camera is the f/stop and this means depth-of-field is not under user control; you must vary either shutter speed or ISO to change your exposure.  I like the BlackBerry camera app a lot and consider it a major plus compared against many others, especially the vanilla Android app that some phones have.  BlackBerry's camera app has face recognition and exposure compensation for detected faces (which can be turned off), and it works well.

Two things that are lacking on the DTEK60 camera, as with the other BlackBerry android handsets, are "Raw" capture and the Camera2 API.  RAW photos are huge and in addition worthless until post-processed, but they get all the data the sensor has and are how I prefer to shoot with my dSLR.  Having the option would be nice, and I'd like it a great deal if BlackBerry was to support it; since the DTEK60 has the ability to take a large SD card storage space is a non-factor.  Here's hoping BlackBerry adds this capability!  As for Camera2 the primary use for that is manual control and BlackBerry provides it, so that is IMHO far less important.

Here's an example of a 100% crop of a shot I took of the cat sitting on my lap in very low available light; there's very little artifacting, saturation is nearly bang-on as is white balance.  In short, that's exactly what the cat actually looks like when you see her with your eyes.  The problem with this shot at a 100% crop level is that the shutter speed and ISO combination made impossible completely stopping subject motion (if you think a cat is ever completely still forget about it!) and thus there's some evidence of motion blur when you dig into the image at the 100% crop level.

The shot, viewed as an image in Photoshop (or Microsoft's "photo viewer") in a "natural" size (e.g. fills my monitor) shows none of that defect; it appears to be very sharp and in-focus.  It's only when you dig in at a pixel-peeping level you see the cost of the larger pixel count in low light.  Of course as light level goes up that compromise disappears because shutter speed rises and ISO goes down; this shot has camera data in it saying exposure was 1/15th sec and ISO 757.

Noise (and moire!) is extremely bad at ISO 12000, but that's in the "ludicrous" range.  At ISO 3200 it's much better with the moire gone, and once you get down to and below 1600 noise is very good (and improves with further ISO reduction.)  That you can crank the ISO up far enough to make a photo possible in otherwise no-flash allowed conditions is interesting, but don't expect to like the results when you really push it.

There is a bug in the original firmware release; the positive exposure compensation adjustment is non-functional if the sensor gain is as far up as the software will allow, and the camera does not instead increase the ISO to allow the compensation to work.  All the other manual overrides work (including negative exposure comp.) This is something I'm sure BlackBerry will fix as they tend to be very "on the ball" with camera software updates.  In the meantime you can force the ISO higher manually and get your desired exposure compensation, so there is a workaround.

For video shooting the camera performs as expected.  It has electronic stabilization and can shoot in a number of modes and resolutions as shown here -- of note is that while it can capture at 4k slow-motion (60fps) only works up to 1080p.  You need a very fast SD card to be able to keep up with 4k recording -- UHS1/U3 (not U1!) is required and be prepared for utterly ridiculous file sizes!  If you run into trouble with 4k recording your card is too slow; there are a lot of cards that claim to meet spec but do not.  Stay with Sandisk or Samsung's Evo line and make sure they're U3 rated; you're going to pay more but they'll actually work.

Verdict: The camera acquits itself very well.  The "selfie cam" is excellent also, easily the best BlackBerry has ever put into a phone.  While "by the numbers" testing the main camera is equal to the Priv; in actual use it's a bit better.  Is it "best available", no -- not in low-light performance anyway.  It is suitable for a "flagship" level device?  You bet; color accuracy is excellent, the presence of artifacts (largely a function of the jpeg compression used) is very well-controlled and the stock camera app provides for full manual control if and when you desire it.

The screen is gorgeous.  As far as being accurate in its color rendition it's better than I expected.  AMOLED screens always have very deep blacks (since it actually turns off pixels entirely and has no backlight) but tend to lose in the color rendering accuracy department.  The common AMOLED sin of oversaturated colors and thus poor accuracy (although some people will claim that such inaccurate reproduction has more "pop" and thus they like it better) has been avoided on the DTEK60.  This screen is one of the best I've seen on a smartphone and it has the chops to be reasonably visible outdoors in direct sunlight which is where many AMOLED screens fall flat.

The fingerprint scanner is very fast and accurate.  But don't kid yourself -- fingerprint scanners are not very secure.  They beat nothing, and they probably beat a 4-digit pin, but they lose to anything more complex and maybe lose big.  If your fingerprint can be lifted from anything you've touched it can be trivially unlocked, so just keep that in mind.  With that said the boot password cannot be fingerprint (good) but I'd really like to be able to set the screen to not be able to be unlocked with a fingerprint but apps that can use fingerprints to remain available.  That would "stratify" the security model in the device since you have to unlock the screen first (the more-secure act) and then once that's done the fingerprint, while less-secure, is being used in the context of an already unlocked device.  Today there's no option to do that but BlackBerry could probably add it, and IMHO should.

The power amp (for headphones) is both nicely clean and plenty loud for nearly anyone.  The device sounds great through my Shure earbuds playing FLAC files.  Speaking of which, download the Onkyo HF player; I like it and it works exceptionally well.  If you're a real audio nut and want an external USB ADC there's a "pro" version of that player for a fee that supports them but that's not necessary for users that are happy with the built-in audio amplifier and headphone jack.

Notification sounds are a bit lower than I'm used to, even with the phone's volume set to maximum.  Phone ringtones start at a lower volume and ramp; I suspect there's an error here in that notification sounds are doing that too, but since they're short they end before the ramp happens.  If so that's something BlackBerry can easily fix in software, and I suspect they will.

On battery life it's simple: I'm impressed.  I've yet to run out of power in a day's use or need to recharge mid-day.  I've come home with 20% power remaining, but never a zero.  If you do need to "top off" this phone picks up power at an utterly ridiculous rate; about an hour from nearly empty to full with a QC3.0 charger.  The in-box QC2.0 charger will fill the battery from empty in about an hour and a half.  It appears BlackBerry and TCL got the balance of battery capacity .vs. power consumption right where it needs to be for a flagship in that most users and most workloads will get through a full day without having to recharge in the middle of it.

There are two things to keep in mind with regard to carriers.  First is the good -- T-Mobile appears to have no problem with the device including WiFi calling, Band 12 and VoLTE despite it not being listed as a "supported" device.  This is a big plus.  But AT&T appears to be blocking the phone's hotspot from working on purpose via their provisioning process when you insert an AT&T SIM (although the phone certainly can do it) and there are reports they have told customers that it's "corporate policy" not to allow it on devices they do not sell.  That's an apparent violation of the law, by the way, in that it implicates "tied sale" restrictions in anti-trust law, so if this matters to you then you should head over to the FCC web site and file a complaint.  We'll see how that turns out; I've done so, and the nice thing about the process is that the carrier has to respond.  I have in fact received a call from AT&T as a result of my complaint and read them the riot act; we'll see if that makes it way up the chain and leads to a resolution. Shaking the tree might just be enough, seeing as this "omission" could be an accident and with relatively-recent FCC action on unlocking codes and similar "that which is old but no longer defensible" sometimes is easily toppled over.  We'll see.  If Hotspot is not important then you don't care (and there is a workaround if you simply want to connect a laptop and it has bluetooth; since your account has Hotspot enabled it is not a TOS violation to use it either) but this sort of discriminatory conduct is something that should absolutely not be tolerated by anyone. Update: AT&T and/or BlackBerry have resolved this; the Hotspot now works on AT&T service.

What compromises are you making, other than the potential AT&T issue, by choosing this device?  A few.

  • There is no wireless charging.  Is it convenient?  Yes.  Is it fast?  No, and what's worse is that it contributes to a lot of heating.  I had a wireless pad I rigged in my car phone-holder, but it would shut down if the AC wasn't blowing on the phone at the same time and I tried to use it with Navigation running, which materially reduced its usefulness.  During the summer this was a non-factor, of course, but in the winter the last thing you want blowing out of your vents is cold air!  Wireless charging's best use is at your home at night; drop it on, next morning you're good, and it saves wear on the USB socket.  The latter is less of a factor with USB Type C connectors, but the convenience issue is real.

  • There are better low-light performing cameras out there.  However they're in phones that cost $200+ more; that's a 40% increase in price, and some of them don't have SD card slots either (e.g. the Google Pixel.)  I find the latter an utterly inexcusable and intentional omission designed to force you to buy a larger-storage phone (at much higher cost) or trust my data to the "cloud" (no thank you!) and thus refuse to buy a device without a card slot.  We're talking about differences at the margin however, not the difference between a "crap" camera and a "good" one.

  • If you want to root the device and install some other ROM, forget it.  This sort of ability used to matter to me, and still does if I don't get timely updates.  But BlackBerry has promised to provide timely updates and has a history with the Priv of doing exactly that which stretches back more than a year.  They've also already delivered the November security update for the DTEK60, right on time.  Never mind that unless you're moderately (or better) skilled you're taking a fairly serious privacy risk in loading "third party" firmware on your mobile device.  If you never have anything you care about (like your bank app) on the phone then perhaps that's not important to you, but most people these days do conduct at least some of their financial transactions over a mobile device, and thus you should care about security and data integrity.

  • If a multi-color LED is at the core of your "requirements" then this handset is excluded.  It has a red-only LED. I miss my multi-color notification LED. Is it enough to make the difference in what handset I choose?  No.

So we have four things that are "minuses" compared against some of the competition, but that's about it in terms of items I can identify.  There is certainly no difference in performance on a user-perceptible basis, you are giving up exactly nothing in terms of RF (in fact the radio performance is among the best I've ever experienced from any device), it's Android with all that's good (and bad) so you have the full Android app base and it has the BlackBerry "addons" that you can't get elsewhere, most-specifically DTEK.

Everything, in the end, has to be measured in terms of value received for price paid.  It is here that BlackBerry has really stepped out and upped their game.  Historically-speaking BlackBerry has tended to price their phones at the upper end of the range for a given set of specs, viewing their "special sauce" as having enough value to justify the ask.  This device is different; it comes to market at the top of the game but one notch in pricing above the mid-tier of devices.  This appears to be the result of BlackBerry exiting designing their own devices from the ground up, and instead selecting a reference design that already exists and asking for relatively-minor changes to be made to it.

The result of this change in strategy -- and pricing -- is that the only devices you can find with DTEK60 class specs at a cheaper price are the Chineesium devices with no promise of updates, an unknown provenance in terms of what might be in there you don't want (spyware, a root key that the Chinese government has, etc) and potential trouble with warranty replacement should the need arise.  Some of them (e.g. the OnePlus3) are disqualified for lack of an SD card slot as well.

Before you consider the "unknown provenance" comment to be speculative may I point out that it is definitely not.  There have already been devices caught in the last few months with "special" bootloader commands enabled from the factory but hidden that allow someone who is aware of them to break into the device.  This risk is real and if you buy something from a Chinese company with no accountability it's a risk that could bite you down the road.

The "mainstream" brands -- Samsung, HTC, LG, Google's Pixel, Apple and similar all have "flagship" class devices with comparable specs, and in some cases advantages (e.g. water resistance in the case of Samsung.)

The bad news is that all of them are much more expensive, starting at roughly 40% more than the DTEK60!

There's a hell of a difference in price between a phone that sells for $499 and one that sells for $699; you damn well ought to expect much better from the $699 phone, and quite-frankly there's no rational argument to be made on this point: You simply don't get it.

Instead what you get are improvements at the margin while having to fork up hideous additional cost.

For me, and I suspect for most others, the answer is and ought to be "no thanks."

If you hate money and will pay 40% more for a camera that can shoot better in very low light then buy a Pixel or S7.  If you tend to drop your phone in the toilet and hate money then buy the S7 since it's water-resistant (and 40% more expensive) while the other two competitors are not.

If neither of these descriptions fit you, signal-holding performance is very important, being able to easily monitor what apps are doing and control their behavior matters, a device that is inherently difficult to break into should you lose it or have it stolen is something you find to be of value, and you want a phone that runs with some of the best available today in terms of both specs and real-world performance, then buy the BlackBerry DTEK60.

The verdict is in and it is simple: Strongly recommended.

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