Canon’s New Full-Frame 6D: The Beginning Of The End For APS-C At $2099

Canon unveiled a new entry in its DSLR lineup this morning, the full-frame Canon 6D which arrives sometime in December. The camera is priced at $2,099 U.S., at or slightly above where its previous generation 5D Mark II is currently sitting at most retailers, and well under the $3,500 asking price of the 5D Mark III or the $6,800 1DX. It’s an attractive and affordable choice for those looking at at a 7D, which is based around much smaller APS-C sensor tech, and right on par with Nikon’s latest D600 full-frame, which also retails for $2,099. The question is, with these kinds of specs in a full-frame body at these prices, is it only a matter of time before APS-C gets retired altogether?

Here’s a detailed look at what the 6D brings to the table: It packs a 20.2MP full-frame sensor, and an 11-point autofocus system with a single cross-type sensor. The native ISO range is 100 to 25,600 (expandable to 50 to 102,400), and Canon claims it’ll focus in lower light situations than any of its previous shooters. It has a Digic 5+ processor, the same as its more expensive brethren, shoots at a maximum of 4.5fps in burst mode, and boasts environmental sealing against dust and splashes. For video folks, it shoots 1080p video at up to 30fps, and 720p at up to 60fps. There’s an SDXC slot for memory, and it uses the existing LP-E6 battery type (which works with 5D Mark II and III, 60D and 7D), and on top of everything else it’s Canon’s first DSLR that incorporates GPS and Wi-Fi radios into the body, rather than requiring the purchase of costly add-on equipment.

There are some things that are disappointing here and things that could really change the way a Canon-owner shoots. The focusing system is maybe the most potentially disappointing feature; the 7D (introduced in 2009) had a 19 point AF system, all of which were cross-type (more accurate), and the burst mode seems slightly sluggish at the top end, especially in comparison to the Nikon D600, which clocks in at a maximum of 5.5fps. There’s also the viewfinder, which provides a look at 97 percent of the image, but not a full field of view. That’s bound to disappoint.

But the 6D also offers a lot more that wouldn’t have been conceivable at the $2,000 price point in the past, including full-frame image quality with greater dynamic range and presumably much-improved low light performance vs. APS-C-based cameras. Plus, the built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, while present in a number of compacts from companies including Canon, is relatively rare in DSLRs, and represents a huge total cost-savings vs. buying Canon’s official transmitters and GPS dongles for their other high-end shooters.

But the 6D is still about $1,000 more than Canon’s entry-level DSLRs, like the T3i and T3,  which are among its most popular sellers. Cutting down that gap without hamstringing a full-frame device even further could be difficult to do. And the sacrifices Canon has made with the 6D have certainly rubbed some the wrong way, according to the long threads of complaints at sites like DPReview, so this could be a case of missing two market segments by trying to appeal to both.

Whatever the 6D isn’t, it is an entry-level full-frame from Canon to match the one recently introduced by Nikon, and both are going to change the shape of the DSLR market. Neither may kill the APS-C, and neither company likely wants to at this point, since so many of their users have invested in lenses that only work on crop sensor bodies. Users forced to upgrade and leave those behind too quickly would get their nose bent out of shape, but with mirrorless designs using Micro Four Thirds and other smaller sensor types catching up to DSLRs in terms of performance, ultimately full-frame is the way to go to keep shoppers looking at and interested in single-lens tech. The Canon 6D, warts and all, is a good bridge device to get users moving towards a full-frame future.