Design & Usability
The Canon EOS 6D is designed to be a lighter, cheaper alternative to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. To that end, it accomplishes its goals, squeezing a 20.2-megapixel full-frame sensor and updated autofocus into a relatively small body. We were a little dismayed that the camera also felt cheaper than Canon's beloved 7D, which is a couple years older and sports a smaller APS-C image sensor. The dials on the 6D felt a little stiffer, the buttons more chintzy, and the grip thinner than we would have liked.
The EOS 6D does, however, seem much simpler to use at first blush than either the 5D Mark III or its predecessor, the venerable 5D Mark II. The 6D's inclusion of Canon's now-ubiquitous "Q" quick control menu and a physical mode dial chock full of automatic shooting modes should make novice shooters feel right at home. The "Q" menu, in particular, makes adjusting settings much easier, taking full advantage of the large 3-inch, 1.040 million-pixel display.
The level of control is similar to what we'd expect from an updated prosumer model, but probably a bit less than some users would like to see. There's a secondary LCD on the top plate of the camera, live view and video controls, and direct controls for options like ISO and white balance. But it's missing the column of controls to the left of the screen found on most high-end cameras, and there's no multi-function button either. Overall, it adds up to a camera that should be relatively easy to use while keeping the weight and size down, with a weather-proof, durable body primarily constructed of magnesium alloy.
The Canon EOS 6D offers additional benefits for photographers and videographers who might be tempted to pick up a similarly priced Canon 5D Mark II. Chief among these is the updated autofocus, which employs an 11-point system with a cross-type central point that's sensitive enough to work down to -3EV. The entire system seems more precise and responsive than what's found on either the Mark II or the 7D, though the 6D lacks the fine autofocus control that we've fallen for in their high-end models such as the EOS 1D X.
General operation of the 6D actually feels much snappier than what you'd get from older Canon cameras, in large part due to its new DIGIC 5+ processor (also used in the 1D X and 5D Mark III). This new chip also endows the camera with a maximum ISO of 51200 and the ability to fire shots at up to 4.5 frames per second—quite quick for a full-frame camera, though little more than half as fast as the 7D. The Canon 6D also includes a surprising range of connectivity options, including built-in GPS and WiFi radios—both firsts for a Canon DSLR.
For videographers, the EOS 6D includes 1080/30p shooting in either ALL-I (685Mb/minute) or IPB (235Mb/minute) compression, with options for 720/60p and the full range of frame rates (50, 25, 24, etc.). We weren't able to test the camera's video output capabilities as we didn't have a monitor with us, but the camera does feature a mini-HDMI output and 3.5mm mic input. We'll certainly put the video quality to the test when we have a production-level unit, but it's possible the EOS 6D could provide a cheaper alternative for videographers who are willing to give up the 5D Mark III's headphone jack.
The overall theme of this year's Photokina seems to be the proliferation of full-frame cameras, particularly on the low end. With the announcement of the Sony A99, RX1, the Nikon D600, and now the Canon EOS 6D, there's no shortage of models that provide full-frame capability at a more reasonable sub-$3,000 price.
There are tradeoffs, of course, or else every full-frame body would cost just north of $2000. While the EOS 6D does provide a 20.2-megapixel full-frame sensor, its body doesn't have the same premium feel that the professionally geared 5D Mark III or 1D X provide. That said, we enjoyed shooting with the camera, which has a quite responsive autofocus system, snappy shot-to-shot time, and a level of control that is comprehensive while still remaining approachable for novice shooters.
In general, it's hard to find fault with the premise of a camera that promises full-frame quality and a high level of control at a reasonable price. We're very eager to get the 6D into our labs for a full performance breakdown, but until then consider us impressed at what Canon has managed to fit into the 6D's diminutive design.
While the Nikon D600 momentarily grabbed the headlines with a low-price, compact, full-frame DSLR, the Canon EOS 6D almost immediately rode in and grabbed a share of the spotlight. With a $2,100 body-only MSRP that exactly matches the D600's asking price, the EOS 6D is helping to bring full-frame CMOS image sensors to the masses.
Sure, $2,100 for a body is by no means cheap, but it gives consumers an option that is far more palatable than Canon's next-cheapest full-frame camera, the $3,500 5D Mark III. Despite the price difference, the Canon EOS 6D doesn't compromise much compared to its more expensive sibling. Its design doesn't feel quite as nice, and there are fewer direct manual controls on offer, but the 6D's massive image sensor and responsive autofocus system should please enthusiast users all the same.