February 20, 2013

Review | Canon EOS 6D Digital SLR Camera

Review

Soooooo… yes, we bought yet ANOTHER camera. Well, technically this is our first camera of 2013 at least, so it’s not that bad – yet! As we do more and more video along with photography for the many Indian and Pakistani weddings we have lined up for 2013, we were looking for another upgrade to the arsenal of cameras. As usual for me, this review is a hands-on review, not a detailed look into the technical specifications though of course I will touch on that when relevant! We just finished up Sani & Javed’s wedding this weekend and were able to put this camera to some real world testing in a wedding photography and wedding videography environment. We bought this camera primarily for a second video camera to support our existing 5D Mark III’s and 5D Mark II’s, so their is a bias for that usage angle and wedding photography/videography in general in this review. Ok? Here we go!

Canon EOS 6D - via Canon USA Website

Canon EOS 6D Key Features

20.2MP Full Frame CMOS Sensor
DIGIC 5+ Image Processor
ISO 100-25600 standard, 50-102800 expanded
4.5 fps Continuous Shooting
‘Silent’ Shutter Mode
1080p30 Video Recording, Max 29:59 Minutes
11 Point AF System, Center Point Cross-Type and Sensitive to -3 EV
Single SD Card Slot
Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS
Single-axis Electronic Level

The Good

Full frame camera at a crop-frame price! The big selling factor of the newly released Canon 6D is the full frame sensor at a mid-range price, by comparison the next full frame pro camera from Canon is the 5D Mark III which is about $1400 more than this 6D, ouch! For that price you are getting a full frame sensor, meaning that the physical part of the camera that collects light is much larger and produces a cleaner image with greater depth of field for out of focus backgrounds. The camera also sports the same DiGiC 5+ processor found in the 5D Mark III which produces an image with very little digital noise even at high ISO settings for dark situations, which also shares the 5D Mark III’s newly expanded range from 50-102,800 ISO. The improved software also means that you can record Full HD video in 1080p 30fps at the new limit of 30 minutes compared to the previous generation of Canon cameras which topped out at 12 minutes.

Canon 6D Review Test | Blog Photos
Canon 6D + EF 24mm f/1.4L II lens on a Manfrotto video tripod at Sani & Javed’s wedding

The Bad

For a camera that is $1400 less than it’s next bigger brother in the Canon lineup, the full frame 5D Mark III, their has to be some downfalls to differentiate the two cameras. While the 6D boasts a very good cross-type center Autofocus point, it only has 9 total autofocus points with that one higher quality cross-type. Now, for anyone that has used the old 5D Mark II will know that it only had one center cross-type point as well, so you’re not gaining much in terms of features if you are coming from a 5D Mark II – but it doesn’t really compete with that camera anyways. We have 5D Mark III’s as our main cameras though, so switching to using the 6D you definitely miss all of those new autofocus points! The buttons are also in different places compared to the 5D Mark III, and noticeably absent is a White Balance button. For anyone doing normal photography this probably won’t be a huge deal, as with photos in RAW mode you can switch white balance using software very easily. However, when shooting video, the white balance is “baked in” to the video file and must be fine-tuned which makes the lack of a dedicated White Balance button a bit frustrating.

Canon 6D Review Test | Blog Photos
Betty getting ready to start filming at Sani & Javed’s wedding

Real World Feedback

To preface this, we purchased this camera primarily as a video camera in our wedding photography/videography workflow. Of course, the dual purpose will be to take photos too as we currently use 2x 5D Mark III’s and 2x 5D Mark II’s as our main cameras and split them when both Betty and myself shoot. When I do wedding photography by myself, I take both Mark III’s of course, however when we both shoot photos we each take a 5D Mark II and a 5D Mark III so that we each have the better Mark III as a main camera with a Mark II as backup second body.

Canon 6D Review Test | Blog Photos
Taken with the Canon 6D + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens at Sani & Javed’s wedding

Lately we have begun to do A LOT of wedding videography, and our setup is very similar in that I will use a Mark III as my main camera, with another Mark II over my shoulder as a secondary body. Betty will be shooting video with a Mark III as her main camera on a monopod, and we then set a Mark II as our wide angle backup video shot on a stationary tripod. The problem? That stationary 5D Mark II is stuck with the 12 minute recording limit, meaning for long speeches you get dangerously close to not being able to record the entire speech on video. Now, with the 6D, I set this up as my tripod camera and can start recording and not worry about a long speech ending early, with a full 30 minute buffer before I need to start and restart the video. HUGE RELIEF!

Canon 6D Review Test | Blog Photos
Taken with live view on the 6D during the wedding from the video tripod position

The lack of a dedicated White Balance button is a bit frustrating since we intend to use the 6D as a video camera mostly, however we use it as our second angle for stationary events where white balance would typically be set ahead of time anyways and not changed throughout the event. We use the 5D Mark III as our “mobile cam” when out and about so not a deal breaker, plus you just have to use the “Q” quick button on the back to bring up the white balance, one extra step but it does take a tad extra time (and I’m probably also just slower at it because I’m used to the 5D series bodies).

Single SD Card slot… sigh. Nikon released the Nikon D600 around the same time as the 6D, which features dual SD card slots. The 5D Mark III also includes 1x Compact Flash and 1x SD card slots, so while mixed formats it does allow for dual recording to two cards or backup recording. For the price though, SD cards are so much cheaper than CF cards! For comparison’s sake, a 128 GB Compact Flash card (from Lexar) is $270, and a 128 GB SD card is $125. Needless to say, when I ordered the 6D I just also added another 128 GB SD card (SanDisk Extreme 128 GB if you were curious) to the checkout cart and called it a day, that should be enough to get me through any wedding =).

From a photography standpoint, the camera feels like a slightly upgraded 5D Mark II. And trust me, that’s not a bad thing! We used our 5D Mark II’s for many a wedding and they created amazing images. Coming from a 5D Mark III as my main camera though, I have definitely been spoiled by it’s amazing new upgraded autofocus system! Using the 6D feels like a backward step in that regards, and again this speaks more to how Canon is positioning the cameras. Is having a world class autofocus system worth $1400 over a 5D Mark III? If you are upgrading from any of Canon’s other bodies like the 60D or Rebel series, you will be used to the layout of the AF points and will be upgrading to that gorgeous full frame sensor and a bunch of other really useful upgrades. The new center autofocus point is really good though, Canon claims up to -3 EV of sensitivity which basically means seeing in the dark. However, with it being only in the center you will be doing a lot of focusing and re-composing, which in a fast-paced wedding environment is a bit tricky. Doing some quick test shots around the house with our son Miles is a bit like wedding photography as he doesn’t really sit still. The Autofocus struggled indoors in low light on the outer points but was very quick to grab focus when I spun back to the center AF point (the cross-type one). Again, we suffered with this forever with the 5D Mark II and managed, and is it worth the $1400 premium to go to the next level with a 5D Mark III?

Canon 6D Review Test | Blog Photos
Canon 6D + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II at Sani & Javed’s wedding

The remaining feature set, while interesting, does not have much use for me with wedding photography and I haven’t used them much. The built-in Wi-Fi and GPS seem like fun toys to play around with, and if they ever unlock remote video recording via the EOS Remote app I will be head over heels in love with this camera. For now, it’s fun, but not a deal maker or breaker for me. Landscape photographers may enjoy the GPS functionality, and I would admit when traveling it would be nice to see exactly where I was in a new location, but I need to see how much it drains the battery to keep it on.

Final Thoughts

Is the Canon EOS 6D worth it? I would say, yes, depending on where you are upgrading from. If you are coming from a Rebel series Canon camera like the T3i/T4i and looking to make the next jump up, the price for a full frame sensor just fell dramatically and you will be in love with this camera. If you currently are using a 5D Mark II, it’s a tough sell as you are in another category of camera, and the 6D is only a marginal improvement over an existing 5D Mark II – unlike a 5D Mark III which is a pretty big improvement over the Mark II in a few key areas for wedding photographers (AF, Dual Slots, ISO, etc). For a wedding photographer, this camera would be a great choice for a second body at a great price compared to getting a 2nd 5D Mark III. With both cameras having the new DiGiC 5+ processor, the files come out very similar to one another and are easier to match colors while editing which is a huge bonus when you have thousands of wedding photos to go through (and a giant relief for video where color matching is a bit trickier). As a video camera I feel like it’s a solid choice, and wedding videographers in particular will love this camera. The full frame sensor and ISO sensitivity mean you can still get a very usable image in dark settings, and unless you shoot a lot of outdoor wedding videos (Indian weddings for us are typically in hotels or banquet halls), you will appreciate this feature a lot! That said, the much cheaper Canon 60D (that’s six-zero) which the 6D is based on does have these similar features (30 minute movies) for a much cheaper price just with a crop sensor inside and a bit less ISO performance, and would still make an excellent video camera. Overall, I would say this camera definitely gets a big thumbs up from me, getting a full frame camera with amazing ISO sensitivity for under 2 grand is a big deal and for our specific needs of dimly lit indoor weddings that is worth the premium over Canon’s other recent crop-sensor cameras. Canon supposedly has some other new crop sensor cameras coming out soon (like a rumored 70D or 7D Mark II) which should satisfy sports and wildlife shooters, but for anyone working weddings or portraits where it’s advantageous to have great light gathering abilities and great portrait capabilities, this is a serious contendor to consider. If I were just jumping into photography and was not heavily invested in lenses, the Nikon D600 is worth a good look, however it’s limited video features of not being able to change the aperture while recording is a deal breaker for our needs.

Lastly, here are some additional test photos of Miles opening an early birthday present, focusing indoors in low light with the Canon 6D and a 50mm f/1.2L lens.

Canon 6D Review Test | Blog Photos

Canon 6D Review Test | Blog Photos

Canon 6D Review Test | Blog Photos

Canon 6D Review Test | Blog Photos

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