The Canon 6D: A Solid Beginner Full-Frame, With A Few Caveats For Buyers With Pro Demands [Review]

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The Canon 6D is a full-frame camera retailing for $2,099, the lowest launch price for such a device in Canon history. Canon’s entry in this field comes a few months after Nikon made a similar move into this market with the D600, but still managed to arrive in stores ahead of the holidays. The question on everyone’s mind is whether or not Canon’s new entry-level full-frame offers enough to make it a viable option to the more expensive 5D Mark III, or to the Nikon D600 as a Canon-compatible, more budget-friendly option.

basics-subhead

  • 20.2 effective megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC 5+ image processor
  • 11-point AF with one center cross-type point
  • Full HD 1080p video recording
  • ISO range of 50-102400 (extended)
  • Center point autofocus certified down to -3 EV for accuracy in very low-light situations
  • MSRP: $2,099

hardware-subhead

The Canon 6D is a lot like a maturation of the crop sensor 60D enthusiast camera that acted as the next step up from the company’s entry-level Rebel line in terms of hardware design; button placement is more like that device than the layout on Canon’s pro bodies like the 5D Mark III. For me, coming from a T3i as my primary shooter, that’s actually a good thing, as I’m not overwhelmed with an entirely different button layout. There are just some nice additions, like the dedicated drive, AF and and metering mode buttons on the top right of the camera, along with the LCD display for settings. But most other things are where enthusiasts will expect them to be, and a lot of commands handled via dedicated buttons on pro bodies are tucked away under the Q menu. It’s a mixed bag: pros might be disappointed with the streamlined controls, but novices and intermediate users will welcome the simplicity.

For those coming from higher-end bodies, the construction will likewise probably overwhelm: this is a more plastic-feeling camera than the 5D Mark III, but it’s a huge improvement from the Rebel line owing to a more weighty polycarbonate/magnesium exterior that both allows Wi-Fi and GPS signals to pass through but also offers durability and some degree of weather and dust resistance (while Canon says the 6D is “completely sealed from external contaminants,” it isn’t as rugged as its higher-end siblings, so be wary about taking it out in the rain).

I actually unfortunately had the opportunity to test Canon’s durability claims with the 6D, as my camera fell from a table roughly two and half feet to a carpeted floor with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens attached (with hood, luckily). The camera was none the worse for wear for the tumble, and in fact neither was the lens. Point for Canon.

Size and weight of the 6D are just about perfect, in my opinion. I’ve got fairly large hands, and while the T3i and T4i feel like toys in my mitts, the 6D fits comfortably, especially with my Canon hand strap attached. As for weight, some might miss the reassuring bulk of the 5D Mark III, but I like the lighter design, especially since I generally either handhold my camera while in use or have it attached to my belt with a Spider holster.

If there are any major flaws regarding the 6D’s hardware, it’s only that the absence of an articulating LCD screen seems like a missed opportunity, especially given the enthusiast crowd (including amateur filmmakers) who are likely to be enticed by the device.

performance-subhead

Autofocus

No reason to beat around the bush: this has been one of the Canon 6D’s biggest questions marks since it offers a much less comprehensive autofocus system than either the Canon 5D Mark III or the D600. Canon has touted its sensitive center cross-type point, which is rated for use in darker environments than the 5D Mark III’s, as a key differentiator between this and competitors, including the older but still available 5D Mark II, and for good reason.

The center point is indeed a very impressive, responsive and fast AF point, as tested in a number of environments and lighting situations, with a range of lenses. It hardly ever hunts for focus, even when going from infinite to something quite close. Canon has done a very good job here, and that’s likely perfect for anyone who generally uses the focus and recompose method of taking pictures anyway. But those side points are a different story.

First, they’re distributed in a fairly tight grouping towards the middle of the frame, so even when you select outer points you’re not getting all that far away from center. Second, they’re a far cry from the accurate middle point, and especially in low light situations, you’ll find them hunting quite a bit, and often coming up short, unless you’re pointing at a very high contrast subject. I’d hesitate to say the outer AF points are a noticeable improvement from even those on the T3i, in fact. The good news is that with an external flash attached that carries an AF assist beam, focus limitations are mitigated considerably. The bad news is, you won’t get the outer reach of either the 5D Mark III or the D600.

Image Quality

I’m reluctant to put too much emphasis on the 6D’s autofocus capabilities, because the reality is that image quality from this camera is phenomenal for the price, and the AF system weaknesses do relatively little to compromise a photographer’s ability to take great shots. Especially in low-light shooting situations, the 6D is a worthy contender, taking usable shots high into its available ISO range. Especially for photographers who work mostly in digital.

For enthusiasts, the Canon 6D offers a variety of automatic shooting modes, and its intelligent scene capabilities are quite capable of producing strong results. I tend to prefer shooting in manual, often with ISO set to auto while tweaking other settings including shutter speed and aperture, and I found it frankly hard to take a bad picture with the 6D that way. Especially for studio and handheld event photography, I truly believe that the 6D is capable of results on par with the 5D Mark III, so if those are your primary areas of interest, strongly consider this camera and the ~$1200 – $1500 it’ll save you. For more on IQ, check out the gallery below, which includes JPEGs straight from the camera at various ISOs with a variety of lenses, as well as some 100 percent crops for detail.

Wi-Fi & GPS

These are two big features for the Canon 6D, which have previously only been available to Canon DSLRs via expensive external accessories. They may seem like gimmicky features to some, but the Wi-Fi connectivity in particular is a genuinely useful addition, and one that performs well with Canon’s EOS Remote apps for iPhone and Android. The 6D can join an existing network, or create its own to connect directly with your device on the go.

Using Wi-Fi to control the camera for shooting of still images also addresses the lack of an articulating screen, but you’ll get the same slow autofocus performance you experience in live view if you want to also see what you’re shooting on your camera’s screen., so be warned that it’s best for stationary subjects in more or less controlled settings. But it’s a very nice addition, and you can opt to “shoot blind” so to speak for faster autofocus performance. Combined with the quiet shutter mode Canon borrowed from the 5D Mark III for the 6D, the Wi-Fi remote is a good way to quietly get candid shots at events or in street photography.

GPS requires that you be out in the open with a clear view of the sky, and like most in-camera GPS, it tends to be less accurate when you’re further out from major areas. But it’s a nice-to-have feature, especially for folks who like to log their travels.

Video

For video, the Canon 6D offers a lot of moire, as others before me have noted and as I was able to confirm, but most users won’t notice or care about that.. Users who aren’t looking for production-quality shooting, and for those who want an excellent still camera that also does a perfectly presentable job on the moving picture side of things, this is still a good choice. It doesn’t have a headphone jack for audio monitoring, but it does have onscreen digital audio levels for those who want to check that they sound they’re recording is okay. It’s still an upgrade from the 5D Mark II, although I’d say overall this is a camera aimed more at still shooters than videographers.

The Bottom Line

For me, photography isn’t my full-time job, but it is a part of my daily duties that often has me snapping photos at events and in auditoriums, under less than ideal lighting conditions. I also often use a camera for close-up gadget shots, again, generally with less than optimal available light. For those purposes, the Canon 6D is a thrilling, welcome addition to Canon’s line-up, at a price that, while still expensive, won’t break the bank for a photographer looking for the expanded composition capabilities of a full-frame sensor.

The areas where the Canon 6D falls short (outer AF points, relatively slow FPS for continuous shooting) aren’t important to me or my shooting style, and the advantages (excellent low-light performance, built-in Wi-Fi photo review and transfer) are extremely beneficial. For those reasons, I can safely say that Canon’s 6D is a camera I’d recommend to anyone looking to make the leap to full-frame, provided your needs and use cases match those I’ve described above where the 6D really shines.