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Canon 6D Field Test

  • Posted on 09 April, 2013

After trialling a Canon 6D on a two week trip to India, I herby crown a camera I knew virtually nothing about as the new king of travel photography. Here’s a field report from my Jaipur train seat.

6D Review - the Taj Mahal, showing just how good the colours are
 

If you have been watching the arrival of new DSLRs over the last few years, you may feel the some disillusion I do, a feeling that I encounter even now as a professional. The frequency never used to be the same, but it seems that every few weeks there’s another number with ‘D’ stuck on the end, hatching from fertile minds of technicians out in the far east.

I have to say the Canon 6D blew past me like arctic spindrift along with all the others this year, barely receiving a quick glance as I headed into the maths of the remarkable 1Dx I purchased in December. Is it just another predictable 5D3 lookalike, with less features, fewer capabilities? Let me start by telling you from this increasingly uncomfortable train seat, this understated camera is almost an enigma to me, everything the platinum selling 5D2 wasn’t.

 

In a nutshell...
So what has me so captivated? Is it the WIFI or GPS? Let’s forget all that and start with a list and an early conclusion so you leave this review and head elsewhere –

Here’s what I love and it’s a big list in no particular order -

  • Autofocus its an absolute revelation and I mean it. The AF is so precise, so exact, that I have given up checking shots for sharpness. It’s quick, not 1Dx quick, but nails it every time, even on the outer focus points.
  • Low Light  AF – this needed its own entry, as it can literally AF in the dark, and I am not exaggerating. I am amazed at how many times it gets it right.
  • AF Point Orientation Memory – get sick of manually changing AF points between landscape and portrait? The camera has a custom function that now remembers which way round you are and your last AF point position.
  • Image Quality – RAWs are so sharp with good glass, colourful, clean and vibrant. I am staggered at how remarkable the images look on screen, straight out of the camera without any processing
  • ISO – literally clean as a whistle from ISO100-800, with ISO 1600 still on-par with pro cameras, ISO3200 being the limit.
  • Post Processing Power – you can give the images a really good push in PP if necessary. They will take considerable punishment before degrading. There is banding and noise if you dig in, but its well controlled and doesn’t stop considerate image rescue.
  • Handling – it’s an intuitive one handed, or should I say ‘right thumb’ camera. Forget the left hand row of extras on the bigger cameras. I hardly need these when I am moving. The Q menu is such a time saver, really well laid out with help menu.
  • LCD Screen – bright, clear and dare I say it evocative. The shots look so good on the rear screen, with superb colour and tones, just like the 1Dx. With astonishing clarity, even under bright midday sunshine, the menus are iPhone bright. It makes me want to take pictures, it makes me feel confident in my shoot, a vital part of photography mojo.
  • Video – The video quality is superb, a great addition for the stills photographer who wants to capture the shooting environment. Simple control that originated on the 7D, the results are cinematic and high quality with good audio. I find myself enjoying the experience immensely.
  • WIFI – The ultimate tuition aid. I am blown away at how useful this will be for iPad /iPhone based live view explanations. I can explain tilt shift, hyperfocal distance and more using an untethered, with a 9inch screen. I am sure there will be many applications for this.
  • GPS – No bulky hotshoe units, its all there, inside the camera. No more messing about with guide books trying to work out where I was when travelling seven months ago. It is fast, functional, links with the LR Map module and not too draining on battery.
  • Weight – its light, balanced and solid. It handles beautifully with a 24-105 f4L, even the heavier 70-300 f4-5.6L IS in the hand.

 

6D Review - all operation is from the right hand.
All operation is from the right thumb, what utter joy, unlike the 5D3.
 

The not so great list

  • Joystick – I miss not having one, image reviewing feels a little too ‘linear’ for my liking, but it is not poor by any means.
  • Thumbwheel – well its ok, but I miss the bigger, confident feel of the 5D series. The inset cursor control is ok, very functional, but it’s a little cramped and ‘consumer’ feeling, if that makes sense.
  • DOF Button – could have done with making it slightly more proud, it’s a little understated which makes it a bit difficult to find.
  • SD Cards - Ok, its SD cards only, but is that really a problem? I have used them in my 1Ds3 since 2008. I have never seen the issue as SD’s are laptop friendly, but it could be for some.
  • Focus Points Configuration? – I am used to the 5D2 and 5D with the same configuration. The lift-focus-compose method is well engrained, but I would prefer a wider spread.

….and that’s it, that’s my list. Small isn’t it.

 

I could write in about the lack of 100% viewfinder and the exclusion of ‘pro features’ that forums with gnash on and on about, but its not relevant - we’re adults. You can prioritise your own feature relevancy list from the points above and adapt this to your shooting, but here’s why I can see this camera in my bag for the next few years.

I originally bought the Canon 5Dmk2 for travel and it sat in my camera bag for three years until I sold it. It was a large disappointment to me – average, unpredictable IQ with weird shadow banding and a warm LCD screen that rendered questionable images in the field, no mojo in other words. I had no affiliation with it at all. The list above would have been heavily weighted the other way around.

6D Sharpness, 100% without sharpening6D Sharpness
This was taken on a rocking train at ISO800 at 105mm, 24-104f4L IS for 100th sec. AIServo is outrageously accurate.


The Ultimate Travel Camera Conclusion

In one week in India the Canon 6D has become the answer to my travel photography prayers. I have to say, I have never shot a camera under £2k that is so accurate, so fast and so reliable, nailing pin sharp images every time, even in the most awkward of light.

It looks basic, unexciting perhaps, especially at first glance, but it has precision electronics under the bonnet at the heart of every travel photographers requirements. Let us forget GPS and WIFI for now (seperate review soon), you need accurate AF at the heart. It doesn’t even have to be that fast, just solid and reliable. The 6D delivers again and again, and I have been astounded by its consistency so much so that I have started trying things no other camera would never attempt (except the 1Dx).

The files look utterly superb and they can be pushed a good deal in post processing. I have been able to purposefully underexpose images at 1/15thsec, hand held in dark museums at ISO800 and restore them to full exposure in RAW without any excessive noise or banding whatsoever. (see below)

6D Review - example of lowlight focusing and just how far the RAW can be pushed
Canon 6D, 24-105 f4L IS, pushed and pulled in processing.... CLICK FOR FULL HI-RES

6D Review - the original purposefully underexposed file
This is the original... purposefully underexposed as it was hand held at f5.6 1/15th sec ISO800, cant get much lower...

For Landscapes?
So, if you are a landscape photographer looking for a new camera, is it worth considering? I think the initial draw of GPS will be of little use to you after the honeymoon period as you know where you were. I also think the astounding AF performance will too, as most will manual focus. I would lean towards the Canon 5D3 with its semi weather sealing and remarkable in-viewfinder level that I love on the 1Dx in particular.

If I had to recommend a landscape camera, if you can handle the weight, a second hand, low mileage 1Ds3 is still the weapon of choice and literally the same cost as a new 6D. Although the 6D will shoot anything you aim it at, I believe its strengths lie elsewhere, but if you walk a lot, or climb for your photographs, the 6D would still be an ideal lightweight companion. I know nothing of any weather resistance, so excuse me on this subject.

Finally, the WIFI feature looks compelling. Position the camera and then focus and shoot from your tablet or phone! Surely that has to be the ultimate app. Unfortunately I have such miserable internet everywhere in India I am yet to get the app. I will wait to feature this in another review when I get home.

So there it is, I hope my India portfolio does this camera some considerable justice. I am inspired to say the least and I feel I have a camera to compliment the arsenal I seem to be building. When I get home I am purchasing two, yes you did read that right. The second will be converted to infrared as its about time my IR system had an upgrade, and an upgrade it will certainly be.

Finally, here's my office -


Smelling a little fruity, but dont knock it, its got power sockets everywhere. You wont find that on many trains in the UK.

14 Comments

  1. Hi David -
    Really pleased to hear that you rate the 6D - I bought mine as have been wanting to upgrade to a full frame from my 50D for some time.  Have always found the weight of the other full frames too much for my wrists!
    So will be keen to learn some 6D tips from you in France next month.
    Loved the portrait of the old boy - don’t think there will be many like that in France!

    Judy

    Judy Knights - 10 April, 2013
  1. Yes we will have to go through the setup and get you using camera at its optimum. It’s such a killer piece of kit, you couldnt have picked a better camera. The weight is significantly less that other cameras, which makes it a joy for 1-series ‘luggers’ like me. It lightens the daytime load significantly.

    David Clapp - 11 April, 2013
  1. Hey David,
                great review and it has made me consider the 6d more than I ever was planning too. My question that I would appreciate your help with is - as a want to be wedding photographer I have an opportunity of buying either the 6d or the 5dMk3 both of which will be married to the 24-105L4 until I can afford the 24-70L.
    Which camera would you invest in if you were in my situation. The only other genre I usually indulge in is landscapes/seascapes.
    I would value your opinion and thank you for your time.
    Kind Regards
    Stuart

    Stuart - 19 April, 2013
  1. Hi David, would love to see the full res versions of the above. Although I have no issues with banding on the 5D Mk2 providing I use the inbetweeny ISO settings, 160, 320 ect (can push the shadows slider all the way to the top and get no banding) I love the idea of built in GPS and wifi (the IT geek in me coming out smile ) . Just seems like a really interesting camera and one that can be had for not a lot of money by shopping around…

    Ian Woolcock - 20 April, 2013
  1. Stuart - I would say that the AF points are probably the deciding factor, so I would consider the 5D3 would give oyu greater spread than the 6D. But that said, I think the 6D has a huge bonus with its incredible low light AF, that I am sure you encounter every time you shoot a wedding. Consider the WIFI could also allow you to shoot moments from an iPad - set up the camera in a key location and trigger it remotely without disturbing the ceremony, from the tier above, or in front of the bride and groom at the alter, which is usually not allowed. I think the power in this camera far exceeds a few additional and wider spread AF points….

    Ian - I am just sorting out as we speak. Yes, thats exactly it - its a remarkable camera with good build and features that far exceeds the usual camera specs and upgrades. If you dont need GPS or WIFI then it ca remain turned off, but as I have said before its the IQ and the AF that make this a serious camera, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    David Clapp - 22 April, 2013
  1. David,
          Thank you so very much for your reply. May I be so bold as to ask further - Are you in a position of having used the 5d3 as to help me out a wee bit more.
    You have mentioned the 6d has great lowlight AF performance - does it beat the 5d3?
    And you’ve also said that the 6d has incredible IQ, including great recovery in post process - Again, would you say it beats the 5d3?
    If they are about even then I’d buy the 5d3 but if the either wins in these respects I would opt for that camera.
    Either way I’m sure either camera will be a great tool. 
    Thank you again for your time.

    Stuart - 25 April, 2013
  1. I bought the Canon 6D with the 24-105 F4.0 L IS USM lense early Dec 2012, as an upgrade replacement to the Canon XSi (450). A couple months later I bought the Canon EF 70-200 F2.8 L IS USM lens and 2X Teleconverter. I am very happy with this camera and its lenses.

    Allan Ogilvie - 03 May, 2013
  1. Hello David loved the 6D field test, I just bought one and upgraded from a 30D. It has so much more creative features, I wanted the 5d3 but price was a factor, I have been shooting landscape for a long time but would like to know how you would set up the 6D as far as white balance and some of the other features like lens correction, I am currently using a 28-135 and a 20mm2.8 lens, and a 100-400 all canon lens, would like to get a better lens to replace the 28-135, what would you recomend? 

    Best regards, Carroll Schroeder

    Carroll Schroeder - 26 July, 2013
  1. Sorry for the delayed reply…

    I use the 6D set to Daytime WB for most of the stock shooting I do. I use the Peripheral Lens Correction (vignette correction) and the Chromatic Aberration Correction (fringing) as this helps a lot to create consistent and balanced images.

    If I was to recommend a lens set to you, I would suggest second hand
    Canon 24-105, 70-200 f4L, (get the IS if you need it otherwise get the f4L) and a 1.4xII converter.

    Then, if you like superwide, you can get a 17-40 f4L, which will then cover you from 17-280mm. It would be a really great team, lightweight and complimentary to the camera you now own.

    I am pretty certain the lenses you own will not be pull the most out of the sensor can resolve, especially the 28-135. There were good and bad ‘copies’ of this optic which means variations, not actual copies….  the 100-400 is loved and hated, again because of its sharpness inconsistencies. If you have a good one, then keep it. Try testing it out on a frame filling landscape, taken from a high viewpoint and try it at all focal lengths and apertures.

    Right I have a long drive back into Croatia in the morning, drop me an email if you need to…

    David Clapp - 31 July, 2013
  1. Stuart - yes the 6D beats the 5D3 on noise. My experiences show the 5D3 has more colour noise than the 6D, which is remarkably controlled. I would also conclude the images can be pushed harder and further in software than the 5D3. Its this flexibility and versatility that makes sticking with those 9 diamond shaped 5D2 AF points seem worth it! But consider the 6D’s centre focusing point is rated as -3LV, which is superb for low light as I have proved time and time again. Its a brilliant camera all round, and one I cannot top with any other in the entire Canon range.

    David Clapp - 31 July, 2013
  1. Nice review,I may consider Canon 6D as my 2nd body for wedding and a camera for travel.Canon5D mark III is an amazing camera but the weight is a pain for travel.

    Ronnie - 23 August, 2013
  1. David,
    Since you been using the camera in the field, let me ask you this, do you know if the AEL button will lock the exposure for more than 6 seconds? Comming from nikon, you can press ael once and will lock exposure untill you press the ael again, not the case with my Canon 5d mki, i wonder if the 6d will let me ael like Nikon.

    Thank you in advance!

    Carlos - 30 August, 2013
  1. Thank you David for a very informative review.
    I have been looking to move up the ladder to full frame from my 7D but the cost of the 5DMK3 was probably going to be a step too far for me at this time.
    After looking at a 6D yesterday and reading your review I think my mind is made up and the 6D will be my next camera.
    Regards,
    Graeme Bell.

    graeme bell - 08 September, 2013
  1. Hi David
    My journey to you is through the video that comes with the Canon 6d.  I have a Canon 7d and whilst its a great camera it is not the best choice for Landscape however having spent a fortune on Canon glass I could not justify going to the Canon 5D MKIII and remain married! I bought the 6d and have had so far one outing shooting Landscape and immediately noticed the diffrence from APC-C when cropping & enlarging shots the resolution is so much better. I will be out on Dartmoor this coming weekend to really put it through its paces especially on the Tors around Burrator and I know from someone elses experiance its just fine in the wet as long as its not submerged!
    Regards
    Jeff Allen

    Jeff Allen - 06 November, 2013