Canon EOS 6D review

The Canon EOS 6D is a top-notch full-frame camera in a relatively compact body. With a relatively affordable price, enthusiast-friendly features, and spectacular image quality, it's an easy Editors' Choice.
Photo of Canon EOS 6D

Prior to the announcement of the Canon EOS 6D ($2,099 direct, body only) and the Nikon D600, shooters who wanted a full-frame camera—one with an image sensor the same size as a 35mm film frame—were faced with a small number of choices at $3,000 and up. Both companies cut about $1,000 off the price of entry to full-frame with new models that sacrifice some features that pro shooters are used to, but are packaged in smaller bodies that are similar in design to the top-end APS-C cameras. The 20-megapixel 6D also adds some enthusiast-friendly features—notably an integrated GPS receiver and Wi-Fi capability—which, along with fantastic image quality, earn it an almost-perfect rating and our Editors’ Choice award. The $6,000 full-frame Nikon D4 is still a better choice for anyone who relies on photography to put food on the table, but most folks simply don’t need that much camera in their bag.

Design and Features
While it’s bigger than entry-level cameras with smaller APS-C image sensors, the 6D is compact for a full-frame D-SLR. It measures 4.4 by 5.7 by 2.8 inches (HWD) and weighs just under 1.7 pounds without a lens. Compare this with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a more traditional full-frame camera that measures 4.6 by 6 by 3 inches and weighs about 2.1 pounds. If you currently shoot with an APS-C Canon camera like the EOS Rebel T4i or EOS 7D and are considering an upgrade to full-frame be aware that while you can mount any EF lens to any Canon D-SLR, Canon’s line of EF-S lenses are designed only for use with APS-C cameras and can’t be used with the 6D, 5D Mark III, or EOS-1D X cameras. This is in contrast to Nikon’s approach, which allows its APS-C DX lens lineup to be used on the D600, the D800, and D4 in a special crop mode. Like Canon’s other full-frame offerings there is no flash built into the 6D—you’ll need to use an external one. This isn’t atypical for a full-frame camera—Nikon does include a pop-up flash on the D600 and D800, but omits it on the D4, and Sony does not include a flash in its full-frame bodies.

The control layout is familiar to anyone who has handled a Canon SLR before. There’s a standard mode dial on top left side with an integrated On/Off lever. To the right of the viewfinder you’ll find a control wheel, the shutter release, and buttons to adjust the AF Mode, Drive Mode, ISO, Metering Mode, and to activate the backlight on the monochrome information LCD, also located on the top of the camera. The rear controls are compressed when compared with the 5D Mark III, but you’ll still have access to a rear control wheel with an integrated four-way controller, an Info button that controls what is displayed on the rear LCD, the Menu button, a control switch to activate Live View and movie recording, image playback controls, and buttons to engage the autofocus system, activate Exposure Lock, and select the active autofocus point. There’s also a physical lock switch that prevents the rear control from adjusting settings when turned—that wheel controls exposure compensation in most shooting modes.

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First seen on the Rebel series of APS-C cameras, the Q button allows you to change settings via the rear LCD. Hit it and you’ll be able to adjust lens aperture, ISO, Exposure Compensation, Flash Compensation, JPG output, White Balance, and other common shooting settings—the rear control pad is used to navigate from item to item and the control wheel scrolls through the available settings.

The camera’s large optical viewfinder trumps even the best APS-C models in terms of size and brightness—but it doesn’t offer a full 100 percent field of view. Instead Canon opted to include a 97 percent viewfinder—the camera will capture a little bit of extra information around the edges of the frame, and the slightly smaller viewfinder makes it possible to change the focus screen—a feature that was omitted from the higher-end 5D Mark III. This is a boon to Canon shooters who use the rare manual focus Canon lens like the TS-E 90mm f/2.8, or any of the manual focus Carl Zeiss lenses available for Canon cameras like the Makro-Planar T* 2/100, as Canon’s EG-S focus screen is ideally suited for accurate manual focus with faster lenses.

The resolution of the 3-inch rear LCD tops one million dots. It’s extremely sharp, allowing you to confirm critical focus when reviewing shots or shooting in Live View mode. It’s fixed—the Sony Alpha 99 is the only full-frame D-SLR with an articulating display—and isn’t quite as large as the 3.2-inch screen on Nikon’s D600, but it is sharper.

The 6D is the first SLR with integrated Wi-Fi connectivity, and overall, it’s a good implementation. There are a number of ways to use the wireless features, and some are more useful than others. Canon gives you the ability to share photos directly with another Canon Wi-Fi camera and to print directly to a Wi-Fi-enabled printer. So you’ll have to be out shooting with a partner who also has a Wi-Fi-equipped Canon camera to take advantage of the former, and the latter assumes that you’ll be printing your photos without cropping, retouching, or other post-production work. You also have the option of viewing your photos on a DLNA device, like a Wi-Fi HDTV or set-top box.

The more useful functions involve sharing your photos online, and taking control of the 6D via your smartphone. You can send photos and videos directly to Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube via the Canon Image Gateway service. To set this up you’ll need to install the EOS Utility application on your PC or Mac and create an account on the Canon Image Gateway service. From there you can link your social networking accounts. Connecting the 6D to your computer pairs it with your Canon account, and will let you send JPG images and videos directly to the service of your choice. You’ll need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network, and the EOS 6D can store the SSID and login information for up to three networks at a time.

Photos and videos can also be directly sent to your iOS or Android device. You can connect to a phone when it, and the 6D, are on the same Wi-Fi network. Or the 6D can act as a hotspot for direct connection—and you can save presets for either configuration in one of the five slots dedicated to this mode. Once connected, you can transfer images and videos directly to your phone via the EOS Remote app; it’s available for free in both the Apple and Android app stores. Raw transfer is supported—because photos are sized down to 2-megapixel JPG images in order to speed up transfers. You can also use your phone to control the camera wirelessly. A live feed of the camera’s Live View mode shows up on your phone’s screen, and you can select a focus point via touch, change shooting settings, and fire the shutter. There’s noticeable lag in the video feed—it’s not as speedy as the USB tethered computer connection that is possible via the included EOS Utility software for Mac or Windows—but it’s useable in the field, whereas traditional tethered shooting is more useful in a studio setting.

You also get integrated GPS. It’s a powerful receiver—it only took about 40 seconds to lock on to my location on initial setup—and you can adjust how often it polls for a new location. By default it checks for your location every 15 seconds, but you can go as fast as once a second or as slow as every five minutes. Using the GPS definitely puts a strain on the camera’s battery. I was out shooting on a cold morning and went from a full charge to two battery bars in only a few hours. And the GPS will continue to check for your location even when the camera is turned off. The photos I took were, without exception, accurately geotagged, appearing on Lightroom’s map at the exact locations from which I shot them. If you want to add location data to your photos, you’ll likely want to set the camera to check with the GPS satellites less often to extend the battery life, and disable the GPS before you turn the camera off. If that’s an unacceptable compromise, tote an extra battery. There is an optional battery grip available—it plugs into the bottom of the camera and holds two cells, doubling the operation time.

Performance and Conclusions
The 6D isn’t as fast as higher-end models like the Nikon D4 or Canon EOS-1D X, but it isn’t slow by any means. It starts and shoots in about 0.6-second and averages a 0.2-second shutter lag. Continuous shooting is possible at about 4.2 frames per second, but the number of shots you can capture before that slows varies based on file format and card speed. I was able to grab 8 Raw+JPG shots using a SanDisk 95MBps memory card, with 7.5 seconds required to fully clear the buffer after I stopped shooting. Shooting only Raw files extends the burst to 16 shots, but also lengthens the buffer clearing time to 10.5 seconds. If you shoot JPGs, there’s no worry—the camera can keep shooting for as long as you’d like without any noticeable slowdown. The D600 is just a little bit faster—it starts and shoots in 0.4-second, records a 0.1-second shutter lag, and rattles off shots at 5.3 frames per second with similar limitations on the number of shots it can capture before slowing when shooting Raw files.

We tested focus speed using the EF 50mm f/1.2L lens. In good light, the camera is able to bring an out-of-focus image into crisp view in about 0.4-second, but slowed to 1.6 seconds to accomplish the same task in dim light. There are two types of Live View focus—one is the standard contrast-detection method, which displays a moveable square on the rear LCD that indicates the focus area. It requires 2.3 seconds to focus in good light and 2.7 seconds in dim light. The second focus mode is called Quick Focus—it disables Live View for just long enough to lock focus using the camera’s faster phase detection system. It’s a bit noisier, and obviously not appropriate for refocusing during video recording. The speed improvement is more dramatic in good light—it cuts the time to focus and fire to 0.9-second there—but it only cuts 0.4-second from the time to focus and fire in dim light, recording a 2.3-second delay.

I tested the EOS 6D body only—it’s also available in a kit with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM AF zoom lens for $2,899—but we didn’t have that zoom on hand to test for sharpness with Imatest. I did run resolution tests on a number of Canon prime lenses, including the EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM and the compact EF 28mm f/1.8 USM.

I used Imatest to measure the noise recorded by the 6D’s 20-megapixel image sensor. It’s a relatively low megapixel count for a full-frame design—of current models, only the 16-megapixel Nikon D4 packs fewer pixels. This is generally advantageous when it comes to performance at very high ISO settings. I tested the JPG output at default settings through the camera’s top expanded ISO setting of 102400 and found the results to be more than impressive. The camera is able to keep noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 12800, and does so while still capturing a rich amount of detail. At ISO 25600, the top standard setting, noise increases to 2.1 percent, but despite increased graininess, fine details are crisp. I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at 25600 if required, although I’d recommend switching to Raw for shots, even if it isn’t your typical workflow. That will allow you to apply noise reduction in Adobe Lightroom or a similar Raw converter, which gives you more control than the 6D’s in-camera algorithm. Of the full-frame cameras that we’ve tested, only the D4 does better at the highest settings—it keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 20000.

The 6D rolls QuickTime video footage at 1080p30, 1080p24 or 720p60 quality. Each format lets you choose between All-I and IPB compression, with the former resulting in much larger files. The footage looks sharp, but it does rely on the same autofocus system as the Live View mode during recording. Refocusing is a lengthy process that leads to occasional stutters as the camera locks down accurate focus. There isn’t a way to enable continuous autofocus, instead you have to hold down the AF-ON button to refocus when recording—you’ll likely get better, smoother results by focusing manually. The sound of the lens refocusing in autofocus mode is fairly loud, but there is a microphone input port. If you’re interested in a full-frame SLR that has more user-friendly video focus, the Sony Alpha 99 is worth a look. Because of its design, which uses a fixed mirror for full time phase detect focus, the camera quickly locks onto and can track objects when recording video, just as it would when shooting stills. The downside to this system is that it necessitates the use of an electronic viewfinder rather than the more traditional optical finder found in the 6D.

In addition to the mic input port, there is a standard mini USB port, a mini HDMI port, and a port for a wired remote control. Some pro connections are missing—there’s no PC Sync socket to connect to studio strobes (although a number of third-party solutions that slide into the hot shoes are available), and there’s no CompactFlash memory card slot. Instead there’s a single slot for SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.

While the 6D doesn’t have all of the pro features of its more expensive siblings, it represents a solid value for Canon shooters who want to take advantage of the benefits of a larger image sensor. If you use EF lenses on your APS-C Canon camera, you’ll immediately benefit from a wider field of view when they are paired with a full-frame body. (Many were originally designed for use with 35mm film cameras, even if coatings and focus motors have been improved over the years to better pair with digital.) The larger sensor also leads to a bigger viewfinder, and its rather low pixel density helps the 6D excel at extremely high ISO settings, while full-frame also allows you to create a shallower depth of field at similar apertures.

If you’re an advanced amateur or photographic enthusiast, there aren’t a lot of faults to find with the 6D. It’s focus system could be a bit faster, making the 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 a better option for those who shoot events. Although it would do nicely as a less-expensive backup camera for the 5D Mark III. The Canon EOS-1D X or the Nikon D4 are better choices for photojournalists and those who cover of the extremely fast action of sporting events, as both cameras deliver near-instant focus and extremely fast burst shooting. The 6D’s video autofocus speed is par for the course for full-frame cameras—you’ll have to move over to Sony’s Alpha 99 to remedy that, but will sacrifice an optical viewfinder. The 6D doesn’t shoot quite as fast as the Nikon D600—it’s about one frame per second slower—but the addition of Wi-Fi and GPS and superior image quality at high ISO settings give Canon the edge. Because of this, the EOS 6D earns our Editors’ Choice award for full-frame D-SLRs. It can’t match the performance of our previous winner, the $6,000 Nikon D4, but unless you’re on the sidelines of a pro football game, or earning thousands of dollars per wedding shoot, the 6D will likely be more camera than you need—in a much smaller and less-expensive form.

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Specifications
Dimensions 4.4 x 5.7 x 2.8 inches
Interface Ports mini USB, mini HDMI, Mic, Remote
Megapixels 20 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.24 seconds
LCD dots 1040000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 102400
Type D-SLR
GPS Yes
Boot time 0.6 seconds
Weight 1.66 lb
Lens Mount Canon EOS
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 3
Image Stabilization None
Shutter Lag 0.2 seconds
Sensor Size 23.9 x 35.8 (Full-Frame) mm
Viewfinder Type Optical

Verdict
The Canon EOS 6D is a top-notch full-frame camera in a relatively compact body. With a relatively affordable price, enthusiast-friendly features, and spectacular image quality, it's an easy Editors' Choice.
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