Although the Canon 6D has now been out for almost two years, I never had a chance to review it. Since the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art series lens was initially available only for the Canon mount, I requested the Canon 6D with the lens from our trusted partner B&H Photo Video. My aim was to review both, as I had been planning to review the 6D for a long time now. Ever since I reviewed the Canon 5D Mark III, our readers have been asking us to test out other Canon DSLRs, including the 6D. So this was a good opportunity to catch up, although quite late. Well, better late than never, I guess! Instead of covering everything in much detail though, I will be mostly summing things up based on my three month experience with the camera and feedback from others – I don’t think there is a need to spend a lot of time on this, especially after the camera has been in the market for so long and reviewed by so many people.
As you may already know, the Canon 6D came out at the same time Nikon released its budget full-frame Nikon D600 DSLR. So in many ways, both cameras were introduced to compete with one another. Because of this, I will be often referring to the D600 / D610 for comparisons, including image quality results. Keep in mind that a lot of what I say about the Canon 6D is obviously from the standpoint of a long time Nikon shooter.
1) Canon 6D Specifications
Main Features and Specifications:
- Sensor: 20.2 MP full frame CMOS sensor, 6.55µ pixel size
- Sensor Size: 35.8 x 23.9mm
- Resolution: 5472 x 3648
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 100-25,600
- Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 50
- Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 51,200-102,400
- Sensor Cleaning System: Yes
- Image Processor: DIGIC 5+
- Autofocus System: 11-point AF with 1 cross-type sensor
- Lens mount: Canon EF
- Weather Sealing/Protection: Yes
- Body Build: Polycarbonate
- Shutter: Up to 1/4000 and 30 sec exposure
- Storage: 1x SD (SD/SDHC/SDXC compatible)
- Viewfinder Type: Pentaprism with 97% coverage
- Speed: 4.5 FPS
- Exposure Meter: 63-zone dual-layer iFCL metering sensor
- Built-in Flash: No
- LCD Screen: 3.2 inch diagonal with 1,040,000 dots
- Movie Modes: 1920 x 1080 (29.97, 25, 23.976 fps), 1280 x 720 (59.94, 50 fps), 640 x 480 (25, 30 fps)
- Movie Output: AVI, H.264/MPEG-4 in MOV Format
- Built-in Microphone: Mono
- In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
- GPS: Built-in
- Battery Type: LP-E6
- Battery Life: 980 (CIPA)
- USB Standard: 2.0
- Weight: 680g (excluding battery)
- Price: $2,099 MSRP on introduction, $1,899 MSRP current (as of 07/10/2014)
A detailed list of camera specifications is available at Canon.com.
Let’s take a closer look at how the above set of features compares to those of the Nikon D600.
2) Canon 6D vs Nikon D600
|Camera Feature||Nikon D600||Canon 6D|
|Sensor Resolution||24.3 Million||20.2 Million|
|Sensor Pixel Size||5.96µ||6.55µ|
|Image Size||6,016 x 4,016||5,472 x 3,648|
|Viewfinder Type and Coverage||Pentaprism, 100%||Pentaprism, 97%|
|Built-in Flash||Yes, with flash commander mode||No|
|Storage Media||2x SD||1x SD|
|Continuous Shooting Speed||5.5 FPS||4.5 FPS|
|Shutter Durability||150,000 cycles||100,000 cycles|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-6,400||ISO 100-25,600|
|Boosted ISO Sensitivity||ISO 50, ISO 12,800-25,600||ISO 50, ISO 51,200-102,400|
|Autofocus System||39-point AF with 9 cross-type sensors||11-point AF with 1 cross-type sensor|
|AF Detection||Up to f/8 (center 7 AF points only)||Up to f/5.6|
|Video Maximum Resolution||1920×1080 (1080p) @ 24p, 25p, 30p||1920×1080 (1080p) @ 29.97p, 25p, 23.976p|
|LCD Size and Resolution||3.2″, 921,000 dots||3.2″, 1,040,000 dots|
|Wi-Fi Functionality||Eye-Fi Compatible, WU-1B, UT-1||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|Battery Life||900 shots (CIPA)||980 shots (CIPA)|
|Weight (Body Only)||26.8 oz. (760g)||24.0 oz. (680g)|
|Dimensions||141 x 113 x 82mm||145 x 111 x 71mm|
The above comparison table is a stripped out version that only shows the main differences between the Nikon D600 and Canon 6D. If you would like to see the full details, please see Roman’s detailed comparison article here.
Looking at the above table, it is pretty obvious that the Canon 6D is inferior to the Nikon D600 in many aspects. Whether you are looking at resolution, viewfinder coverage, flash options, storage media, shutter durability or autofocus system, the Canon 6D is clearly at a loss here. If you are looking for a more versatile option, the Nikon D600 / D610 is clearly the winner.
However, the Canon 6D has a few strengths worth pointing out that do matter to me personally, which I wish the Nikon D600 / D610 had. First, the Canon 6D has a built-in GPS. For a portrait photographer, this might be a useless feature, but for a landscape photographer, being able to get GPS information from each location where I shoot is very valuable. Unfortunately, GPS is Nikon’s weakness and I do not like the idea of mounting a GPS unit on the hot shoe, which has to be connected to the side of the camera! I have tried it once and will never do it again, hoping that we will someday see an integrated GPS module… Nikon finally introduced GPS in the Nikon D5300, but they again missed it out on the newly announced Nikon D810, so I am still waiting!
Another feature that can be quite useful when traveling is WiFi. Although it is cool to be able to control the camera remotely via WiFi, my primary interest is in being able to wirelessly transmit images from my camera to my phone to instantly share photos with my friends and family. The Nikon D600 / D610 do not have this feature and also require an external unit.
Lastly, the Canon 6D is pretty solid in terms of build and quality, while the Nikon D600 was a disaster, thanks to its sensor dust issue. After many months of failing to acknowledge the problem, Nikon silently released the Nikon D610 as an update, stating that the camera was introduced “in response to demand from a great number of users for a faster continuous shooting rate and the addition of a quiet continuous shutter-release mode” (see this article), which was a total lie. After many complaints and a number of lawsuits, Nikon was finally pressured to admit the fault and issued a D600 service advisory to take care of the problem. From this point, Canon 6D only had a single issue related to uploading of videos to YouTube, which Canon later fixed with a firmware update. This situation proved that we should look beyond pure specifications when evaluating our needs. What’s better, a camera with some limitations that works well, or a better featured camera that has ongoing dust problems? I pick the former and I am sure you would too, if you were one of those affected D600 users…
Anyway, enough of venting – let’s move on to construction and handling of the Canon 6D.
3) Camera Construction and Handling
The Canon 6D has a similar construction as the Nikon D600 / D610, which is the combination of polycarbonate and magnesium alloy. The 6D’s front and back plates are magnesium alloy, while the top and bottom plates are plastic. Here is an image that illustrates the camera construction:
In contrast, the Nikon D600 / D610 has a magnesium alloy top and back, while its front and bottom are plastic. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other in construction, as both are quite good for their class. Both are weather sealed and are supposed to withstand light moisture, rain, heat and cold.
When it comes to handling, I found the Canon 6D superior ergonomically. Being a Nikon shooter, it took me a bit to get used to controls, but once I did, the 6D was a breeze to use. Not only does it have a more protruded grip that is very comfortable to hand-hold, but it also has a dedicated AF-ON button that comfortably sits where it should. On the Nikon D600 / D610, there is no dedicated AF-ON button and if you move the focus function to the AE-L / AF-L button, the button location is a bit too far from the rear dial, making it uncomfortable to use over long periods of time. The Nikon D600 / D610 also feel a bit bulkier due to wider body and built-in flash that makes the top appear longer.
My biggest gripe with the 6D is the viewfinder – it is recessed very deep inside, making it almost impossible to clean quickly. This can be a problem in situations where the viewfinder is fogged up – you will have a hard time reaching the glass surface to wipe it. The Nikon D600 / D610 do not have this problem and their viewfinder eyepiece is easy to reach and clean.
The LCD screen on the 6D is beautiful, just like the screen on the 5D Mark III. Canon used hardened glass protector in front of the LCD with anti-reflective coating, which makes it very practical to use in the field. The screen looks a little darker, but playing back images in an outdoor environment is a much better experience on the 6D than on the D600 / D610 that have a protective plastic cover. The Nikon D600 / D610 have no anti-reflective coating and both the LCD and the screen protector reflect like crazy.
For better ergonomic experience, I would recommend to make a few tweaks to the camera setup, particularly to the way the multi-controller behaves. By default, the multi-controller navigation does nothing when looking through the viewfinder, but you can change it to allow you to select autofocus points. To do this, simply press the “Q” button, then navigate to “Custom Controls”, scroll down to the very last option “Multi-controller AF point direct selection” and set it to “AF point direct selection” instead of the default “OFF”. Once you do this, you will be able to change the AF focus point with the multi-controller navigation on the back of the camera.
The above setting change, along with other camera menu recommendations are provided in my “recommended Canon 6D settings” article.
The menu system on the Canon 6D is a little bit different compared to the menu system of the Canon 5D Mark III. Instead of the 6 main icons and dots underneath sub-menus, there are 15 menu items and no sub-navigation. It looks a little cluttered in comparison, but does not make it worse in terms of navigation and ease of use. Most settings are self-explanatory and if you get confused about any of them, I would recommend to take a look at the above-referenced recommendations article.
4) Image Sensor, Dynamic Range and AF Performance
The Canon 6D has a 20.2 megapixel sensor, with a native ISO sensitivity of 100-25,600, which can be boosted all the way to ISO 102,400. Unlike Nikon, which often buys sensors from other manufacturers like Sony and Aptina, Canon develops and manufactures its own sensor technology for its cameras. Although Canon has numerously been blamed for reusing the same sensor technology on multiple generation cameras, the sensor that Canon developed for the 6D is superb in terms of handling noise. As you will see from the Camera Comparison section of this review, the Canon 6D performs admirably compared to its direct competitor, the Nikon D600, surpassing it in performance at high ISO levels and retaining more details, colors and dynamic range.
Although a close look at DxOMark’s sensor rating page reveals that the Canon 6D has a hard time catching up with other full-frame offerings in terms of ISO performance and color depth, this is one area where I have to disagree with DxOMark’s results. I wonder if their testing methodology takes into account potential exposure differences between brands. For example, when I was looking at exposure differences between the D600 and the Canon 6D, the former was approximately 0.8 stops brighter than the 6D. If one does not properly compensate for these differences by altering the exposure, then it can drastically change test results. If the Nikon D600 yields brighter images, it is expected that it would produce higher dynamic range and cleaner images.
Speaking of dynamic range, DxOMark placed the 6D at #100 spot, which puts the camera right next to the Nikon D300, an APS-C sensor camera! Sometimes one have to wonder if such measurements are in any way meaningful or even relevant, as I have a hard time believing that the 6D would yield the same dynamic range as a camera that was produced in 2007 and has over twice smaller sensor… Yes, in my experience Canon RAW files tend to yield poorer results compared to Nikon when recovering shadows – this is demonstrated in my Canon 5D Mark III review, where I compared shadow detail recovery between Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800. However, the difference is not as drastic as DxOMark leads us to believe…
Overall, I am very impressed by what the Canon 6D sensor is capable of. Its ISO performance, dynamic range and color depth are superb and the 20.2 MP resolution seems to be a nice balance between pixels and noise for most photography needs.
5) Autofocus Performance
One area that Canon has been dragging and reusing for a while now is autofocus systems. Unfortunately, Canon decided to use its ancient 11-point autofocus system from the 5D Mark II, which only has one cross-point sensor in the center, as shown below:
This 11-point AF system is not as versatile as the AF system on the 5D Mark III and at the same time is also inferior to the 39-point autofocus system found on the Nikon D600 / D610 cameras that utilizes 9 cross type sensors. Although Canon states that the AF system is fast and accurate, that only really applies to the center focus point. Once you move to other focus points, autofocus performance certainly suffers, especially in low-light situations. So if you want a camera for sports and wildlife, I would recommend to move up to the 5D Mark III at the minimum. Another choice at the expense of image quality is the Canon 7D, which also has a superior AF system. In my opinion, Canon could have made the 6D a much better camera if it used the 7D AF system instead. Oh well, you cannot ask for it all I guess! Nikon followed a similar route with an older and inferior autofocus system, but at least its 39 point AF system gives you more options…
If you find yourself in a situation where the AF system of the 6D loses focusing ability and / or accuracy, I would recommend to switch to the center focus point and use the focus and recompose technique instead.
Canon also reused its old 63 zone metering sensor from the 7D, instead of the 100,000 pixel RGB sensor that is used on the flagship Canon 1D X (not that there was anything wrong with the older metering sensor). Despite its age, I found the metering sensor to be fairly accurate in most situations. All metering modes (evaluative, center weighted, partial and spot metering) worked as expected and when I did have exposure problems in some rare situations, taking care of the exposure issues with the 3-step exposure compensation using the big rotary dial on the back of the camera was pretty easy.
7) Shooting Speed (FPS) and Battery Life
The last disappointment with the 6D for sports and wildlife photographers is its continuous shooting speed of 4.5 FPS, which is rather slow for fast action photography. In comparison, the Nikon D600 started out with 5.5 FPS and the speed was increased to 6 FPS when the D610 was released. That’s a noticeable difference in performance.
As for battery life, the 6D has exactly the same battery as the Canon 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III, 60D, 70D and 7D DSLRs, so its performance varies from model to model. On the 6D, the battery yields approximately 980 shots (CIPA), which is very good. The Nikon D600 / D610 can yield around 900 shots. If you sparingly use the preview and Live View features, it will easily reach 1200 shots. My average was between 1100 and 1200 shots on a single charge (with GPS and WiFi turned off). The battery indicators on the top LCD and in the camera menu seem to be pretty accurate, so it should be a pretty good indicator of both charge potential and battery health.
8) Live View
Canon’s implementation of Live View is excellent. No interpolation at either 5x or 10x zoom and superb clarity at all zoom levels. I love the way Canon designed the Live View/Movie switch with the Start/Stop button that changes in functionality depending on whether you are in movie or live view mode. Changing the switch to video mode automatically flips the mirror up and starts the video mode and the Star/Stop button is used for recording video. This is a great feature for videographers, since you can keep the setting on movie mode when powering the camera on or off and the mirror will automatically lift up or down without the need to press anything.
9) Chromatic Aberration Correction
Just like the Canon 5D Mark III, the 6D also comes with a built-in Chromatic Aberration Correction feature, in addition to vignetting and distortion corrections. Unlike Nikon DSLRs that perform automatic chromatic aberration correction with an algorithm that works with any Nikon lens, Canon decided to program correction for specific Canon EF lenses. While this method might be more accurate, it has one major drawback – the lens database stored on the camera needs to be updated when a new lens becomes available. In addition, such corrections are not possible with third party lenses like Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art.
Now keep in mind that both Nikon and Canon apply lens corrections on JPEG images. When writing RAW files, both store their proprietary lens correction data differently and these corrections can only be read with manufacturer software like DPP (Canon) and Capture NX (Nikon). If you import RAW images into Lightroom, none of the applied lens corrections will be visible, so you will have to use Lightroom’s “Lens Correction” module instead.
10) Movie Mode
Although there is no 4K video support, the 6D has the same superb HD movie recording capabilities as the 5D Mark III. You can record videos up to full HD resolution of 1920×1080 at 29.97p and if the speed is not enough, there is always an option to drop quality down to 1280×720 at up to 60 fps. Canon obviously does not want its DSLR line to compete with high-end dedicated video recording cameras like the EOS 1D and EOS C300, which is why there are some limitations. Personally, I look at video recording as a “nice to have”, since I rarely ever shoot video…
As I have stated earlier in this review, I find the WiFi feature of the Canon 6D to be quite useful when traveling. First, you can easily send images to your smartphone or tablet by simply connecting to the device directly. No need for a wireless network, you simply set up the Canon 6D in “access point mode”, select the created wireless network from your device, then connect with a provided password. Yup, it is that easy and it really works! Here is a screenshot of my phone connecting with the 6D:
Once you confirm the connection on the camera, the status will change from “Pairing” to “Connected” and you are in business! From here, you can easily transfer images by selecting “Camera Image Viewing” option as seen below, pick the images you want and transfer them.
Second, you can use WiFi to control the camera remotely. This can be used in both “Camera access point mode” with direct device connection, or “Infrastructure mode” if you have a wireless point at the location. Once connected, you can navigate to “Remote Shooting” and you will be able to jump to Live View screen, change camera controls, change focus and take pictures. Live View is pretty smooth and it did not lag like many other cameras, so I am happy to say that remote control also works reasonably well.
There are not that many options and the controls are simplistic compared to some other remote control solutions on the market, but it is still done quite well and seems to be pretty stable. Everything worked on first try and I did not have any issues with connecting devices, transferring images or controlling the camera.
The GPS capability also works quite well, which is a huge plus for travel and landscape photographers. The camera obviously needs a clear sky to locate satellites initially, but once it is done, the tracking works quite well when traveling. I set the camera in passenger seat when traveling by car and it was continuously tracking Latitude, Longitude and Elevation just like my car GPS did. Accuracy seemed to be very good when I compared information with my car GPS.
Setting up GPS is easy. Locate the “GPS” option in camera menu under Setup #2 sub-menu, then go to “Select GPS device” and set it to “Internal GPS” (yes, you can connect external GPS units as well). Next, go to Set Up and set other options. I set up the 6D on “Auto update” for “Auto time setting” and “Position update timing” to “Every 15s”. I disabled GPS logging, but if you want to keep a log, you have that option under “Log GPS position”. Keep in mind that updating of position drains battery fairly quickly, so if you want to save power, set “Position update timing” to a longer interval. And if you have limited access to power, I would recommend turning off GPS completely – it will save a lot of battery life.
13) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
Some technical information:
- White Balance: Custom Temp: 4700, Tint: +35
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
As expected, performance at low ISO levels is very impressive. There are no traces of noise between ISO 100 and 400 and we start to see a hint of noise at ISO 800.
14) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-25600)
High ISO performance is a very important measure of DSLR sensor quality for low-light photography. Here is how the Canon 6D performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 25600:
ISO 1600 adds a bit of grain, but it is still very clean. ISO 3200 doubles the amount of noise in comparison and we are now seeing some noise in the shadows.
As we push ISO to 6400, the amount of noise increases significantly. Now we see very noticeable noise all over the image. Colors and details are preserved well though, which is impressive. At ISO 12800 we see some loss of detail and colors and the shadow areas now get much more noise, which is expected.
Pushing ISO to 25600 is for extreme situations, since there is too much noise, loss of colors and details. I did not bother with providing ISO 51200 and 102400 samples, because they are completely unusable and look like trash.
15) ISO Performance Summary
The Canon 6D produces excellent results at both low and high ISOs. As you can see from the above, images are very clean from ISO 100 to 800 and it pretty much stays that way all the way to ISO 1600. Beyond ISO 1600 we start seeing noticeable noise that first starts affecting the shadow colors and details, then progressively gets worse with each ISO stop. Image quality quickly deteriorates starting from ISO 6400, which is expected. Still, there is plenty of details and colors at such high ISO levels, which makes ISO 6400 quite usable. Pushing to ISO 12800 and 25600 is for extreme situations, but if you are willing to reduce image resolution, those could be quite usable as well.
Overall, I am very impressed by the image quality of the Canon 6D. Let’s now take a look at how the camera compares to the Nikon D600.
16) Compared to Nikon D600
Let’s take a close look at how the Canon 6D compares to the Nikon D600 in terms of ISO performance. If you look at the EXIF data, you will notice that there is a full stop difference in shutter speed between the two cameras. When performing comparison tests, I noticed that the Nikon D600 was yielding brighter exposures. My light meter was showing consistent exposures with both cameras mounted, so I know that the difference was not in my lighting or setup. For consistency, I used two Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lenses – one for the Canon mount and one for the Nikon mount. Both were stopped down to f/5.6. I have two theories for this difference – either one of the cameras is not able to stop down the lens correctly, or there is a real difference in brightness between the two cameras. When looking at lenses on both cameras, the aperture diameter of the Canon 6D certainly looked smaller, but I am not sure if that’s normal, given the fact that Canon’s mount is larger and the flange distance is different in comparison. Interestingly, the Canon version of the Sigma lens had its diaphragm flipped! Either way, the only fair way to compare performance between the two cameras was to normalize the brightness. After several tests in 1/3 EV increments, the optimal brightness level was reached at a full stop mark. Images might appear a little brighter for the Canon 6D, but reducing the exposure by 1/3 was too much for the shadow area, which is why I did not change it any further.
17) Canon 6D vs Nikon D600 ISO Comparison at Low ISOs
Here are some low ISO image comparisons between ISO 100 and 800 (Left: Canon 6D, Right: Nikon D600):
It is hard to see much difference between the two cameras at low ISO levels – both perform really well from ISO 100 to 400.
The same with ISO 800 – both cameras deal really well with noise.
18) Canon 6D vs Nikon D600 High ISO Comparison
Let’s see what happens at ISO 1600 and above:
Both cameras add a bit of noise, but it is hard to say which one looks better.
At ISO 3200, the Nikon D600 seems to have a little bit more shadow noise.
And as we push to ISO 6400, the Nikon D600 clearly looks worse in comparison. There is more noise in the shadows and there are some false colors added. This is despite the fact that the Nikon D600 image is down-sampled to 20.2 MP resolution, so its pixel-level performance is definitely worse.
The situation gets even more clear at ISO 12800 – the Nikon D600 is visibly worse throughout the image, especially in the shadow area.
And we see the same situation at ISO 25600, with the Canon 6D leading the game. Notice how much better the colors are retained on the Canon 6D in comparison, especially in the area under the ship. Noise levels are much higher on the D600, the grain looks bigger and there is more loss of details.
19) Canon 6D vs Nikon D600 Summary
As you can see from the above comparison, the Canon 6D performs very well when compared to its direct competitor, the Nikon D600. Although there is practically no difference in noise performance at low ISOs, the Canon 6D clearly takes over past ISO 1600. The Nikon D600 shows higher noise levels / larger grain, more false colors and loss of colors throughout the image, and more loss of details at ISO 6400 and higher. The difference is not drastic, I would say between 1/3 and 2/3 of a stop, but it is still there. Please note that the above comparison was “normalized”, with D600 images reduced from 24.3 MP to 20.2 MP to match the resolution of the Canon 6D. If you were to look at pixel level performance of the two cameras, the D600 would appear even worse in comparison.
Since the D610 has exactly the same sensor as the D600, the above comparison is also valid for the D610.
To be honest, I regret not being able to review the Canon 6D for almost two years since it was released. It is a wonderful camera with superb image quality and a good balance of features. I do wish it had dual memory card slots, a better autofocus system and faster speed to make it a more versatile camera, but at the same time, I understand that it was made as a budget full-frame option for general, not particular photography needs. From that standpoint, the Canon 6D certainly performs admirably. As I have demonstrated earlier in this review, the camera has a good balance of resolution and it outperforms its direct competitor, the Nikon D600 / D610 at high ISO levels. Its pixel-level performance is impressive and the extra features like WiFi and GPS make up for its shortcomings. Its ergonomics are superb and the grip is more comfortable than the one on the D600 / D610. Most importantly, unlike the Nikon D600 that was plagued by its dust issues, the Canon 6D has been a solid camera since it came out, without any widespread quality control issues.
Overall, I am very impressed with the Canon 6D. It is a very capable camera that can deliver outstanding results, especially when paired with superb Canon L lenses or the new Sigma lenses, such as the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art.
21) Where to buy and availability
B&H Photo Video is currently selling the Canon 6D body only for $1,899.
22) More image samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
Photography Life Overall Rating