Canon 6D: First Impressions


close up of Canon 6D camera

So as you’ve perhaps seen, I got myself a new Canon 6D a few days ago in celebration of both my birthday and my 2,000th consecutive Photo-a-Day. (Plus, this week managed to get the extra bonus of the new website launch. What a week!)

While I haven’t had too much opportunity to do extensive shooting with it yet, I’ve at least done enough for a few quick first impressions. And note that I’ve been shooting with a Canon 50D for the past five years, so everything will be presented from the perspective of that. Here goes!

Size and weight

Smaller and lighter than I was expecting! I had read the stats online, but of course, not until you really hold it does it actually sink in. In spite of being full-frame, it’s roughly the same size as my 50D (ever so slighter taller, but ever so slightly less deep) and pleasantly enough, a bit lighter. Getting that weight off will definitely be nice for cutting down on some fatigue.

Canon 6D front view

Surface Finish

The surface finish on this thing is great! There’s a nice, rough tactile feel on even the smooth surfaces. Gives it a great grip and I’m loving it much more than the 50D. In comparison, the 50D now has almost a too slick, greasy, mushy feel to it. (Although, to be fair, it could well be that the 50D’s been used so much that it’s actually more worn – but I don’t think that’s it. Would be interesting to find a barely used 50D to run a true test.) That’s not to say that the 50D finish has actually been bad in any way, it’s just that now the 6D’s is so much better.

Tactile Feel

In fact, everything about it just feels great from a tactile perspective. Some of that is no doubt due to its newness, but others are clearly a refinement. Case in point: the top jog dial’s got a much smoother, easier to turn feel, without being too easy that you end up changing it when you don’t mean to. The 50D takes a bit more force to turn. It’s a subtle thing, but the 6D’s lower resistance just feels nicer to me. Also, the shutter release has a way softer, smoother, and springier feel when you push it all the way in, with pretty much no “clickiness” to it. While with most electronics, I really prefer clicky buttons, for a shutter release it makes sense to have it be softer. I imagine this will help cut down on any camera shake from pressing the shutter.

Canon 6D top screen

Mode Dial

The mode dial has a lock button in the center that you have to hold down to turn the dial. Took me a moment to figure that out, but ultimately, it’s fantastic! It wasn’t too frequent, but I definitely had times where I had accidentally changed the mode on my 50D and botched some shots as a result. Don’t need to worry about that on the 6D!

Canon 6D Mode Dial

Multi-Function Lock

Speaking of settings on my 50D that would accidentally get changed, the lock toggle on the 50D was a total pain. It’s down in the lower right, has a fairly high profile, is integrated with the on/off switch, is super-easy to move, and I can’t tell you how many times I’d accidentally brush it, getting it into the lock mode, and then suddenly find that I’d be spinning a control dial only to have nothing change. Super annoying.

But the 6D is so much better. The lock switch is in the same basic position on the camera now, but it’s completely redone. For one, it’s not integrated with the on/off switch anymore (which is now up near the mode dial in the top left), but better yet, it’s got a much lower profile and requires a side-to-side slide to engage, making it much harder to accidentally lock the controls. I think I’m gonna be super-happy about this.

Controls and Layout

The controls are all similar enough to the 50D and a lot of the key ones are in the same (or similar enough places) that I’ve been able to just pick up the 6D and do what I want without much issue. There’s a few things with a different enough layout to make things a bit awkward right now, but that ought to clear up after a few weeks of use and the subsequent muscle-memory retraining. Overall, it’s probably a better layout for most people with normal-sized right hands — you should be able to do more things  (like reviewing photos) with one-handed control. But I’ve got a much smaller than normal right hand, so I can’t really judge this aspect of things.

Canon 6D back

Full-Frame and Wide-Angle

Don’t have enough experience with it yet to really judge the full benefits of going full-frame, but I will say that holy crap, this thing can go wide now! When I put on my 16-35mm for some quick tests, I finally got a real taste of what that lens can do. The crop-sensor on the 50D doesn’t do it justice at all. In fact, the wideness of it was a bit disorienting when looking through the viewfinder and moving around since it’s such a strong distortion from your normal field of view.

The wide-angle effect is pretty awesome and I can’t wait to seriously work on improving my wide-angle composition skills. I’m pretty lacking in this area, and I find composing for wide shots much harder since there’s so much more in frame to consider. But when done well, the results can be pretty stunning. Super-excited for this benefit.

Pop-Up Flash (or Lack Thereof)

While the lack of a pop-up flash is pretty standard for the higher-tier class of camera bodies like this one, I’ve got some mixed feelings on its absence. Sure, if you’re at the level of photography where you actually care about the difference between full-frame and crop sensor, you should pretty much never use a pop-up flash, but there’s still occasions where it can be handy as a fill-flash in an emergency (like say you’ve got no choice but to shoot in a back-lit environment, you’ve got to get the shot, and a rabid weasel just stole your Speedlite. Hey, it’s been known to happen!) But then again, not having the pop-up flash does mean that you won’t risk using it as a crutch, and maybe you’ll do a better job of fending off those rabid weasels in the first place.

Anyway, the one thing I really kinda don’t like about its absence is that now there’s almost no overhang over the lens mount. With my 50D I’d often use that overhang as a quick way to grip the camera from above when picking it up. With the 6D, that’d be an extra bad idea, since there’s almost nothing for your fingers to hold on to and you’d probably drop it. Still though, that sort of hold might have actually been a bad habit on my 50D, so maybe it’s best I won’t do that anymore…

Canon 6D front angle

Image Quality

Well, this is definitely one of the most important categories, but I’m seriously going to need more experience with the 6D to talk much about this. At first glance, I’d say that things are definitely looking smoother on the 6D, but I’m going to need to be doing some more intensive shooting to see the real benefits of full-frame (beyond the aforementioned wide-angle capabilities that is.) The 50D was no slouch, so it doesn’t seem like nearly as much of a jump as when I went from a Rebel to the 50D.


Ok, so these quick first impressions turned out to be a bit more extensive that I thought they’d be. Guess I had more to say than anticipated!  All-in-all, I’m definitely super-excited about working with the 6D. It feels enough like my 50D that it’s no problem to just pick up and go with it, barring a few minor muscle-memory adjustments. But it definitely does feels like even more of a high performance, premium piece of machinery.

Again though, I’m comparing against a 5-year old 50D, so it’s entirely possible that Canon’s newer replacements for the 50D (like say the 70D) have more of that general refinement in the fit-and-finish that I’m finding to be so nice about the 6D. If I had to pick a word to describe how I feel the difference between handling the two is, I’d say that the 6D is much more “crisp”.

Once I’ve got some more serious shooting done (beyond just fiddling with controls to get a feel for it) I’ll do a follow-up post with more thoughts. Thanks for reading!

And also, if you’ve got any similar experience in jumping up a tier in camera bodies, I’d love to hear about it!

All photographs in this article were shot by Brian J. Matis using a Canon 50D, a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L or EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 lens, and lit with two off-camera Canon Speedlite flashes – the main light in a bounce umbrella and the secondary light through a diffuser dome positioned opposite the main light and aimed mostly at the background. And now you know!


  • Great review, Brian!

    I made the jump from a 50D to a 5DmkII. Like you, the jump to a full-frame sensor was a big one–“wide angle” was redefined for me. The leap in pixel density was also pretty large for me. It was pretty fun to be able to zoom all the way into a subject’s iris to check on how sharp the focus was.

    My dad picked up a 6D last year. It felt like a great camera. The wifi and gps features seem very compelling to me. Being able to tether the camera to your smartphone seems pretty awesome, too. I’m sure you’ll have a great time with that.

    June 28, 2014
    • Thanks, Mike! Today I finally had a good chance to really play with the 6D and it did not disappoint! I’m definitely noticing the full-frame difference in the overall quality of the images. So much smoother, just what I was hoping for. I’m absolutely looking forward to doing some portraits. I’ll have to do the iris zoom-in focus-check you mentioned.

      I had been pretty tempted by the latest incarnation of the 5D, but the price difference between it and the 6D was just a little too great. While it sounds like the 5D’s got a lot better autofocus, I had heard a lot of great things about how the 6D is better in low light. That was pretty tempting for me since I like to do photos at parties and events like Blizzcon, which are always really dark.

      Haven’t really played with the GPS yet, but that was certainly something that helped sway me. Same with the Wi-Fi, and yes, I put to good use doing the 2000 photos image on Tuesday- was able to remote trigger the shutter by using my iPhone.

      How’s your dad liking the 6D?

      June 29, 2014
  • […] I made sure to get in some good quality time with my new Canon 6D (see my first impressions here) by doing a nice little photowalk around the neighborhood. I ended up choosing 10 photos I liked […]

    June 28, 2014

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