The Canon EOS 6D is targeted at enthusiast photographers looking at making the jump to full frame. Is it the camera Canon APS-C DSLR users have been waiting for? We find out in this What Digital Camera Canon 6D review
Rather than using the 22.3MP CMOS full frame sensor from the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon has opted to use a 20.2MP CMOS sensor within the 6D. This all-new chip offers a maximum output size of 5472×3648 pixels, providing an ISO range which spans from 100-25,600. This is an identical sensitivity to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and much like its bigger brother, there’s the option to extend it past the native settings to as low as 50 and as high as 102,400.
The Canon EOS 6D also shares other similarities to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Processing power is the same with the inclusion of a DIGIC 5+ image processor, though it features a slower continuous burst rate of 4.5fps as opposed to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III’s 6fps. Compare the Canon EOS 6D with the two APS-C DSLRs that it sits between in the DSLR lineup and it’s slower than the Canon EOS 60D, which shoots at 5.3fps and the Canon EOS 7D that can shoot an 8fps burst.
The Canon EOS 6D’s 11-point focusing system is also entirely new. Instead of spreading 61 AF points across the frame like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, the Canon EOS 6D features one cross-type sensor in the middle and ten additional points around the perimeter. This formation isn’t too dissimilar to the Canon EOS 60D. The differences are the two additional points which are found to the left and right of the centre AF point and the fact that the Canon EOS 60D has a complimentary set of nine cross-type sensors, whereas the Canon EOS 6D only has one.
Metering is taken care of by Canon’s 63-zone Dual Layer SPC metering system – the same as used before within the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 60D and 7D. It offers the choice of four modes – Evaluative, Partial, Spot or Centre-weighted, and to preserve detail in bright highlights and dark shadows there’s a High Dynamic Range (HDR) option available from the scene modes. Exposure compensation can be set to +/-5 EV in either 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments and auto bracketing offers a +/-3 EV range for two, three, five or seven shots.
The optical viewfinder on the Canon EOS 6D provides 97% frame coverage, a 0.71x magnification and dioptre correction control. Interestingly, Canon has continued with its tradition of fitting its entire range of full frame DSLRs with fixed screens rather than opting to fit at least one with a Vari-angle display. The Canon EOS 6D’s 3in Clear View TFT screen boasts a 1,040k-dot resolution and there’s the option to apply Raw image processing straight from the playback mode. There’s no dedicated button to star rate your images and instead this has to be carried out through the main menu.
Two features that are likely to appeal to travel photographers are the Canon EOS 6D’s inbuilt GPS and Wi-Fi functionality. Images can be tagged with coordinate data as they’re taken before being uploaded to a smart phone or tablet. Although Wi-Fi connectivity isn’t new technology on compacts and compact system cameras, its never been seen before on a DSLR. The Canon EOS 6D claims the title of being the first Wi-Fi enabled DSLR and for those who’d like to take advantage of it, a free Canon EOS remote app is available to download from the iTunes store. The good news is that it’s compatible with both IOS and Android devices and features an uncomplicated, easy to follow design.
For the filmmakers out there, Full HD (1920×1080) video recording is available at 24 and 25fps. If you’d prefer to shoot at 50fps this is available too, albeit at a lower 1280×720 pixel resolution. Single movie clips can be recorded up to 29mins 59secs and there’s a 3.5mm port at the side for connecting an external microphone. What the Canon EOS 6D is without though is an audio-out port for monitoring sound levels as you shoot.
On first glance, the 6D shares a similar appearance to the 5D Mark III when it’s viewed head on. Take a closer inspection though and you’ll notice a few subtle differences. The handgrip isn’t quite as chunky and its leaner physique makes it noticeably lighter in the hand. The rubberised material that’s used to give the handgrip a tactile feel doesn’t stretch all the way past the SD card slot at the side of the body, but the layout of the top plate is clear, with independent buttons to control AF mode, drive mode, metering modes and ISO.
There’s no dedicated button however to select exposure compensation. Instead, you take direct control of it using the command dial at the rear. Although we didn’t experience any issues during our testing, there is a potential risk of accidentally knocking the scroll dial and changing the exposure so it’s worth bearing this in mind.
At the rear there’s a uncluttered layout of buttons. Rather than adopting an arrangement that’s alike to the 5D Mark III and 7D, the 6D shares similarities to the rear of the 60D. Playback and zoom buttons are found to the right of the screen instead of the left, and the menu and info buttons are positioned at the top corner beneath the on/off switch and mode dial. Those who are familiar with having independent zoom buttons at the corner of the body will also need to adapt to the 6D’s method of zooming in and out of images in playback mode. You’ll find you’re required to hit the zoom button first before using the scroll dial on the top plate to zoom in. Alternatively, if you scroll in the opposite direction there’s the option to view thumbnails of all the images on the memory card. Personally, we found the previous method of zooming in and analysing image sharpness more intuitive, yet others say they prefer the way it’s setup now.
At the rear you’ll also find a thumb switch to quickly change between stills and video, with a button to start and stop movie recording. To the right you’ll find the 6D is without a jog dial. The jog dial on the 5D Mark III and 7D was great for repositioning the AF point very quickly and instead you’re reliant on the four-way controller that’s located within the circumference of the scroll dial. Just like the jog dial had a secondary purpose for navigating the main menu, you’ll find you can also do this on the 6D by using the four-way controller. While we’re on the subject of the menu there are no fewer than 15 menu headings along the top, which are colour coded into constitute groups. It’s a menu system that’s quick to navigate and easy to learn, it’s just a different variation of having sub menus beneath fewer menu headings.
Those upgrading from the 60D will feel right at home with how the 6D feels in the hand. It weighs 770g (body only), which is equivalent to 15g more. It feels robust thanks to the magnesium alloy panels which are used at the front and rear, and just to reiterate the point of the 6D being designed for those that like to travel, it’s dust and drip proof but not to the same weather sealing standards as the 5D Mark III.
At the beginning of this review we questioned whether any compromises had been made to make the 6D more affordable. One such compromise is the AF system that’s less advanced than Canon’s other full frame DSLRs. Unlike the 5D Mark III, the 6D doesn’t provide users with the same in-depth case studies to change the responsiveness of the focus tracking AF system. Instead, four basic options are tucked away in the custom functions, but you can use Canon’s Orientation Linked AF to assign which AF point you’d like the camera to remember when switching between landscape and portrait formats.
Canon EOS 6D, EF 50mm f/1.2L USM @ f/2.8, 1/80sec, ISO 200, AWB, Centre-weighted metering
Low-light is an area where the 6D excels in terms of its AF performance. The central cross-type AF point is able to lock onto subjects right down to -3EV, meaning that even in extreme low-light situations where you’d sometimes struggle to focus with your eyes, let alone your DSLR, you’ll be able to find focus quickly with 6D. There’s One-Shot, AI Focus and AI Servo AF modes, and Quick mode, Live mode, or Live Face detection modes to choose from when live view is deployed. There’s a brief interlude while focus is acquired in Live View, so don’t expect it to be instantaneous. The same can be said for focusing when shooting video. For the smoothest focusing transitions we opted to use manual focus rather than rely on contrast-detect AF.
Canon EOS 6D, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ f/5, 1/160sec, ISO 400, AWB, Centre-weighted metering
Installing the EOS remote app onto our smartphone, we then enabled the 6D’s Wi-Fi. A connection was made in seconds and it’s possible to assign the Wi-Fi with a nickname to make it easier to find from your network list. Once connected, images are displayed in a thumbnail list with the EXIF data beside. When zooming to assess image sharpness, there’s absolutely no sign of delay or lag. There’s also the option to shoot remotely. Full control of shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation can be taken, and there are two additional icons to pre-focus and fire the shutter. Being the first DSLR to feature Wi-Fi you might expect it to have some teething issues. It’s not the case however and the app runs faultlessly. Our only omission is that Raw files can’t be wirelessly transferred. Instead, the 6D automatically converts Raw files to JPEG prior to transmission.
Canon EOS 6D, EF 50mm f/1.2L USM @ f/2.8, 1/4000sec, ISO 100, AWB, Centre-weighted metering
Loaded with a SanDisk Extreme Pro card, the 6D shot 90 large JPEG files at 4.5fps before the buffer showed signs of slowing. Switching the file type to Raw, 16 images were recorded and this number dropped to 7 when the file format was changed to Raw+JPEG. Comparing this performance to the Nikon D600, the 6D is capable of shooting more consecutive JPEGS at its maximum burst rate, but both record the same number of Raw files before the buffer slows. The only difference is the D600 shoots slightly faster at 5.5fps.
Canon EOS 6D, EF 50mm f/1.2L USM @ f/1.8, 1/4000sec, ISO 100, AWB, Centre-weighted metering
The 6D is a very responsive camera to shoot with. The ergonomics suggest it’s going to be better suited to those who are upgrading from a lower-spec DSLR than those who may be potentially considering it as a secondary full frame camera. There are no uncertainties about its build quality either. It is lightweight and not as solid as the 5D Mark III, but it’ll have no trouble dealing with the wear and tear of day-to-day use. In hindsight, a dual card slot to cater for Compact Flash as well as SD would have been good, however we assume Canon opted against this idea to keep the camera as compact as possible.
Canon EOS 6D, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM @ f/2.8, 1/4000sec, ISO 200, AWB, Centre-weighted metering
Tone & Exposure
As to be expected, the tried and tested 63-zone metering system produced identical exposure results to those that were previously produced out on the 7D and 5D Mark III. The metering system is one that you can rely on to attain accurate exposures and if we were to be really critical shots are -0.3 EV darker than perhaps you’d like. A quick tweak of the Exposure slider in Camera Raw can soon put a fix to this, or if you’re shooting in JPEG and not Raw, you may want to dial in +0.3 EV exposure compensation.
White Balance & Colour
Photographing a colour chart that’s illuminated by daylight-balanced lamps in a controlled studio environment is a good test of how a camera renders colour and white balance. Both the vibrant and pastel colours on our Checkr chart were recorded accurately from ISO 100 through to ISO 12800. At ISO 25,600 we noticed the saturation of colour dropped ever so slightly but not enough to cause any concerns. All the way up to the maximum equivalent ISO setting of 102,400, colour remained bright and vibrant, which is testament to the 6D’s full frame 20.2MP sensor.
Canon EOS 6D Colour Chart Test @ ISO 100
Canon EOS 6D Colour Chart Test @ ISO 25,600
Sharpness & Detail
The new 20.2MP sensor provides exceptional levels of detail, but how does it compare to the 5D Mark III’s 22.3MP sensor? Given its higher pixel count you’d expect the 5D Mark III to resolve more detail, which it does by the slimmest of margins. The 6D’s sensor is capable of resolving finely spaced horizontal lines right down to 34 lines per millimetre, which is equal to Nikon’s D600 at the same ISO sensitivity. Push up to the 6D’s maximum equivalent ISO setting of 102,400 however and the sensor resolves a reduced number of 20 lines per millimetre.
Canon EOS 6D Sharpness & Detail Test @ ISO 100
Canon EOS 6D Sharpness & Detail Test @ ISO 25,600
Being a sensor that we’ve never tested before, we were keen to find out how well the new chip could control image noise. If you shoot at the low end of the ISO scale between 100 and 3200 you’ll be rewarded with clean, noise free images. It’s only really when you start to push beyond ISO 3200 that you can pick out very faint traces of noise creeping into images when viewed at 100%. With a small amount of noise reduction applied in post processing you’ll be able to produce more than acceptable results at ISO 6400 and even 12,800 with a push. In the high expanded settings, noise starts to degrade image quality much more so we’d advise to stay clear unless it’s really necessary.
Value & Verdict
Currently available for £1695, it’s great to finally see a new full frame body in Canon’s lineup that costs under £2000. For APS-C DSLR users considering the jump up to full frame, it still represents a serious outlay when you consider EF-S lenses can’t be used with the 6D. Anyone with a selection of EF-S lenses are likely to find themselves selling them first to fund the coffers for Canon EF lenses.
For people who want a full frame camera that can’t stretch to the price of the 5D Mark III, the 6D is a natural step up, unless of course you own a 7D. Canon has made it clear that by listing the 6D below the 7D that any 7D users looking at the 6D will be losing valuable features if they opt to buy it. Yes, the 6D’s full frame sensor offers better image quality at high ISOs, but 7D users will loose out on high-speed shooting and eight additional AF points. The best option for 7D users looking to make the jump to full frame would be the 5D Mark III.
Compared to its closest rival – the Nikon D600, the 6D is £265 more expensive. Both have their strengths and their weaknesses over each other so we’ll have to wait until we put them head-to-head before we can make a decision as to which of these so called ‘affordable full frame’ DSLRs offers the best value for money.
To sum up, the 6D offers superb image quality to more consumers at a price that’s more realistic. The addition of GPS and Wi-Fi are very well received and though it’s no 5D Mark III, it goes above and beyond what most enthusiasts are calling out for right now. It’s a very capable DSLR, so hats off to Canon for producing a great camera that performs as well as we’d hoped it would.