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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Canon EOS 6D review:

A lovely camera, but watch the trade-offs

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
JPEG shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)
Canon EOS 6D
Nikon D600

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon EOS 6D

I also find the 6D's metering a little inconsistent. I routinely had to shoot with +2/3 to +1 stop exposure compensation in addition to spot metering when using lenses faster than f4; the spot is huge, about 3.5 percent of the viewfinder (for comparison, the D600's is 1.5 percent).

Design and features
The 6D has a fine, well-built, and comfortable-to-shoot-with body, though the buttons that on other EOS models run down the left side of the LCD on the 6D are scattered around the back, so it can be disorienting jumping between the 6D and other bodies. Of course, that change is part of why the 6D's body is smaller than the company's other full-frame models. And some of the weight loss comes from the construction: an aluminum chassis covered by reinforced polycarbonate, though it's as dust- and weather-resistant as the 7D.

In fact, in a lot of ways in design and build the 6D is reminiscent of the 60D: same feel, single SD card slot, and control dial with inset navigation switch and set button on the back (as opposed to the joystick on the higher-end models and the 7D). As with other EOS bodies, the mode dial sits on the left shoulder, and has the usual assortment of manual, semimanual, and automatic modes plus bulb and two custom settings slots. It has Canon's now-typical center lock button, which I always find a little awkward, but not an interface deal-killer.

On the right side you'll find the adjustment dial, plus status LCD with autofocus, drive, ISO, metering, and illumination buttons along the top. On the back right top sit the AF-ON, exposure lock, and AF point buttons, with a Live View/Movie mode switch and record button by the viewfinder. The control layout feels comfortable, and familiar enough if you're used to Canon bodies.

I'm somewhat disappointed by the viewfinder. It's big and bright, but only covers 97 percent of the scene, and lacks a grid overlay option; the 7D's viewfinder has a lower effective magnification factor (0.63x) but I like it better.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS 6D Nikon D600 Nikon D800/ D800E
Sensor effective resolution 21.1MP CMOS
4-channel readout
14 bit
8-channel readout
12-channel readout
36x24mm 36x24mm 35.8x23.9mm 35.8x24mm 35.9x24mm
Focal- length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
ISO range ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 25600/ 102400 (exp) ISO 100 - ISO 25600/ 102400 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp)
Burst shooting 3.9fps
14 raw/310 JPEG
13 raw/65 JPEG
15 raw/unlimited JPEG
(5fps with battery grip)
VF Optical
100% coverage
100% coverage
97% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
AF 9-pt AF
1 cross type
61-pt High Density Reticular AF
21 center diag to f5.6
5 center to f2.8
20 outer to f4
11-pt AF
1 center cross type
9 cross type
15 cross type; 11 cross type to f8
AF exposure range -0.5 - 18
-2 - 20 EV -3 - 18 EV
(center point)
0.5 - 18 EV
-1 - 19 EV -2 - 19 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 200,000 cycles
Metering 35-zone TTL 63-area iFCL 63-area iFCL 2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III
Metering exposure range 1 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV (est) 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video H.264 MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/25p/ 24p H.264 MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p
H.264 MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p
H.264 MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/ 60p/50p/ 25p/24p
all at 24, 12Mbps
H.264 MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p/25p/24p @ 24, 12, 8Mbps
Rated max HD video length at best quality 4GB
(approx 12 minutes)
29m59s 29m59s 20 minutes 4GB/20 minutes
Audio mono; mic input mono; mic input; headphone jack mono; mic input mono; mic input; headphone jack mono; mic input; headphone jack
LCD size 3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3.2 inches fixed
1.04 megadot
3 inches fixed
1.04 megadot
3.2 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3.2 inches
921,000 dots
Memory slots 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7) 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash No No Yes Yes Yes
Wireless transfer Optional
(Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7A)
(Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E4A)
Wi-Fi Optional
(WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter)
Battery life
Live View (CIPA rating)
n/a shots
(1,800 mAh)
950/200 shots
(1,800 mAh)
1,090/220 shots
(1,800 mAh)
900/n/a shots
(1,900 mAh)
900/n/a shots
(1,800 mAh)
Size (inches, WHD) 6x4.5x3 6.1x4.6x3 5.7x4.4x2.8 5.5x4.5x3.2 5.7x4.8x3.2
Body operating weight (ounces) 32.9 33.5 27.5 30.1 35
Mfr. price $2,199 (body only) $3,499 (body only) $2,099 (body only) $2,099.95 (body only) $2,999.95/
$3,299.95 (body only)
n/a $4,299 (with 24-105mm lens) $2,899 (with 24-105mm lens) $2,699 (with 24-85mm lens) n/a
Ship date November 2008 March 2012 December 2012 September 2012 March 2012/April 2012

The Wi-Fi implementation fares pretty well, as long as you bypass all the stuff that requires a Canon Image Gateway membership, like direct uploads to other Web sites. The camera remote app lets you change shutter speed and aperture, ISO sensitivity, and exposure compensation, which is a lot more than some other apps. As is usual, the GPS operation was spotty here in New York; I could get a signal while shooting in Union Square, but practically nowhere else, and if I forgot to turn it off it drained the battery by incessantly hunting for a signal.

Beyond that, it has a fairly standard feature set, with a few notable capabilities. You get a subset of the Servo autofocus settings from the higher-end models. HDR junkies will appreciate its ability to bracket up to seven shots at +/- 3 stops. You can set up to four viewfinder warnings -- monochrome mode, white-balance correction, ISO expansion and spot metering -- that appear as an exclamation point on the screen. On the downside, there's no built-in flash; although I don't recommend using on-camera flash if it's at all possible, it's really nice to have it in a pinch. I miss dual card slots. At least for my needs, a third custom-setting slot would be a lot more useful than either Wi-Fi or GPS. Your mileage may vary. For video shooters, it's a mixed bag. The camera supports time codes, but not clean HDMI output, and lacks a headphone jack.

What's most frustrating is that the 6D should be a clearly better buy than the older, cheaper 7D, but it's not. While the 6D noticeably outshines its APS-C-based sibling in full-frame photo quality and it has a much broader feature set in theory, the 7D has a better viewfinder and faster autofocus, a more durable shutter mechanism, and an extra custom setting slot, just to mention a handful of things.

If you're thinking of moving up from one of Canon's consumer APS-C-based models, like the 60D, it's definitely worth it for the photo and video quality; if you're considering the 6D instead of one of the more expensive full-frame models, it's a fine alternative if you don't mind the 97 percent coverage viewfinder, single SD card slot, less durable shutter, lack of a headphone jack, fewer customizations, and all those other little ways in which you might have to compromise.

As for the Canon EOS 6D versus Nikon D600 decision for people who haven't committed to a system yet or are thinking of switching, overall I think I ultimately prefer the D600. I think the highlight recovery issue is fixable -- at the very least, just by watching how you configure your exposure settings -- and the superior performance and more shooter-friendly feature set weigh in its favor. That said, either camera will deliver the quality benefits of a full-frame model at a less painful price than the higher-end siblings on both sides of the aisle.

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