Cameras

Feature for Feature, Nikon D600 and Canon 6D Match Up

While the Sony RX1 made a splash at Photokina in Cologne, the Nikon D600 and Canon 6D were the talk of the town.

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At Photokina 2012, Canon and Nikon each released hotly anticipated bodies: the EOS 6D and D600. The Nikon D600 and Canon 6D both come with large full-frame image sensors, confirming rumors that swirled for months prior to their release. More surprising is the fact that they both start at an identical $2,100 body-only price.

They may seem very much alike on paper, but the two cameras present a very interesting choice for brand-agnostic shoppers looking to get into full-frame shooting on the (relative) cheap. Read on for a section-by-section breakdown of what the two cameras offer, and the important differences between the two.

This is a feature-by-feature comparison, so we're keeping a narrow focus on the relevant differences between the two cameras. For a more holistic take on what we thought of each model in the flesh, check out our Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D First Impressions Reviews.

Design and Usability

The Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D each draw design elements from professional full-frame cameras, but also cherry-pick features from popular consumer-oriented bodies within each company's stable.

The weight difference between the two isn't noticeable, but both are significantly lighter than a D800 or 5D Mark III.

On the Nikon side, the D600's top plate is pulled almost directly from the company's top APS-C model, the D7000; the back control scheme, on the other hand, is largely based on Nikon's recently released full-frame body, the D800. On the Canon EOS 6D, bits and pieces are clearly culled from the high-end APS-C EOS 7D, while the body's silhouette is reminiscent of a smaller Canon 5D Mark III.

Both cameras are fairly lightweight; the D600 is the chunkier of the two by a scant 2 ounces, tipping the scales at 26.8oz body-only. Obviously, the weight difference between the two isn't very noticeable, but both are significantly lighter than either a D800 or 5D Mark III. We like the shape of the grip on the EOS 6D better, though the material that covers it feels thinner than what's used on the D600 or even the Canon 7D. It's more ergonomic, but still manages to feel cheaper than the D600.

Handling and Control

Canon and Nikon clearly have different ideas as to how controls ought to be laid out (as anyone who's paid attention should already know). The Nikon D600 features two control dials within easy reach of the right hand, one front and one rear. The dials can serve to navigate the menu system, but the body also offers a separate four-way directional pad that can execute the same aim. Unfortunately, the Nikon menus are significantly inferior to Canon's. Nikon's menus are made up of long lists, organized only into broad sections, meaning you frequently need to scroll through several pages of options before finding what you want.

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The Canon EOS 6D a vast array of dedicated controls within reach of the fingers of your shooting hand, but doesn’t feel as substantial as other Canon bodies.

The Canon EOS 6D also features dual control dials; the traditional e-dial, just above the shutter release, pairs with a rear jog dial located down below the thumb rest. This provides less immediate control, especially as the rear dial is smaller and feels cheaper than we're used to on Canon full-frame bodies. But it ultimately ends up providing much more intuitive navigation, notably aided by Canon's superior menu organization.

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Both cameras offer secondary LCDs on the top plate for a quick breakdown of the camera’s status.

Both cameras feature a locking mode dial, but the Nikon mode dial is augmented by a dial that adjusts the drive mode. A secondary LCD on each camera's top plate is ideal for keeping track of your shooting settings without having to touch the menu.

The clear winner in quick, one-handed control is the Canon EOS 6D. The 6D provides immediate access to white balance, drive mode, ISO, metering mode, and the LCD backlight via dedicated buttons on the top plate, adjacent to the secondary LCD. The D600 also has dedicated controls for these options, but they're scattered all over the body and they all require a second hand to operate (except the LCD backlight).

Features

As expected from cameras trying to bridge the gap between advanced amateur and professional bodies, the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D both provide a full suite of professional controls plus common consumer-oriented features like full automatic and scene modes. Both cameras are also capable of recording full 1080/30p HD video, taking advantage of their full-frame sensors for unbeatable shallow depth of field effects.

It's moderately surprising that the Nikon is the faster of the two, given that it's got more pixels to process with each shot.

Neither camera is the fastest shot on the block, but the Nikon is capable of firing shots at up to 5.5 frames per second compared to the Canon's 4.5fps. Both cameras are quite a bit slower than the top APS-C models (the Nikon D7000 and Canon 7D) that sit below them, but they're pretty quick for full-frame bodies. It's moderately surprising that the Nikon is the faster of the two, given that it's got more pixels to process with each shot; the D600 packs in a 24.3-megapixel imager compared to the 6D's 20.2 megapixels.

Speed isn't a problem when it comes to autofocus for either camera, though the Canon 6D features a somewhat skimpy 11-point AF module (the center point being cross-type) compared to 39 AF points on the Nikon (9 of which are cross-type). We found the Nikon D600's autofocus performance was slightly superior in our short time with both cameras, but it's worth mentioning that the 6D's center point is rated for sensitivities down to -3 EV—far lower than any point in the D600's array. As such, we'll hold off judgement until we can shoot with both models away from a trade show floor.

The 6D, of course, is the first dSLR to claim built-in WiFi and GPS. Though we suspect these features will hold limited appeal to most potential buyers, there are doubtless those who will celebrate the additions. In particular, backcountry hikers, wildlife photographers, and those traveling abroad should love the trip-tracking capability, while astrophotographers will have other uses for in-camera GPS.

Video

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The Nikon D600’s inclusion of both 3.5mm mic and headphone jacks is a big advantage in terms of appealing to videographers.

For video, both cameras offer full HD shooting, with the usual range of resolutions and various frame rates. The Nikon D600 records video in .MOV files with MPEG-4/H.264 compression, as previously seen on the D800. The Canon EOS 6D offers two compression choices—ALL-I and IPB—just like the 5D Mark III. In terms of hardware, the D600 has the advantage of headphone and mic jacks, while the 6D has to make do with just the mic input.

On paper, it appears that the Canon 6D should also offer far better low light sensitivity than the D600, as its native ISO range extends from 100-25600, expandable to 102400. The Nikon D600's ISO range extends from 100-6400 natively, with 25600 as the absolute maximum.

Given what we've seen from Canon and Nikon recently, we expect slightly better overall video quality from the EOS 6D. Still, the lack of a headphone jack on the Canon is troublesome, and seems like a pretty cynical product differentiation move, meant to push videographers toward the more expensive 5D Mark III.

For those in the Canon system looking to upgrade, the 6D's incompatibility with EF-S lenses is a real drawback.

In some ways, Nikon's decision to stick with roughly the same mount for the past half century pays great dividends. While the company's entry-level APS-C bodies can't autofocus with older AF glass, its entire range of lenses pairs with the D600, including manual focus lenses dating back to 1977. Even DX lenses will serve in a 12-megapixel crop mode, a significant feature for wildlife and sports photographers.

For those in the Canon system looking to upgrade, the 6D's incompatibility with EF-S lenses is a real drawback. But on the plus side, the 6D's shorter flange distance means that it can mount legacy lenses from a huge number of other manufacturers (including Nikon) via a simple mechanical adapter. With its longer flange distance, the Nikon is much less friendly to "alternative" glass.

Conclusion

Though we've spent quite lot of words here trying to show how different they are, the similarities between these two $2,100 full-frame cameras certainly outnumber the distinctions. These cameras offer practically identical specifications, features, and designs, and—at least on paper—they present incredibly similar value propositions. Choosing between them as a neutral observer involves splitting quite a few hairs.

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The Canon 6D has great control with options like the “Q” menu, but it lacks the dual card slots of the Nikon D600.

The Nikon has the clear advantage in speed and autofocus functionality, but suffers with regard to low-light sensitivity. The Canon body didn't feel as nice as we were hoping, based on our time with the Canon 7D and 5D Mark III, but it offered far better single-handed control. The Nikon also offers dual SD card slots, compared to just one on the Canon.

Altogether, in the short time we had to handle the two cameras, we found that they both succeeded in the same mission: making us wish we owned one. The Sony A850 may have been the first to break the sub-$2000 barrier for full-frame bodies, but the Canon EOS 6D and Nikon D600 are paving new ground, with impressive technology at a reasonable price.

Hands-on impressions and spec sheets only go so far, though, so before we get time in a lab with these cameras, we can't declare a clear winner. The Nikon D600 appears to have an edge in raw features and hardware, but we prefer the Canon 6D's more ergonomic and convenient control scheme. Image quality and video capability are a big question mark until we can test them more rigorously.

Suffice it to say that this is one pair of cameras we're extremely eager to get into our labs. This is a case where real performance testing must make the final decision.

Once again, to read our full first impressions review of the Nikon D600, please go here. To read our full first impressions review of the Canon EOS 6D, please go here.