Canon EOS 6D Review
Canon's most affordable full-frame is one of the best values in the high end of the market.
If you want 80% of a 1D X's raw image quality in a more compact, lower-priced package, the 6D is your camera. Color and noise results are pretty much spot-on imitations of what you'd get from Canon's professional flagship, while the 6D's dynamic range results are similarly impressive. Practically the only image quality metric in which the camera falls short of greatness is sharpness, thanks almost entirely to the less-than-stellar 24-105mm kit lens. Video is also quite nice, though you can't shoot 1080/60p.
Performance was disappointing with the kit lens, but far better with the 24-70mm f/2.8.
We spent a lot of time with Canon's 24-70mm f/2.8L II (the $2,299 beast of a lens that we'd been testing with the 1D X), and while we used this excellent glass for sample photos (with relish!), our resolution testing was limited to the 6D's kit offering: the 24-105mm f/4L IS. We also deactivated all of the 6D's numerous distortion compensation features, allowing us to test any genuine geometric distortion or chromatic aberration produced by the lens. We also deactivated all sharpness enhancement, and shot in the "Faithful" picture style.
Sharpness was best near f/9, as is often the case, while the widest apertures resulted in an acceptable drop in sharpness, but a drop nonetheless. Sharpness also usually tends to dip at very narrow apertures, and that's the case here as well. The difference between sharpness at f/9 and f/22 is around 35%, which actually isn't so bad. The sharpest focal length is the widest, 24mm, while 70mm and 105mm positions provide slightly less stellar, if consistent, performance.
Noise performance precisely equal to the world-beating 1D X
Even without noise reduction being applied, the 6D's sensor is so well-designed that overall image noise doesn't cross 1% until ISO 3200. Applying only the Standard NR setting, this threshold is pushed off to ISO 25600. In fact, with enough noise reduction, even the extended ISO levels—51200 and 102400—can be smoothed down to 1.17% and 1.64% noise respectively. The results don't look fantastic, but they're certainly usable for certain purposes (reduced-resolution web use and small prints). It's a pretty amazing accomplishment.
Qualitatively speaking, Canon cameras at this level seem to do a better job reducing or preventing chroma noise than their Nikon counterparts. This means that the noise we do see tends to manifest as colorless, film-like grain, as opposed to multicolored splotching. Obviously a complete absence of noise is most desirable, but given the choice, grain is usually considered the more appealing type.
The high-end of the imaging market is crowded with cameras that all do an excellent job minimizing noise, so scores here are all very close. Yet even with this tough competition, the 6D manages to distinguish itself. In our complex rating system, the 6D earned an identical score to the 1D X, right down to the third decimal point, and they now represent the two best cameras on the market for this metric.
Color & White Balance
The 6D is nearly identical to the 1D X in color performance, too.
By comparing unprocessed JPEGS with the known values of an X-Rite ColorChecker, we determined that the 6D's JPEGs (when shooting in the most accurate color mode: Faithful) produce a delta-C color error of only 1.73—worse than the 1D X by just one-hundredth of a point. To put this in context, a typical professional body might return an error value in excess of 2.5 and still be considered excellent. The 6D is far better than that. Color saturation was also perfect, down to the tenth of a percent, which is a feat we almost never see.
This performance is far beyond any close competition, like Nikon's D600, or even tangential competition like Canon's own 5D Mark III, which costs $1000 more. The $6,799 1D X is really the only camera that offers similar color accuracy to the 6D. Good show, Canon.
High-end cameras can be hit or miss when it comes to white balance, but the 6D does a better job than most. Under both daylight and fluorescents, the automatic white balance algorithm will be perfectly adequate. Here we recorded color temperature errors of less than 150 kelvins; under these conditions, a manual white balance won't give you any significant advantage.
Incandescent light is a different story—you'll definitely want to set a manual white balance here. That's because the automatic system has trouble with incandescent (almost all cameras do), and returns average color temperature errors in excess of 1500 kelvins. That's better than many other DSLRs, but still enough to give images a warm, yellow-orangey cast. A custom white balance will bring that error back down to just 100 kelvins in the same light.
The 6D offers fantastic dynamic range up through ISO 1600, but drops off sharply from there.
DR starts at 8.55 "high-quality" (a 10:1 signal-to-noise ratio) stops at ISO 100 and only drops to just over 7 stops at ISO 1600. But at ISO 3200, D-range quickly falls off to 4.88 stops, then 2.98 stops at 6400, and so on. Our test only measures the range of what we call "usable" data, so these figures may differ from scores recorded by other publications (which typically use a 1:1 signal-to-noise ratio).
Since the 6D's dynamic range performance is divided evenly between excellent and sub-par results, the numbers average out to an overall score that is competitive with the Nikon D600, in fact the 6D comes out on top by a narrow margin. A closer competitor is actually the 5D Mark III, which offers almost identical dynamic range performance.
Video output is decently sharp, and shows excellent light sensitivity.
Under both bright and dim lighting, the 6D and 24-105mm kit lens are slightly less sharp than the D600 kit when it comes to video output. The 6D achieved approximately 625 lp/ph horizontally and 650 vertically under 3000 lux studio illumination. Note these results aren't immune to a bit of moire, which is visible in areas of fine repetitive detail. When we took ambient lighting down to 60 lux, the 6D lost some sharpness, but not much. This time we recorded 600 lp/ph horizontally and 625 vertically, which is still impressive.
Like many high-end Canon SLRs, the 6D is also capable of shooting video in extremely low light. Our lab test measures the light level at which a camera is no longer able to gather 50 IRE of video image data, assuming maximum sensitivity and kit lens aperture. The 6D's sensor was able to maintain 50 IRE until we dimmed the lights all the way down to 2 lux. This is an amazing score, surpassed only by Canon's own 1D X.
Get Our Newsletter
Real advice from real experts. Sign up for our newsletter
Thanks for signing up!