One Guy’s First Thoughts: Canon EOS 6D

Canon EOS 6D with EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
The all new Canon EOS 6D.

The Canon EOS 6D is the other big DSLR to appear in the second half of this year, after Nikon’s D600. Like the Nikon, the EOS 6D’s main claim to fame a is packing a 35mm sized sensor at an affordable price? I managed to spend some time shooting with it, so here are some thoughts from me. (Unfortunately CK and David did not get to see much of the camera, so this is mostly my impressions)

Build and Handling

The EOS 6D is well-built, and is on the smaller side for a DSLR. It is fairly light too, at 770g (1.69 lb). In fact, using it with the Canon 24-105mm f/4L made it feel a little unbalanced. The control layout reminds me of the EOS 60D, but with the buttons switched around. It is something that I find more infuriating on the Canon side of things – the control scheme tends to change more when going between different cameras than Nikon.

Thanks to some customisations, I was able to get the camera working the way I preferred it to. I still hate Canon’s dual dial placement, and a couple of issues immediately raised their head. The position of the power switch is even worse now, as it requires the left hand to operate. I like being able to flick the camera on and off quickly with one hand, and I do that a lot when shooting, having a deep-seated neurosis related to power loss. The DOF Preview button is still in that awful recessed position buried deep in the lens mount. Until the EOS 5D Mk III’s and the EOS 1DX, Canon really didn’t expect their users to use DOF Preview on long telephoto lenses, did they?

Autofocus

There was a collective groan when the EOS 6D was announced and the autofocus system was revealed to be an 11 point one with a single cross point. It did seem like a severe cost-cutting move or product differentiation strategy, since the basic EOS 650D (Rebel T4i) has nine cross points. It does make me wonder why Canon, as one of the first to come up with a mass market autofocus SLR, loves to castrate the autofocus system first when coming up with otherwise market-defining products. See the EOS D30, the EOS 5D, and the EOS 5D Mk II. Canon’s claim that the centre point being sensitive all the way down to -3 EV did not appease many.

Well, having used the camera a bit, I can say this: Those who really hated having one usable autofocus point on the earlier EOS 5D cameras, look elsewhere. I had a shock when for the first time in a long while, a SLR camera refused to focus on a low contrast area. My experience from using a number of SLRs for a long period of time usually puts me in a good position to estimate when an area in the scene is suitable for an autofocus point to work, but using the EOS 6D turned all of that experience to useless mush. There were multiple times I tried to use the other 10 points to acquire focus but the camera just refused to lock on.

The good news is that that single centre autofocus point is really good. I tried pushing it to the limit in the dark and low contrast situations, and times where my D300 gave up, the EOS 6D’s centre point went ahead. In contrast with my experience with the side autofocus points gave up when I expected them to work, the centre point managed to acquire focus in situations where I thought it would not focus. This does mean going back to the focus-and-recompose method, which is a decidedly very bad practice in an age of very densely pixel packed sensors being viewed at 100% on our high-resolution monitors.

I did not get the chance to test the autofocus with moving subjects, so I will not comment on tracking capability.

Image Quality Impressions

So how does the image quality work out? First impressions are that it is pretty much like the EOS 5D Mk II and Mk III. Good quality image files that are a little behind what the best Sony/Nikon sensors are capable of. Dynamic range is hard to test outside of a standard test environment, but it does not feel worse than the 5D Mk III, and the noise at higher ISOs might be a little better. Until I can get some more quality time with the camera and the images, I am unwilling to state a definite verdict on the image quality other than it being somewhere in the area of good.

I can say this conclusively though: JPEG shooters will be happy. Boy, are the JPEGs crazy too, in terms of punchy colours. Very pleasing to many, but I think those who like to post process may not be pleased.

Closing

So, this is it then. What do I think? In short, I think it’s a good camera, let down by the decision to cripple the autofocus system in such a manner. A user spending that much money on a camera with this resolution is likely to want a certain level of results, and using the focus-and-recompose technique is moving a step away from that level. More than any deep analysis of image quality, a simple focus shift will immediately rob image sharpness, and frankly? That crime is worse than letting Canon’s sensor tech fall behind Sony’s. I hope Canon will correct this oversight in the next version, instead of making Canon users wait till version three, like they did with the EOS 5D.

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