Canon's DSLR line-up is becoming increasingly busy. As well as the so-called 'beginners' range, which now comprises four traditional DSLRs and the mirrorless EOS M, it's got so many pro and semi-pro models that it's had to split the upper part of its range in two, for 'enthusiasts' and professionals'.
The EOS 6D is the newest entrant in this upper portion, and sits among the enthusiasts cameras, beside the EOS 60D and EOS 7D and will, in many peoples' eyes, be immediately more appealing than either of those on account of the size of its sensor.
Specs and features
It's built around a 20.2 megapixel full-frame sensor putting out 5472 x 3648 pixel images. Being full-frame there's naturally no crop factor, so you don't need to multiply up your lens' focal length to work out how it compares to a 35mm camera. It also means, though, that if you're upgrading from a consumer model like the EOS 650D, you won't be able to take your EF-S lenses with you, so you may as well trade in the whole bundle.
The trouble is, Canon's DSLR line-up is becoming increasingly crowded, and it feels very much like it's had to dampen some of the most exciting features simply to stop it compromising the EOS 5D Mark III. That model barely beats it on resolution, with a full-frame, 22 megapixel sensor, but ups the autofocus point count from a fairly hum-drum 11 to a far more impressive 61, and increases the maximum burst speed from 4.5 frames per second to six.
At the opposite end of the range, it's also missing the 650D's fold out screen, which is perhaps a more serious consideration for upgrading consumers. If you want a camera you can use outdoors, shooting from less conventional angles, rather than a largely tripod-mounted studio camera, an articulated display makes an enormous different to the level of creativity in your resulting shots.
In return, though, Canon has added a couple of extra features, including built-in GPS and wifi. The former tags your photos with the locations in which they were shot so you can position them on a map when you get back to base, while the latter lets you connect the camera to your smartphone, PC or Mac, for sharing images and remote control.
These features take space, so there's no built-in flash, which for a lot of users won't be an issue anyway -- particularly not if you use studio lighting in a controlled environment, or you're happy to buy an external Speedlite for the hotshoe.
So, it's mixed news on some of the specs, but where it really matters -- performance and usability -- it scores highly.
I paired it with a 24 - 105mm f/4 stabilised zoom for my tests and set the camera to aperture priority so I could control the depth of field while it took care of other shooting parameters. Output is naturally dependent on your choice of lens. In my case, at wide angle there was evidence of clear vignetting at the corners of the frame, which can be corrected in post production tools like Lightroom and Aperture, and isn't inherent to the camera body itself.
Colours are very punchy. I performed my tests on a sunny, largely cloud-free day, and the EOS 6D filled the frame with a spectrum of bright, realistic colours. Skies were a rich blue, grass was lush green, and flowers positively burst with colour. Shooting flowers in direct sunlight can sometimes be problematic due to reflections from shiny petals, but it wasn't an issue for the EOS 6D, which did an excellent job of minimising this effect for an impressive performance overall.
More muted tones were handled with equal aplomb. The headstone below is largely grey and green, but it's filled with detail, with the texture of the flat surfaces clearly picked out. Transitions between areas of similar tone are smooth and subtle.
It handles sharp contrasts very well, with the magnolia petals below cleanly picked out against the blue sky. The 24 - 105mm lens with which I tested it didn't introduce any chromatic aberration into the frame, so the result was free of fringing and third colours that aren't visible in real life to the naked eye.
With just over 20 megapixels on its sensor, the EOS 6D lays claims to a lower resolution than some of its competitors, such as the Nikon D800 (36.3 megapixels), but there's still enough there to record an extraordinary level of detail. In the shot below, the needles of the tree are cleanly rendered over much of its surface -- as is the brickwork of the almshouses behind it.
Still life test
As the EOS 6D doesn't have a built in flash, it was only possible to perform the still life test using studio lighting and the available ambient light within the studio.
I set the camera to full auto for this test so that it could make all of its own decisions about exposure and focusing.
Under studio lights it kept the aperture pinned at f/5.6 and sensitivity at ISO 100 for an exposure of 1/60 second. When relying only on the available ambient light it both upped the sensitivity -- to ISO 640 -- and opened up the aperture to f/4.5. Naturally this meant that there was a shallower depth of field in the ambient-lit scene.
The colours were more muted in the ambient light shot, with reds and yellows in particular not so bright and vibrant. However, at the self-selected ISO 640 there was no evidence of grain in the image, giving it a very clean finish.
The EOS 6D shoots full HD video at a maximum of 30fps, 1280 x 720 at 60fps and 640 x 480 at 60fps. I set it to 1920 x 1080 at 25fps for my tests, and switched from a class 4 to class 10 SD card.
The results were excellent. Colours and fine detail were very accurately captured, both from a static position and while walking about. The lens' image stabilisation helped to iron out the worst bumps when shooting while moving, but its workings were audible on the soundtrack.
As befits a higher-end device, you can tweak the sound settings manually or leave the mic set to auto or off, and turn on wind noise suppression.
You might think it would be difficult to recommend the EOS 6D when there are so many similar products clustered around it in Canon's line-up. However, it isn't.
It may cost £1600, body only, but that's still a saving of around £600 on the EOS 5D Mk III -- enough to buy yourself a decent lens to get started. By coincidence, that's roughly what you should expect to pay for the lens I used in these tests.
You're also getting built-in GPS and wifi, should those features be of interest, and close to the same resolution as found in the EOS 5D Mk III.
The biggest loss is of course the flexibility delivered by the additional auto focus points on the 5D Mk III, but with 11 to choose from you still have two more than the now retired EOS 5D Mk II, which had only nine, which for a long time was considered adequate.
All things considered, then, the EOS 6D ought to be considered a bargain, and it certainly eases the transition from APS-C to full frame photography for existing Canon users who have invested in EF (not EF-S) lenses for their entry-level DSLR. When paired with a decent lens, image quality is excellent, while its well thought-out controls ensure a very shallow learning curve, too.