Canon 6D Field Test
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.
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.
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)
This is the original... purposefully underexposed as it was hand held at f5.6 1/15th sec ISO800, cant get much lower...
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.