Initial Impressions: Canon EOS 6D


On paper, the Canon EOS 6D seems a little underwhelming. Despite that, it is probably the most significant pro DSLR, till date. Raj Lalwani investigates why.

Lighter, smaller, cheaper. Better?

When one side makes a noise, the other one has to reply. It is almost a given that if Canon introduces something interesting, Nikon will try to follow, and vice versa. The Brazil and Argentina of cameras, one may say. This is why even while I was putting the new Nikon D600 through its paces (our exclusive hands-on preview is here and here), I was keenly awaiting Canon’s reply to the same. I didn’t have to wait too long. So here it is, the new Canon EOS 6D…

Before we start talking about initial impressions, did you notice the similarity in the way they even *name* the cameras?! These guys really know how to mark each other. Of course, that may put nomenclature confusions in the minds of the uninitiated. While Nikon uses a higher number for a higher-spec model (D800 over the D600, for instance), Canon adopts the opposite approach. This is why the 5D Mark III is the higher-end full frame camera, the 7D is the high-end cropped-sensor camera and the 6D fits right in… as an entry-level full frame DSLR that sits right between these two cameras.

Comparisons to the D600 are inevitable, and very frankly, spec-to-spec, the 6D is quite underwhelming. It does make several compromises in terms of photographic features. Most notably, its AF system seems rather primitive, with 11 points and just one cross-type sensor. There is only one SD card slot (as compared to one CF and one SD on the 5D Mark III and two SD slots on the D600) and the viewfinder does not offer 100% coverage. Its maximum shooting speed is 4.5fps (as compared to the D600 that shoots at 5.5fps). Most notably, it does not have a built-in flash (nor does the 5D Mark III, but the D600 has one). It lags behind in all these specifications, but the pricing is touted to be identical to that of the D600, namely USD 2100. More significantly, the D600 is already shipping, but the 6D will only start production three months later.

Round one to Nikon, most people would think. The autofocus system, especially, seems like a huge difference between the two cameras… just one cross-type sensor and a cluster of points that are too concentrated at the centre can be major disadvantages. And this is something that will directly affect photographers more than other parameters like shooting speed or number of card slots. Interestingly though, the AF is designed to work in light levels as low as -3EV. This is significantly better than previous DSLRs from both Canon and Nikon. Unlike the 5D III, you can also use interchangeable focusing screens, which will make users of manual focus lenses happy.

Interestingly, one must add that though the feature list seems to be a bit of a disappointment, the 6D almost makes the EOS 5D Mark II obsolete. The Mark II was a good option for those who did not need the high-speed AF and speed of the Mark III, but still wanted the advantage of high resolution and superb video. The 6D incorporates most of the good things about the 5D Mark II, in a package that is not too expensive and quite lightweight.

But there are two things about the 6D that I’m deeply interested in. First, the sensor. One would have thought that the company would have used the same sensor as the one used in the 5D Mark III. That, after all, is cost effective… to share sensors across camera bodies. Instead, the company has decided to use a new 20.2MP sensor. Now, this is absolute unknown territory. It might be something that performs as well as the 5D Mark III or the D600, or might even beat these cameras. We have seen it before… a less expensive camera doing better than something at a higher price range, simply because the technology is newer. And if the 6D manages to produce better looking files than the D600, most of the on-paper differences can be forgiven.

There is another reason why the EOS 6D is interesting. Built-in WiFi! Finally, a DSLR that will allow you to share your photographs instantly! Sure, the high-end cameras (1D X, D4) have Ethernet and cameras like the D3200 and D600 allow you to attach a WiFi dongle, but the 6D can do this without any additional attachments. I will not be surprised to see this camera becoming very popular amongst online journalists.

Let’s face it. This is the reality that the photographic industry must wake up to. Today, if I witness a once-in-a-lifetime scene and capture it with a high-end camera like the Nikon D800 or the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and if somebody else beside me, makes a picture on his 10,000 rupee cell phone, guess whose picture will go online first? And in the world of photojournalism and news, immediacy matters as much as photographic vision or image quality.

It is not that this could have not have been done before. The camera companies have woken up late, and it is only in the last six months that we are seeing a few cameras that are truly ‘connected’… the Samsung Galaxy camera, Nikon’s Android-based compact camera, the Samsung NX mirrorless bodies. But to see a major manufacturer, one of the big two, including WiFi in a full frame DSLR, no less, is heartening. If this convinces manufacturers of making connectivity a priority in every future DSLR, the 6D will be remembered as the ultimate hero.

Tags: 5D Mark III, canon eos 6d, d600, Germany, Photokina, wifi