Using the Canon EOS 6D

While Canon has positioned the EOS 6D to introduce a broader range of enthusiasts to the pleasures of full frame shooting, the camera's handling will be comfortingly familiar to any Canon shooter who's used a recent mid-range EOS camera. The 6D has much in common with the EOS 60D in terms of design and control layout. In fact, looking at the top of the camera you'd be hard-pressed to tell them apart, other than the 6D's slightly reshaped buttons and a less-crowded mode dial.

It's really no surprise that Canon has taken a conservative design approach with the EOS 6D. The camera is clearly aimed at DSLR users who may have been tempted by a move to full frame but were unable to justify the 5D Mark III's cost of entry. By maintaining consistency with the popular 60D, Canon has provided a clear path to full frame photography that, from an operational standpoint, is about as seamless as you could expect. One feature that we would have liked to see on the 6D is the superbly integrated touchscreen interface that Canon introduced on the lower-end EOS 650D. While this would have added to the cost, we feel it's a standout feature that hopefully will become commonplace on DSLRs.

The 6D is a straightforward camera to operate with a sensible control layout. Photographers who enjoy customizing controls to their liking, however, can reconfigure as many as five buttons on the rear of the camera, as well as the depth of field preview button. While many uses may be well-served by the default behavior, many of the alternatives are quite useful, such as the ability to set the AE lock button to trigger AF instead. In addition, you can customize several aspects of AF system's behavior, including tracking sensitivity and lens-specific microadjustment.

Overall handling

Weighing in at a considerably lighter weight than its full frame sibling, the EOS 5D Mark III, the EOS 6D is still a solid-feeling camera with a magnesium alloy body (with polycarbonate top plate) that balances very nicely with medium focal length zooms like the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. The 6D is a comfortable camera to carry around your shoulder on a full day of shooting. If you're moving up from a Rebel model like the EOS 600D, you will notice the extra bulk in your bag, particularly with the addition of full frame versus smaller, lighter EFS lenses. Among the things you gain, however, are a second camera dial for faster operation, a deep hand grip that provides a reassuring hold of the camera and a much larger, brighter viewfinder.

Frequently used controls like exposure lock and ISO are within easy reach with your hand in the shooting position, as are the Quick Control, live view/movie mode and playback buttons. A mode dial lock prevents accidental operation and beginner-oriented scene modes - which are likely to see little use among enthusiasts - are sensibly grouped under a single mode position, making for a much less cluttered mode dial than the one seen on the EOS 60D. And the 6D's mode dial rotates freely through 360 degrees, eliminating the end-stop found on previous EOS models, which if you forgot about it, would force you to stop and turn the dial in the opposite direction to reach your desired mode. A minor change, admittedly, but one that's welcome nonetheless.

Studio photographers who use flash will appreciate the ability to toggle exposure simulation on and off via the live view menu. This allows you to compose a dimly lit scene (to be illuminated at the time of exposure via flash) through the finder or rear LCD with the camera 'gaining up' to provide a bright preview image.

The EOS 6D has a good-sized grip and sits solidly in your hand; anyone who's used a recent twin-dial Canon EOS should be able to pick it up and feel right at home. The back of the camera offers a sculpted 'channel' that provides positive grip for your thumb.

Most of the key controls are well-placed for operation with the camera to your eye, but if you want to move the focus point using the multicontroller, this requires a fairly large movement of your thumb downwards. You can of course, move the AF point with the front and rear dials, but have to press the AF point selection button first.

One of the first things we noticed in the Seattle office upon the 6D's arrival was just how quiet Canon has made the camera's shutter release. Even in normal drive mode, it's noticeably quieter than the Nikon D600, even in that camera's 'Quiet' mode. In addition, the 6D inherits the 'silent shutter' option found on both the EOS 5D Mark III and EOS 1-series models. With silent shutter mode enabled, the 6D becomes a very discreet camera. You will sacrifice some burst rate, with a maximum shooting speed of 3 versus 4.5 fps. You could easily argue, however, that for situations in which you'd engage this option - vows during a wedding ceremony, for example - this is a trade-off worth making.

We've long complained of the steps necessary to engage useful features like mirror lockup and Highlight Tone Priority (HTP) on EOS cameras. With the 6D, we're pleased to see both of these options now residing as top level items in the shooting menu pages, as opposed to being hidden away in obscure custom function menu pages. These may seem minor, but small touches like this go a long way towards allowing users to get the most out of the camera.

Battery Grip BG-E13

The EOS 6D gets a new battery grip, the BG-E13. It will take either two LP-E6 batteries to double the camera's endurance, or AA batteries.

It also has duplicate controls for portrait format shooting.

Users wishing for greater heft and/or stability with heavier lenses have the option of the Canon BG-E13 battery grip. The grip allows for twice the battery time with room for two lithium batteries or a set of AA batteries for emergency use.

Specific handling issues

The long history of Canon's EOS lineup combined with the company's consistent approach to camera design means there tend to be very few surprises in terms of handling in Canon DSLRs. And if you've read our earlier EOS 5D Mark III review you have a good sense of the operational and handling gestalt of higher-end EOS cameras. No camera is perfect, however, and there are small, subtle changes we'd like to see.

The 6D inherits the 60D's very small depth of field preview button which is rather awkwardly placed for use when shooting with the camera in portrait orientation. On the 5D Mark III, you can easily engage its larger preview button with your right hand still wrapped around the grip, leaving your left hand free to adjust zoom and/or focus. On the 6D, you're forced to use your left hand to press the button.

While we're happy to see Highlight Tone Priority now available as a top level menu option, we do regret that it can not be set on a per mode basis. The setting carries over between stills and video mode. As with previous Canon DSLRs, we find the requirement to shoot a reference image before setting a custom white balance is needlessly backwards. We'd much rather switch to Custom WB first and then shoot our target,which is how most other cameras behave.

These criticisms are hardly deal-breakers, and many won't come as a surprise at all to longtime Canon users. Neither do they detract significantly from the 6D's mature operation and handling.