Canon EOS 6D Review
Canon's most affordable full-frame is one of the best values in the high end of the market.
Canon's brand new EOS 6D (MSRP $2099.99, body-only) is the company's most affordable full-frame camera. It also enters into direct competition with the excellent, similarly equipped, and simultaneously birthed Nikon D600. The new model's most important specs include sensitivity up to ISO 102400, 20.2-megapixel resolution, and continuous shooting at up to 4.5 frames per second. It's certainly a compelling choice for enthusiasts eager to step up from APS-C to a full-frame body.
Like the D600, that (relatively) teenie-weenie price tag is the most compelling feature of all. On paper, the 6D's specs seem to lag behind Nikon's contender (resolution, autofocus, etc.). But if image quality is up to par, the so-called "entry-level" full-frame market could have its first rivalry.
Design & Handing
Reminiscent of other Canon full-frames, though some key features are absent
The EOS 6D's physical design departs very little from existing Canon full-frame models, though we were dismayed at the absence of a dedicated button for white balance. Under the hood, feature set lags slightly behind the competition. The most glaring shortcoming is the 11-point autofocus system, which stacks up poorly with Nikon's superior 39-point array. Of less concern but still notable is the sensor's megapixel count of "only" 20.2, which comes up a little short of the D600's 24.3-megapixel unit. The chassis is hefty and durable, but there's no built-in flash—just like many of Canon's high-end models.
Though sizable, the 6D handles like a dream. On the front panel, we're treated to a large, rubberized hand grip that leaves plenty of surface area for the full length of your fingers to latch onto. There's a deep indentation near the top, lending the middle finger some extra leverage. We only wish the main control wheel had been placed in front of the shutter release, rather than behind.
The rear panel finds room to squeeze in a large, rubberized area for the thumb without compromising the control scheme. We spent most of our time shooting two-handed; Canon seems to anticipate this, and there's some rubberization on the left side of the body to accommodate photographers like us.
We were immediately impressed by the 6D's menu interface and usability, which is remarkably simplified for a full-frame DSLR, yet deep and detailed when the need arises. This is true even when compared to Canon's own full-frame offerings, like the 5D Mark III. The 6D is more flexible in the hands of an expert, but requires no such expertise to get started. Physically handling the camera is also very comfortable, and controls are laid out wisely, minus only a few questionable design choices and the lack of a detailed autofocus menu.
The 6D packs much of what makes the 1D X so great into a smaller, cheaper body—but sharpness could be better.
After producing some of the best color accuracy and noise reduction results we've ever seen, we felt pretty confident that the 6D would boast some of the best image quality on the entire market, regardless of its lower cost. Further encouragement came from our dynamic range and white balance scores, but the 6D's sharpness—at least with the 24-105mm lens—was pretty disappointing compared to what we've seen from some other recent DSLRs, bringing our expectations back down to earth. Still, we're highly impressed by the 6D's image quality overall.
The 6D had virtually identical color accuracy to the top-of-the-line Canon 1D X. That's really saying something, since the 1D X is the all-time color accuracy champion in our lab tests. The 6D was just a hundredth of a point off that camera's score, which is absolutely indistinguishable in practice. White balance was also extremely accurate, even when using automatic settings. Only incandescent light provided a real challenge to its algorithms, but the 6D still performed far better than most under those conditions.
Noise levels are impressively well-controlled all the way up through ISO 3200, and images remain usable for certain purposes even through the sky-high maximum setting of ISO 102400. Dynamic range is also great through ISO 3200, then falls off a cliff—that's not entirely unexpected, but we'd like to see a little more staying power.
Though it's an excellent stills camera, many will also be looking at the 6D as a potential videography tool. The camera's video output isn't the sharpest we've seen, and it's limited to 30 frames per second at full-HD resolution, but videos look pretty good all the same. The most impressive thing about the 6D's video performance is its incredible low-light sensitivity—it took just 2 lux of ambient illumination to generate an image bright enough for TV broadcast.
The 6D can't compete with the D600 on a feature-for-feature basis, though it does throw in some oddballs like WiFi and GPS.
Some of the minor features found in competition like the D600 are omitted from the 6D, such as a built-in interval timer and advanced autofocus options. The 6D does include some ancillary features like built-in WiFi and both built-in and external GPS functionality, but the value of such features is a subject of ongoing debate in our office. (We're sure there are some users somewhere who have them on a must-have list, but we can't imagine there are too many. Continuous drive is limited to 4.5 frames per second, which is worse than many APS-C DSLRs, nearly all mirrorless cameras, and even the competing D600. It's better than the 5D Mark II, though!
Video features are certainly impressive, though, with full manual control of all recording parameters. Video recording options are numerous but slightly unintuitive. Full 1080p resolution is available, but only at 30 or the more cinematic 24 frames per second progressive. 60p recording is also available, but to get at that silky smooth goodness you'll have to step down to 1280 x 720px. Compression settings are ALL-I or IPB, the former of which is the higher quality option.
Canon's 6D may cost north of $2,000, but it's still the best value in the company's stables.
Everything the D600 is for Nikonians, the EOS 6D is for Canonites: a relatively affordable full-frame option, aimed at photographers looking to get their start in high-end portraiture or event shooting. Plus the—shall we say—"price insensitive" consumers are no longer forced to step up to bulkier bodies like the 5D Mark III.
It feels silly to call any camera north of two grand a "good value," but like the D600, that's exactly the case. The vast majority of the features and performance metrics you'd get from the rest of Canon's full-frame lineup are available here, for less. The 6D, for example, handles noise just as well as the 1D X, renders color more accurately than the 5D Mark III, and is just as sharp as either of them when paired with equivalent lenses.
But the closest competitor is certainly the D600. Averaging together all our scores and test results, the two are on extremely equal footing. The 6D earned top marks in more tests, such as JPEG color accuracy, noise reduction, dynamic range (by a slim margin), and white balance. Yet many of these factors aren't incredibly relevant to those who plan on shooting RAW and processing afterward. The D600 earned a far better score in arguably our most important test—sharpness—and this translates to sharper videos as well. The D600 also boasts superior autofocus speed and options, plus additional minor features like a built-in interval timer.
Those who are making their first foray into this market segment and don't have an existing brand preference will probably find the Canon user interface a little easier to digest than Nikon's. Upon first using the 6D, we were struck by the clarity and simplicity of the main and quick menus, even compared to Canon's own 5D Mark III. There's depth here too, if you want it, but the fast menu system puts emphasis on the most important settings, relegating rarely-used fine details off to the side. Heavy users will likely find Nikon's button-oriented controls faster in the long run, but they'll need to invest a lot of time to overcome the learning curve.
For those with prior lens family affiliation, your decision is already made. Almost all the praise we have for the Nikon D600 also applies to the 6D. We think the 6D's autofocus system does lag behind—only by a little, but enough to make this camera a slightly inferior choice for action photography. Otherwise, the Canon EOS 6D is tied for the best entry point for new full-frame photographers, and yes, represents a fantastic value, even at $2,100.
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