Canon EOS 6D Review

January 7, 2013 | Mark Goldstein |


The new EOS 6D is the smallest and lightest full-frame Canon DSLR. The 6D features a 20.2 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, built-in wireless transmitter, integrated GPS module, DIGIC 5+ image processor, an 11-point autofocus array, 63-zone dual-layer iFCL metering sensor, an expanded ISO range of 50-102,400, 3.0-inch LCD monitor with 1,040,000 dots, continuous shooting speed of 4.5 frames per second and 1080p Full HD video capabilities. The Canon EOS 6D is available body-only for $2,099 / £1,799 or in a kit version with Canon’s EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens for $2,899.00 / £2,519.99.

Ease of Use

The Canon EOS 6D brings the full-frame DSLR experience to the masses, with a lower price-tag, smaller and lighter body, and a more simplified control layout than the popular 5D Mark III. It also has a couple of features, most notably built-in wi-fi and GPS, that its bigger brother doesn't offer, although there are inevitably some big compromises too, including only 11 AF points, 97% viewfinder coverage and slower 4.5fps burst shooting (the 5D Mark II has 61 AF points, 100% viewfinder and 6fps burst shooting). The EOS 6D is also up against some strong competition from the better-specified Nikon D600, which takes a somewhat different approach to make full-frame more affordable.

The EOS 6D weighs 755g and measures 144.5 x 110.5 x 71.2mm, making it quite a lot lighter and smaller than the 5D Mark III and therefore better suited to life as a travel camera. The 6D still has a part-magnesium alloy body, which should make it more durable in the longer term than plastic-bodied cameras, and it also adds a welcome level of weather-proofing for protection against dust and moisture. There's a textured area on both the deep hand-grip and around the thumb-rest on the rear of the camera, and size-wise the 6D is perfect for everyone with small to normal-sized hands. On the front of the 6D is an infrared port on the grip, rather too small and awkwardly placed depth-of-field preview button, self-timer lamp and a monaural microphone.

Like other semi-pro cameras, the Canon EOS 6D offers two control wheels; a small one on the top of the handgrip, and a large, spinning dial on the back of the camera. This rear 'quick control dial' is characteristic of all high-end Canon EOS cameras, used to apply rapid exposure adjustments. It's a bit of an acquired taste compared to more conventional control dials, but you quickly get used to it and it is easy to 'spin'. There's a dedicated Lock switch underneath which toggles this dial on and off.

Instead of the 5D Mark III's small joystick on the rear, the 6D employs a conventional four-way controller set within the rear control wheel. It's a little "spongy" in use, but perhaps a better fit for the 6D's target audience than the love-it or loathe-it joystick. Just above is the useful Quick button which opens the Quick Control screen. Depending on which shooting mode you're using, this lets you quickly set various parameters via the LCD screen, using the four-way controller to move around the various options. The Quick Control screen is particularly well-suited to beginners and tripod work, letting you see and adjust the camera's key controls at a glance.

Canon EOS 6D Canon EOS 6D
Front Rear

On the top-right of the Canon EOS 6D, positioned above the large monochrome status LCD display, are four buttons, each of which has a single function. You press a button and then turn either the top control dial or the rear control dial to change the corresponding setting. The 6D also shows the settings on the main LCD screen as well as the status LCD. There's a smaller fifth button which activates the status LCD display light so that you can use it in the dark.

There are two LCD displays on the EOS 6D; the 3-inch colour LCD on the rear and the smaller status panel on the top. On cheaper DSLR cameras, the LCD on the rear usually has to do both jobs, but on this model all of the camera's main settings are visible from above on the smaller panel. This makes the Canon EOS 6D quicker to use and also helps to extend the battery life. The main LCD screen offers a fantastic VGA resolution with 1,040K dots, so you may find yourself using it more often than you thought. Importantly it also allows you to judge the critical sharpness of your photos using the LCD screen. The optical viewfinder has a magnification of 0.71x and dioptre correction, but only offers 97% coverage compared to the 5D Mark III's 100%, which means that you can't quite be sure of everything that the camera is capturing (although you quickly learn to anticipate what it will include in the final image).

Like most DSLRs aimed at prosumers, the EOS 6D offers all the usual serious manual and semi-automatic shooting modes for users who want more advanced exposure control, via a chunky and positive dial on the top-left of the camera body, including a central lock button to prevent the dial from inadvertently moving. Canon refers to these advanced operations as the 'creative zone' and provides all the normal settings including Program, Aperture and Shutter Priority and the full Manual mode. There is also an auto shooting mode aimed at beginners called Scene Intelligent Auto which allows you to change just a few key settings using the LCD screen, setting both the aperture and shutter speed for you, with the Creative Auto mode additionally offering the ability to alter the Picture Effect and aperture. The Scene menu offers 7 beginner-friendly modes, including the useful Handheld Night Scene and HDR Backlight control. The 6D's power switch is located underneath the shooting mode dial, as on the 5D Mark III, although the latter's handy Multi-Function button has been completely removed.

Once the EOS 6D is in one of the 'creative zones', users can adjust the ISO setting into one of 12 positions from 50 to 102,400 (you need to to enable the ISO 50, 52000 and 102,400 modes via the "ISO Speed Settings" menu option). This massive ISO range allows you to shoot in almost any lighting conditions without having to resort to using flash, which is good news as the 6D doesn't actually have a built-in pop-up flash (you'll need to budget for an external flashgun). The EOS 6D offers a range of three Auto focus modes (One Shot, AI Focus and AI Servo), and there are six preset, auto, kelvin and custom white balance options.

The viewfinder displays all key exposure information including the ISO speed, and there are four metering modes including a tighter 1.5% Spot metering mode, useful in tricky lighting conditions as an alternative to the excellent and consistent Evaluative metering system. The 6D uses a rather rudimentary 11-point auto-focus system with only one cross-type point in the middle, which doesn't compare well to either the 5D Mark III's 63 point system, 41 of which are cross-type points with five being the extra sensitive double-cross type, or the Nikon D600's 39-point AF module. The 6D does have one ace up its auto-focusing sleeve though - the centre point remains operational down to -3EV, the equivalent of moonlight, making it the most sensitive in low-light of any DSLR on the market. This was borne out in practice, with the 6D locking onto the subject in almost pitch-black lighting conditions. So while it's limited number of AF points make it less well-suited to tracking moving subjects, if you mostly use the central AF point then you'll love its ability to quickly and accurately focus in almost any situation.

Canon EOS 6D Canon EOS 6D
Front Side

The Canon EOS 6D is the first DSLR on the market to feature built-in wi-fi connectivity. The new wi-fi capabilities allow you to share images during playback via the Wi-Fi menu option. Enable the Wi-Fi menu option and the Wi-Fi Function option appears underneath, which contains six icons. The 6D can connect to another camera, a smartphone, a computer, a printer, the internet and a DNLA device respectively. Setup is long-winded but relatively straight-forward for each scenario, although you'll need a basic understanding of the protocols involved (or consult the supplied User Guide). Note that you need to install the dedicated and free EOS Remote app to connect the 6D to the world's most popular smartphone, or the Apple iPad, iPad 2 and fourth-generation iPod Touch, or an Android device. You can then use your smartphone or tablet to remotely control almost every aspect of the camera's operation, review images on a larger, more detailed screen and to transfer images between devices.

The 6D can tag your images with GPS data (latitude, longitude, altitude and shooting time) just like many of the company's compact cameras. We prefer having GPS built into the camera rather than having to sync it with an additional device, as on the recent PowerShot S110, although it does consequently suffer from the issue of negatively affecting battery life.

The 6D's menu system is similar to most EOS cameras, utilising a simplified tab structure that does away completely with scrolling. There are 6 main menu options, each containing up to 4 individual tabs of options. You can even setup your own customised menu page for instant access to frequently used settings via the My Menu setting. The documentation that comes with the 6D is clear enough, as it is with all Canon cameras, if a little light on detail. You do get a basic manual in English throughout and you'll find most things that you need to know about the camera's operation in here, although you'll need to refer to the supplied CD for an 'electronic' manual. There's also a separate instruction manual for the camera's Wi-Fi and GPS functions, again with a longer version on the CD.

We tested the EOS 6D with the popular EF 24-105mm f/4L IS lens, which is offered as a kit lens in some regions. This combination offered fast, positive autofocus, can track moving subjects very well and is also near-silent, and we'd recommend that you choose this kit if you're buying into the Canon system for the first time. The 24-105mm lens also crucially features image stabilisation. This is important for Canon, as some competitors image stabilisation that's built-in to the camera body. The main difference between Canon (and Nikon) and the other manufacturers is that Sony (plus Olympus and Pentax) have opted for stabilisation via the camera body, rather than the lens, which therefore works with their entire range of lenses. Canon's system is obviously limited by which lenses you choose, but it does offer the slight advantage of showing the stabilising effect through the viewfinder. Canon and Nikon also claim that a lens-based anti-shake system is inherently better too, but the jury's out on that one.

The EOS 6D features the latest DIGIC 5+ image processor, which produces noticeably fast image processing, start-up and image review times and great noise reduction in high-ISO images (jump to the Image Quality page for ISO samples). DIGIC 5+ also allows the 6D to shoot attain a speed of 4.5fps for up to 1,250 full-sized JPEGs with a UHS-I memory card or 17 RAW images. 14-bit A/D conversion, in-camera HDR processing, multiple exposure function and in-camera RAW processing are also enabled by the Digic 5+ processor. Battery life is rated to CIPA standards at around 1,000 shots using the viewfinder, but this is greatly reduced if you exclusively shoot in live view mode or use the Wi-Fi and GPS features. This can be doubled by using the optional BG-E13 battery grip (£249.99) which takes two batteries.

Canon EOS 6D Canon EOS 6D
Top Front

The 6D has an identical Live View system to the 5D Mark III. If you're new to DSLRs and don't understand the terminology, basically Live View allows you to view the scene in front of you live on the LCD screen, rather than through the traditional optical viewfinder. This is an obvious attraction for compact camera users, who are familiar with holding the camera at arm's length and composing via the LCD screen. It's also appealing to macro shooters, for example, as it's often easier to view the screen than look through the viewfinder when the camera is mounted on a tripod at an awkward angle.

Live View is easy to turn on via a dedicated switch on the back of the camera which toggles between Live View and Movie recording and a self-explanatory Start/Stop button. A grid line display, dual-axis electronic level and very useful live histogram can be enabled to help with composition and exposure, and you can zoom in by up to 10x magnification of the image displayed on the LCD screen. Focusing is achieved via the AF-On button, or you can half-press the shutter-button. Live View can also be controlled remotely using the supplied EOS utility software, which allows you to adjust settings and capture the image from a PC.

There are three types of focusing system on offer in Live View mode. The first, Quick AF, works by physically flipping the camera mirror to engage the auto-focus sensor, which then momentarily blanks the LCD screen and causes a physical sound, before the image is displayed after about 1 second. The other methods, Live AF and Live AF with Face Detection, use an image contrast auto-focus system, much like that used by point-and shoot compacts, the main benefits being the complete lack of noise during operation, and no LCD blackout. Unfortunately these are much slower than the Quick AF mode, taking over 3 seconds to focus on a clearly-defined subject in bright light, which will put off most users that are attracted by the promised point-and-shoot experience. On a more positive note, you can move the AF point around the screen, and the 6D successfully detected faces in most situations.

Live View is also used for the EOS 6D's 1080p movie mode. The 6D records high-definition 1080p, wide-screen video in 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, at either 30fps, 25fps or 24fps in the MOV format. There is also 720p 1280x720 pixel recording at 50/60 fps and and standard video at 30fps and 25 fps. The maximum size of a single video clip is one second below 30 minutes with 4GB automatic file partitioning. You can also take either single or continuous stills during recording, with video capture continuing after the final still frame has been taken. Audio is recorded in linear PCM format without any compression. There's a built-in microphone on the front of the camera for mono recording and a socket on the side for connecting an external stereo microphone. It also has an HDMI port for playing back movies and stills on a HD TV. It uses the industry-standard HDMI mini-out connection, but note that you'll need to purchase a suitable cable separately. You can also still connect the 6D to a standard TV set via NTSC/PAL.

Although you can autofocus during movie recording, the camera uses the painfully slow contrast-AF mode. Focusing manually is a much better idea, although most AF lenses have MF rings with very little 'travel' between their close-focus point and infinity (the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS is quite good in this regard), and in a quiet environment it's also possible to hear the sound of the focusing ring. You can set the aperture and shutter speed from the camera in movie mode, and exposure compensation and AE-Lock can also be used. You can also take a single/sequence of still shots whilst shooting video, but this causes a 1 second delay which you'll need to edit out later.

Canon EOS 6D Canon EOS 6D
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The EOS 6D implements the same dust-removal technology as other EOS cameras, where the sensor is shaken briefly at high frequency to dislodge any dust particles from its surface. This could delay the need for manual sensor cleaning, perhaps indefinitely, but it won't be able to remove 'sticky' deposits like salt spray, pollen or the smears left behind by careless sensor cleaning or the wrong kind of solvent. The 6D also inherits the internal Dust Delete Data system from the 5D Mark III, which can map the position of visible dust on the sensor. This can then be deleted automatically after the shoot with the supplied Digital Photo Professional software.

Peripheral Illumination Correction is a feature that's actually a lot simpler that it initially sounds. Basically it corrects the unwanted effects of vignetting, typically seen in wide-angle photos in the corners of the frame. The 6D contains a database of correction data for various Canon lenses and, if Peripheral Illumination Correction is enabled, automatically applies it to JPEG images. For RAW images the correction is applied later in the Digital Photo Professional software. Up to 40 lenses can be programmed into the 6D, with over 80 currently available to choose from. Peripheral Illumination Correction is a useful and effective addition, particularly for JPEG shooters, and can safely be left turned on all of the time.

Even more useful, especially if you have a number of older lenses, is the AF Microadjustment feature that has trickled down from 5D Mark III and other pro DSLRs. This allows you to alter the focus of each lens, then use a focusing target to test if the lens focuses correctly, and if it doesn't, alter it slightly using the AF Adjustment option, then test again until perfect focus is achieved. With most other DSLR systems you'd have to send the camera and lens off for calibration (and maybe even have to pay for it), but with the 6D, you can calibrate all of your lenses in the comfort of your own home (up to 20 lenses can be stored in the camera). The EOS 6D also features a silent shooting mode that reduces the sound of both the shutter and mirror, perfect for situations where you don't want to draw unwanted attention to yourself. A continuous silent mode is also available, although it's at a slightly slower rate of 3fps than the headline 4.5fps mode.

Once you have captured a photo, the Canon EOS 6D has an average range of options for playing, reviewing and managing your images. More information about a captured image can be seen on the LCD by pressing the Info button, which brings up a brightness image histogram and all the shooting Exif data, including aperture, shutter speed and the time and date it was captured, with a second press displaying an additional RGB histogram. Highlight Alert and AF Point Display can also be turned on via the Playback menu. It's simple to get a closer look at an image as you can zoom in up to 15 times, and it is also possible to view pictures in a set of nine contact sheet. You can also delete an image, rotate an image, view a slideshow, protect images so that they cannot be deleted and set various printing options. Unlike some competitors, there are no digital styles or effects that can be applied to an image after it has been taken - the more subtle Picture Styles are the only way of tweaking your JPEGs in-camera, before they are captured. In-camera image rating makes it easy to organise your images ahead of post-production, with the rating maintained in IPTC-friendly software, and you can also edit RAW files in-camera with 10 parameters available.

The Canon EOS 6D's software suite is very good. Admittedly, photographers who've graduated to a camera like this one will almost certainly have chosen image browsing and editing software already, so they won't need the basic image browsing program included here, but there's more than that. You also get Canon's simple but effective PhotoStitch application for making panoramic shots, EOS utility for using the 6D remotely (while tethered to a PC), ImageBrowser EX image management software program, and Canon's Digital Photo Professional application for converting RAW files. This is a big bonus, because other makers don't always include such good RAW conversion software. Digital Photo Professional certainly isn't the best RAW converter on the market, but importantly does mimic the camera's Picture Styles 'retrospectively'. In addition the supplied Picture Style Editor software can be used to create custom Picture Styles on your computer instead of in-camera.

That concludes our tour of the Canon EOS 6D's interface - now let's take a look at its image quality.