Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 14 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

The EOS 6D: An Ideal Travel DSLR

October 17, 2012

Travel is one of the most frequently-mentioned activities when photographers are lining up reasons to consider investing in a new digital SLR. Travel fascinates us, challenges us, and takes us out of our comfort zone. For some shooters, it's the time they rely on their camera more heavily than any other. Living with the camera for hours at a time, for days or even weeks, many of the camera's features, capabilities and inherent traits rise to the surface – and can make the experience joyous or a constant, subtle challenge.

Canon's EOS 6D starts as the world's smallest and lightest full-frame digital SLR (as of October 1, 2012). For many users, this alone will make the EOS 6D a compelling possibility for travel – it's a full 6.3 ounces (180g) lighter than the EOS 5D Mark III, all the more impressive when you consider it uses the same battery. The 6D's compact size still allows a solid, substantial presence in the photographer's hands, but clearly is noticeably less to carry throughout the day.

But beyond size and weight, a number of the EOS 6D's features and technologies point it squarely toward SLR enthusiasts and pros for whom travel is a large part of their photography. We'll explore some of these in this article.

The full-frame imaging sensor

Twenty million pixels arrayed on a full-frame CMOS imaging sensor immediately mean users can expect excellent quality in large printed output, as well as files that pros can be confident will stand up to double-page magazine spreads, cover shots, or virtually any challenge offered by published work. The 6D's 5472x3648 full-res images can be inkjet printed with practically no interpolation to 20x30 inches, and can easily go well beyond that using interpolation while still holding excellent detail.

Full-frame also means that photographers have access to every wide-angle lens in the Canon EF and Tilt-shift line. Wide-angle is often a priority in travel images, and the EOS 6D shooter's lens options include:

  • Ultra-wide, fixed focal length lenses... EF 14mm f/2.8L II, EF 20mm f/2.8
  • New, compact wide-angle lenses with Image Stabilization: EF 24mm f/2.8 IS, EF 28mm f/2.8 IS
  • Ultra-wide L-series zooms: EF 17-40mm f/4L, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II
  • Superb-quality "standard" L-series zooms: EF 24-105mm f/4L IS, and the new EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II
  • The unique 8-15mm f/4L fisheye zoom lens, giving a choice of circular fisheye or full-coverage fisheye imagery to full-frame Canon users
  • High-speed, fixed focal length lenses: EF 24mm f/1.4L II, EF 28mm f/1.8, EF 35mm f/1.4L
  • Industry-leading tilt-shift lenses: TS-E 17mm f/4L, and TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II
Scenic and landscape images

There's no question that for many shooters, travel represents an opportunity to shoot landscape images. The EOS 6D steps-up with numerous advantages that directly benefit the scenic and landscape shooter.

Obviously, its full-frame image quality, resolution and detail, and ability to choose from among so many wide-angle lens options will be immediate benefits. But there's more:

  • Built-in Electronic Level:
    Visible on either the rear LCD monitor – perfect for tripod shooting, especially if it's combined with Live View – as well as in the camera's viewfinder. Either way, tilt that would affect horizontal lines in your pictures can be immediately detected and corrected.

    The viewfinder level option is particularly useful during hand-held shooting. It's accessed by pressing the depth-of-field preview button, after re-configuring it using C.Fn III-1 and setting the button for "VF electronic level." A press of the button then changes the finder's analog metering scale temporarily to one indicating any sideways tilt. Tap the shutter button to clear the display and return to standard metering functions. Be aware that while the LCD monitor's Electronic Level display works whether the camera is held horizontally or vertically, the viewfinder display only works for horizontal images.

    Whether using the viewfinder or LCD monitor, the Electronic Level is a great insurance policy, so to speak, in composing images, especially if the subject or scene doesn't have pronounced visible horizontal lines.
  • Option for grid-type Eg-D focus screen:
    The EOS 6D offers user-interchangeable focus screens, and one that's sure to be of interest to critical users is the optional accessory grid-type screen Eg-D. This has fine etched grid-lines that can be easily used to precisely line-up vertical or horizontal subjects. The lines are always present, any time the Eg-D focus screen is installed. For most users, the beauty of this focus screen is that the lines are faint enough not to be a distraction when shooting sports or other subjects that don't require precise composition, but ready to be used whenever it's necessary. Combined with the viewfinder's Electronic Level Display, the optional Eg-D focus screen is a great accessory for critical travel shooters. And it's not only a landscape tool: it can be great for precise compositions of interiors, exterior architecture, and even for being sure backgrounds are properly lined-up in portraits or product photos.
Low-light shooting

Travel images aren't always opportunities to use flash. Whether photographing the glow of Parisian city lights off of cobblestone streets, the vast and ornate interior of a large cathedral, or a portrait at dawn or dusk, low-light capability is critical for many travel pictures. This is an area where the EOS 6D excels.

For starters, its full-frame, 20 million pixel image sensor offers great high-ISO performance and image quality. ISO ranges from 100~25,600; via the "ISO speed range" setting in the 3rd Shooting Menu, the maximum ISO can be expanded to 51,200, or 102,400. Noise reduction from the DIGIC 5+ processor and CMOS imaging sensor are among the best in the industry among current digital SLRs, encouraging available-light shooting even in truly dark conditions. RAW images processed in Canon's Digital Photo Professional software will likewise benefit from Canon's low-noise processing.

High ISO noise reduction, always controllable in EOS SLRs, is set in the 4th Shooting Menu. In addition to the normal Off, Low, Standard and High options ("Standard" is the factory-default setting), the EOS 6D is the first full-frame EOS model to offer Multi-Shot Noise Reduction. Leveraging the in-camera processing power, Multi-Shot Noise Reduction offers an alternative to slow shutter speeds that risk blur when a tripod isn't available. And, it doesn't rely on sky-high ISO settings, either.

Instead, Multi-Shot Noise Reduction takes four separate still images, in rapid succession, at relatively fast shutter speeds (speed will vary, depending on lighting in the scene). These are then combined in-camera, into one finished image with the combined brightness of the four individual images, the sharpness of one image taken at a fast shutter speed, and a lower ISO value than would have been possible in a single shot. As long as the camera is reasonably hand-held, the system aligns all four images into one finished, sharp image... a tripod can be used, but is absolutely not necessary. This is a setting even the most experienced SLR user should experiment with, with an eye toward exploiting in low-light scenes when they're traveling.

Autofocus performance and capabilities

Travel presents various opportunities that may not always be front-and-center in ordinary everyday shooting for SLR enthusiasts. Pushing the envelope with low-light shooting, as just discussed, is one example. The EOS 6D's AF system has several features of note to the travel shooting SLR enthusiast.

For starters, the EOS 6D's AF system has the greatest low-light sensitivity of any EOS camera to date. Capable of focusing in light as low as EV minus 3 – equivalent to light requiring a 15 second exposure at f/1.4, at ISO 100, or a 1/2-second exposure at f/2, at ISO 6400 – it can truly focus where your own eyes may have difficulty simply seeing a subject, let alone focusing on it.

A couple of other important AF features:

  • Orientation Linked AF:
    Travel often presents rapid, fleeting opportunities for great images like candid shots of friends, family, or total strangers. A great feature carried over from the EOS 7D and new 61-point AF systems is Canon's "Orientation Linked AF."

    This feature lets a user select any AF point for horizontal shooting, and memorize it. A separate AF point can be selected for vertical shooting. Now, once activated (it's a one-time setting) in Custom Function II-7, when you hold the camera horizontally, the AF point you chose for horizontals is automatically chosen. And, if you turn the camera vertically, it instantly changes to the other AF point you chose for verticals. It's perfect, for example, to select an upper AF point to put sharpest focus right on the faces of a subject, and keep it there as you turn the camera from horizontal to vertical, and vice-versa.
  • AI Servo AF adjustment:
    The EOS 6D doesn't offer the AF Configuration Tool first seen in the EOS-1D X and EOS 5D Mark III cameras. However, it does offer the experienced and critical user the ability to really fine-tune how the camera behaves when focus-tracking challenging moving subjects. Custom Functions II-1, II-2, II-3, and II-4 let the shooter really expand beyond simply putting the camera in AI Servo AF when it comes time to photograph moving subjects. Whether the travel shooter is photographing wildlife in motion, sporting events, or even a festival or parade, the following aspects of how the camera handles focus-tracking can be adjusted:
    • Tracking Sensitivity – adjust how the camera will respond to interruptions when you're tracking a moving subject. Two steps toward "Responsive" tell the camera to quickly re-focus onto whatever new subject the active AF point suddenly sees, letting you instantly move from tracking one subject to follow-focusing another. Moving the scale in the minus direction gives two steps toward "Locked on", which does the opposite: it tells the camera to resist changing to any new subject that may suddenly appear, increasing the time it'll stay with the subject you're originally tracking. It's ideal if you're in a crowded situation and expect that from time to time, people or objects may move between you and your subject, momentarily blocking your view.
    • Accel./decel. Tracking – Like the EOS 5D Mark III and EOS-1D X, this is a landmark SLR feature. Labeled 0, 1 or 2 on the on-screen scale, you're telling the camera to expect steady, continuous movement – even if it's as fast as an Indy race car or Moto GP motorcycle – with the "zero" setting, and to expect erratic, stop-start movement (think of basketball, US football, and so on) with the "1" and especially "2" settings. The ability to set the camera for the type of subject movement is an industry first. A photographer on an African safari, for example, photographing rapidly-changing movement such as a predator suddenly chasing an animal at a water hole, would benefit from the "1" or "2" setting. This optimizes the EOS 6D for movement that will likely suddenly start, stop and change direction.
    • AI Servo 1st image priority – This one impacts the split-second responsiveness of shutter firing when you're in AI Servo AF. If you suddenly mash down on the shutter button, how will the camera respond? Moving this Custom Functions's on-screen scale to "Focus Priority" tells the system to pause for an added fraction of a second to insure good, sharp focus in the first shot taken, even if this means a slight delay in actually taking the picture. The opposite setting, "Release Priority", minimizes any shutter lag. It tells the system even if AI Servo AF hasn't confirmed sharp focus for the first shot, to take the first picture as soon as possible. It's ideal for shooters who put the maximum emphasis on "capturing the moment."
    • AI Servo 2nd image priority – If you shoot a continuous sequence of images, using AI Servo AF to focus-track a subject, what happens after the first shot in the sequence? Custom Function II-4 on the EOS 6D allows the shooter to fine-tune this. Moving the on-screen scale to "Focus Priority" tells the camera to put maximum emphasis on getting each frame in a sequence sharp, even if it has to slow down the fps drive speed to do so. For shooters who want to keep up at the maximum 4.5 fps, the "Shooting Speed Priority" setting assures fastest possible shooting speed – even if sharpest focus hasn't been confirmed from shot to shot in a sequence.
Creative in-camera imaging

Travel shooters may or may not have the luxury of bringing a full-fledged laptop computer on the road with them. And even if they do, they may not have the time to indulge in extensive image editing and modification to create stunning finished files from in-camera original images – at least, not until the dust settles after they've returned home.

The EOS 6D answers this with a pair of creative in-camera features, allowing shooters to experiment on-the-spot with HDR and multi-exposure techniques. While not offering all the options possible with Canon's EOS 5D Mark III, the EOS 6D nonetheless gives great in-camera flexibility here to photographers looking to expand their visual boundaries.

  • HDR imaging
    High Dynamic Range imaging is one of the hottest topics among serious DSLR enthusiasts today, and the EOS 6D's built-in HDR feature means that photographers aren't required to do this after the fact in their computers. It's an outstanding option when the travel shooter is presented with a great photo opportunity, and experience tells him or her that the brightness range from highlights to shadows is too extensive to properly capture in one normal D-SLR image.

    HDR Mode is set in the 4th Shooting Menu. Three shots will be taken, at varying exposure settings. User options for 1-, 2- and 3-stop differences between each source image, or allowing the camera to automatically determine the variation in the three auto bracketed shots, are present. Once the three bracketed exposures are taken, the camera processes them into one finished JPEG file. (Source images can be set to RAW or RAW + JPEG, but regardless, the finished in-camera HDR file will be written as a JPEG file.) The HDR controlled image will show a natural appearance of tones, with much greater detail in bright highlights and dark shadows than a single, normal image would provide.

    EOS 6D's HDR mode is simpler than that in the EOS 5D Mark III. Therefore, optional HDR rendering settings like Art Vivid, Art Bold or Art Embossed are not possible. Also, the three bracketed source images are not saved to the camera's SD memory card.
  • Multiple Exposure shooting
    Here's another creative option that may be just the thing to inspire a travel shooter to move his or her images from ordinary to extraordinary. The EOS 6D includes a built-in multi-exposure control option, letting the shooter record from 2~9 original images and combine them into one finished multi-exposure file.

    Like the EOS 5D Mark III, the EOS 6D allows the shooter to either use an existing RAW image already on their memory card as the initial "source" image (more images can now be taken, and combined with the multi-exposure process with that original RAW file), or they can simply take 2 thru 9 new images, which will be combined in-camera. If starting with new source images for a multi-exposure, RAW images will be combined into a finished RAW multi-exposure file; in-camera multi-exposures are possible at all JPEG resolution settings as well.

    As with HDR images, the EOS 6D will not save original source files for Multi-exposures (with the exception of RAW images already on the card, selected and used as a first image in a new multi-exposure). And, unlike the EOS 5D Mark III, the multi-exposure control options are limited to Additive and Average... the "Bright" and "Dark" options are not available.
In-camera GPS

Another big feature that SLR enthusiasts are demanding more and more frequently. Now, for the first time in an EOS SLR, no accessory unit is required. The EOS 6D's built-in GPS receiver reads location information and records it as part of each image's EXIF text data... along with date/time, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and so on. And, it can record daily Log information. A path of the camera's travels can be recorded in-camera for each day, and saved in the camera until downloaded into Canon's supplied Map Utility software. There, the files can be linked to Google Maps™, saved, and then uploaded into on-line sources such as Google Earth™.

For the traveler, in-camera GPS brings numerous potential benefits. It becomes simple to log outdoor images with location information, making it far easier down the road to identify a particular scene or location. Images for stock or business use are identified from the start, minimizing the possibility of caption errors or mislabeling. The camera's internal date & time can be recorded via GPS, making the camera's built-in clock accurate to within ± 1 second. Shooting locations for individual pictures, and log files of the day's travels, can later be read with Canon's Map Utility and (as mentioned) shared with others via Google Earth™.

By providing numerous benefits with in-camera GPS, and not requiring any additional accessories, the EOS 6D turns a corner in convenience for the SLR enthusiast who travels. Whether it's a pro who truly requires labeling of location for his or her images, or the amateur enthusiast who welcomes the convenience GPS permits for storing and sharing images, the EOS 6D's built-in GPS is a special highlight feature to travel photographers.

In-camera Wi-Fi

EOS 6D cameras purchased in the US market also have built-in Wi-Fi transmission capability, which is in addition to the built-in GPS just mentioned. Wireless file transmission allows the EOS 6D user the following capabilities – some of which could be potentially very beneficial to travel shooters when working on the road:

  • Remote-control the camera, and get a live view through the camera's lens, using a compatible smart-phone (iOS and Android-compatible)
  • Transfer JPEG images from the EOS 6D to a compatible smart-phone or tablet
  • Send JPEG images via e-mail
  • Upload still images to social media sites like Facebook™, Twitter™, or e-mail via Canon's Image Gateway service; upload video files to YouTube™
  • Transfer image files from one EOS 6D camera to another, or to other Wi-Fi-equipped Canon PowerShot cameras

Additional features, possibly not of the same interest to travel shooters, include the ability to print wirelessly to Wi-Fi enabled inkjet printers, and ability to play-back image files from the camera on DLNA-enabled devices such as select HDTVs.

Summary

The Canon EOS 6D combines solid design and build-quality with the smallest size and lightest weight in the world (as of October 1, 2012) among full-frame digital SLRs, resulting in a camera that immediately has the potential to win the hearts of travel enthusiasts. And, it adds a host of capabilities and features, ranging from Full HD video recording capability to built-in GPS and Wi-Fi, making the camera a compelling choice for travel shooting. Photographers looking for a well-equipped and compact SLR now have a full-frame option which targets the travel shooter beautifully, providing all the inherent benefits of a full-frame camera for significantly less than previous Canon EOS full-frame offerings. Its image quality, especially at higher ISOs and in low-light, invites the travel shooter to look for opportunities instead of excuses to shoot at night, indoors, or in poor weather. Its focus system backs-up this low-light performance, with the best low-light sensitivity of any EOS AF system to date. And, that same AF system can be tailored and configured to please even critical EOS shooters.

Any EOS SLR can be a great travel companion for the serious photographer. But the EOS 6D puts many significant features of special interest to the critical travel shooter into one compact and relatively affordable package (it's by far the least-expensive full-frame SLR ever offered by Canon). A close look into the EOS 6D shows it to be a very compelling package for the serious shooter who expects to travel frequently, whether he or she is stepping-up from a less-expensive camera, or even if they own a high-end EOS but want similar functionality in a smaller, lighter package.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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