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Canon EOS 6D Review: Full Frame with Benefits
by Theano Nikitas -  6/24/2013

With the Canon EOS 6D as a counterpoint to Nikon's D600, full-frame shooting has become more affordable with only a few differences. Of course, if you already have a stash of Canon (EF only) or Nikon glass, your choice is a bit of a no-brainer (unless you want to change systems). On the other hand, if you're stepping up--or crossing over from another brand to gain the benefit of full-frame--then the choice is more difficult. Read on to find out the differences between the two cameras and a quick look at what we think of the Canon EOS 6D.


Built around a newly designed 20 megapixel full-frame sensor (versus the Nikon D600's 24 megapixels) and the latest DIGIC 5 image processor, the Canon EOS 6D offers the type of features and functionality you'd expect from even more expensive Canon models but without the pricetag. Canon prices have risen over the past couple of years, the 6D offers a good way to acquire Canon technology and image quality without a high cost of entry. For example, given the $1400 difference in price between the 6D and Canon's next-in-line full-frame model, the 5D Mark III, the 6D will appeal to enthusiasts who want an affordable full-frame camera as well as pro's who want a second or third full-frame DSLR as backup. Full HD video, in-camera HDR and multiple exposure are just a few of the camera's above-and-beyond standard DSLR features. 

The Canon EOS 6D can be purchased for $1900 body only or $2400 for body and 24-105 f/4 lens kit. 

Build and Design
The 6D is well-built and although not quite as sturdy or weatherproof as its more expensive siblings, the camera holds up under heavy use indoors and out. A nice-sized, contoured grip provides a comfortable and solid handhold for this 26.7 ounce (with battery and media card), 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8 inch camera. Canon 5D Mark III users, as well as those who shoot with the 60D, will easily transition to the 6D with its familiar design. 

The camera comes bundled with a rechargeable battery and charger, eyecup, AF and USB cables, neck strap and printed user manual. The included CD-ROMs offer EOS Digital Solutions software and a CD with the software instruction manual. 

Of note are the 6D's built-in Wi-Fi and GPS--two features that are only available in the Nikon D600 via optional accessories. So, if those two features are important to you, then a 6D vs. D600 choice might sway towards the 6D. However, the 6D does not have an on-board flash so you'll most likely be budgeting for a Speedlite and lenses. Unfortunately, if you're stepping up from a cropped sensor Canon DSLR with a stash of EF-S lenses, you're out of luck since Canon's full-frame cameras are only compatible with EF lenses. On the other hand, EF lenses can be mounted on cropped sensor Canon DSLRs, so you can use them on both types of cameras. (As a point of reference, Nikon full-frame and DX format lenses can be used on both full-frame and cropped sensor Nikon DSLRs.) 

You'll also need to download the Canon EOS Remote app and maybe pick up an HDMI cable to view images/video on HDTV. Other accessories include a remote or timer remote controller, interchangeable focusing screens and dioptric adjustment lenses. If you plan to shoot video (and we suggest you do), be sure to pick up an external microphone for better stereo sound recording. 

Dual card slots, like the Nikon D600 offers, would be much more appropriate for a camera in this class, but the 6D is equipped with only a single SD card slot that is compatible with SD/SDHC/SDXC cards (including UHS-1 cards). We tested the camera with an 8GB SanDisk Extreme Pro card. 

Ergonomics and Controls
Canon DSLR shooters--especially those stepping up from the 60D--will generally feel at home with the 6D's control layout.  The transition from one model to the newer camera may require only minor muscle memory adjustments to get comfortable with several re-positioned controls. And, importantly, the 6D uses the newer live view/movie mode switch and button that's available on the latest crop of Canon DSLRs. 

Overall, the 6D's control layout is logical and convenient. A mode dial and the on/off switch sit on the left shoulder of the camera. The former offers the standard manual, semimanual and program exposure options, along with Bulb, two custom settings and several automatic modes, including the standard list of scene selections. Mode dial options incorporate some of this camera's "something for everybody" attitude. I'm not a huge fan of locking mode dials like this one, since the center lock/unlock button needs to be depressed before changing modes. But I have no nitpicks about the other controls--with command and control dials (there's no joystick), dedicated buttons (AF, Drive, ISO, metering, for example) and a large status LCD. 

Menus and Modes
If you've worked with Canon DSLRs before, you'll be able to quickly and easily locate the camera's various features and functions within the menu system. Logically arranged, the menus are easy to navigate, although newcomers will want to read through the user manual and explore the menus before heading out on a shoot--advice we'd give anybody who's using a new (to them) camera. But with the camera's array of external controls, it's unlikely that you'll have to wander into the menu system very often. However, the 6D offers a number of custom options that will take you deep into the menu system. The AF custom menu, for example, is similar to that of its higher end siblings. It's here that you can choose from several AF situations and adjust parameters such as tracking sensitivity, acceleration/deceleration speed of AF tracking and more. If you're not used to the latest Canon custom menu, it's best to have the user manual handy. 

As mentioned above, the mode dial offers a little bit of something for everyone--from manual exposure modes to scene modes and a CA (Creative Auto) mode. The handful of scene modes available include the standard landscape, portrait, sports and close-up (although if you want macro, get a macro lens), as well as a handheld night shot and HDR (high dynamic range) backlight mode. The Creative Auto mode is, essentially, for those who are just learning their way around a DSLR and conveniently uses sliders to make adjustments that would otherwise require slightly more knowledge of photo jargon. In addition to a sharp/blur user-adjustable Standard setting, others include "ambience based" options such as darker, brighter, vivid, warm, intense and monochrome. 

Display/Viewfinder
The Canon 6D is equipped with a high resolution 1.04 million dot 3-inch LCD provides 100% coverage, with 7-levels of manual brightness adjustments, so it's easy to use regardless of lighting conditions. While the 6D and 60D share many physical similarities, the 6D's monitor is static rather than articulated, as it is on the 60D. And while we almost always prefer an articulated LCD for easy shooting, it's not something we expect from higher end DSLRs. 

The 6D's optical viewfinder is large, bright and clear. It's a pleasure to use but if you look at the specs, the VF offers 97% coverage, which means that you may have a little more in your scene than you're seeing through the viewfinder. Generally, that's not much of an issue but if you're doing critical work, you can always switch to live view to frame the subject. Personally, I'm not a fan of live view (unless the camera is mounted on a tripod and I'm focusing manually) and would rather have 100% VF coverage but live view offers an alternative for critical framing. 

 
Performance

As expected, the 6D is responsive from start to finish, with no shutter lag and good shot-to-shot times. Autofocus was generally speedy and accurate, although low light or low contrast scenes slowed things down a little--especially with the IR AF assist beam disabled. It's also important to note that the 6D's autofocus depends on 11 points with a single cross-type AF point, so it's not as sophisticated as some of its siblings and competition. 

For its price, continuous shooting speed is good--but not great--at 4.5 frames per second. It's best to use a high speed (UHS-1) card to get the maximum number of shots during a burst, e.g., 1250 large/fine JPEGs, 17 RAW, 8 RAW + JPEG full resolution. 

Battery life, when using the optical viewfinder, is estimated at about 1090 shots. If you need longer battery life, the optional battery grip can--depending on the batteries used--double that capacity. While Wi-Fi and GPS are handy features, which some will put to very good use, they can affect battery life dramatically--especially if either or both have to do a lot of searching for signals. 

Wi-Fi and GPS
While both the 6D and Nikon D600 offer similar photographic features the 6D offers on-board GPS and WiFi--two functions that require optional accessories on the D600.

On the 6D, GPS works well outside of major cities where there's an easier path to satellite signals. Even in less urban areas, you will likely have to go outside to initially set up a signal. Wi-Fi implementation is good, although for some direct-from-camera sharing options you'll have to register and go through Canon's Image Gateway site; otherwise you can transfer images to your smartphone and share from the device. With the free Canon EOS Remote app you can remotely compose and shoot images on the 6D but, more importantly, the app allows you to use the cameras AF and adjust settings such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO. 

Video Quality
Canon is well-known for its excellent DSLR video and the 6D does a good job capturing more casual (versus pro level) video. It's no 5D Mark II or Mark III, however, due to anomalies like artifacting. But, for general use, it's more than acceptable. 

Although there's no headphone jack for monitoring audio, video can be captured up to full HD (1920 x 1080 at 30/25/24fps) in MOV format (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264). Manual exposure is available in movie mode as is manual control over audio levels. The on-board microphone is monaural so if you plan to shoot video, you might want to pick up an external stereo microphone. 

Image Quality
Image quality is excellent, especially when Picture Style parameters are adjusted to one's particular aesthetics. Colors are richly saturated but not over the top and exposures were almost always spot on. As is common with Canon cameras, auto white balance produces a warmer, more "this is what you see" look under incandescent lighting but that can be tweaked as well. 

On its default settings--and depending what lenses are used (I shot with the 18-105mm, as well as other higher end lenses, while editor Laura Hicks, who produced the images you see in the gallery, shot with Canon's 35mm f/2.0)--images can be a little soft straight out of the camera. But the camera maintains good detail and sharpening can be adjusted in-camera (Picture Style parameters) or in post-processing. As always, it's important to put the best piece of glass you can afford on your camera. 

ISO ranges from 100-25600 and is expandable to a low of 50 and high settings of 51,200 and 102,400. The camera handles high ISO image noise very well and we felt comfortable shooting above IS0 800 on a regular basis but made sure to shoot in RAW or RAW + JPEG at and above 12,800 and reserved 51,200 and 102,400 for emergencies only. Although my older Nikon D3s 102,400 images looked cleaner than the 6D's at the same ISO, the Canon 6D offers low light shooters a wide range of workable options. And the in-camera noise reduction worked surprisingly well by maintaining detail. 

Sample Images


Conclusion
The Canon EOS 6D is an excellent camera for Canon DSLR users who want to step up to a full-frame camera without spending $3500 for the 5D Mark III. This camera combines some of the best Canon technology and features from its surrounding siblings like the 60D and the 5D Mark III and adds Wi-Fi and GPS, two features that require optional accessories on its closest competitor, the Nikon D600. 

However, there are some compromises that are made, particularly vis-a-vis the Nikon D600, as well as Canon's higher end DSLRs. The Wi-Fi and GPS drain the battery, so you'll need an extra battery or a grip. The camera has no built-in flash, so plan on purchasing a Speedlite if you need flash. And, of course, the 6D doesn't have the speed (continuous shooting or autofocus) nor the high end video functionality quality of its more sophisticated siblings. 

What's important, though, is the camera's broad range of features and its full-frame sensor. The Canon EOS 6D fills a niche in the Canon line-up and in the photo industry, that--like the Nikon D600--brings the benefits of full-frame shooting, along with excellent image quality, to a much broader audience.

The Canon EOS 6D can be purchased for $1900 body only or $2400 for body and 24-105 f/4 lens kit. 

Pros:

Cons: (especially compared to Nikon D600)