|Cameras with a full frame sensor (36 – 24 mm) are still not commonplace, especially not among amateur photographers. This is not because the technology is so new (Canon EOS 1Ds: September 2002), but because the price (> 2500 euros) is a proper threshold for the said target group.
Exactly ten years later than the first Canon SLR with a full frame sensor, the Canon EOS 1Ds, Canon tries to brake this price barrier in September 2012 with the announcement of the Canon 6D, a DSLR with full frame sensor for the non-professional photographer. Although the list price is more than 2000 euros, the current market price is significantly lower and is heading towards 1600 euros.
|The Canon EOS 6D positions itself between the Canon EOS 7D and the Canon EOS 5D mark III with its price tag and specifications. Direct competitors in the Canon EOS 6D price segment are the Nikon D600 and the Canon EOS 5D mark II, which are respectively 100 and 200 euros cheaper. Although the price of a camera is an important purchase criterion, it is based on its performance as well. This performance will positively surprise many casual photographers still photographing with an APS-C camera.
Design and control
|The Canon 6D is a camera with a full frame sensor, which is about 2.25 times larger with a size of 36 by 24 mm (864 mm2) than the APS-C/DX-sensor (24 by 16 mm = 384 mm2) in the most consumer system cameras. Compared to a MicroFourThirds sensor (Olympus, Panasonic. 18×13, 5 mm = 243 mm2), that is even a factor of 3.5 times. A full-frame sensor thus physically requires more space and because the Canon EOS 6D has a mirror, the housing should be relatively large. Nevertheless, the Canon EOS 6D is a relatively small DSLR with almost identical dimensions as the Canon EOS 60D. This APS-C camera has largely been the model for the new EOS 6D. Because, apart from the absence of a tilt and swivel LCD screen and a flip-up flash, the Canon 6D and EOS 60D share the same ‘look and feel’.
The Canon 6D is thus a real EOS, which will feel familiar in every EOS photographer’s – medium and small – hand and which will not give any surprises in the field of ergonomics, button layout and control. It should be noted that the separate joystick and the large setting wheel on the back are combined into one wheel with four-way navigation, as we know from the EOS 60D. That might take some getting used to, but works naturally, without unnecessary operating errors.
|As indicated in the introduction, the Canon EOS 6D as full frame camera has only two real competitors in its price range at the moment: its older brother, the Canon EOS 5D mark II (August 2008) and the Nikon D600 (September 2012). The Canon EOS Mark III, Nikon D800 and Sony A99 are significantly more expensive.
Apart from many small details, we will give a brief overview of the main differences between the Canon EOS 6D, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and the Nikon D600.
Canon EOS 6D vs. Canon EOS 5D mark II
+ Smaller and lighter body
+ Better and faster processor
+ Quiet shutter and 4.5 fps
+ Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS
+ HDR and Multi Exposure
Canon 6D versus Nikon D600
+ Higher ISO range. ISO 25600 (H2: 102,400) vs. ISO 6400 (H2 25,600)
+ Built-in Wi-Fi & GPS
– Fewer pixels: 20 MP vs. 24 MP
– Less AF points (11 vs. 39) and less cross-type AF sensors (1 vs. 9.)
– No built-in flash (fill flash)
|The only consideration to purchase a Canon EOS 5D mark II instead of the Canon EOS 6D could be based on the price, because the Canon EOS 6D is improved on all fronts compared to this – though still very good and groundbreaking – older brother.
The choice between the Canon EOS 6D and the Nikon D600 is less straightforward and is strongly influenced by the nature of the subjects you are photographing. For landscape and architecture, the Canon EOS 6D has the benefit of its GPS and with subjects in low light (theater and events inside), the high ISO and silent shutter are “deal breakers.” This also applies to the Wi-Fi option, allowing you to use your phone or tablet (with free EOS Remote app) as remote control with Live View everywhere and with which files can be transferred wirelessly to a computer in the studio. For portraits, macro, products and video, the cameras are quite alike, but if you have a lot of movement before the lens (action and sports), the more sophisticated AF system of the Nikon D600 is an important decision criterion.
GPS & Wi-Fi
|The Canon EOS 6D is the first DSLR with built-in GPS and Wi-Fi. These options in this form can only be found in compact cameras to date. Canon has contemplated both GPS and Wi-Fi well and implemented them in a user-friendly way. The GPS can easily be turned on and off, and measures also the height of the location in addition to the co-ordinates. All these data are entered directly into the picture and can be automatically used in Lightroom 4 or Google Maps as such. You can even let the GPS make a track log, so you can see what route you have taken with your camera. This is ideal when you have been on a vacation in a distant country. However, the GPS of the Canon EOS 6D does not register the direction in which you have photographed. This is the case with the separate GPS module Canon GP-E2.
|The Wi-Fi is easy to use too and is thus a useful option. You can register the camera in a Wi-Fi network and communicate wirelessly with a computer or other compatible devices, including printers. However, it is also possible to set the camera as Wi-Fi hotspot, so that you can connect wirelessly with your tablet or smartphone. With the free app EOS Remote, you turn your phone into a remote control with live view. This gives great flexibility in camera position, which can lead to distinctive photography.
A point of attention in both options is that they are pretty big ‘power guzzlers.’ Conscious use and extra batteries are recommended if you want to have GPS and Wi-Fi available in the field.
|Canon 6D + Canon 35 mm f/2 IS
Viewfinder, screen and menu
|If you look through the optical viewfinder of the Canon EOS 6D and you are used to a camera with APS-C sensor, the large and bright viewfinder image will definitely stand out. This gives you a good overview of the subject and you can frame quite accurately. Unfortunately, the viewfinder accuracy is not 100% (97%). With a magnification of 0.71x and a crop factor of 1x, the total magnification is 0.69x. The standard frosted glass (Eg-A II) can be replaced. Below the viewfinder, the main image parameters are displayed, so many settings can happen without losing the subject.
The 3-inch LCD screen of the Canon EOS 6D cannot tilt and swivel like the Canon EOS 60D. However, it is of high resolution and color reproduction and field of view are excellent. The aspect ratio is 4:3 in contrast to the LCD screen of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, which is 3:2 and therefore slightly larger (3.2″).
|For existing EOS users, the layout and operation of the options in the LCD menu are immediately known, but also for photographers unfamiliar with Canon EOS, all settings are grouped logically and the learning and habituation process is short. Also, with both the function of the controls and the layout of the menu options, a high degree of personalization is possible and the camera can be operated blindly in the foreseeable future. In addition, the Canon EOS 6D has two Custom programs on the setting wheel, with which you can, for example, quickly switch from JPEG, Ai Servo, Spot metering, ISO 800 (action) to RAW, One Shot, Evaluative metering and ISO 100 (macro).
What is noticed during use is that the status window on top of the camera gives a fine overview of the image data, including HDR, Wi-Fi or GPS, but not of the set white balance and RAW/JPEG, two significant image parameters. You now have to push the Q button, which takes time and attention.
Resolution and sharpness
|The full frame sensor of the Canon EOS 6D features 20.2 MP and produces images of 5472 by 3648 pixels, which is only slightly smaller than 5760 x 3840 (22.3 MP) on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. In our terms, no difference in resolution is therefore measured. The Canon EOS 6D registers an unprecedented amount of detail in our test setup, even more than the Nikon D600 that still has a higher resolution with 24 MP. Only the Nikon D800 (36 MP) stays ahead of the two Canons. Incidentally, in practice, the detail registration is also determined by the image quality of the lens and the resolution thereof. For the pixel density of the sensor of the Canon EOS 6D, it means that for apertures less than f/10, the detail registration (sharpness) starts to decrease.
Measurements for this review have been carried out with the aid of Imatest. The measurement results are shown in the Canon 6D test report. For the review method and explanation of terms, see FAQ.
|Canon 6D + Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 USM II
|The advantage of a full frame sensor with relatively few pixels is that these pixels have a large surface to absorb light. This makes the signal to noise ratio better than that of an APS-C sensor, resulting in less noise at higher ISOs. Larger pixels often also ensure a wider dynamic range and can thus bridge a greater difference between white and black. The Canon EOS 6D performs better in this respect than the Canon EOS 5D Mark III (1 stop) and rivals the Nikon D600 and D800 that showed the largest dynamic range measurements to date. The test results are in the Canon 6D test report.
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|The detail that falls on the sensor and is registered by the sensor must be translated into detail in the final image in JPEG. In the image formation, it is therefore important that there is a balance between sharpening and noise reduction, in which the new Digic 5 processor performs very well. Even at ISOs higher than 6400, no unnecessary detail is lost as a result of an overly-aggressive noise reduction (NR Standard or Weak). Provided that they are illuminated well, pictures at ISO 3200 or higher are definitely useful for larger publication format. If we look well, the Canon EOS 6D performs just as well as the Nikon D600 at high ISOs and slightly better than the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800. The differences are small though. In RAW, you can see more detail but also more noise. However, you can now – as opposed to in-camera processing – still determine where the limit of the amount of noise and loss of detail should be with the noise reduction in Lightroom.
Color accuracy Canon 6D
|In finding the right balance between detail and noise reduction, the Digic 5 processor has already proven to deliver excellent performances and in combination with the iFCL measurement of the Canon EOS 6D, it also creates a very natural color reproduction. The automatic white balance always knows how to find the right color temperature in a variety of light types and topics and even does so in low light. View your photos at full screen on the LCD screen of the camera at ISO 100 and ISO 6400, and you will see no difference in color, contrast or saturation. That seemed impossible a few years ago. If we compare the measured values of our test setup, the auto white balance performs the same as that of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800. Only the Nikon D600 is doing a little better at that point. If we look at the accuracy of the color at a standardized white balance, the Canon EOS 6D only has to acknowledge that the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the D800 are better, which are leading in this category.
Autofocus speed and accuracy
|Although the Canon EOS 6D performs like a pro camera on almost all points, it is positioned as a full-frame camera for the serious leisure photographer. This is probably the reason why Canon has not copied the 61-point autofocus system of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. The Canon EOS 6D has to make do with “only” 11 autofocus points, of which the middle is the only one with a cross-type sensitive sensor. They are fairly widely distributed around the center of the frame. For many photographers, a limited number of AF points is not a problem, but if you need to follow moving subjects (sports / action), more AF points are desirable. However, the center AF point is sensitive to even -3 Ev and does it one stop better at that point than the Canon EOS 5D mark II. In the semi-darkness, the autofocus knows how to find and hold on to a topic quickly and accurately. With sufficient light and the right lenses, the autofocus – based on phase detection – of the Canon EOS is incredibly fast, accurate and suitable to capture any subject at the desired point. We do not see that speed and accuracy yet when working in Live View or recording a video. The contrast AF in those cases is clearly too slow to follow moving images or to quickly respond without delay.
Conclusion Canon 6D review
The Canon EOS 6D completely lives up to its status as a high-quality full-frame camera with an attractive price tag for the casual photographer. Its image quality, especially at high ISOs, is matched only by one or two cameras – often in the pro-segment – and the dynamic range is among the top of our tested cameras, including the Nikon D800 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Canon has managed to pack this superb image quality in a very appealing and compact housing. It does its EOS origin justice in operation and speed, a system that has been a proven tool for professionals and consumers for 25 years.
The unique selling points of the Canon EOS 6D are the “silent shutter” and the built-in GPS and Wi-Fi that initially seem to have a high ‘nice-to-have’ content, but particularly Wi-Fi can play a very important role in creating distinctive photographs in practice. That is something every photographer is looking for every day.
If you are hesitating between the Canon EOS 6D and its big brother, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, the big difference with this camera is the robustness of the body and especially the AF system. Image quality and resolution are virtually identical. So if you do not daily have fast moving subjects before your lens, you can invest the price difference between these cameras (about 1100 euros) in the quality of a new – professional – lens. This helps you to increase the image quality of your photos to an even higher level.
Test results of this the Canon 6D review are in Canon 6D test report.