Canon 6D Review

When I first pulled the camera out of the box for this Canon 6D review, my very first thought was: this is utterly amazing.

Canon 6D
Release Date: December 2012
List Price (no lens): $2,100 USD
List Price: $2,700 USD
Available at:
Amazon  •  Adorama  •  B&H Photo Video

What's surprising is that Canon has placed a full-frame sensor into a camera that is really not all that much bigger than their line of semi-professional cameras that include the 40D, 50D and 60D.

For those reading this who aren't already on the full-frame bandwagon, a full frame sensor has the exact same dimensions as a single frame of 35mm film: 36 x 24mm.

These large-scale sensors are capable of capturing VERY wide angles of view (great for landscape photographers) and are exceptionally good when taking photos in dim available light.

They also excel at creating blurry backgrounds. If you are really into portrait photography and want smooth, buttery backgrounds then you should definitely consider a full frame camera.

With the quick full frame intro out of the way, let's go back to the statement I made to open this Canon 6D review. Because the sensor inside the camera is larger, most full frame digital SLRs are huge and heavy.

They aren't the sort of camera that you want to tote around on a family vacation (or even a day trip for that matter).

What's so surprising to me is that the Canon 6D is NOT enormous: I compared it to my old Canon 30D and felt that maybe the 30D weighed just a bit more. If not, it's too close to tell.

Having a smaller-scale camera means that you don't draw that much attention to yourself when taking pictures. The 6D looks just like many other Canon digital SLRs – anyone else giving it a quick glance would have no idea it was full frame.

So – the small scale of the camera is impressive (if you're aware of what's going on inside) but what else does the 6D have to offer? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

Canon 6D Top View

The Benefits of Full Frame

If you're not a full-frame DSLR junkie like me, then you might not be aware of what a full frame camera is capable of. Let's do some show and tell to explain it.


Full frame is like a dream come true for anyone who needs a wider view of the world.

Let's take a moment to compare the Canon 6D with another popular Canon DSLR: the Rebel 650D T4i. The Canon 650D T4i has what's called an APS-C size sensor which measures 22.2 x 14.8mm.

Let's say we stick the same 50mm lens on both cameras. On the Canon 6D, that 50mm lens captures the world just like a 50mm lens. Since the APS-C sensor is smaller it only captures a PORTION of the image passing through the lens.

This creates an artificial zoom effect that is more commonly known as crop factor.

The Canon Rebel 650D T4i has a 1.6x crop factor, which means that the 50mm lens on the T4i is capturing the world around you more like an 80mm lens. But on the 6D it's just a plain old 50mm lens.

Canon 6D Landscape

Now 50mm isn't all that wide really – it's better suited for portraits. But if I were to use a 12mm lens on a full frame camera, I would be able to capture wide-angle shots that are not possible with a crop frame camera. To get the same angle of view, I'd need a 7.5mm lens and the last time I checked those didn't exist.

Unfortunately the widest angle lens I had for this Canon 6D review was 50mm, so I wasn't able to capture any super-wide shots. However, if you paired this camera with the Sigma 10-20mm lens then you could.


The Canon 6D – like its other full-frame friends – excels at taking photos in dim available light without a flash.

The short explanation is that larger sensors don't lose a lot of image quality even when you force them to absorb light faster using a setting called ISO.

As the ISO setting increases, the sensor is better at sucking up whatever limited light exists. However, the increased ISO also makes your photos appear more speckled.

Not so with a full frame camera. The ISO on the Canon 6D can be set all the way up to 25600 which practically lets it see in the dark. Case in point – at this ISO, you can take pictures indoors at night with only a single light on.

Canon 6D Cat Indoors

Yes, the grain and noise that you see at this ISO is high, but it's way less than you'd get on a camera with an APS-C sensor. When you use more "reasonable" ISO values like 6400 – which still provides you with a lot of low-light flexibility – the image quality is spectacular (as seen in the image below).

Canon 6D High ISO Portrait

If you're not fond of using flash or always seem to be getting out your camera when the sun is not in sight, then this ability of a full frame camera is just what you need.


I took a lot of portrait photos for this Canon 6D review, and when I couldn't control the location of my subject I had to find a way to reduce the impact of the background.

I was able to wash out a busy background by leveraging shallow depth of field, where there is only a limited portion of my picture that is clearly in focus – the rest of the image is soft and blurry.

Canon 6D Portrait Shallow DOF

Full frame cameras create much shallower depth of field than their APS-C cousins, even when you're using the exact same lens. The smaller the sensor, the greater the "natural" depth of field the camera captures.

There is a downside to this: it's often possible with a full frame camera to get too little depth of field. Depending on where the camera focuses, your subject's nose can be in sharp focus while their eyes appear blurry.

Canon 6D Labrador Shallow DOF

You just have to pay a bit more attention to depth of field when using a full frame camera to ensure that your subject is completely in focus while your background is nice and blurry.

Will You Benefit From a 6D?

Now that you have a better sense of all that a full frame camera is capable of, the most important question – before you throw down a lot of your hard-earned cash – is "who benefits the most from its features?"

First and foremost, landscape and interior photographers.

If you are always striving for a wider angle of view, then you will constantly benefit from having a camera like the 6D. Every time you take a shot, that wider angle of view will capture more of the scenery (or architecture) around you.

Sunrise With Clouds Captured With Canon 6D

While you can still use super-wide lenses like the Canon 8-15mm, it's not absolutely necessary. Instead, you can get superb results with the Canon 17-40mm because 17mm is pretty wide when used on a full frame DSLR.

Both landscape and interior photographers can also leverage the live view mode on the 6D, which allows you to compose photos using the exceptionally clear and bright 3 inch LCD screen.

In live view mode autofocus slows to a crawl, but this is not a drawback when you're taking pictures of mountains, lakes and buildings. In fact, it's often just easier in these cases to focus manually.

Landscape photographers who always want to know where they were when they took a photo can leverage the built-in GPS in the 6D. Once activated, it adds location data to every photo you take.

If you have an image-editing program on your computer with a map feature, the photos you take are automatically placed in the correct locations based on their GPS data.

Stunning Portraits

Canon 6D Full Length Portrait

There is also a lot to like in the Canon 6D if you are a portrait photographer.

The ability that I mentioned above to control the level of background blur is important when taking portraits. If the background enhances your portrait then it's easy to include it, but you also have the option to blur out a busy background to make your subject stand out.

The Canon 6D is especially useful for anyone who likes to take portraits while on vacation. Since it is not a huge, heavy camera it is quite possible to carry it around and be more discreet about your street photography. Strangers might also not feel quite so intimidated since you're not snapping their photo with a gigantic pro-looking camera.

As for street photography, the Canon 6D is a night-time city-dweller's dream come true.

With its absurdly high ISO settings and extremely low image noise even at these high ISO settings, you can easily take pictures at night holding the camera in your hands.

Case in point: for this Canon 6D review I intentionally snapped the photo below at night from a moving car.

This is where a full-frame camera like the Canon 6D really shines. You just can't achieve the same image quality in very low light conditions unless you're willing to stick your camera on a tripod (something I don't feel comfortable doing at night in major cities).

Wires? Who Needs Wires?

I've spent quite a bit of time already using superlatives to describe the quality of the images produced by the Canon 6D. For some, the exceptional image quality alone might justify the price.

However, I discovered that it has some more "wow" features that are worth describing.

The first is the camera's wireless connectivity, allowing you to wirelessly "tether" the camera (for lack of a better word) to a smartphone or tablet.

Canon EOS 6D Wireless

This wireless connection means that as you shoot photos, they instantly show up on your device. This means that you can quickly upload them to an image gallery, email them or post them to Facebook.

For this Canon 6D review, I used both an iPhone 4S as well as an iPad 2 to test this feature.

To connect the camera to an iOS device, you need to download the Canon EOS Remote app first. Once installed, the app will recognize the Canon 6D once its wireless feature has been turned on. Then it's merely a matter of establishing a connection.

Know Where You Were Every Time

The second interesting feature I immediately explored for this Canon 6D review is the camera's built-in GPS system.

Activating the GPS is done via the camera's menu system – you just have to turn it on.

Once it's running, the GPS adds location data to every photo that you shoot. You can see the location data in playback mode by pressing the INFO button on the back of the camera.

While some people might be captivated by the longitude and latitude information the real power of this feature comes through when you copy the photos off the card and into a program with a map feature.

Canon 6D GPS Photos in Google Earth

I use Google Picasa to organize and edit my photos, and Picasa has a feature that lets you map the locations of your photos on Google Earth.

Instead of having to tediously assign a location to each photo taken with the 6D, it's handled automatically thanks to the GPS.

The really amazing part (for me at least since this is my first real use of GPS for photos) is that you can pinpoint the exact location of the camera when the photo was taken.

I snapped a photo of my daughter and wife in the grass area behind a museum and the wall they were sitting on is where the image is placed in Google Earth.

Canon 6D GPS Photo in Google Earth

I don't know about you, but sometimes I have a rough time finding an old photo since I can't remember WHEN I took it (all my images are arranged chronologically).

However, I often do remember WHERE I took the photo I'm looking for, so having all of my images laid out on a map would make it much easier to find them years later.

Independent Film-Making at Your Fingertips

If your secret desire has always been to create short films, then the Canon 6D may be just the camera that you need.

As I mentioned above, one of the benefits of a full frame sensor is that it has very shallow depth of field (nice blurry backgrounds). When you use the 6D with a lens with a wide aperture, you can create cinematic effects.

You also have complete control over the depth of field in your video, since you can set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO in movie mode.

Take a look at the two following movies. No, neither one is a cinematic masterpiece, but they do illustrate the control that you have over depth of field.

Both videos are captured with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, and I am using manual focus to keep the subject sharp (more on focus in just a moment). Shutter speed is constant at 1/60th of a second, so the only variables I am playing with are ISO and aperture.

In the first video, I have the ISO around 3200 with a lens aperture of f/2.8. This results in a very narrow area that is in sharp focus – everything else looks blurry.

In the second video, I increased the ISO to 16000 so that I could narrow the aperture to f/11. Narrowing the lens aperture provides me with greater depth of field and you can see that the foreground and background are much clearer.

This control that you have over depth of field in your movies also means that you have control over exposure settings so that you can intentionally make your videos look dark and moody or bright and cheerful.

Since I've spent a lot of time in this Canon 6D review talking about the MANUAL control you have over video, it should come as no surprise that you will have to focus manually as well.

While the Canon 6D does allow you to autofocus during video capture, it takes a long time to lock focus even in bright light. In addition, if you're not using a lens with a silent autofocus, you'll hear the focus motor in the movie soundtrack.

I used manual focus for almost every video I captured with the 6D and – with some practice – was able to keep moving subjects pretty well in focus.

If you're really serious about shooting movies with a Canon 6D, then you'll want to take a look at follow focus accessory.

A Great Camera Deserves a Nice Lens

Canon 6D With Image Stabilized Lens

I used two really nice lenses for this Canon 6D review: a Canon 50mm f/1.8 and a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS. Both of these lenses are capable of capturing images with exceptional color and clarity.

Because of the image quality that this camera is capable of, you'll get the best results when you use the most expensive glass your budget will allow.

You'll also get the best results when you use lenses that are NOT optimized for crop-frame cameras.

Canon has two types of lenses: EF and EF-S. The EF-S lenses are designed with the crop-frame cameras in mind and have a narrower opening than EF lenses. While this allows the lenses to be smaller and lighter, it also creates a vignette (darkness around the edges of the image) when you use them on a full-frame camera.

This means that if you're the proud owner of a slew of EF-S lenses that you used on a Canon Rebel, these same lenses won't perform as well when used on the Canon 6D.

The quality of the lenses you'll need to accompany the 6D is something to keep in mind when considering total price. While it is definitely appealing to consider that you can get a camera like this for less than $3,000 USD it's NOT the entire story.

Unless you already own some high-quality lenses that will cover the full sensor on the 6D, be prepared to add another $800 to $1,000 USD to the price.

Final Impressions

I began this Canon 6D review by stating how amazed I was at the small size and low weight of this camera.

Having now used it for several weeks, I can safely say that if superior image quality or motion picture quality is what you desire then the 6D should be high on your list of cameras to consider.

Would I recommend it to beginning photographers? This is a tricky question to answer.

If you have zero desire to ever learn the manual controls of a DSLR then the answer is a definite no. Look for a Canon Rebel instead.

The "quality" of the images produced by the 6D is directly related to your ability as a photographer to take advantage of its strengths. Put another way, using this camera in AUTO mode is a total waste.

However, if you've always wanted to expand the boundaries of your photographic knowledge – and have a good amount of spare change – then you should carefully consider the 6D.

Its wide-angle, low-light, blurry background abilities are simply unmatched by other cameras in Canon's lineup (with the exception of older full-frame models) and its small size and low weight will make you feel like you're using a "regular" camera after just a few days.

For any intermediate photographers reading this 6D review, I have this to say: it's pretty rare that I come across a camera that makes me wish I was a better photographer, but that's how I'd describe the 6D.

My time with each DSLR that I review is limited – after all, I have to move on to the next camera. While using the 6D I not only pushed myself to get out and take more pictures, I wished that I had MORE time to spend searching for that "perfect" image

I am happy with the images that I captured, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that if I could have been out at a different time of day, or had just 30 more minutes to shoot, I could have captured something truly memorable.

In the end, there aren't many situations where the 6D won't be capable of matching your photographic vision. You can use it to shoot pictures from when the sun first rises until the middle of the night.

Instead of being limited by the camera, you may just find yourself limited by time.

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