Canon EOS 6D review: A lovely camera, but watch the trade-offs

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The Good The Canon EOS 6D delivers the photo and video quality you expect from a full-frame sensor, in a well-designed and relatively lightweight body.

The Bad While the camera has nice extra features, like Wi-Fi and GPS support, it's missing some basics for the price like on-camera flash, multiple card slots, and a 100 percent-coverage viewfinder.

The Bottom Line The photo quality you get from the EOS 6D makes it well worth the upgrade over a consumer APS-C model, but between this and comparable or higher-end models it's a less obvious choice.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 8

In some respects, it's hard to tell who Canon's targeting with the EOS 6D, its "budget" full-frame camera. It's got some fairly consumer-y features and specifications. GPS? Check. Built-in Wi-Fi? Check. Single SD card slot? Check. Viewfinder with less than 100 percent coverage? Check. Wimpy autofocus system? Check. On the other hand, it's missing things like a built-in flash that you'd expect in a nonpro camera.

It's not that the 6D isn't a really nice camera -- I happen to like it a lot. It's got great photo and good video quality, relatively fluid operational design with a soft shutter action, and a solid (but not weatherproof) build. But ultimately I find it a confusing buy and just a tiny bit of a letdown.

Image quality
I'm extremely impressed with the EOS 6D's photo quality; it delivers excellent JPEG processing and noise reduction, great dynamic range and tonal quality, and accurate colors if you change the defaults. JPEG shots are relatively clean through ISO 800 and still quite good through ISO 1600, even for large prints. And depending upon scene content and usage, you could probably get away with it all the way up through ISO 12800. By ISO 1600 I see noticeable advantages to shooting raw over JPEG for noise processing; Canon favors noise suppression over detail preservation, and I'm willing to accept a little grain. All of that's tweakable in the camera, of course, if you're dead set on JPEGs.

I'm going out on a limb: despite all the numbers I see on the Internet saying that the Nikon D600 has a better dynamic range, in practice I find the EOS 6D has more recoverable highlight detail in seemingly clipped areas than the D600. I can get better results overall on the D600's highlights using Nikon's Capture NX2 software than with either Adobe Lightroom or Phase One Capture Pro, but even then I couldn't reclaim some detail in comparable situations. I find the 6D and D600 roughly comparable when it comes to shadow detail.

The 6D's default Picture Style setting (Auto) seems more fine-tuned than I've seen in previous models, pulling back on the contrast and saturation so that it doesn't lose as much shadow detail or shift hues.

Video generally looks good, though the Canon EOS 5D Mark III's is still better (smoother tonality and better handling of contrast in high-contrast conditions), and you need to use the All-I codec to prevent some of the aliasing and moiré.

Click to download ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 3200

The 6D performs pretty well, but "pretty well," while making it comparable to the 5D Mark II, still puts it behind the Nikon 600D; its biggest issue is rather sluggish low-light autofocus, at least with the few lenses I shot with. (The lab tests were performed with the 24-105mm f4L IS lens, but I shot with a variety of lenses during my field tests. Note that while these numbers aren't comparable with those of most older cameras we tested, the 6D was tested using the same methodology as the D600, so those are comparable.) It powers on, focuses and shoots in roughly 0.6 second. Under bright conditions, it focuses, exposes, and shoots in 0.4 second, but that rises to about 1.3 seconds in dim light.

Although occasionally a camera doesn't feel as sluggish in field testing as it does in the lab, in this case it did; I could feel the various lenses hunting before locking focus. Even the EOS 7D feels more responsive in low light. That might be attributable to the measly single cross-type sensor in the AF array. It fares well in typical shooting, though, taking just under 0.3 second for two sequential shots, either raw or JPEG.

For continuous shooting, the 6D maintains a solid rate of 4.5 frames per second for either raw or JPEG. While the JPEG buffer is essentially unlimited -- it maintained 4.5fps for at least 30 shots without slowing -- shooting raw slows after 20 shots to about 2fps. The buffer lasts for about eight full-quality raw+JPEG shots before stopping to process. Though I didn't have enough time for significant burst-shooting testing, I wasn't thrilled with the AF system's speed when it came to to locking on the subject and tracking.

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