Canon EOS 6D In-Depth Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent detail in raw file output across ISO range
- Class-leading low light focus sensitivity (from central AF point)
- Very effective JPEG noise reduction at highest ISO sensitivities
- Impressively quiet 'silent' shutter drive mode
- Quick Control menu provides easy access to shooting settings
- Wi-Fi-enabled remote camera control via smartphone or tablet
- Effective and easy to use multi-exposure HDR mode
- Built-in GPS with text log capability
- Exposure simulation in live view can be toggled on and off
- Full manual control in video mode
- Choice of IPB and All-I video compression modes
- In-camera Raw conversion
- Good battery life (except when GPS and Wi-Fi are turned on)
- High quality bundled raw converter (Digital Photo Professional)
Conclusion - Cons
- JPEG engine struggles with low-contrast fine detail at low ISO sensitivities
- Low density 11 point autofocus array with only one cross-type AF point
- Single card slot (SD)
- Slow burst rate compared to its full frame peers
- Cannot configure common live view and movie mode options independently
- Video output prone to moiré artifacts
- Slightly lower resolution than all of its full frame peers
- HDR mode is JPEG-only (unlike the 5D Mark III)
- Awkward placement of DOF preview button for portrait orientation shooting
- No built-in flash, so external controller required for shooting with groups of flashguns
- Relatively unsophisticated Auto ISO
- Monoaural microphone
- No headphone jack for audio monitoring
- Currently no uncompressed video output option (as found in its rivals)
- Significant battery drain over time when GPS and Wi-Fi are turned on
The EOS 6D is Canon's attempt to entice DSLR owners who are looking for the benefits of full frame shooting - including shallower depth of field and wider-angle lens coverage, but can't afford the EOS 5D Mark III. Naturally though, Canon doesn't want to risk losing sales of the EOS 5D Mark III, and achieving these sometimes conflicting aims inevitably means that some hard choices had to be made in order to create an 'affordable' full frame EOS camera in the 6D.
Let's be clear, the EOS 6D has a lot more going for it than just its comparatively low price tag. Based largely on the well thought-out ergonomics and operational handling of the popular EOS 60D, this newest full frame EOS provides solid build quality and light weight in a snappy, responsive camera powered by the same DIGIC 5+ image processor found in the 5D Mark III and the dual-chipped EOS 1D X.
The 6D also sports features that even those higher-end models cannot match. You get class-leading low-light autofocusing capability with a very impressive -3 EV sensitivity (from the central AF point). The 6D also becomes the first full frame DSLR from any manufacturer with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, a feature that is put to excellent use with a free Canon app - for Android and iOS devices - that provides live view-enabled remote camera control, exposure control and AF lock. Throw in an internal GPS unit and you've got a camera that provides features that are of real, practical use to a wide range of photographers.
The 6D inherits a number of features from the EOS 5D Mark III as well. Yet it is with several of these features that compromises will have to be made for those looking for a budget-conscious option to that higher-priced camera. The 6D offers identical video specifications, including an 'All-I' compression option and manual sound controls, yet the camera lacks a headphone jack for audio monitoring. The 6D's multi-exposure HDR mode is a quick, easy way to capture extended highlight and shadow detail, yet it is offered here as a JPEG-only mode, whereas the 5D Mark III can save the individual Raw format images used to create it as well.
Low-light focusing ability aside, the 6D offers the least sophisticated AF system of any full frame model on the market. A meager 11 point AF array, confined to a relatively small amount of viewfinder real estate, with only a single cross-type sensor, is then paired with a pedestrian shooting rate of well under 5 fps, putting the camera at a noticeable disadvantage even for those who only occasionally shoot action or sports.
The EOD 6D delivers default color and contrast that is typical of enthusiast EOS cameras. This is of course no bad thing, and its evaluative metering system produces well-judged exposures. Auto White Balance consistently gives realistic results, struggling somewhat only in very warmly lit low light scenes. And Canon's noise reduction algorithms provide an impressive balance between preserving image detail in organic fine textures and noise suppression at the 6D's highest ISOs. Measured noise levels from the 6D are similar to the older 5D Mark III at low to medium ISO settings but consistently lower above ISO 3200, which does make a difference in real-world use when it comes to high ISO shooting in marginal light.
The JPEG dynamic range performance of the 6D places it comfortably alongside its peers, and is in fact essentially identical to the 5D Mark III with about four stops of highlight information above middle gray. Built-in lens corrections do an excellent job of controlling vignetting and greatly minimize CA even in the more extreme examples we encountered.
Canon's familiar Picture Style options offer the ability to tweak not only color response but sharpness, contrast and saturation settings on the fly. Of course you'll have access to more options and greater image quality by processing Raw images, whether in Canon's fully-featured Digital Photo Professional software or in your preferred third party application.
The 6D produces perfectly acceptable video output - with good colors and saturation - for users who just want to document moments and events for personal use. And the camera's low-light high ISO performance is impressive as well. Videographers, however, will be loath to even consider a camera with such pronounced aliasing artifacts including moiré patterning. This is by far the biggest distinction in output - stills or video - between the 6D and the 5D Mark III.
When coming up with new products, especially new mid-range and high-end EOS DSLRs, Canon tends not to stray too far away from well-established handling and ergonomic principles. And the 6D continues that trend, with a form factor and external control layout very clearly derived from the EOS 60D. In fact, placing the two cameras side by side, the only visually obvious distinction is the 6D's slightly taller viewfinder hump necessitated by the camera's full frame (versus APS-C) sensor, and of course the articulated rear LCD of the EOS 60D.
The 6D is a responsive camera, whether you're navigating menus or adjusting camera settings. A sufficiently deep hand-grip allows for comfortable hand-holding with moderate range L-series zoom lenses. And for those looking for more heft and/or ergonomics geared for portrait-oriented shooting, Canon of course offers an optional battery grip, the BGE-13. Speaking of batteries, its worth noting that the 6D uses the same lithium-ion model found in Canon's 5D (II and III versions), 60D and 7D cameras, helpfully allowing owners of those cameras to avoid having to buy a whole new set of spares.
Out of the box, the 6D provides well-considered operational controls that will be immediately familiar to any previous EOS owner. Yet for those who like to customize their camera's operation, the 6D allows you to reconfigure a number of its buttons, adjust tracking sensitivity, and perform micro AF adjustments for specific lens/body combinations.
The Final Word
The EOS 6D ticks off many of the things an APS-C DSLR owner could want in a full frame upgrade: great image quality, excellent handling, light weight and a sub-$2100 price tag. The challenge for Canon, of course is that the 6D does not exist in a vacuum. It faces very stiff competition from the Nikon D600, which for the same price boasts a slightly higher resolution sensor, a more robust AF system, dual card slots, built-in flash (which can act as a wireless flash commander) and weather-sealing comparable to the much more expensive Nikon D800.
That's not to say that the EOS 6D is an entirely uninspiring product by comparison. Landscape and nature photographers could benefit greatly from advantages the 6D brings to the table, including remote control from your smartphone and GPS image tagging. The connectivity options provided by the EOS 6D are very impressive overall, and we're sure that whatever they take pictures of, some photographers will find them very compelling. In terms of core photographic specifications, concert and event shooters will enjoy the ability to autofocus in extremely low light and the impressively quiet shutter release is tailor-made for the needs of wedding and event photographers.
If you're an EOS shooter eyeing the 6D as a more affordable alternative to the 5D Mark III, even as a second backup body, Canon has made your decision fairly straightforward. Still image quality aside, the concessions you're forced to make for the significant cost savings are substantial. A slower burst rate, less sophisticated AF system with smaller coverage area, and moiré-prone video headline the list of compromises. And while we can understand Canon's desire to keep the camera's price down, other seemingly arbitrary decisions, like the inability to save HDR raw images and a DOF preview button whose location is much less useful than it could be, smack solely of product differentiation.
While the 6D is certainly capable of delivering wonderful images with a minimum of fuss, we can't help feeling that Canon's compromises have turned what could have a been a truly great camera into merely a very good one. This places our highest award ever so slightly beyond the reach of the EOS 6D, but Canon's latest camera easily earns our silver award.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Canon EOS 6D
Category: Mid Range Full Frame Camera
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The EOS 6D doesn't offer the depth of features that its best competitors can, but it combines very good image quality, impressive high-ISO performance and class-leading low-light autofocus ability (with the central AF point) as well as impressive built-in Wi-Fi and GPS features.
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