Imagine putting a full-frame sensor into a Canon 60D, and that's essentially what the 6D body looks and feels like. The familiar Canon joystick is absent here, taking its place is the 8-way d-pad from the 60D. It retains two control dials (top dial and the back scroll wheel), as well as the top LCD panel.
The body is 680g, which is about 180g less than the 5D Mark III and smaller, but still hefty. The front grip and back thumb-rest provide a good grip on the camera. Its magnesium alloy body is dust and drip-proof, so you won't have to run for cover at the first sign of a drizzle. The rear 3-inch LCD has a luxurious resolution of 1.04 million dots, making the screen bright and clear.
Using the 6D is more reminiscent of using the 60D than the 5D Mark III. We suppose whether this is a good thing or not depends on where you're coming from. If you're upgrading from the 60D or below, than you might welcome the simplified controls and feel right at home. If you're downgrading from the flagship full-frame cameras, you might be disappointed to find that the 6D lacks many of the advanced handling options available on those cameras.
For one, the 6D AF system lacks the multiple AF Area Selection modes found on the 5D Mark III (and even the APS-C sensor EOS 7D) like AF point expansion or Zone AF. There's a good reason for that: There are only 11 AF points. So you can only choose between automatic Basic Zone focus, selecting from a single AF point among the 11, and manual focus.
11 AF points don't sound like a lot, and they aren't. The best thing you could say about this number is that at least it's two points more than 2009's 5D Mark II which had nine AF points. Quite unlike the Nikon D600, which has 39 AF points with nine cross-types (the 6D has one cross-type), but like the D600, the 6D's 11 points are also concentrated near the center. It does affect the way you shoot as there were times when we had to adjust our framing so that we could get a precise lock on a particular part of our subject.
Apart from the limited number and spread of AF points however, the 6D's AF system is very, very good. Even in low-light, the 6D recognized and snapped on subjects quickly. Surprisingly, the 6D's AF system is rated for a stop lower than the 5D Mark III; -3 EV compared to -2 EV. So the odd conclusion is, yes the number of AF points as well as the spread is a trade-off, but in return the AF is fast and accurate.
With the exclusion of the joystick, there's no quick way to change AF points on the fly. Instead, it will always be a constant two-button maneuver of hitting the AF Point Selection button and then using the d-pad.
You can also use the top and back dials to move the AF point, but the two dials behave oddly. The top dial only moves the AF point left and right, while the back wheel moves it top to bottom. The left and rightmost AF points are out of bounds to the top dial, if you hit them the camera will revert back to automatic AF point selection. To select them, you must use the d-pad. It's confusing and irritating, and there's no way to change this behavior in the menus.
The other negatives that jump out would be the lack of a built-in flash (how negative this is depends, again, on which end of the Canon DSLR spectrum you came in from) and the odd, hard to find placement of the Depth-of-field Preview button; it's located at the bottom of the lens mount, almost hidden away.
The designs for the ISO and Exposure Compensation interfaces in the Quick menu have taken a turn for the worst. Instead of the old table where you could see all ISO values at a glance, the ISO settings are now arrayed along a line which takes more time to use. The Exposure Compensation interface is smaller, taking up only a small section of the screen, with smaller lines and numbers.
Otherwise, the rest of the 6D feels rather comfortable. The four dedicated buttons on the top plate give direct access to AF, Drive, ISO and Metering, with a fifth button lighting up the LCD panel. The Q button at the back brings up the Quick Menu, where you can see what your settings are at a glance and quickly change them. The 6D comes with the silent shooting mode first seen in the 5D Mark III which significantly reduces the sound of the shutter, useful in quiet environments when you don't want to sound like an elephant thumping through the room.
The interesting thing about the 6D is that it's Canon's first Wi-Fi, GPS DSLR camera. With the built-in Wi-Fi feature, you can connect the 6D to another camera, a smartphone, to a printer, to Canon's Image Gateway web service and to a media player.
To connect it to a smartphone, you need to download the free EOS Remote app. Connecting is rather easy, the 6D will provide you with a password, and you connect to it as a local network from your smartphone. The app lets you take over the camera, with a real-time live view broadcast from the 6D, and you can remotely trigger the shutter with your smartphone.
You can move the focus point, change shutter speed, aperture value and ISO setting right from the app, but only if the camera is in the appropriate shooting mode. Put it to Program mode for example, and these options are locked, you can only trigger the shutter. And you can't change modes in the app.
It's quite an interesting feature but its main drawback is the lag. First, there's a lag between what the camera sees and what you see on your smartphone. Second, there's a lag between when you press the shutter release on the phone and when the camera snaps the picture.
The other thing you can do with the app is preview all the images on the camera. You can then download selected images, but they'll be transmitted over at a lower resolution of 2.5MP (1920 x 1280 pixels). With the 6D, you can snap a photo, transmit it over to your phone, apply your favorite filter using your favorite app, and upload it to your favorite social network - all without the need for a PC.
The built-in GPS is another interesting feature; its usefulness however will probably depend on what kind of photography you do. If you already need a GPS in your everyday shots, then perhaps the addition of a GPS unit will save you from carrying an additional GPS module. If you're bringing the 6D on holiday, you might be delighted to find your travel images geo-tagged according to where you visited.
GPS sounds like a nifty if niche feature to us. We'd be happy to have it on all the time, but beware as it eats up battery at a faster pace. As long as the GPS is enabled, it'll constantly be on and receiving signals, even when the camera is powered off. Without GPS enabled, the 6D's battery life is quite long, rated approx. 1090 shots at room temperature. With it turned on however, we were down to half power in two days, after shooting only about 110-odd images.