Canon 6D vs. Nikon D600: Two Approaches to Entry-Level Full Frame

Posted in News, Photography by Nathan Lee Bush on September 20, 2012

I apparently spoke too soon with my post last week about full-frame entrants pushing the once-prized upmarket sensor size down the path toward becoming the “new normal,” as it had historically been throughout much of film era. The news just keeps coming. Fujifilm openly discussed interest in full-frame this week, and Leica for the first time introduced a semi-affordable (by Leica standards, at $5,450) simplified variant of its M9, the M-E.

And no sooner had Nikon redefined “entry level” full-frame with the $2200, 24 megapixel D600 than Canon announced its equally-priced answer in the form of the 20 megapixel 6D. The cameras represent two distinct visions of what its conceptualized end user would prize most, and what he or she could manage without.

If the 7D is Canon’s pro body APS-C camera, than the 6D is more a consumer-body full-frame, with the stripped-down controls of the 60D. Canon’s decision to push the 60D downmarket with stripped-down external controls was controversial, and its decision to mimic those changes on its entry level full-frame may be equally contentious. The D600, too, is a full-frame crammed into a D7000-inspired body. The main difference though, is that the D7000 body and control layout is decidedly more pro-geared than the 60D.

Control layout aside, the cameras differ in other areas of emphasis as well. Two particularly impactful choices are autofocus and high ISO performance. The 6D chooses to neglect the former and elevate the latter, while the D600 chooses the opposite route.

The 6D AF system is pretty meager, with just 11 sensors, only one of which is cross-type. This is weaker than the 60D which has 9 sensors, all cross-type (even the T4i has nine cross type!). The saving grace, however, is that this AFsystem will be much more reliable in low light, sensitive down to -3EV (compared to the -1EV sensitivity rating of the D600). The D600, by contrast, features a 39-point system with 9 cross-type sensors, directly inherited from the D7000. Weaker than the D800, to be sure, but much more enticing than its rival from Canon, and vetted in the field as a fast and reliable AF system.

Reversing the previous generation’s low-light equation, Canon seems to have taken the lead in this department with its latest lineup, offering in the 6D a native ISO range up to 25600, expandable to 102400. Nikon, on the other hand has only a 6400 native ISO, expandable to 25600.

Of course, there are a laundry list of specs to compare, and each camera has different strengths. The D600 can claim supremacy in a variety of areas. It has two SD card slots to the Canon’s single slot. It also ekes out a faster continuous shooting speed, 5.5fps to the 6D’s 4.5, and is rated to 150,000 actuations, 50% more than Canon’s 100,000. It has a built in flash, absent on the 60D. It also has 100% viewfinder coverage to the Canon’s 97%. In its corner, the 6D has a higher LCD screen resolution and a slightly smaller overall form factor, 145 x 111 x 71 mm vs the D600’s 141 x 113 x 82 mm. And in a first for any Canon DSLR, the 6D features built in Wi-Fi and GPS, features that seems to be working their way up via the consumer camera category.

In the video department, the cameras are similarly specced to their higher end counterparts. Both the D800 and 5D Mark III had decent, if not earth-shattering, performance in this category when we tested them upon their release earlier this year. The D800 had a sharper image and could record clean HDMI to an external recorder, but would quickly fall apart past ISO 800, due to its massive megapixel count. The Canon Mark III held remarkably well at extremely high ISOs and seemed to virtually remove moiré, but also had a decidedly softer image out of camera. I suspect the D600 will see drastic gains in high ISO performance in its video output, owing to its lower resolution sensor. Otherwise, we shouldn’t expect hugely different video performance than we’ve come to expect from their full-frame siblings.

On paper, the D600 preserves many of the features that made the D800 so compelling, while the 24 megapixel sensor may actually add appeal for those who want low-light performance and don’t need resolution (and filesizes) approaching medium format. The 6D aims to be more of a pro 60D than a 5D Mark III Lite while the D600 seems to have the reverse in mind.

Of course, most pro photographers are already locked into a system by their lens investment, so will stick with what they have, maybe snatching these up as a second body or renting as a backup for a shoot.

But, to draw a parallel to the current political theater playing out, there are those elusive “independents” or “swing voters” I suspect Canon and Nikon (and everyone else) are courting: those who have not made up their mind and could flip either way.

Indeed, couldn’t the new full-frame for the rest of us category be aimed at those just falling in love with photography through their entry-level or enthusiast DSLR and looking for a reason to upgrade? Sure, they probably like the camera they’ve got, but they’re not yet loyal to one brand, and aren’t financially invested in a system by their lens and peripherals collection, so can switch over without much thought. As photography continues its phenomenal growth as a hobby and potential livelihood for more and more people, there are no shortage of people still asking, “which system is right for me?” It’s these potential customers Canon and Nikon are hoping to court with these models. Which approach will win could be decided by these “independents.”

What do you think? Which camera are you leaning towards? Let us know in the comments!

Update: figure I’ll throw in a poll for good measure:

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9 Responses

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  1. Miguel said, on September 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    What’s the point in having that high ISO features if once you go over 3200, everything falls apart?!

    • siotg said, on September 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm

      I totaly agree, many cameras claim to have iso 6400 but in reality only usable upto 3200. However, i hand a chance to try the canon 5d3 and the iso performance actually good up to 6400, at 12800 is questionable and at 25600 it falls apart.
      I’m very excited about nikon d600 and the canon 6d and in my opion the d600 is a better camera in so many different areas. The only thing that can save the 6d is that if its iso performance is really good up to 25600 that makes it 2 stops better than that of the nikon d600. I’m on a breaking point here and can’t wait for a review/comparision of side by side photos of these two and then i can make my decision.

  2. av4rice said, on September 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    “even the Rebel XTi has nine cross type!”

    I think you mean the T4i, which I’m pretty sure is the first Rebel to have 9 cross. Still a valid point that the new entry-level APS-C gets 9 cross while the entry-level full frame only gets 1.

    The XTi inherited the 30D’s AF array of 9 points with only 1 cross in the center. The middle tier didn’t get 9 cross-type points until the 40D.

  3. Stonecypher said, on September 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I’m invested in Canon, and was eagerly awaiting their answer to the D600. Nikon got it right on target, but sadly Canon missed by a mile.
    The 5D3 is a lovely beast that calls my name, but it’s $1500 too dear for my tastes. I was looking for something to replace the 5D2 with an updated sensor for better low-light and improved AF (can we even say that the 5D2 has AF with how bad it is??). Instead Canon gives us a 60D with a nice sensor shoehorned in and very questionable AF. One cross-type? Really? 11 AF points when a 7D has 19? Why? According to the numbering system the 6D should be a step up from the 7–they priced it as if it were.
    Finally they make it clear that this is not a pro body by putting a 100k cycle shutter, and only a 1/180th of a second sync speed. It’s clearly a step-down from the 5D2, and even a step down from the 7D. The 60D it hails from is currently $900 for the body, so that’s a $1200 premium for a full-frame sensor.
    At this point I either clam up and buy more 5D2s before they go out of stock, or try to sell my Canon kit (if anybody wants Canon still) and go buy some Nikon D800s and D600s.

  4. Asad said, on September 20, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Almost everybody who’s not locked into either system (possibly including Canon Rebel/xxD users who will have to get rid of their EF-S lenses to go full-frame) and buying based on specs will choose the D600 unless wifi/GPS or Canon ergonomics are that important to them.

    I don’t see why Canon went through the trouble of developing a new sensor and a new AF system for this camera. If they really wanted to do a “full-frame 60D” type camera, using the 5DmkII sensor and the 7D AF system in a plastic body would have been more than enough, and the development cost savings (at this point, surely the 5DMkII sensor and 7D AF system development costs have been fully recouped) would have allowed a significantly lower selling price. Of course, that would have killed the market for used 5DMkIIs

    The 6D would have been a game changer at $1500 and still compelling at $1700. At $2100, it’s not even a contender.

  5. […] Adorama analiza la nueva tendencia de los full-frame accesibles. […]

  6. News briefs of the week (39) | Photo Crunch said, on September 29, 2012 at 2:57 am

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  8. Roman (Canon user) said, on October 4, 2012 at 10:15 am

    For me the most disappointing thing in D600is its focusing point arrangement. If 6D (I don’t know how its AF point arranged yet) has wider AF points area I’d say that it will be very important advantage over the D600. In almost any other aspect D600 is a clear winner!

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