The Canon 6D is the worlds smallest, lightest full-frame SLR on the market today. As a travel and landscape photographer, I was quite intrigued by the ultralight factor and immediately bought one of the first to ship.
This review is now much more comprehensive with new images and experiences, all in a beautiful PDF. I uploaded 6GB+ of downloadable TIFFs and low-compression 1080p video and more for you to download as well. Get the downloadable PDF and images here. (both free)
Ready? Let’s get started! First, here is an overview of the key features:
This review is not based on marketing figures or datasheets. Instead this review will focus on real-world usage and results from the perspective of a working landscape photographer. I have no preference for Canon over Nikon, I own both and consider them equal. Price can be of major concern for many when considering camera bodies, however this factor did not influence my impressions or decisions and is therefore absent from this review.
The CMOS sensor found in the Canon 6D is nearly identical to the one found in the Canon 5D Mark III – quality is the same. Pixel-level detail of this CMOS full-frame sensor is capable of producing incredibly detailed images with beautiful color. I have printed large format prints from the 6D, up to 40×60, and the level of detail and color rendition is excellent. Just as important as image quality is, however, is pre-visualization and getting the right information on the sensor. Image quality is only as good as visual quality! : )
The 6D has Canon’s most powerful image processor, the DIGIC 5+. The Canon 6D’s DIGIC 5+ processor is 17x faster than a DIGIC 4 and 30% faster than a DIGIC 5. The image processor of a camera is responsible for reducing noise at higher ISOs, and the DIGIC 5+ represents the best to date. The introduction of DIGIC 5+ also means that JPEG processing (finally!) includes chromatic aberration correction, based on lens profiles which are stored in-camera and therefore limited to Canon’s own lenses. In addition, the extra processing power allows the 6D to apply chromatic aberration correction to JPEG images. This correction is based on Canon-created lens profiles, up to 29 of which are be downloaded and saved onto the camera in the form of firmware updates. These profiles allow correction not only of lateral CA but also of the harder-to-fix axial CA.
Holding the Canon 6D for the first time the smaller form factor and lightness are both very noticeable when compared to a body in the 5D-series. It has a great balance to it and the ergonomics are excellent. The top-case construction material of the Canon 6D is a glass fiber reinforced polycarbonate, which was selected to permit WiFi and GPS signals. Without a built-in flash it has a very durable and rugged construction without any play or flex. The internal frame is of course metal, and the 6D’s front and rear body covers are Magnesium Alloy. Build quality here is high, and I get the sense that the polycarbonate top-case is very impact and pressure resistant. The depth of field preview button is now accessible with your shooting hand and the streamlined redesign of the button layout has nearly all controls justified to the right, also accessible from the shooting hand. All other controls and settings are where you would expect them to be. The shutter is hypersensitive, even more so than the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. There’s no lag in the shutter and the threshold from autofocus half-depression to full click is just right.
The Canon EOS 6D has a very nice sounding normal shutter click, and in normal mode it’s slightly quieter than the 5D Mark III. The 6D also features the Silent drive mode, which is tech that came downstream from the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. This is significantly quieter than the standard “normal” shutter sound. I consider this feature to be a huge step forward for wedding photographers, documentary photographers, travel photographers, wildlife photographers or any other type of photography where shooting unnoticed is best. On a chicken bus in Guatemala for example, one shot out of the window with a normal shutter might draw attention from passengers, whereas with Silent mode it’s likely to go unheard. For Henry Cartier-Bresson, the anonymity that the small, quiet camera gave him in a crowd or during an intimate moment was essential in overcoming the formal and unnatural behavior of those who were aware of being photographed.
Canon says that the EOS 6D is “completely sealed from external contaminants”. I had a surprise experience with gallons of seawater coming down on top of me when shooting a Golden Gate Bridge sunrise. I thought the camera and lens were probably done for, however after drying it off completely all was perfectly operational. It would appear that the weatherproofing is fairly strong. On closer inspection of the doors and hinges, one may notice small sponge-like sealing which not only keeps the elements out, but prevents any play as a result of plastic-on-plastic doors or otherwise moving parts. Click here to sign up for my awesome newsletter where I send a bi-weekly email with new photography, articles and reviews! Also, check out my other article on How to Pre-Visualize like Ansel Adams, and make sure to subscribe to my newsletter!
The Canon 6D is the first Canon SLR to have integrated GPS. For everyday shooters, wedding or sports photographers, the value of GPS may be minimal, however the value for travel and landscape photographers is sure to be huge. In addition to having accurate location-based data for every shot, the integrated GPS in the 6D also automatically sets the timezone. Remember when you had to adjust timezones manually on import? Those days are over! An option in the Canon menu system also allows for the logging of location data even when not shooting. This can be useful when wanting to log a trip, a hike or a vehicle route. Non-Canon 6D photographers can purchase the GP-E2 GPS Receiver ($242.95) to achieve the same result, however with the added bulk on the top of the camera. Another interesting development with GPS data is the inherent SEO value attached to GPS coordinates in the EXIF data. It’s been predicted by some SEO professionals that Google will place emphasis on GPS data in the near future as a way to confirm authenticity. Sounds like fun!
One of the only downsides to the integrated GPS is that even with the camera turned off, I have noticed it depleting the battery. Creating a ‘Favorite’ menu with GPS on the top makes it easy to turn it off when putting the camera away, but it’s certainly annoying. I have updated the firmware of the Canon EOS 6D and this problem still exists.
Probably the biggest feature difference between the Canon EOS 6D and the 5D or 1D-family bodies is autofocus. The Canon 6D’s 11-point AF system also offers the strongest low light performance of any DSLR on the market. With focusing down to EV-3, the equivalent of moonlight, subjects remain in-focus in even the most challenging lighting conditions – offering the freedom to shoot landscapes or portraits at night and capture the true atmosphere of the scene with minimal noise. Compare this to the -2 on the 5D Mark III, and the -0.5 on the 5D Mark II. This is a clear win for me as I often use ND filters (up to 10-stops of light) to push exposure times and occasionally rely on autofocus bracketing to obtain critical sharpness. It accurately and predictably locks on subjects even if the viewfinder is black. Amazing! Click here to sign up for my newsletter if you haven’t already.
One of the main friction points of the 5D Mark II was it’s “older” 9-point AF system. The 5D Mark III has a 63-point AF system, and the 6D has an 11-point AF system with a center cross-type of f/5.6 with additional sensitivity when an f/2.8 or wider max aperture lens is selected. For sports, action or wedding photographers who rely on autofocus, the 11-point may not cut it. For landscape photography I prefer the simpler AF system of the Canon EOS 6D.
Many people reading this article are likely looking for a comparison between the Canon EOS 6D and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III in addition to a review of the Canon EOS 6D. I won’t be providing a comprehensive technical review of the two, as that’s been done elsewhere, however let’s start with a real-world feature comparison in order of importance for travel and landscape photographers, with GREEN having an advantage and RED having a disadvantage.
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When the Canon EOS 6D was released this past year in December 2012, there was an immense amount of chatter as to wether or not it was a worthy contender in the lineup of full-frame bodies. You hear words like budget and economy and other things like this. My impression is that this is all noise that comes from millions of dollars of marketing, and if you’re looking for practical rather than theoretical advantages, the Canon EOS 6D is one of the best cameras on the market, regardless of brand.
Ultralight construction, incredible low-light AF and GPS are features that presently you can’t find in another camera. For professional landscape and travel photographers who are looking to retain extremely high image quality in the smallest form factor available, I’d highly recommend this camera.
Click here to download Canon 6D Instruction Manuals
Did you find this review useful? If so, consider buying the Canon 6D (or anything else) from any of the stores below. 100% of the commission goes straight to the World Wildlife Fund. This percentage comes out of the store’s cut, not yours – items won’t cost you a penny more.
My Canon 6D has over 200,000 shutter cycles on it and it’s perfectly fine! Why so many you may ask? Battery tests. I’ll have the results up soon hopefully.
Canon user experience team is either on vacation or they were fired, and as a result WiFi was poorly implemented rendering it utterly useless in it’s present state. The GPS also stays on even if the camera is turned OFF, meaning battery drain and lots of dead batteries. Again, Canon user experience team is asleep here…
The EOS app is a free iOS download that allows you to use the camera as a remote. Unfortunately it does not have any intervalometer settings and therefore I didn’t spend much time with it – it’s just point and shoot. So practically speaking, it’s essentially useless.
Yes, firmware version 1.1.3 was loaded at review time. If you are a Canon EOS 6D owner you can find the latest firmware version here.
Yes, this sucks! However, with a SanDisk Extreme 128GB SD card the Canon EOS 6D can save approximately 6,553 RAW images, or 5,242 RAW + hi-res JPEG. Although not an answer to those who own lots of CF cards (I do!), it certainly doesn’t affect how much you can store. Read more about my review of the SanDisk Extreme 128GB here.
Autofocus sensitivity in the Canon 6D goes lower than the 5D Mark III, down to -3 EV, whereas the 5D Mark III performs at -2 EV, and the Mark II and the original 6D is at -0.5. For reference, the new Nikon Df has a autofocus sensitivity of -1 EV.
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