Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
The Canon EOS 6D was announced in September 2012 as Canon’s “entry level” full frame camera. It’s the least expensive full frame DSLR yet from Canon, originally carrying an MSRP of $2099, but now carrying a price of $1999 and often available for less.
The EOS 6D might well be looked at more as full frame version of the EOS 60D with a fixed LCD and without a built in flash or a replacement for those still holding onto their original EOS 5D than a competitor for Canon’s other full frame DSLRs like the EOS 5D MkIII and EOS-1D X. In fact the 6D looks a lot like the 60D, with the control dials and buttons in the same locations offering mostly the same options.
Compared with the EOS 60D, on the plus side, the EOS 6D has a new full frame 20MP sensor, built in GPS and WiFi connectivity, an expanded ISO range, lower light capable autofocus (-3EV, the best of any EOSDSLR), lower image noise and enhanced video options.
On the minus side it lacks the tilt and swivel LCD of the 60D, it doesn’t have a built in flash (no full frame EOSDSLR does), the maximum shutter speed is 1/4000s (vs. 1/8000s of the 60D), the frame rate is slower (4.5 vs. 5.3 fps), the maximum sync speed is slower (1/180s) and the 6D has fewer AF cross type sensors (1 vs. 9).
Canon EOS 6D – Brief Specifications
35.8mm x 23.9mm, 20.2MP (5,472 × 3,648 pixels)
Center: cross-type at f/5.6; vertical line-sensitive at f/2.8.
Upper and lower AF points: vertical line-sensitive AF at f/5.6.
Other AF points: Horizontal line-sensitive AF at f/5.6.
AF Working Range
Center AF Point: EV -3 to 18 (at 73°F/23°C, ISO 100)
Interestingly, there is actually a variant of the 6D, the EOS 6D (N), which comes without the built in WiFi and GPS. However that seems to be in order to comply with laws in certain countries about the import and use of GPS and WiFi rather than a desire to have two versions of the camera. All 6Ds sold in the US, Europe and Australia (and most everywhere else) have GPS and WiFi built in. My understanding is that the version without GPS and WiFi may be a few hundred dollars cheaper if you can find one. They are being sold in some of the far east markets.
WARNING: Some unscrupulous “scum of the earth” dealers have reportedly been selling the grey-market imported (N) variant of the 6D in the US without informing purchasers that they are not getting GPS or WiFi. The US model is the (WG) variant. So if you see a ridiculously low price on a 6D from a vendor you have never heard of, it may be the model without GPS and WiFi. Or it could just be the usual “bait on switch” ploy in which they charge you $150 for shipping and $150 for a bettery!
Personally I wouldn’t mind a stripped version if it came at a $300 discount and was sold officially by Canon. Not everyone wants or needs those functions. A choice would be nice.
Controls and Operation
As previously mentioned, the controls and control layout of the 6D are virtually identical to those of the EOS 60D. Looking at the top of the camera the main mode control dial and on/off switch is on the left. The mode control dial is locking, so you have to push the center button in order to change modes. There are fewer mode positions on the 6D than the 60D because all the scene modes are now accessible via a menu with the mode set to “SCN” rather than some being positioned on the mode control dial. The usual M(anual), Tv, Av, P and B modes are present as well as two programmable positions, plus scene intelligent auto (“green square”) and creative auto.
On the right side is the LCD showing the camera’s set parameters including exposure, metering mode, ISO setting, focus mode, drive mode, remaining card capacity, battery status and GPS and WiFi status. In front of the LCD are five dedicated buttons for AF, ISO, Drive, Metering mode and LCD back illumination. Note these are single function buttons, not dual function such as are found on the 5D series and EOS 7D. I guess this makes for a simpler interface.
The back of the camera is again similar to the EOS 60D but with some of the buttons rearranged. The image magnify function is now engages with a dedicated button rather than being shared with the AF point selection button at the upper right. The menu, info, playback and delete buttons have also been shuffled around. The major difference between the 6D and the 60D in this region is that the 60D has a fold-out tilt and swivel LCD, while the 6D has an LCD fixed in place. Both LCDs are 3" diagonal with 1040k dots.
Both the 6D and 60D share and 8 way multicontroller integrated into the rear quick control dial, rather than using the separate multi-way controller found on the 5D and 7D models.
The connectivity ports are found on the left side of the camera beneath swinging rubberized covers. There’s a socket for a wired remote controller and one for an external stereo microphone, but no headphone socket for monitoring audio during video recording. Also present are a mini HDMI output socket for connecting the camera to an HDMI compatible TV or monitor for image playback. The 6D cannot stream uncompressed video from the HDMI port. There’s also a mini USB port (USB 2.0, not 3.0) which doubles as an A/V output port with the appropriate cable.
On the right side of the camera is the single SD card slot which is compatible with SD, SDHC and SDXC cards and is UHS-1 compatible. The 6D cannot accept CF cards. Most of Canon’s full frame cameras (and most competing full frame DSLRs) have dual card slots, so just a single slot is a little disappointing. However many users won’t miss the ability to backup their images to a second card, or record still to one card and video to another.
The 6D viewfinder has 97% coverage, somewhat less than the 100% of the EOS 7D and 5D MkIII (and Nikon full frame modes). The rear LCD does provide 100% coverage in Live view and playback modes though.
The viewfinder screen has the 11 AF zones marked. The active zones flash red briefly when AF lock is achieved. The 6D viewfinder screen is user changeable. Magnification is 0.71x and the eye point is 22mm. A -3.0 to +1.0 diopter adjustment is provided.
The DOF preview button on the EOS 6D is on the right side of the lens mount like the 60d rather than on the left like the 7D and 5D series bodies. Initially this caused me some confusion (I couldn’t find it!) but I suppose whether you like it on the left or right depends on what you are used to. I prefer it on the left, but then that’s where my other EOS bodies have it.
As mentioned above, the EOS 6D has 11 AF zones. Only the center zone is a cross type, sensitive to both horizontal and vertical features. The other 10 points are linear sensors, sensitive to either horizontal or vertical features (but not both).
This is a pretty simple AF system compared even to the 60D, which has 9 cross type sensors. However the 6D AF system works down to lower light levels than any of the other EOS DSLRs, including the 5D MkIII and EOS-1D X. The 6D AF specification indicate that the AF system can operate down to -3 EV.
Comparing the EOS 6D (AF to -3EV) with my EOS 7D (AF to -0.5EV), the 6D was clearly better in very low light. There were situation in which the 7D simply couldn’t get focus where the 6D had no trouble at all. The EOS 5D MkIII is rated to -2EV but I did not have one available for side by side testing.
Using the center AF zone the EOS 6D could AF on a target at an exposure of 1/8s at f4 with the ISO set at 102400. That does indeed correspond to -3EV at ISO 100 as Canon claims. AF was a little slow (still well under 1s) but at that light level there would be little or no chance of manually focusing. Indeed there’s barely enough light to see by. Impressive performance.
Also notable is the fact that the EOS 6D has microfocus adjustment capability (something the 60D lacks). The AF adjustment on the EOS 6D is the same as that found on the EOS 5D MkIII.
In Live View there are three AF modes. Contrast detection AF, Contrast detection AF with Face recognition and a mode in which the reflex mirror briefly flips down and up enabling the phase detection AF system to operate. Note that the 6D sensor does not incorporate any phase detection AF pixels, so there is no Live View hybrid AF mode. This also means that there is no focus tracking mode when shooting video.
During actual use, I didn’t find any problems with the AF of the EOS 6D. It normal lighting it was fast, positive (no hunting) and accurate. In low light, the AF speed slowed down but using the center AF zone it could lock onto a subject with very low levels of illumination. However I did not attempt to track subjects rapidly moving across the frame, since that’s not really what the 6D is designed to do. It’s worth remembering that the 5D MkII (which inherited the AF system of the original EOS 5D) also only had only one cross sensor (in the center) and a total of 9 zones, so the 6D system, while not up to the 41 zone/19 cross dedicated processor AF of the EOS 5D MkIII is pretty similar to the 5D and 5D MkII. Those were state of the art only a few years ago and gave excellent results most of the time.
I measured the continuous shooting speed of the EOS 6D at about 4.4 frames/sec. With a fast UHS-1 enabled card it appeared to be able to shoot Large Fine JPEGs (the highest quality setting) pretty much for as long as it takes to fill the card..
Shooting RAW, however, considerably reduces the number of images that can be shot at the maximum rate. After about 16 frames, the shooting rate drops from around 4.4 fps to a much slower average frame rate of about 1.5 fps. If you want to shoot both JPEG and RAW files simultaneously there’s a second performance hit, with the buffer now holding only around 8 frames and the continuous shooting rate dropping to an average of just slightly over 1fps once the buffer fills.
EOS 6D + EF24-70/4L, ISO 100, 70mm, f5.6. Area in yellow shown below
Image quality is excellent, as you would expect from an EOSDSLR with a 20MP sensor. While the 5D MkIIl (24MP) has a few more pixels and the EOS 1D X (18MP) has a few less, they all show very similar resolution and a few MP more or less really makes little difference.
However to get maximum image quality you need to shoot in RAW and optimize the image either in the supplied Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software or a 3rd party RAW converter with similar capabilities. The image above shows 100% crops and the difference between the “out of the camera JPEG” and a properly sharpened and processed RAW file.
Shooting in RAW allows automatic or manual correction of Chromatic Aberration (CA), distortion and vignetting when a shot is made with a registered Canon lens attached to the camera. CA and vignetting can also be corrected in camera for JPEGs shot with recognized Canon lenses.
ISO Noise and Dynamic Range
The EOS 6D has a “native” ISO range from 100-25600 but can be expanded to a low setting of ISO 50 (L) and two high settings of 51200 (H1) and 102400 (H2). As with previous EOS DSLRs the low setting of ISO 50 would be expected to lower dynamic range and should probably only be used when a longer shutter speed is desired as generally the image quality at ISO 100 will be at least as good or better. The H1 and H2 settings will inevitably lead to higher, perhaps unacceptable, noise levels, but may nevertheless be valuable when shooing in extremely low light.
The above 100% crop series was taken from images shot at ISO 3200 to ISO 102400 (“H2”). These are RAW files converted to JPEG with the noise reduction (chrominance and luminance) set to “0”, i.e. no noise reduction was applied so you can see the intrinsic noise level. As you can see, things are still quite good at ISO 3200 but get progressively worse as the ISO is increased. H1 (ISO 51200) and H2 (ISO 102400) are pretty bad though and are really “for use only in emergency.” Noise reduction can help a little, but the more noise reduction that is applied, the lower the image sharpness becomes. The image below is the ISO 102400 shot with maximum noise reduction applied in DPP (“20” for chrominance and “20” for luminance noise reduction).
Images shot at ISO 1600 and lower are excellent and image noise really isn’t an issue at these lower ISO settings.
Compared to the EOS 5D MkIII, the EOS 6D has very similar ISO noise and dynamic range. For practical purposes there’s little to chose between the 6D and 5D MkIII in terms of overall image noise and DR.
At ISO settings of 1600 and 3200 measured about 3dB less noise with the 6D than the 5D. At low ISO settings (100-200) the 6D showed about 1dB more dynamic range.
The EOS 6D is capable of shooting 1080p HD video at 30/25/24 fps. At 720p and VGA (640×480) there is a 50/60 fps option. Like all the other EOS DSLRs with video, a video clip is limited to either 4GB or 30 minutes, whichever comes first.
The 6D, like the 5D MkIII offers the choice between ALL-i (intra-frame) and IPB (inter-frame) compression schemes. ALL-i is higher quality but produces larger files and streams data at a faster rate (roughly 3x as fast). SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) timecode embedding is also available, which enables syncing of multi-camera video shots in post production.
Audio is recorded either via the built in mono microphone or via an external stereo microphone plugged into the camera. The audio level can be set manually, though it can’t be monitored since there is no socket for headphone attachment.
There is no continuous AF mode while shooting video. Focus is set at the start of the recording. It can be manually adjusted of course, and any attached lens can be manually zoomed. In-lens optical image stabilization operates while recording video.
Video quality is generally good, but perhaps not quite up to the benchmark standard of the EOS 5D MkIII. 6D video tends to suffer from higher levels of Moire fringing and false color then the 5D MkIII. There’s actually an aftermarket video aliasing filter (Mosaic Engineering VAF-6D) that installs over the sensor which reduces these effect for very serious video shooters. Less serious shooters might not notice them (or be bothered by them) in the first place.
The built in GPS function of the EOS 6D is similar to that found on a number of Canon Powershot cameras. It can add GPS data to images, plus there is a logging function which can keep track of where the camera is located at intervals from every second to every 5 minutes).
GPS sensitivity outdoors seemed good, but I found it had trouble operating indoors, at least in my house. I’ve seen this with a number of GPS units I own so it’s not unusual. Just be aware that you might not be able to geotag images shot inside some buildings.
Canon provide a Map Utility program which allows you to display image location on a Google map and there are lots of commercial programs and freeware with similar functions if you don’t like the Canon software.
The GPS function does increase battery drain, so if you want to maximize battery life you light want to turn it on and off as needed.
Built in WiFi is 802.11b/g/n compatible and has a range of up to 30m according to Canon.
And yes, there’s an App for that! Canon offer a free app (in iOS and Android versions) which can turn your smartphone into remote vewfinder and camera controller. As a controller the smartphone app allows you to see the camera’s Live View screen, select the focus point, focus, adjust the camera settings (ISO, exposure compensation, shutter speed/aperture) and release the shutter. As a viewer you can view images on the camera’s memory card, see the EXIF data and rate images. There’s a “pinch to zoom” feature too. WiFi is disabled when the camera is in the movie mode.
The above image shows the Canon App running on my Samsung Galaxy 4 Media Player. Setup is fairly easy. You select WiFi from the 6D menu, then give the camera a name (I used EOS6D). The camera will then give you the WiFi password. Then you configure the smartphone to access the camera WiFi network by selecting the name and entering the password. Once the connection is made you can launch the app and control or view images on the 6D.
One thing to note is that battery drain is increased when WiFi is enabled, which might limit the time over which you can use the camera setup in a remote location.
The 6D can also connect to another camera, a WiFi equipped computer, a wireless printer, the internet or a DNLA device such as a suitably equipped HDMI TV.
It doesn’t have one! None of the Canon full frame DSLRs has a built in flash. On the 6D the GPS and WiFi circuitry is housed in the prism area where a flash might have been, but it seems to be a design issue that Canon just doesn’t put a flash on full frame DSLRs. Whether or not they figure those serious enough to be shooting full frame will be serious enough to use a real flash, I don’t know. However the built in flash on crop sensor models is useful at times, and even more useful is their ability to wirelessly control external speedlites off-camera. You can of course mount a Speedlite on the 6D, but note that there is no PC-sync socket for connecting studio lights. You can mount an adapter in the hotshoe if you really need a PC-sync socket.
The EOS 6D is a product that Canon seems to be aiming at “first time” full frame DSLR users. To keep the price down and differentiate it from the 5D MkIII they’ve made some conscious choices about what features to include and what features to leave off. I’m sure everyone wishes something was included that’s been excluded, but then the 6D would end up with the same features and price as the 5D MkIII. Compromises obviously had to be made.
The 6D is certainly a smaller, lighter (755g and 144.5 × 110.5 × 71.2mm) and “simpler” camera than the EOS 5D MkIII. The AF system is less sophisticated, the frame rate is slower, the maximum shutter speed is slower and the control interface is somewhat simpler, with a single SD memory card and a less intimidating choice of menu options and AF operational modes..
On the other hand the 6D does offer built in GPS and WiFi, which are features that potential purchasers moving up from smartphones and compact digital cameras may have come to expect. It also has excellent image quality and most of the software features of the 5D MkIII (HDR, Highlight Tone Priority, Multiple exposure), though in some cases where the 5D MkIII offers these functions for RAW and JPEG (HDR, Multiple exposure), the 6D only offers them in JPEG.
Comparing the 5D MkIII and the 6D it’s clear that the professional who shoots a lot of action (sports, wildlife etc.) will value the more sophisticated AF system, faster shutter, greater number of customizable options, dual card slots and faster rapid shooting capability of the 5D MkIII. On the other hand those looking for a camera for studio work, travel, portraits and landscapes might well be well served by the smaller, lighter, simpler EOS 6D, especially considering the $1500 price difference.
While some may claim the Canon EOS 6D, (compare prices) (review) is “stripped down”, it’s nevertheless still a very capable camera and can likely provide all the features and performance that many amateurs (and some professionals) need. Strictly in terms of still image quality it’s fully competitive with the EOS 5D MkIII and even the EOS 1D x.
Those not tied to the Canon system might be attracted by features offered by the similarly priced Nikon D600 DSLR Body, (compare prices) (review) but lacking in the Canon 6D. These would include a built in flash capable of wirelessly controlling external Speedlites, 39 AF zones with 9 cross sensors and center AF sensors capable of operating at f8, 5.5 fps and dual memory card slots, a 24MP sensor with better low ISO dynamic range and a 100% viewfinder. The D600 can also transfer uncompressed video via the HDMI connection, a feature which serious videographers may value. Of course on the other hand the 6D has WiFi and GPS built in, lower light AF capability and a wider ISO range, so the choice between the two cameras would depend on the needs of the individual photographer.
Canon EOS 6D, (compare prices) (review). From the Canon website: The EOS 6D DSLR camera is the ideal tool for unlocking your creative vision. Compact, lightweight, brilliant low-light performance, and loaded with easy to use features, the EOS 6D is truly the Full-Frame DSLR camera for everyone.