I’ve been wanting to go full-frame for a couple years now but the investment required to do so held me back. Not only would I need to buy a new camera body, I would also need a new wide-angle zoom since the Canon 10-22 mm I have won’t work on full-frame bodies. Considering the inflated price for a 5D Mark III and my limited income over the past few years, it was all more than I could justify. However, a work gig I had over the last year got me thinking about it more seriously. Then this past fall Canon released the 6D, a full frame camera costing a good $1000 less than the Mark III. What might be considered an enthusiast-level camera, it is for the most part designed and priced for those moving up from lower-end crop sensor cameras and as such, some compromises were made in features; however, because the 6D was coming out 6 months later than the 5D it also includes some technology and features not included in the 5D. What to do? In the end I decided the cost savings were worth the compromises and went with the 6D.
I don’t write much about cameras and gear much on this blog, and in fact, this may be a first. This won’t be a review so much as a hands-on, just giving my thoughts and impressions after using the 6D for the last few months. In general, I’m happy with the camera although there have been a few annoyances, most of which I knew about going in.
One of the biggest annoyances, and one I was unaware of or at least overlooked when I purchased the camera, is the change in the layout of the controls on the back of the camera. Physically, the camera feels about the same in my hand as my previous camera, the 7D, but the layout of controls is significantly different. In fact, the 5D and 7D are much closer to each other in layout than to the 6D. I’m not sure why such a radical change in layout was required but considering I still use my 7D it can be quite irritating at times. Not only were the locations of buttons moved, but the operation of the thumb wheel was changed as well. Why?
The 6D uses SD memory cards, whereas the 7D and other higher-end models use the larger CF cards. This means I’m having to buy all new cards. Although the 6D is generally intended for photographers upgrading from lower end models, most of which use SD cards, it would nice if Canon would stick with a set format, certainly at least within camera class levels.
The 6D has fewer auto-focus points than other models and they’re clustered relatively close to the center of the frame. Generally, this doesn’t bother me much as I usually only use one focus point and move it around depending on how and what I’m shooting. The auto-focus does seem marginally slower and less precise. Not that it can’t obtain an accurate focus, it just sometimes seems to take a bit longer than what I’m used to with the 7D. Canon also saw fit to only include two programmable C slots on the exposure mode knob as opposed to the usual three slots. Apparently this was to make room for a Scene mode. Personally I find this a bit silly since even most amateurs moving up to a full-frame camera would almost surely have moved beyond the level of using scene modes. Something that wasn’t mentioned in any of the reviews I read and I didn’t notice until having used the camera for several months was the omission of a PC plug for an external flash. Now, considering how long it took me to notice it wasn’t there should tell you something about often I use this; however, it seems like an odd thing to omit. Maybe Canon feels that with everyone going to wireless these days it isn’t necessary, and maybe that’s true.
So what are some of the things I like? Well, the 6D includes a couple built-in technologies that were previously only available as expensive add-ons. One of these is GPS, which stamps every photo with a location geo-tag to identify the exact spot where the photo was taken and which can be read by Lightroom or many photo upload sites. Unfortunately, when this function is enabled it is always on, regardless of whether the itself camera is on or off. This can be a minor drain on the battery. I also found the altitude accuracy to be rather poor (+100 ft), although it’s possible it has something to do with the GPS system and not with the camera function. I haven’t really done any investigation to determine why there might be such a large discrepancy.
Another interesting new feature is the inclusion of wifi connectivity. This, combined with Canon’s app for smart phones and tablets, allows for wireless connection to the camera for remote shooting, adjustment of exposure settings, and review/downloading of images on the camera. It’s a fun feature, and one which I might use occasionally, although it’s not something I’ll use on a regular basis. I found the process for making the connection between the phone and camera isn’t particularly intuitive and user friendly but generally works ok once you are connected. When the wifi function is enabled, the USB connection is disabled, which if you didn’t know this or forget can cause some extreme frustration the next time you try to download images to your computer.
The full frame sensor in the 6D does a pretty good job with low light, high ISO situations, noticeably better than my 7D. It’s good enough that I’m much more inclined to leave the ISO setting on Auto. You’ll still get quite a bit of noise at extremely high ISOs but with some good noise-reduction software you can still get some useable images. Maybe not sellable, but certainly good enough for posting on a blog or website, or making small prints (see image below). For long-exposures, I haven’t noticed much improvement over the 7D. If you were to do a detailed side by side comparison, you may see some differences but I don’t think it’s as significant as with the improvements in high ISO performance.
One other small feature that I appreciate is the ability to do auto-exposure bracketing with more than three images. This is very useful if you are doing any HDR work. To get an exposure bracket with more than three images with the 7D I had to do it manually which risked moving the camera between exposures.
Modern cameras, even low-end point and shoot cameras, have become very advanced and feature dense and this camera is no exception. There are a lot of other features I could talk about but these are some of the things that have made the most impression on me so far. Am I happy with the camera? For the most part, yes. Is it perfect? No, but I don’t think perfect is out there. It will do the job for me now. I do sometimes wish I had gone all out and purchased the 5D Mark III but really, the pictures I would make with it wouldn’t be any better than what I’ll do with the 6D and hey, there’s a lot that I can do with an extra thousand dollars.