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Canon's schizophrenic 6D can't decide whether it's for amateurs or pros

Canon's schizophrenic 6D can't decide whether it's for amateurs or pros

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Just what does the Canon EOS 6D want to be?

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Gallery Photo: Canon EOS 6D hands-on pictures
Gallery Photo: Canon EOS 6D hands-on pictures

Just what does the Canon EOS 6D want to be? Reading the company's press release would suggest the answer's obvious — it's Canon's lightest, smallest and cheapest full-frame DSLR yet, squaring up against the similarly lauded D600 from Nikon — but viewed in the cold light of day, this camera just doesn't seem to add up. Yes, it matches the D600's $2,100 price point, but it falls behind almost immediately with a limited 11-point autofocus system, slower burst mode, lack of headphone jack or integrated flash, and a single (rather than double) SD card slot. More importantly, the 6D doesn't appear to be a clear-cut upgrade over Canon's venerable 5D Mark II, which continues to sell for around $1,500 in the US. If the poor man's 5D is still the older-gen 5D, where does the 6D fit in?

If the poor man's 5D is still the 5D, where does the 6D fit in?

The EOS 6D won't be an outright replacement for any product in Canon's portfolio, though it's clearly a combination of multiple well-liked older models. Physically, it's about the same size and weight as the cropped-sensor EOS 7D, plus it's about as rugged thanks to a magnesium alloy frame and a similar level of weatherproofing. The control scheme is altogether different, however, as the 7D's column of left-handed controls have been dismissed in favor of a more frugal button layout that puts the emphasis on right-hand operation. Handling the 6D feels like an odd mix of the 7D and the smaller, more consumer-oriented 60D.

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The DIGIC 5+ processor inside the 6D can be considered a trickle-down feature from Canon's flagship 1D X and 5D Mark III DSLRs, though it'd be unfair to depict it as purely a Frankensteinian concoction of older Canon hardware. The 6D's 20-megapixel sensor is altogether new, its AF system rather embarrasses Nikon in the low-light sensitivity stakes by being able to focus right down to -3 EV, and it breaks new ground among high-end cameras by integrating Wi-Fi and GPS into the body instead of requiring separate dongles. The question the 6D doesn't seem able to answer is whether it wants to compete in that high-end professional realm. Its neat novelties are offset by weird cutbacks — most infuriating among which is the lack of a headphone jack, severely hampering its utility as a pro video camera.

Canon's EOS 6D is a full-frame DSLR that's still priced just outside the reach of most consumers, but it has a definite consumer appeal. Ultimately, if there's any one particular group that Canon is targeting with this camera, it's the moneyed enthusiast looking for a step up from the 7D and 60D. That'll be something the 6D surely delivers, if only by virtue of its larger sensor.

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