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