There was a time, not so long ago, when the cost of a full-frame DSLR was well beyond the reach of most people who didn’t earn their living from photography. Then, within the space of a couple of weeks, Nikon announced the D600, Canon followed close on its heels with the 6D, and the affordable full-frame DSLR became a reality that many could aspire to.
On the surface it may look like Canon has had to make some big compromises to bring full-frame photography to the masses. A viewfinder that lacks 100 percent coverage, an AF system with a paltry-sounding 11 points and only one cross-type point, a smaller-than-average 3in screen, only one SD card slot, no built-in flash and a return to the bad old days of interchangeable focussing screens. In comparison, the Nikon D600 easily wins on core specifications.
But look beyond the basic specification and there’s a lot about the 6D which is worthy of respect and even a little excitement. Tough, part Magnesium alloy moisture and dust-resitant construction, an AF system capable of functioning in very low light levels, capable continuous shooting and auto bracketing options, and movie modes almost on a par with the EOS 5D Mark III.
Canon is also very adept when it comes to market segmentation, differentiating models not just vertically on the basis of how advanced they are, but at specific kinds of photographers. The 6D doesn’t need the sophistication of 19 cross-type AF points like the 7D or anything approaching the 51-point system of the 5D Mk III, or, come to that, the D600’s 39-point AF system. Why? because it’s a camera for travel and portrait photographers whose subjects tend not to move around that much.
What it does have, which is far more useful for those types of photography is an AF system which works under very low light levels, built-in GPS so you can tag your photos with location data, and built-in Wifi which allows sophisticated wireless remote control with a smartphone and the ability to upload images wherever there’s an access point. It’s also light and compact for a DSLR, and less of a burden to carry around, something anyone upgrading form an APS-C model like the 60D will appreciate.
Compared to Nikon D600
The battle between the Nikon D600 and the Canon EOS 6D is an important one for both companies because it’s an opportunity for each to poach customers from the other – or to lose them. If you ignore the presence of mirrorless compact system cameras, the logical upgrade path for owners of APS-C bodies is to go for an affordable full frame model. But if, like many consumer DSLR owners, you haven’t invested in additional lenses it’s an easy matter to switch allegiances. So with the D600 Nikon is looking not only to keep its existing customers in the fold, but to attract Canon ones into it too. Canon is doing the exact same with the 6D and both are fighting hard because the newly created affordable DSLR market they’ve created between them is very open.
So how do they stack up? The obvious place to start is the sensor. Nikon’s 24.3 Megapixel sensor has a slightly higher resolution than the 20.2 Megapixel sensor in the 6D, but the quality from these two sensors is pretty evenly matched, although it’s worth noting Canon takes a more agressive stance on noise reduction for JPEGs. Perhaps more importantly, the D600 offers a DX format crop mode which allows you to continue using any DX lenses you may own at a reduced 10.5 Megapixel resolution. That’s likely to be a significant factor for existing Nikon owners looking to upgrade. Canon EOS 6D users upgrading from an APS-C body aren’t so fortunate as EF-S lenses aren’t compatible with any full frame Canon body, including the 6D.
Next to resolution, the factor that will likely influence many buyers is the respective AF systems, but I reckon this is something of a red herring. On the face of it, the Nikon D600’s 39-point AF system with 9 cross-type sensors is more sophisticated and capable than the 6D’s 11-point AF system which has only one central cross-type sensor. The D600’s additional sensors may cover a larger area, be more configurable and better at tracking small moving subjects, but that’s only half the story. The Canon EOS 6D’s AF system is sensitive at much lower light levels, meaning you can continue to use AF until it’s almost dark. So for shooting in very low light, for example in the late evening and at night, the 6D wins out.
A larger brighter viewfinder is one of the advantages a full-frame DSLR offers and although the EOS 6D’s viewfinder doesn’t offer full 100 percent coverage like the D600 the difference is negligible and a side-by-side comparison doesn’t reveal any significant differences between them. What is different is that the D600 allows you to turn off the AF point overlay and add a grid if you want it, whereas on the 6D you’ll have to physically swap the glass focussing screen. At 3.2 inches diagonally, the D600’s LCD screen is slightly larger than the 3 inch screen of the 6D and shares similar resolution, but the different aspect ratios mean the image on the 6D is actually a little bigger.
Both models share similar continuous shooting capabilities, the D600 is slighter faster at 5.5fps than the 6D at 4.5fps, but the Canon can shoot Large fine JPEGs indefinitly where the D600 is limited, if that’s the word to a 100-frame burst. Switch to RAW shooting and the Canon manages 21 frames before filling the buffer by comparison with 16 for the D600.
It’s interesting to note that the D600 provides more or less the exact same movie modes as the Canon EOS 6D which also offers 24, 25 and 30 fps recording at 1080p resolutions with 720p at 50 and 60 fps, all encoded using H.264, although the 6D also offers the choice of inter or intra-frame compression. The 6D has an socket for an external microphone, but no headphone socket. On balance I think that with its DX crop mode, uncompressed HDMI output and headphone socket, the D600 is a more capable movie camera then the 6D. At this level at least, Nikon has reversed Canon’s long held dominance in this area.
The D600 has a number of other features that the 6D lacks including a built-in flash, twin SD card slots (versus only one on the 6D), interval timer and a shutter durability of 150 thousand actuations – 50 percent more than the 6D. But not everything is in the D600’s favour. The 6D’s trump cards are it’s built-in WiFi and GPS capabilities, if you want those features on the D600, you’ll have to pay extra for the accessories and put up with the inconvenience of having them plugged in with the flap open. On top of that, the Wu-1A Wi-Fi accesory I tested on the D5200 didn’t offer anything like the same level of functionality as the 6D’s built-in feature and the smartphone remote control app was basic by comparison with Canon’s.
So on paper the balance looks strongly weighted in favour of the D600, but in practice the EOS 6D has a lot to recommend it, particuarly if you put yourself in the group that Canon says it’s aimed at – travel, portrait and landscape photographers. As always, you’ll need to decide which model, on balance, offers the range of features that’s best suited to the kind of photography you do.
See my Nikon D600 review for more details.
Canon EOS 6D final verdict
The Canon EOS 6D is an extremely capable and well-designed full-frame digital SLR that provides a clear upgrade choice for anyone looking to graduate from an APS-C model to a full-frame DSLR. It combines excellent image quality with superb high ISO noise performance, has an AF system that works in very low light levels and adds built-in GPS and Wi-Fi features in a tough, moisture and dust resistant body that’s lighter and more compact than other full-frame bodies.
It’s lightweight, which is an important consideration in a model designed to appeal to existing APS-C body owners, but the compromises that have been made to keep it compact and affordable will inevitably dissapoint some people. Features like a viewfinder with 100 percent coverage and dual card slots are almost taken as given on a full frame body. Conversely, many upgraders will find it hard to accept the lack of a built-in flash and articulated screen.
Despite those shortcomings, the 6D is a solid, dependable, affordable full-frame DSLR that is ideally suited to the kinds of photographer Canon has pitched it to. For Landscape travel and portraiture, and that covers a lot of ground, the 6D is a superb performer and comes highly recommended.
Tough, moisture and dust resistant body.
Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS.
Great image quality with low noise levels.
AF effective in very low light.
4.5fps continuous shooting limited by memory for JPEGs.
Single SD card slot.
Lacks built-in flash.
97 percent viewfinder coverage.
Relatively few AF points and only one cross-type.
Lacks on-demand viewfnder overlays.