Canon 6D real-world review (and brief comparison to 5D Mark III and Fuji XE-1)

Canon 6D real-world review

6D-front

The following is a fairly brief review of the Canon 6D I’ve had for a few weeks now. It is based on ‘real-world’ usage since I have neither the equipment nor expertise to carry out a technical review. Besides, I don’t know about you, but I much prefer to read unbiased reviews based on actual use. There will be a brief comparison with the Canon 5D Mark III and an even briefer comparison with the Fujifilm XE-1. The pictures later in the review come from a recent wedding and are exported from Lightroom 4 with default settings and no adjustments unless specified.

All the 6D pictures are taken with the Canon 85mm f/1.2 lens which is fantastic, fat and heavy. The focus is sluggish but accurate and it’s character is magical at times. It’s highly recommended for portraits and of course where light is low.

Handling

A big part of buying the 6D as opposed to buying a second 5D Mark III was the size and weight. The 6D is 770g while the 5D III is 950g and the 6D is noticeably smaller but it’s surprisingly deep grip means handling is really good (even with my large hands). The main controls fall to hand very well – there are a couple issues for me: There is no joystick controller for selection of AF point as on the 5D III. Instead the 8 way controller embedded inside the rear controller is used for AF point selection (more difficult to stretch to for quick changes); The image playback button is on the wrong side of the screen – the same is true of some other buttons but image playback is most important to me. These ‘issues’ are when comparing to the 5D III and users coming from the 60D and other models are less likely to have a problem.

Rear of Canon 6D6D-rear

Autofocus

Much has been said about the 6D’s focus deficiencies in comparison with the 5D III. Of course 61 vs 11 AF points is a substantial difference – as is the fact that the 6D only has 1 cross sensor in the centre while the 5D III has 41 of them. Before using the 6D at a recent wedding I read that the 6D’s centre AF point was particularly sensitive and I can confirm that it definitely is. Whether it is better than the 5D III is debatable but I can say that I had little problem achieving focus in near darkness (12800 iso) with my Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L lens. The keeper rate wasn’t particularly high but that is more to do with subject movement and extremely shallow depth of field – the AF didn’t seem to hunt or fail at all. I also had no problems with the outer AF points in good to lowish light but at the first dance (particularly poorly lit) they can’t be relied on, but I can live with that since I don’t mind using the centre point and then cropping in post for a better composition for reception pictures. The biggest issue with AF compared to the 5D III is servo AF – the lack of AF points and the fact that they are not spread very wide across the viewfinder means that following objects and maintaining correct focus is very hit-and-miss. Definitely an issue for sports photographers but others will have to decide if this is an issue for them. As for wedding photography; I much prefer the 5D III when the bride and groom are walking towards me down the isle, but most of the time people are fairly static and the 6D’s focus does lock on very quickly.

6D-top

Noise (or lack of it)

Low noise at high iso is very important for my style of photography. I prefer to use flash as little as possible and when I do it’s usually for a bit of fill. Therefore the ability to shoot at 6400 iso and higher is very welcome. The 6D has a very slightly lower pixel count (20.9 vs 22.1 megapixels on the 5D III) and as the difference in megapixels is basically imperceptible so is the difference in noise – at least to my eyes. That being said, having reviewed 2000 plus images I would say that the I’m very comfortable with 6D images at 12800 iso and 5D III images at 6400-10000 iso. Of course metering must be pretty accurate for well controlled noise at these iso settings.

Canon 6D with EF 85mm f/1.2 at f/2 1/125 12800 iso – click for larger
85mm-f2-125-12800-fullsize

100% crop from above – click for larger85mm-f2-125-12800-crop

Canon 6D with EF 85mm f/1.2 at f/1.8 1/125 10000 iso – click for larger
85mm-f1.8-125-10000-fullsize

100% crop from above – click for larger
85mm-f1.8-125-10000-crop

The following is a shot taken in the same room under similar light with the 5D Mark III for comparison. Not much noise here as well. I might be imagining slightly less noise with the 6D compared with the 5D III but either way the noise is no problem and very grain-like unlike the 5D Mark II which had pretty bad banding in the shadows.

Canon 5D MK III EF35mm f/1.4L at f2 1/125 12800 iso – click for larger5D-35mm-f2-125-12800-fullsize

100% crop from above – click for larger5D-35mm-f2-125-12800-crop

Colour and White Balance

As with all my Canon cameras to date, colour is generally very good (especially skin tones). Saturation is a little on the high side by default but that’s okay with me and can easily be altered in post. Also in common with previous Canons white balance is often terrible – hooray for raw and the ability to alter white balance with a click or two. The following is a typical (though not extreme) example followed by a couple of clicks in Lightroom to fix the issue – some may argue that my fix is still too ‘warm’ but given the scene I judged it to be correct.

Canon 6D EF85mm f/1.2 at f2 1/125 5000 iso White Balance as shot – click for larger85mm-f2-125-5000-fullsize-WBasshot

Canon 6D EF85mm f/1.2 at f2 1/125 5000 iso White Balance changed in Lightroom – click for larger85mm-f2-125-5000-fullsize-WBauto

Dynamic Range

Canon sensors have lagged behind Sony’s (and therefore Nikon’s) sensors in recent years regarding dynamic range (the limits of luminance range between black and white in an image). This deficiency might be seen as a problem – especially when photographing a bride and groom in their customary colour scheme. However given a correctly metered shot there should be no problem. I rarely find dynamic range an issue but there are occasions when trying to retrieve highlights or shadows from a very ‘dynamic’ image is limited. Nikon cameras generally have an easier time in good light. At higher iso values however, Canon has a slightly higher dynamic range so it goes both ways. Having said all this I rarely think ‘Oh I wish I had another stop of DR’ – I’m far more likely to be checking focus and composition.

The following shows (in my opinion) the excellent colour and dynamic range, of a jpeg from the Fujifilm XE-1 with 18-55mm lens compared to an unaltered Canon 6D image taken at almost the same time. Notice the relatively high iso of the Fuji image and yet the DR is very good (the pavement outside the window). The higher iso with a smaller sensor would normally mean a poorer dynamic range.

Canon 6D EF85mm f/1.2 at f1.4 1/125 250 iso – click for larger
colour 6D-85mm-f1.4-125-250-fullsize

Fujifilm XE-1 18-55mm f2.8-4 at f4 1/125 1250 iso – click for largercolour XE1-55mm-f4-125-1250-fullsize

The Fuji XE-1 will take some getting used to at weddings. It’s very discrete and the metering, white balance and colour (even with jpeg) are excellent but the autofocus is slow and a little temperamental. Having said that I do think that given more practice with the CDAF (contrast detection auto-focus) way of working I would be more comfortable. However I doubt I would use it in low light regardless of how much practice I put in. Maybe the next generation of Fuji cameras will improve in this regard.

Video

Not interested in video so no opinion here.

Conclusion

Canon EF85mm f/1.2 at f/3.5 1/160 200 iso – click for larger85mm-f3.5-160-200-fullsize

In a nutshell – the 6D is a smaller, lighter and cheaper version of the 5D Mark III if you photograph static (or slow moving) subjects. Handling is different (to the 5D III) but mostly fine and easy to get used to especially if coming from a Canon 60D or similar. Image quality is excellent and predictable and noise at high iso is extremely well controlled and film-like. The build quality is very good – it feels solid but not surprisingly a step below the 5D III. WIFI and GPS are useful additions depending on your needs.

Overall my impression is that it is a very capable and compact machine that takes excellent pictures quickly and stays out of my way. Makes a brilliant backup to a 5D Mark III for wedding photographers.

Good

  • image quality
  • centre AF point very good
  • high iso – up to 25600 no problem
  • excellent silent shutter (like 5D III)
  • size and weight
  • ergonomics – mostly
  • great grip
  • locking mode dial
  • good build quality
  • good battery life

Not so good

  • only one card slot- never had a memory card fail but it’s a possibility
  • buttons on the back in wrong place – depending what camera you compare to
  • white balance inaccurate – use raw
  • AF abilities limited
  • 4.5 fps vs 6 fps (with 5D III)
  • not as well built or weather sealed as 5D III
  • 1/4000th shortest shutter speed
  • 97% viewfinder

Favourite wedding pictures of 2012

The following are some of my favourite wedding photographs I’ve taken in 2012. They are in no particular order but represent some memorable moments. Click pictures for larger versions.

1. Reception at Hazlewood Castle in North Yorkshire. The audience reaction is really nice as is the accidental flash.

first dance 1

2. Prior to going for a walk with the bride and groom for some more intimate photos – Mirfield Monastry.

Bride alone

3. A bit of drama at Wortley Hall.

Stairs

4. Going for a walk in the late afternoon at Lotherton Hall near Leeds.

Field walk

5. Discussing the best approach to posing? Hoyle Court near Shipley.

3 kids

6. Bridesmaids going to meet the bride - St. Marys Church, Tadcaster.

3 bridesmaids

7. Dramatic tree - Hazlewood Castle, North Yorkshire.

Tree and benches

First post

Hello. This is the first post to my new blog. I will be adding posts over time – wedding photography posts for future brides and gear reviews for other photographers. Please visit my blog again in the future. Thank you, Michael.