The Canon EOS 6D is the smallest, lightest and cheapest of the firm's full-frame (24 x 36 mm) SLRs. All of those qualities are likely to appeal to photographers who haven't yet taken the plunge and invested in a full-frame-format camera. What's more, this SLR comes with a selection of currently popular features such as Wi-Fi and a GPS chip.
On first contact, the 6D feels like a nice camera to handle. It's relatively compact for an SLR (especially for a full-frame model) and it's light, but that doesn't make it any less pleasant to hold or use. The grip handle is a nice size and helps you keep firm hold of the camera when loaded with a bulky or heavy lens. The rubbery finish is effective too, making the camera body nice to touch while also improving grip.
The camera body inherits all Canon's latest design features, including an exposure mode-selection dial with a locking system in the middle (some like it, some don't), an on/off lever around the mode dial, a switch for flipping between photo and video modes, and the increasingly popular Q button (Quick Menu) for fast access to the camera's main settings. Plus, some users my be glad to here that there's an S mode (silent shutter) which considerably reduces the noise the 6D makes when taking a photo.
Unlike Canon's other current full-frame SLRs, the 6D doesn't have a mini joystick for selecting an autofocus point or for navigating through menus. Instead, you get a four-way arrow pad, which is OK, although we found it was placed a bit too far down to be easily accessible.
The 3:2-aspect ratio LCD is excellent, with wide viewing angles, relatively accurate colours and good all-round results in our lab tests. With 1,040,000 dots, the onscreen image is sharp and very smooth, even when using the screen to line up shots in low light. All that's really missing are touch-controls and swivel functionality—which would make the screen pretty much perfect! Canon's 60D has a full swivel screen, and it's a shame not to see one in the 6D too.
The graphic user interface has been nicely designed, with menus that are clear and well organised. The Q menu is effective too. Wi-Fi can be used to pilot the camera remotely or for uploading images (see inset), while the GPS can be used to tag shots with location data (including RAW photos), but it doesn't offer an onscreen compass or a means of showing locations on a map.
The viewfinder is big and pleasant to use, although there's no way of displaying data directly on the viewfinder screen (such as grid overlays or an artificial horizon), like you can in the 7D. Plus, it's not quite as accurate as the viewfinder in its main rival, with the 6D offering 97% coverage compared with 100% in the Nikon D600.
A few things are noticeably missing in this camera, however, such as a headphones socket for monitoring audio when recording video (that's something the D600 has), a speedy USB 3.0 connection and a second SD memory card slot. Similarly, we'd like to see more manufacturers using backlit buttons—something we hoped might happen after Olympus released the E-620. What's perhaps more problematic is that the EOS 6D doesn't come with a built-in flash—a feature that's always handy for shooting backlit scenes or piloting remote wireless flashes.
Given the camera's new design, the 6D gets a new BG-E13 battery grip that's not compatible with other EOS SLRs. Another thing that could put off certain Canon users looking to make the switch from an APS-C SLR, is that the EOS 6D isn't compatible with EF-S lenses.
We measured surprisingly similar performances from the 6D in all our tests. This SLR seems to do absolutely everything in half a second. This new EOS camera is therefore pretty speedy in all domains and shows no real weaknesses.
We measured the 6D's burst mode at 4.3 fps, which is more or less in line with Canon's promised specs. It's therefore a little tight for sports photography, for which you'll usually need at least 5 fps. On this front, Canon's latest 24 x 36 mm SLR falls slightly behind its Nikon counterpart or Sony's Alpha 99 which, although more expensive, shoot at up to 6 fps in full resolution.
Quite surprisingly, Canon hasn't just recycled the sensor already used in the 5D Mark III, which isn't exactly outdated and which is available in a new version with slightly fewer pixels (20.2 Mpx compared with 22.3 Mpx). In any case, the EOS 6D controls noise in an impressive way, taking excellent-quality pictures up to 3200 ISO with both granularity and smoothing kept nicely in check. You can easily push up to 6400 ISO too, but from here on upwards smoothing does become more noticeable. The 12800 and 25600 ISO settings will be fine for making prints of up to A4 size, but any higher settings aren't really worth the trouble (the 6D can reach up to 104200 ISO).
The 20-Megapixel sensor is pretty demanding on lenses, so you may want to consider investing in top-quality lenses to get the very best out of this SLR's potential. The 24-70 mm f/2.8 (old generation) lens we tested proved particularly disappointing at telephoto, with a distinct lack of sharpness around the edges of the frame.
Video is usually a mixed bag in SLRs. While image quality is often very good, an SLR's design and controls aren't usually geared up for video, with no effective autofocus and a limited range of options. And unfortunately, the 6D is no exception. Image quality is very good, with hardly any compression artefacts, plus high framerates and good dynamic range.There's also an intraframe compression mode that compresses each frame individually, which can make things easier for editing. The EOS 6D can be used in manual mode to adjust the speed, aperture and ISO sensitivity as you film. Plus, the main video framerates or on hand, with 30, 25 and 24 fps. All that's missing is a 60/50 fps mode for slow-motion video.
However, the autofocus still isn't up to scratch, and makes the video mode pretty much useless for filming day-to-day or family scenes. It's also a shame that there's no headphones out socket for monitoring sound. Similarly, you can't take a still shot while filming video.