The photography world can be a confusing one. There are so many brands out there competing for your cash. New models are released all the time, with ever more confusing model names.
Today I’m going to be talking about the EOS 6D, which is one of Canon’s newest digital SLRs. Most excitingly, it’s their cheapest and smallest full-frame camera available to date.
“Full-frame” refers to the size of the sensor in the camera. A full-frame sensor means the physical chip inside the camera that captures the image is roughly the size of a piece of 35mm film. More on sensor size here, as well as an overview of sizes in the below diagram:
The 6D fits into Canon’s line after the 1D and the 5D cameras, both of which are full-frame, and the 7D, which confusingly isn’t. Whoever comes up with the model numbering system at Canon needs a good poking.
Anyway, what full-frame generally means from a photographer’s point of view is that the camera can capture more of the available light. As a result, it performs very well in low-light conditions like at night or indoors.
Of course, this extra-large sensor does come with a slight downside: it’s both more expensive and requires a larger body than other SLR’s. That said, Canon has pulled off a fairly remarkable feat with the 6D. It’s nearly 200g lighter than the next model up (the 5D Mark III, as well as $1400 less expensive.
So lets now take a closer look at the Canon 6D, and find out how good it is for a travelling photographer.
What’s Good About It?
At 770g, this is the worlds lightest full-frame sensor digital SLR, which means it’s easier to lug along with you when you’re on the road. In fact, it’s only a couple of hundred grams heavier than the average weight of Canon’s consumer models.
Given how much tech Canon has managed to put into this thing, this is no mean feat.
Along with the weight, there’s also the size. Canon has managed to make this camera a whole centimetre narrower than the 5D Mk3, with millimetres also shaved off in the other dimensions. Check out the comparison shot above.
Coming from one of the Canon Rebel models, it will feel a bit bigger in the hand, and there are more buttons and dials to get acquainted with. Overall, though, it’s a fantastically-portable camera for what you get. Which brings me to my next point.
The image quality that this camera produces is just phenomenal. I’m not going to go into pixel peeping or comparisons, but rest assured that if you are coming from a crop sensor, you are going to be hugely impressed. That goes double for the low light performance.
Pair the body with a fast prime lens, and you’ll find yourself out shooting in near-darkness and wondering quite how the camera is capturing detail that your eye is struggling to make out.
For the travelling photographer who wants something to capture a range of image styles, from low-lit streets to big wide landscapes, this body can do it all. Best of all, it won’t break either your back or your bank balance!
Much has been written in the photographic press about the focus system on this camera. If you do a lot of professional sports photography or like to capture fast-moving subjects, then sure, this may not be the camera for you. Then again, it’s not designed for you.
There are 11 autofocus points, which doesn’t compare so favourably to say the 5D Mark III, which has 61. But seriously, when you’re out shooting, how the hell do you have time to choose from all those points?
Instead, Canon has focused on making a simple autofocus system that works incredibly well, even in low light. The centre AF point, for example, is capable of getting focus by moonlight, and in reality is more capable than any of the focus points on the 5D Mark III.
I am constantly amazed by how accurate it is at focusing on objects I can barely see. If you want to capture moments, and not worry about the camera trying to get focus or choosing which autofocus point you want to use, you won’t be disappointed.
One stand-out feature of the 6D is the built-in GPS. It lets you automatically tag your photos with GPS metadata when you shoot them, thus saving you the effort of manually doing so later. It’s a great way to remember where you shot your photos. This can be invaluable to the frequent traveller who can’t perhaps remember exactly which temple that particular shot was of.
It does add a slight overhead to the battery usage, and has the downside of needing to remember to turn it off after you’ve finished using it. The advantages more than make up for those two niggles, however.
Low Light and Noise Performance
I mentioned this before under image quality, but I think it needs to be mentioned again. The low light performance of this camera is just incredible. I think back to my EOS 400D body which would start to get noisy at ISO 400, and images would be pretty much unusable at ISOs of 800 and above.
The 6D gets fantastic, usable images up to ISO 6400, and is good even at ISO 12800. If you’re desperate to get the shot, you can even jack it up to ISO 102400, although things tend to get a bit messy at such high ISO’s.
What this means is that you can shoot scenes like this one of the Milky Way, and really pick out all the detail in the sky without the noise. This was shot at ISO 6400.
In another first for a Canon SLR camera, the 6D comes with built-in Wi-Fi. There’s a companion app available for smartphones, which lets you do two things.
You can quickly look through all the shots you’ve taken so far, then pull them off onto you camera for quick proofing or instant social media sharing. That’s handy if you just want to get something out into the world quickly.
The other thing the EOS Remote app provides is control of the camera from your smartphone, with what the camera is seeing appearing live on your screen. This saves you from having to buy a remote trigger, and I find it particularly useful for shooting from a tripod and triggering the shutter.
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What’s Bad About It?
Ok, so I just said how portable this camera is as one of its main advantages. But once you add in a couple of lenses, it’s still not exactly a small bit of kit, especially compared to some of the mirrorless systems out there.
Yes, it’s the lightest full-frame camera in the world, but you need to figure out if full frame is something you really need. It’s still far from being a featherweight!
The 6D is billed as the smallest and least expensive full frame digital SLR. Compared to the other models in Canon’s full frame line up, the $2099 RRP of the 6D is a good chunk of change less.
But $2099 for a camera body isn’t exactly pocket money, particularly as, depending on your existing lens collection, you are likely going to want to buy some of those too.
Again, this comes down to your individual needs and requirements vs. your budget. For the specifications this camera is an amazing bargain, but you still need to have a couple of grand lying around.
This is just a heads up, as none of Canon’s full-frame professional camera bodies come with a flash. The reason for this is simply that results from using a popup flash are usually worse than not using a flash at all. If you’re into flash photography, you’ll be using a proper external flash unit. But still, no flash.
Your Upgrade Path
Ok, so this isn’t really a fault of the 6D, more a fault of how the Canon lens system works. You see, Canon, in all their wisdom, have two type of lens system for their digital SLR’s: the EF mount, and the EF-S mount.
Any EF mount lens, which essentially encompasses all of Canon’s prestigious “L” series lenses, will fit on any of Canon’s cameras, from their Rebel line up to the 1D-X. EF-S lenses, however, will not fit on the full frame EF bodies, like the 6D.
So if you have any EF-S lenses, you aren’t going to be able to use them on your new camera, which is a bit of a bummer. The good news though is that lenses (particularly good ones) tend to hold their value, so you can sell them off to help fund any new lens purchases. Hurrah.
Is It Right for You?
If, like me, you are upgrading from one of Canon’s consumer or prosumer level cameras like the Rebel range, this camera is going to blow you away.
The image quality and low light performance are leaps and bounds ahead of what you’re used to, and you’re absolutely going to love it.
There is a lot of fluff on the internet from people complaining about a lack of joystick buttons, or cross-type autofocus points. I say you can safely ignore these folks. They’re just nit-picking on details that are largely inconsequential for the target audience of this camera, the travelling photographer.
Users who need more autofocus points or faster frame rates should be looking instead at the 5D Mark III, or even the 7D Mark II.
Of course, you do have to weigh up your needs. If photography is more of a hobby than a profession, then the cost is certainly going to be a serious factor. There’s also the added consideration of the weight of all those lenses in your bag.
If you are one of those people, then I’d suggest maybe looking to a mirrorless system like the Sony Alpha. It offers superb image quality in a far more compact and slightly more affordable package. I’ll be putting together a review of one of those models soon.
If you are looking to go full-frame though, and weight and cost are a part of your decision-making process, you can’t go wrong with the Canon EOS 6D!
Note, this product was bought by the reviewer and not endorsed or provided by Canon in any way. All photos by author.