I recently had occasion to rent a Canon EOS 6D and 40mm f/2.8 EF lens for an event I was hired to photograph. I could have used my Nikon D7000, but based on past experience I didn't trust it to focus reliably. It turns out that having 39 autofocus points doesn't help much if they can't agree on the correct plane of focus. I had never had any AF problems with any of the Canons I had owned, including those with "only" five points. Since I was curious about the EOS 6D anyway, I figured I'd give it a try.
The event went smoothly. Although I found the 6D's metering to be a bit less predictable than the D7000's, the focusing was more consistently accurate. The few "soft" shots I got were either due to misplaced focus on my part or subject motion.
Since I had the 6D for the weekend, I decided to also take it out for some street shooting. This is where I thought it might fall short. It is, after all, a full-frame camera with a supposedly low-tech 9-point AF system and only one high-precision cross-point in the center. Oh, and aren't full-frame DSLRs supposed to be larger and heavier than their APS and DX-sized brethren? Conventional wisdom predicts that the EOS 6D would be large, heavy, and slow.
Well, it turns out that for all practical purposes the EOS 6D is the same size and weight as the Nikon D7000. Look up the specs for yourself. What's even more surprizing is that in practice the 6D can actually be a lighter and more compact rig for street shooting. That's because Canon and Nikon offer more small, lightweight, wide-angle primes available for full-frame DSLRs than for their APS/DX models. Canon's inch-long, 4.5 oz, $150, 40mm f/2.8 STM is an extreme example of this, but it still supports my basic point: It's hard to find wide-angle primes that offer the same angle of view at the same size and weight for APS/DX cameras as for full-frame.
The wider you want to go, the harder it gets to find wide primes. For another example, consider that Canon and Nikon both offer several 28mm full-frame lenses, but no 28mm-equivalent for APS/DX. There are plenty of zooms available, but these come at significantly greater size, weight, and cost. This is a big deal for street and travel photographers; for studio and home photographers, not so much.
Having a small lens on a relatively large camera offered another surprising benefit: The whole combo looked less intimidating. It's hard for observers to think you're a stealthy pro or a terrorist on a recon mission when your camera has a lens that's not much larger than a lens cap. Oh, and what a lens. It's sharp from center to edge, even at maximum aperture. It has excellent image contrast without appearing harsh. Flare, linear distortion, and chromatic aberations are all low. Its focusing speed can be a tad leisurely if you're moving from minimum focusing distance to maximum or vice-versa, but who does that on a regular basis? In short, I would much rather use this lens on a $2000 camera than use a $700 zoom on a $700 camera.
As for the camera itself, here's a quick list of what won me over:
- Modest size and weight. I already mentioned this in the paragraphs above. This is for the benefit of those of you who skipped them.
- Uncluttered control layout. It was easy for me to locate key controls, either visually or by feel. There were also fewer buttons to accidentally push.
- Neatly organized menus. Every list of menu options took up no more than a single screen. Some options expanded into a second screen, but the expansions were all logical and there was no need to scroll to find otherwise hidden options.
- No pop-up flash. This eliminates the flash overhang that otherwise increases the overall depth of the camera. It also eliminates the tiny button on the prism for popping up the flash. I can't tell you how many times I've accidentally pushed this button by holding the camera in the vertical position with the short side of the camera resting in my left palm.
- Locks on the mode and rear dials. If you've ever owned a camera where important controls move if so much as a feather brushes up against them, then you know the value of dials with locks.
- Quiet, low vibration shutter. Shutter noise isn't as big a deal in street photography as some people make it out to be. Regardless, I'll take a quiet shutter over a loud one any day.
- Elegant tonality and microcontrast. I find this more valuable in black and white printing than color, but since I like to convert most of my work to black and white...
- Excellent low light performance. With rare exceptions (Bruce Gilden), street photographers almost never use electronic flash. A camera that can focus quickly and accurately in low light and produce high-quality images even at ISO 1600 and 3200 is a camera I can't help but like.
So will there be a Canon EOS 6D in my future? It depends on whether I can afford one. I make a good living, but it's not like I've got $2000 just sitting in the bank waiting to be spent on a new camera. Still, where there's a will, there's a way. The Nikon D7000 is up for sale. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these sample shots as much as I enjoyed shooting them.