Thursday, 16 January 2014

My Canon Eos 6D Review - Part 1 ( Image Quality & General impressions. )

What better way to test my new Canon Eos 6D than on a 4500km three week journey through the Karoo and on to Cape Town... and back?

This is exactly what I did over this past December and January. My wife and I made a slow six day photographic journey to Cape Town via the Karoo. My three children drove to Cape Town on their own and then we spend another two weeks in Cape Town with them before the two day, 1500km drive back to our hometown of Centurion near Johannesburg.

For this journey I used the Canon Eos 6D and the Canon EF 40mm f2.8 pancake lens as my main combination, plus 24mm, 85mm & 70-300mm lenses. I also brought my Eos M as a backup camera.

The Eos 6D is the best Canon digital camera that I have ever had!

For the first time I have a Canon digital camera that feels well sorted and refined. Its not perfect though and there are a couple of niggles which I will discuss later on. My previous Canon cameras, starting with a 20D then a 450D, 40d and lastly a 5dmk2, all did the job admirably at the time and the 5Dmk2 is a superb camera even today, its just that the Eos 6D does everything so much better and feels much more refined. Plus it has a few very useful extras to make a photographers life a bit easier. 

Part 2 of my ongoing Eos 6D review can be seen here :

and Part 3 of my Eos 6D review can be seen here :

Things I like:

Shutter sound. Gone is the clunky and sharp shutter noise of the Eos 5Dmk2, replaced by a much softer shutter sound that's even quieter when used in silent mode! Somebody once said that the shutter is the soul of a camera, and well now I can also say I have a camera with soul! I keep mine on silent shutter all the time and even though it slows down the per second frame rate, I don't have a problem with 'only' three frames per second!

High Iso Image quality. Image quality at low iso is as good as the Eos 5dmk2, but at the higher iso speeds the Eos 6D is just from another world!

GPS. The build in GPS function is a must have for a travel photographer and I would never have believed that it can be such a useful feature. 

AF center spot. That low light center AF spot can literally see in the dark and I have so far never experienced a situation where I could not achieve focus, something that happened every now and then with my old 5D Mk2 when trying to focus in very low light.

The Eos 6D is pretty good in minimizing dust on the sensor and after three weeks of constant shooting in sometimes very dusty and windy conditions with frequent lens changes I have noticed only a few very small dust bunnies on my images

Price. The Eos 6d is a lot less expensive than the the Eos 5D mk3. At the moment here in SA the 5D3 is about R14000-00 ( USD1400-00 ) dearer than the 6D. Granted the Eos 5D mk3 is a superb camera but for someone on a tight budget looking for a full frame camera the Eos 6d is hard to beat. The Eos 6D image quality is on par with the 5Dmk3. In my opinion the 5D mk3 has three main advantages over the Eos6D. One is the superb AF then the dual axis spirit level and lastly the multi control knob. In the end I just couldn't bring myself to pay that much more for a camera with essentially the same image quality.

 In fact the new Sony Alpha 7R has piqued my interest and rather than wait which now feels like forever for Canon's megapixel offering, I am seriously thinking of the Alpha 7R as my next camera. Not to replace my Canons but as a megapixel option. Because its is a mirrorless design, via adapters (like Metabones) one can easily mount EF lenses and even retain all electronic functions. AF according to early reports is quite slow, but I am thinking more i.t.o using my manual focus 24mm tilt & shift with the Sony A7R . . . the price of the Sony is quite a bit less than the 5Dmk3!

On the other hand we have the less expensive Canon Eos 70D. Is the Eos 6D worth the extra money over the Eos 70D?  For all its bells and whistles the Eos 70D is not full frame camera and apart from the price there are just too many good reasons for choosing a FF over an APS-C

and thinks I dislike. . .

1. The Af of the Eos 6D, apart from the center point is really 'only' as good as the old 5Dmk2's AF even though it now has 11 instead of 9 AF points. Its not that they don't work at all but the outer focus points did let me down on a number of occasions. When that happened though I could  always count  on the center spot, which worked every time. 

Having said that, looking at my many thousands of images from this journey to the Cape and back there are very very few that are not in focus! 

I would have liked the Eos 6D to have more 'cross' sensors on the outer AF points. 
On the other hand the AF on the 5Dmk3 sounds just too complicated to me for my type of photography, 11 AF points is more than enough for me, just make them better!  Luckily the low light capabilities of the Eos 6D's center AF sensor makes up for a lot of the shortcomings of the outer sensors.  

2. Having just a one axis spirit level really means that I have to carry my spirit level with me all the time in any case. I do have a grid screen and I shot a lot of images without my little spirit level and the grid screen does help in leveling the other axis. 

3. The joystick on the 5D2 (and on my old 20D & 40D) is just so much more superior to the Eos 6D's solution of main dial, quick control dial or multi-controller dial. ( so many dials! ) With the Eos 6d it is always a two finger operation and one finger is blocked by my cheek, so it means I have to lift my cheek away from the camera a bit to move the AF point. I thought initially after having read a few reviews that its no big deal and that I will get used to it, and I probably will, but the after some user experience I have come to realize that its just not as good as the old joystick. Canon, please bring back the joystick!

A few other nice to haves would have been dedicated iso and mirror lock -up buttons and a full frame viewfinder.

Image quality

For me image quality is a combination of various elements, quality of lenses, accuracy of focusing, dynamic range, noise, color etc. I cannot just look at dynamic range for instance and if that is good say image quality is superb. So lets look at the image quality produced by the Canon Eos 6D:

High ISO Noise

The first image here is a portrait of Japie Hugo inside the Dutch Reformed church in Franschoek. Franschoek has changed a lot from the sleepy old little village of old into one of the most sought after destinations in the Western Cape. Its now a millionaires playground surrounded by prestigious wine estates. Its also become a tourist mecca and Japie tells visitors about the rich history of this beautiful old church. Its also one of the few Dutch Reformed churches that I know of that is open to visitors.

The image was made with my 40mm pancake with an exposure of f5.6 at 1/125sec and ISO 3200. The image you see here is as processed with the default LR4 settings with no additional noise reduction or sharpening except some exposure, contrast and colour tweaking.

Not far from Franschoek is the imposing Afrikaans Language Monument built upon one of the granite 'koppies' (or hill) surrounding the town of Paarl.

The next image is of one of the huge boulders near the actual monument. I again used my 40mm pancake lens for this image with an exposure of 1/125sec at f11 and ISO 5000.

I did a lot of post production work on this image, not necessarily because it needed it but because I wanted to see if this ISO 5000  image could handle it! 

I was quite surprised at all the fine detail and sharpness of the image. I used LR4, Topaz DeNoise, Viveza and Topaz InFocus to process this image. Afterwards in PhotoShop 6 I did quite a bit of dodging and burning as well as strengthening the blacks. There is a bit of flare and blooming in the top left hand corner where the direct sunlight was hidden just behind one of the branches.

The next high iso image was made in a cafe on the famous Longstreet in the Cape Town city center. We waited a long time for our food to arrive, this is Cape Town after all, so I spend my time photograph the people and interesting decor of the cafe.

This couple was sitting right across me and not wanting to be too obvious I sneaked this shot when they weren't looking. Exposure details are 1/250sec at f5.6 and ISO 10000! and I used my new Ef 85mm f1.8.  ( My auto ISO  was set for a minimum of 1/250sec and an ISO range of 200 to 25000, this is the setting I use for my 85mm f1.8  )

Below a close crop to show detail, sharpness and noise. Bear in mind that I sharpened it a bit more because sometimes the jpegs converted for web goes a bit soft...My intention was not to eliminate the noise but rather have a sharp and 'grainy' image, just like in the days of film. I actually had quite a bit of leeway in processing this image and I could have eliminated more of the noise if I wanted to. I also increased the clarity by a fair amount and this also has a negative effect on the noise levels. Once again this image was fairly heavily processed in LR , Topaz DeNoise & Viveza.

The last high ISO image that I would like to show was made of a girl that I photographed in the small Karoo town of Murraysburg. She didn't want to be photographed as she was still in her gown but relented when she saw all her sisters and friends photographs on my camera screen. My camera was still set on auto iso with a minimum shutter speed of 1/250sec with the result that to maintain that shutter speed indoors at an aperture of F4.5, the camera automatically selected ISO12000! I used my 'pancake' lens.

The noise before any noise reduction is not bad at all and is only visible in the shadow areas. I used Topaz Denoise very lightly and the cranked up the clarity, contrast and saturation in Viveza with a final very little bit of sharpening in PhotoShop 6 'smart sharpening'

The Eos 6D is a camera with fantastic high iso capabilities. To be sure, I will easily shoot up to ISO 3200 without giving it a second thought. Regarding, ISO 6000 to ISO 12000 there one needs to be a bit more careful but with the right lighting conditions and subject matter the images could still be quite stunning! 

Dynamic range

Canon has received a lot of criticism for the lack of dynamic range of their sensors and noisy shadow areas, as compared to the competition. I cant make any comparisons myself as I don't have any Nikon's or Sony's (yet) so I have had to learn to cope with what I've got. There are certainly ways to get around the noisy shadow areas. One way is to overexpose the image and then reduce exposure afterwards in post or 'Expose To The Right'. The theory being that the shadows would  then be lighter to begin with so they wont have have to be pushed as much in post production to get more shadow detail. The Eos 6D like the 5D2 before it has lots of room in the highlights so it works fairly well in practice especially when one can recognize a scene where more shadow detail is desirable and thus plan ahead by bracketing exposures.

The image below was made from the top of Table mountain looking down unto the city below. The exposure was made with my at 10min. past 10 in the morning on a sweltering hot summers day in Cape Town, and there was no breeze to cool us down! 

Exposure was 1/125sec at f16 atnd ISO800 and the lens I used was my tilt & shift 24mm, the mk2.

The image above has been put through the 'mill' so to speak. In LR I opened up the shadows on the shadow slider to 50 and increased highlight detail via the highlight slider by the same amount. I then lightened the image a bit before processing it with Viveza where I increased the clarity quite a bit (which also increases the 'noise') and also increased the contrast and saturation.

Above, on left,  is the standard exposure as seen in LR4 without any tweaks and as it came out of the camera.

In the center image using LR4, I opened up the shadows to to the max and also increased the highlight details to the max. As you can see there are still plenty of 'headroom' left in the image.

On the right is the final more 'natural' looking image as shown initially.

The point of the image in the center is really to show how much 'room' the Eos 6d has to increase shadow detail and recover highlights, or in other words, the dynamic range. I.M.O there is more than enough and the image in the center looks like a HDR attempt and the tones look artificial ( as most HDR images looks like to me ). 

The image on the right looks 'correct' and the only area where there is still a lot of black is at the bottom of the image in the center. Looking at the image at 100% and at maximum quality there is separation between the branches and the shadow of the rock, and yes there is a bit of noise if one looks closely at 100% magnification - noise that in all probability a Nikon or a Sony would not have.... 

The two images below are crops from the final image (the one on the right above). For an 800iso image the noise in the shadows are acceptable to me. Bottom line is that the Eos6D has plenty of room to manoeuvre but perhaps not so much in the shadows as in the highlights. 

Because the highlight areas have got so much 'room' to regain detail & texture, I normally set my camera on a +1/2 exposure as standard. This image probably would have benifitted more from a +1 exposure, which would have given enough room to reatain the highlight details but with cleaner shadows.

The image here was made of my wife Cheryl, sitting in front of the window in the upstairs cafe of Cameraland, a photographic retail store in Longstreet.

Exposure was 1/250sec at f3.5 and 800iso and the lens used was the 40mm pancake. Usually the 'subject in front of a window' type of image results in either a dark subject or blown out window details but with the Eos 6D its not a problem ( and yes I think most of the modern digital cameras will give the same result ). The lighting was quite mixed with natural light from the window and some spots and fluorescent. 

BTW, Cameraland has very good coffee and a birds eye view of the busy Longstreet from the first floor balcony. They also have a nice Leica display for the Leica aficionados. I must confess that sometimes in moments of delusion I dream of owing a Leica M . . . but as soon as I see those prices then my dream turns into a nightmare, fortunately I wake up realizing that I actually own a very affordable, as FF goes, Eos 6D, and that all is well....

The photograph of the church interior was made in Vosburg in the Northern Cape. We stayed there for one night and whilst I was walking around early in the morning, photographing everything and anything that moved, a man walked over towards me and we started chatting. Turns out his wife is the scriba of the magnificent Dutch Reformed church in town and he told me that I should ask her to open up the church if we wanted to see the interior. Later on the morning after breakfast and having packed, and on our way to Victoria West, we stopped at the church to have a look see.

The exposure was 1 1/2 sec at f16 and ISO200 made with my 24 mm tilt & shift lens. To capture the details of the stained glass in the window I bracketed a few exposures hoping that some HDR processing will save the day. In the end I just used a underexposed image and opened up the shadows and pulled back the highlights to get a fairly flat image to work with. Some tweaking in Viveza, with an increase in clarity, contrast and saturation produced this final image.

The image below is of the towers of the Afrikaans Language Monument near Paarl. The image of the tower looked a bit flat so I increased the contrast by 100% in LR4 and to regain highlight detail I shifted the highlight slider by 100% to regain detail & texture. This is the sort of thing I admire of the Eos 6D files, the ability to be heavily processed and still look good at the end of it. I don't normally process for such saturation but I wanted to see how far I could 'push' these files.

In summation I have to say that even though most reviewers bemoan the fact that the Canon sensors are not quite up to the competition regarding dynamic range because of shadow noise, I have not found it to be problematic with the type of photography that I do and if it rears its ugly head now and again, there are many ways to get around it .

Colour, Sharpness & Focus

The image here of the sunflowers is straight out of camera with only some opening up of the shadows in LR4 and sharpening with Nik Sharpener Pro. 

Please bear in mind that there is a huge difference between the quality as seen on my calibrated 22inch monitor of a 115mb 300dpi tiff RGB file and the one here in my blog that has been reduced to a 2mb sRGB 72dpi jpeg! 
One can hardly even think of drawing any conclusions re the quality, sharpness and dynamic range of the image as presented here. Having said that I still find it astonishing how many people actually look at a compressed file on the web and make pronouncements on the quality thereof or otherwise!

My Eos6D is setup with a Neutral picture style, sharpening set to zero and contrast, saturation & colour tone all set to neutral.

I was impressed by the bright but not overly saturated colours, delicate detail still visible in the highlights & shadow areas and the overall sharpness. I can't really wish for more...

For my personal work I usually tweak my colours a lot and often actually de-saturate the colours and reduce the saturation of bright blue skies - that's just my style,  so I am not really the person to ask how accurately or otherwise the Eos6D renders colour. It looks fine to me.

Next is another image taken from the balcony at the Cameraland camera store in Longstreet. I was lucky to spot the lady with a shirt in the exact same colours as the paint of the building behind her.

I used the EF 85mmm f1.8 lens set at an aperture of f2 and used one of the outer AF points. Focus is spot on and the lady is sharp with focus gradually fading away towards the rear. There is enough detail to see the freckles on her arms.

Another image from Longstreet in the Cape Town city center to show the sharpness and ability of the Eos 6D to capture details in the black car in the harsh and contrast noonday sun.

As I said in the beginning of this article image quality has a lot to do with lens quality and I must say my bevy of Canon primes and the zoom have quality to spare and contributes a lot to the pleasure of using the Eos 6D and the final great quality of the images.

Unfortunately not all Canon lenses are created equal and one should take great when buying a lens to make sure it is a good one to begin with and that it is within tolerance.


The images in this mini portfolio were all made in and around Cape Town.

I processed most of them a bit more saturated & contrast than I normally do. I used a combination of LR4, Topaz and Viveza plug-ins to process and sharpen. All images were made with my Canon Eos6D and with the following lenses:

EF 40mm f2.8 'pancake'

TS E 24mm f3.5 L 

EF 85mm F1.8

Ef 70-300 F4 - 5.6 L 

 'Babylonstoring Estate'

'Dutch Reformed church, Franschoek'





 'Near Kommetjie'

'Table Mountain'

'Table Mountain'

'Dolphin Bay'


'Table Mountain'


'Dolphin Beach'

'New Years Fireworks 2014'

In part two of the review of the Eos 6D I will discuss the GPS and perhaps do a few comparisons with other camera like the 5D2 etc. Comments are welcome and I will answer any questions.

Regards, Ivan

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