At Street Hunters we like to review gear for our readers so you can get an idea of how gear performs and if it might work well for you and your style of photography. In this review I will analyse my own Canon EOS 6D, to tell you my experiences with using this camera. Being a DSLR camera, the 6D isn’t a type of camera most well known for street photography. However, DSLRs are incredibly versatile cameras and many people may have bought them for a wide variety of uses, and will want to apply them to street photography. Equally some photographers will be using them to photograph for their business (perhaps weddings, or sports), and then also using the same camera to pursue street photography as their hobby. For some reasons as to why a DSLR is good for street photography, check out Rob Heron’s Guide to Using A DSLR for Street Photography.
The Canon EOS 6D For Street Photography
This review will focus on using the Canon EOS 6D 20MP DSLR as a street photography camera. The review is based on my own experiences with using the Canon extensively over the course of almost 2 years. I have used the 6D for several different styles of photography in this time, but as we are street photographers here at street hunters, I’m only going to analyse the Canon 6D as a street photography camera. Because of the huge choice of lenses available for Canon DSLRS, and their vastly different performances and characteristics, I will review the camera body only, and will examine specific Canon fit lenses for street photography in later reviews. So read on for a detailed review of the Canon EOS 6D as a street photography camera.
Size & Weight
DSLRs are not well known as ‘specialist’ street photography cameras, and much of that is down to the fact that they are larger and heavier than many compact, mirrorless and rangefinder style cameras. Single Lens Reflex cameras haven’t always been as large as they are now – the fully manual cameras of the 1960s and 1970s were marvelously small and low-key. The arrival of more complex and powerful autofocus systems in the 1980s made SLRs balloon in size, and DSLRs have largely continued this trend. The EOS 6D is no exception. As a full frame DSLR it needs a large mirror box and pentaprism, as well as a large flange distance between the back of the lens and the sensor. This doesn’t help to make it a compact camera for street photography.
To further exacerbate the problem, modern full frame sensors have such a high resolving power that lots of the high-end large aperture lenses (particularly the zooms) are also big and heavy, because they contain many large pieces of glass. Canon’s f/2.8 wide angle and standard zoom lenses for instance now use an end element with a huge 82mm diameter! The good news though, is that prime lenses are excellent for street photography, and with careful selection there are still some brilliantly compact lenses to be found, like Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 and 40mm f/2.8, which aren’t too large or conspicuous.
The Canon 6D measures approximately 144.5 x 110.5 x 71.2mm (5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8”) and weighs in at 770 g. As a comparison, the full frame Leica M measures 139 x 80 x 42mm, and weighs almost 100g less, which gives you some idea as to how large the Canon is a street camera. The 6D is smaller than Canon’s other full frame DSLRs though, being a little more compact than the 5D, and significantly smaller than the 1DX with its built in battery grip, that is a true monster for street photography. In the full frame DSLR arena then, the 6D is as small and compact as it gets. I think when paired with a very small prime lens it makes a nice camera for street photography, but not one which you can slip into a pocket.
The Canon 6D is very well built, with a magnesium alloy body and a polycarbonate top plate. It feels solid, and not at all cheap or flimsy. You can be sure it will stand up to years of street photography use. I’ve been using my camera heavily for almost 2 years now, so much so that I’ve now worn through some of the paint finish on the base of the camera, as you can see from the photo. This is the only real sign of wear on the camera, which I find very impressive. I must have walked miles and miles on the street with this thing hanging from my shoulder! The 6D also offers an element of weather sealing too, with dust and drip protection seals around the buttons. So provided it’s looked after, the 6D can withstand some exposure to the elements that street photography throws at it! You shouldn’t expect it to be fully waterproof though, so always pack an umbrella if the weather looks ominous! The only way to improve the build quality of the 6D for street photography would be to offer a greater level of weather and waterproofing as found in some of the Pentax cameras.
I love the layout of Canon’s higher end DSLRs, and the 6D is no exception. There is a mode dial on the top left of the camera that allows you to easily switch between Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and other modes. On the right of the camera the user can set aperture and shutter with wheels on the back and the top of the camera respectively, as well as alter ISO, AF, and metering modes. AF points can be selected using a combination of a thumb button press, and the rear d-pad or top wheel – you don’t need to move your eye from the viewfinder for this, or change your grip. This means all the regular shooting functions on the camera can be operated with the right hand, which makes the Canon a fast and easy-to-use camera on the street. There is also an extra LCD on the top of the camera to display basic exposure and settings, so the camera can be primed with the right set up before a shot.
The 3.0” LCD on the back of the camera is bright and clear, and Canon’s menu is simple and well designed. You can navigate the menu via a mix of the two dials and the d-pad directional joystick built into the rear dial. There’s a custom menu page where you can assign regularly used menu functions for quick access, such as LCD brightness. You can also customise some of the button functions, swapping them around to suit your individual needs.
The optical viewfinder in the Canon 6D is fantastic – it’s very bright and clear, and a huge step up from Canon’s APS-C DSLRs. The autofocus points are always displayed inside the viewfinder, but they don’t get in the way of shooting as they are grouped around the centre of the display. Across the bottom of the viewfinder are readings for battery level, shutter speed, aperture, exposure, and ISO, as well as some extra information. Users of mirrorless systems with EVF viewfinders may be left a little disappointed with the 6D’s OVF – while you can customise some of what’s displayed in the OVF (such as a horizon level), there is nowhere near the level of customization or flexibility offered by an EVF. And of course, no way to display focus peaking, or review images within the viewfinder. Ditto, unlike a rangefinder camera you aren’t able to see anything outside the frame, which may frustrate some street photographers.
Personally I don’t mind these drawbacks, I adore the OVF in the 6D, I love seeing exactly what my lens does, and I’m yet to be significantly impressed by EVFs. If I need to see what’s going to appear in my frame (maybe to catch a person walking into the frame) I just open my left eye, keeping my right to the viewfinder. Likewise, for more flexible shooting I can just press the live view button with my thumb and compose using the rear LCD. In an ideal world the 6D’s rear LCD would tilt too for easy composition for “rat’s eye shooting”. All in all then, I think the Canon handles almost flawlessly, as the OVF vs EVF issue is largely down to personal preference.
The Canon performs well for street photography. The 6D’s AF system is much maligned in other ‘general’ reviews, as it only has 11 AF points compared to the more expensive 5D MkIII’s 61 points, and the 39 AF points of the equivalent Nikon D610. But for street photography I don’t find this to be a problem, 11 AF points are more than enough, and it’s so easy to switch between them using a combination of buttons and the rear d-pad. The focusing speed is good, although the speed and the camera’s ability to focus are dependent on the lenses you use. My Canon L series 16-35 focuses much faster than my 28 year old 50mm prime for instance. The centre AF point in the 6D is very powerful, and can focus in extremely low light which is great for night street photography. So as far as AF is concerned the 6D is a good street photography camera.
When it comes to manual focusing though, the 6D is not exactly ideally suited. The OVF is designed around the AF system, so lacks a brilliantly useful split prism as found in older manual SLRs for easy and fast manual focusing. It also lacks focus peaking as you would find in a mirrorless camera with EVF. However, for pure speed in manual focus street photography I like to use the zone focusing technique, as I can set my camera and lens focus and then just worry about composing and catching my shot. You can read our guide to zone focusing in street photography to learn how to do this for yourself. When employing this method, the lack of a split prism viewfinder isn’t a big problem for street photography with my 6D.
The battery life on the 6D is excellent thanks to its OVF and mechanical shutter. The battery packs I’ve been using in the camera are now almost two years old (so their charge capacity has depleted) but I still find a battery lasts around 600-800 shots in normal use. The rear LCD is the main power draw for the battery, and this can be manually configured to remain off even after taking a photo, if battery life is really of a great concern and you’re planning on taking a massive number of shots. I don’t remember ever exhausting a fully charged battery over the course of a day’s shooting, so the chances are “your batteries” will give out sooner than the 6D’s.
The 6D has several features that make it a very useful street photography camera. As I have already mentioned the ability to customise the menu and some button configurations really helps to make it handle well, and exactly to my liking. There are also several AF and metering mode options, and the ability to hold and release exposure with just one button. It is also possible to separate focusing from the shutter release button, so you can autofocus using the ‘back button’ focusing system. The 6D also has an auto ISO feature, where you can customise the minimum shutter speed to use and the camera will adjust the ISO automatically to keep it as low as possible for a perfect exposure. There is also a good ‘silent shutter’ feature, which damps down the release of the mirror and shutter to make the camera much quieter than it would otherwise be. This does add a little lag to shooting, but you soon get used to it. It doesn’t make the camera totally silent when you take a photo, but it is useful on a quiet street if you want to be subtle with your shooting.
The Canon 6D also has two features often found in smartphones – these are built in GPS and WiFi. I must confess I haven’t used the GPS feature lots, but it does seem to work quite well. I imagine it could be of great use shooting in an unfamiliar city if you wanted to tag your shots with a location to make a street hunt ‘map’. I have used the 6D’s WiFi lots though, and it really is a useful feature. In a world where more and more street photographers want to share their work online, it’s great to be able to download your photos straight from the camera to a smartphone or tablet and edit or upload them on the go. In fact, with the 6D you can adopt a fully mobile workflow, and you can read about Edward Conde’s mobile darkroom setup in his guide to Using an iPad with Street Hunting. You can even use a smartphone or tablet to fire the camera remotely, with the device displaying a live feed from camera. I’ve found this to be a slightly convoluted and clumsy way of shooting though.
Low Light Performance
The Canon absolutely excels in low light, making it a phenomenal tool if low light street photography is your forte. The 6D exhibits barely any noise at all at ISO 6400, and ISO 10,000 is extremely clean. You can even get useable shots at an ISO of 25,600 in colour, which is truly extraordinary. With the right exposure and the right kind of shot, you can make great black and white photos at ISOs 51,200 and 102,400. It’s worth bearing in mind too that I view my 6D photos on a high-resolution ‘retina’ screen on a MacBook, which leaves very little room for anything other than a very clean image. Any noise that is displayed in the 6D’s files is rendered in a very nice filmic way, owing to the way the full frame sensor is designed. This camera really is a low light monster, which is why I think it deserves a perfect score here.
The files the 6D produces are absolutely beautiful, thanks to its fantastic 35mm sized sensor. With a sensor this large, you have to remember that photos will be more sensitive to camera shake, especially as digital sensors now produce such sharp images. Similarly, at large apertures, a ‘larger’ full frame sensor will produce a much shallower depth of field than APS-C or micro 4/3s sensors would with an equivalent aperture, making achieving accurate focus all the more important. A sensor as good as the 6D’s is really rewarded with a good quality lens, like a nice prime, though you can get some good shots using a more average lens stopped down. As far as image quality for street shots goes, the 6D is almost as good as it gets. I can only think that a Leica or a full frame Nikon or Sony with the greater dynamic range of the newer Sony sensors will surpass it for image quality as a street photography camera.
The Canon 6D is far from being a cheap camera: the body only retails for £1,150 on Amazon.co.uk, $1,400 on Amazon US, and costs €1,400 throughout Europe. Fortunately, being a Canon DSLR, there is a huge back catalogue of lenses and accessories to choose from for this camera, many of which can be obtained very reasonably. Not only are there a great selection of good third party lenses in the Canon EF mount, but Canon itself offers two well priced primes ideal for street photography in the shape of their 50mm f/1.8 and 40mm f/2.8. The great advantage with Canon though is that the brand’s popularity with both professional and amateur DSLR photographers means that there is a huge range of used lenses and accessories to choose from – if you hunt around there are bargains to be had. Likewise, if you want to ‘upgrade’, or buy and swap your lenses you can be fairly confident of finding a used market for them, such is the ubiquity of Canon’s EF mount.
When you begin to consider the Canon against its full frame competitors it actually represents quite good value. Nikon’s full frame equivalent (the D610) is around the same price, while Sony’s A7R and A7S full frame mirrorless offerings cost £250 and £450 more respectively. The elephant in the room for the Canon 6D is the presence of the now superseded (though still on sale) Sony A7, which now sells for £300 less than the Canon. The A7 sports a full frame sensor in a much smaller body than the Canon, and is a more than worthy rival to it. The only significant ‘black mark’ against the Sony is the smaller catalogue of lenses to choose from for the E-Mount compared to Canon’s EF mount, though adapters can be used to fit other lenses to the Sony, but AF performance will suffer. I hope to be able to able to test one of Sony A7 range for street photography at some point in the future, and I really feel Sony should be commended for shaking up the market for interchangeable lens full frame cameras. The replacement for the A7, the A7II, costs £250 more than the Canon 6D, and includes in-body image stabilisation. Canon’s next full frame DSLR camera, the 5D MkIII, sells for around £800-$1000 more than the 6D. Against these cameras then, the 6D represents a ‘decent value’ entry into the full frame world especially considering the freedom to change lenses, and a great back catalogue of lenses to choose from, though the A7’s current price means it’s no longer the cheapest full frame camera with swappable lenses. It’s also important to remember that as a DSLR the Canon offers lots of flexibility, allowing a photographer to use one body for all sorts of applications. For me personally, there is a lot to be said for this flexibility.
I think the Canon 6D makes a great street photography camera, although with some caveats. It is not by any means a small camera, so its effectiveness as a street camera depends entirely on teaming it with a lens that is as small and inconspicuous as possible. I have shot thousands of street photos with the 6D and the large Canon 16-35 lens as it’s my favourite lens, but it makes for a very intimidating and challenging combination, and one that will limit what kind of photos you can make. It will also probably get you shouted at – I’ve experienced this several times! In terms of ‘technical’ quality though, the images this combination will make are superb.
But to really make this camera into one that will allow you to move through the streets effortlessly, and to compose freely and get close to your subjects, the 6D needs to be combined with a really small prime lens. At the moment I’m using Canon’s small 50mm f/1.8 prime, which is a nice low-key lens. In the future I’m hoping to test the Canon 40mm pancake lens on the 6D, as I think this will be the perfect combination for a street photography set up.
Using this camera for street photography then is all about compromise. You have to accept that you’re using a general-purpose tool designed to produce incredible images, but one that is not specifically designed to be an unobtrusive street photography camera. If you can deal with the ‘relative’ size and bulk of the 6D, and keep the lens you use on the street as small as possible, you’re left with a superb camera that’s going to produce some beautiful street photography images, as well as offering insane high ISO performance that will allow you to get low light shots which you would never have thought possible. I love this camera – I think it’s a beautifully made tool which I have utter confidence will perform exactly as I want it to whatever the crazy world of the streets throws at it!
Do you want to buy the Canon EOS 6D?
As you know we are affiliated with Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, so if you would like to buy the Canon EOS 6D from one of these e-shops, please support us by using the links provided below:
- Buy the CANON EOS 6D 20.2 Megapixel Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) / 8035B002 / on Amazon.com.
- Buy the Canon EOS 6D Digital SLR Camera with EF 40mm 2.8 STM Lens (20.2MP, CMOS sensor, 10x Optical Zoom) on Amazon.co.uk.
Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!