Take a look at the Canon EOS line of interchangeable-lens DSLR cameras, and something will immediately jump out at you: Two very different cameras with much the same list pricing.
The Canon 7D Mark II is the company's flagship model based around an APS-C sized image sensor with a 1.6x focal length crop. Yet the Canon 6D, launched some two years earlier, sports a roomy 35mm full-frame image sensor -- and you'll pay roughly the same figure for either camera.
But which purchase makes more sense? Is newer automatically better, smaller sensor or not? Or would the smart money be spent on the full-frame camera, even though it's a couple of years older? Read on, and find out!
On paper at least, the attraction of the Canon 6D is clear. Its much larger full-frame sensor has about 2.6x greater surface area than the APS-C sensor of the Canon 7D II. A bigger sensor with the same resolution of that in the sub-frame camera means that it sports much larger photodiodes, and hence does a better job of gathering light.
On paper, that should translate better sensitivity and lower noise levels, and the Canon 6D's sensitivity range of ISO 50 to 102,400 equivalents -- versus ISO 100 to 51,200 for the 7D II -- bears that out. And while we've yet to finalize our Canon 7D II review, so to do its real-world results.
Nor is it just about sensitivity and noise, either. For one thing, if you have a large stock of full-frame Canon EF lenses, opting for the 6D means that the focal length(s) marked on the lens barrel will match what you'll experience in the real world. And with no focal length crop, you'll get back the wide-angle capabilities of your lenses. You'll also find that for any given aperture, depth of field will be narrower from the full-frame Canon 6D body, helping to isolate your subject from the background.
Conversely, though, if you own many Canon EF-S lenses, you'll likely want to stick with APS-C -- they can't be mounted at all on a full-frame body. And at the same time, if you're a fan of tight framing, the 1.6x focal length crop of a Canon APS-C body will effectively bring you closer to your subject with any given EF-mount lens. (Given that telephoto lenses can be quite expensive and bulky compared to wider-angle optics, that can be a big deal.)
And while the Canon 7D II body isn't smaller than that of the Canon 6D -- more on that in a moment -- your overall camera kit may be. Canon's EF-S lenses can typically be made smaller than an equivalent EF lens of similar focal range and aperture, thanks to the need to project a smaller image circle.
It might seem intuitive that with a larger sensor, the Canon 6D body would also be the bulkier of the pair, but that's not the case. Admittedly, there's not a huge difference between the 6D and 7D II in terms of size, but it's the full-frame model that actually has the advantage.
Compared to the 7D Mark II, the Canon 6D is actually about a quarter-inch less wide and deep, and the two cameras are essentially indistinguishable in height. And there's an even bigger difference in their weight: Loaded and ready to go (but without alens), the Canon 6D is almost 20% lighter than is the 7D II.
There's an important reason for that difference, though. The Canon 6D's body mixes magnesium-alloy front and rear panels with a polycarbonate top panel, wrapped around an aluminum-alloy and polycarbonate chassis. The Canon 7D II, by contrast, has a much more rugged construction that's predominantly magnesium-alloy.
And while both cameras are weather-sealed, Canon has made a big point of emphasizing the 7D II's greater degree of weather-sealing, which will be much closer to the pro-grade 1D-series cameras than is the Canon 6D. If you like your camera to accompany you anywhere, no matter what mother nature has planned for the day, that could save you needing a weather-proof camera bag or cover.
And it's not just on the outside that the Canon 7D II is likely to last longer. It also features a shutter mechanism rated for a lifetime of 200,000 cycles, literally double the 100,000 cycle shutter lifetime of the Canon 6D. Of course, not a guarantee that either will fail at that point -- or necessarily make it to that point, for that matter, as these are merely estimates -- but chances are that the Canon 7D II will be reliably shooting well after your Canon 6D would have given up the ghost.
Not surprisingly given their enthusiast-grade pricing, both of these cameras have comfortable ergonomics and generous, photographer-friendly external controls. Of the pair, though, the Canon 7D Mark II is the more solid, and it's a little better-equipped with external controls such as a multi-directional joystick and lever for autofocus area / point selection, as well as buttons that give access to flash exposure lock / compensation, image rating, picture controls, multiple exposure and side-by-side comparison in playback mode.
In short, you'll likely spend a little less time in the Canon 7D II's menu system than you would with the Canon 6D. The 7D II also gives you one more customizable shooting mode than the 6D, which has just two, so you'll be able to recall more settings that you'd saved for certain shooting situations.
The Canon 6D does, however, make a concession to less experienced photographers with Creative Auto and Scene modes on the Mode dial, where the Canon 7D II does less hand-holding of this sort.
Both the Canon 6D and 7D Mark II have bright pentaprism viewfinders, but there are a few important differences. Thanks to its full-frame sensor, the 6D's finder has greater effective magnification by about 10%. However, the Canon 7D II's finder is more accurate -- at least, according to manufacturer specifications -- with approximately 100% coverage horizontally and vertically, versus the 97% coverage of the 6D's finder. (Our own in-house testing showed similar 98% accuracy for both cameras, with the 6D's finder slightly better-centered and more level, but this could come down to sample variation.)
Which attribute is the more important is likely down to personal preference, so there's no clear winner. If you are fastidious about your framing, you'll probably favor the Canon 7D II, but otherwise you may prefer the Canon 6D's finder.
Although both the Canon 6D and 7D Mark II share the same LCD monitor size and dot count, the display found on the Canon 7D II is the better of the pair. There are two reasons for this: Firstly, it uses the newer ClearView II gapless design, which reduces internal reflections and glare. Secondly, it has an optional automatic brightness adjustment that should save battery life in low ambient light, yet maximize brightness under harsh sunlight for better visibility, all without you having to lift a finger.
As we mentioned previously, we've not finalized our Canon 7D II review yet, but having shot with production-level firmware it seems that -- not surprisingly -- the Canon 6D still has a clear lead in low light and at high sensitivities, yielding significantly less noise despite the advancements in sensor tech made since its launch two years ago.
If you shoot a lot in low light or at high sensitivities, and want to avoid use of flash, the 6D's full-frame sensor will definitely have a positive impact on your photos. In other respects, both cameras look to yield similarly high image quality, although once we finish our 7D II review we'll likely find slim advantages for one or other model in terms of dynamic range, resolution, white balance and so forth.
Even though our review of the Canon 7D II is still pending, the difference in performance between the two cameras is stark enough that we're comfortable calling this one for the 7D II based solely on the manufacturer-rated figures. Whether or not our in-house testing differs somewhat from those figures is of little import when the Canon 6D is rated as good for a fairly sedate 4.4 frames per second with a 17-frame raw buffer, and yet the 7D II is rated as capable of 10 frames per second for 31 raw frames.
That difference is not really surprising, though, given that the 7D II sports dual DIGIC 6 image processors, where the 6D has a single DIGIC 5+ chip. However, there's another important metric which we don't yet have to hand.
Canon doesn't provide any rating of autofocus performance -- just a shutter lag figure which favors the 7D II (slightly) if starting from a half-press, but the 6D (slightly) if immediately pressing the shutter button in all the way. We'd expect the 7D II to win in AF performance too, thanks to its extra horsepower, but the margin remains to be seen.
Speaking of the cameras' respective autofocus systems, there's a very big difference in their design. The Canon 6D sports just 11 autofocus points, with a single cross-type point at the center of the array. The Canon 7D II simply demolishes this with a 65-point array, and every single point on that array is a cross-type capable of discerning detail on both horizontal and vertical axes.
And that's not all. If you open the aperture beyond f/5.6, the Canon 6D's sole cross-type point falls back to operating only as a vertical line-sensitive point. The 7D II's centermost point, though, is actually a dual cross-type that operates with even greater precision at f/2.8, when you need that precision most.
The Canon 7D II also provides a more sophisticated predictive AI Servo AF III function that will help sports shooters (and those dealing with other fast-moving subjects) to get the shots they're after. The Canon 6D has tracking autofocus too, but it's not going to provide the same performance, in part due to the fact that it's relying on information supplied by a metering sensor that's much lower-resolution than that of the 7D II.
And finally, if you enjoy shooting in live view mode using the rear-panel LCD monitor -- or capturing video, where the LCD is your only framing option -- you'll appreciate the Canon 7D II's Dual Pixel CMOS AF function. This provides 31 phase detection autofocus zones across most of the frame, complete with face detection and tracking. It also allows five-step user control over autofocus speed before and during movie capture, allowing you to determine whether focus changes happen gradually or swiftly. The Canon 6D lacks all of these features.
As noted earlier, the Canon 6D and 7D II both offer similar exposure modes, although the 6D sports Creative Auto and Scene modes on the Mode dial, and the 7D II has more Custom shooting modes. And as we've said, the 7D II also offers double the shutter life, with a rated 200,000 shot lifetime. There are some other important differences in the exposure department, though.
For one thing, the Canon 7D II is capable of shutter speeds to 1/8,000 second, where the 6D is limited to 1/4,000 second or slower. For another, the 7D II will sync with flash strobes to as fast as 1/250 second, where the Canon 6D syncs at 1/180 second or slower. And of course, the Canon 7D II also includes a built-in flash, hot shoe and sync terminal, where the 6D provides only a hot shoe for external strobes.
The 7D II also includes an interval timer function that its full-frame sibling lacks, and it uses a fine-grained 150,000 pixel, 252-zone RGB+IR metering system to determine exposures, where the 6D uses a much coarser 63-zone metering system.
Add in a clever anti-flicker shooting mode on the Canon 7D II that will not just warn you when shooting under flickering light, but also time your exposure to coincide with peak brightness from the lights, and it is clear that this is the more versatile camera of the pair when it comes to exposure.
You're probably starting to get the gist of the fact that the Canon 7D Mark II wins out over the Canon 6D in most features not directly related to sensor size, and the same is true in the video capture department.
We've already mentioned its phase-detection Dual Pixel CMOS AF capability, which makes video autofocus more responsive and intelligent. And we've touched on the 7D II's adjustable autofocus servo speed, as well, which allows you to decide whether you want focus adjustments made more smoothly or quickly depending on the style you're after. There are some other noteworthy differences, too, though.
For one thing, if smooth motion is your aim then the Canon 7D Mark II's 59.94 frames per second capture rate will be a bonus; by contrast the Canon 6D has a maximum rate of 30 frames per second. (With that said, though, if your output will be at a fixed rate of 25 frames per second, the Canon 6D offers this rate as an option, while the 7D II doesn't.)
The Canon 7D Mark II also provides support for shutter / aperture priority-mode exposure control when shooting movies, while the Canon 6D has an all-or-nothing choice of program or manual exposure. The 7D II also provides uncompressed HDMI output for those who want the greatest video quality and control over compression, as well as both .mov and .mp4 output formats in-camera.
The 7D Mark II also offers up not just the external microphone connectivity of the Canon 6D, but an extra headphone jack that will allow you to monitor audio capture while you're shooting or immediately post-capture using quality headphones, where 6D shooters will have to rely on a third-party device for playback, or listen to their videos on the built-in monaural speaker once capture is complete.
Although the Canon 7D II does look to have quite the advantage here in terms of features, the Canon 6D has one more trick up its sleeve. If getting your photos out of the camera and online as quickly as possible is important to you -- and it certainly is to many photographers these days -- then you'll certainly appreciate its built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking capability. With the 7D Mark II, you're limited solely to a wired connection, or simply removing the flash card from the camera and then putting it in another device to offload its contents.
In other respects, though, the Canon 7D II's connectivity matches or bests the 6D. Both cameras have built-in GPS receivers and can geotag their images with the capture location, for example, but only the 7D II has a compass function that will also tag images with the capture direction.
The 7D II also boasts a speedier USB 3.0 data connection, where the 6D relies on the slower (but more common) USB 2.0. And as we've already noted, the Canon 7D II alone has an uncompressed HDMI video output (the 6D's HDMI port can only output compressed video), as well as a headphone jack and flash sync terminal.
And finally, the Canon 7D II sports dual flash card slots -- one CompactFlash, and one Secure Digital -- as compared to the single SD card slot of the 6D.
Interestingly, there's no clear winner in the battery life department. If you shoot with the Canon 6D, you'll get about one-third greater battery life than the 7D -- but only if you use the optical viewfinder. Choose the Canon 7D, and the balance swings in its favor in live view mode, where you'll be able to shoot about one-quarter longer than with the 6D.
The Canon 7D Mark II and 6D are both available body-only, but if you choose, you can opt to purchase them in a kit with lens included too. For the 7D II, that lens is the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM, with 35mm-equivalent focal lengths of 29-216mm. The Canon 6D can be bought as a kit with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom.
They're both great lenses, but the 6D's 24-105mm optic is a 2005 design, and not quite as good in the corners as the 2012-model, APS-C specific 18-135mm. However, the 6D's kit lens will reward you with greater wide-angle opportunities, while the 7D II's kit lens offers much greater telephoto reach and overall zoom range.
At the end of our comparison, it's become pretty clear that the Canon 7D II is the better camera for most experienced photographers, with a huge raft more features, and much more room to grow. That's not to say that the Canon 6D isn't still a great camera, though, and if maximal image quality is your main goal -- especially in low light -- or if you have lots of 35mm full-frame lenses whose wide-angle capabilities you don't want to sacrifice, the Canon 6D could still be the better choice.
Our money, though, would almost certainly go on the Canon 7D II, and chances are that sub-frame or not, yours should too.
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This comparison review, along with the Canon 7D Mark II review and Canon 6D review represent hundreds of hours of testing, discussion, writing and editing. So please, support this content by purchasing the 7D Mark II or 6D (or any other products) through one of the links below.
Maximum effective ISO is an estimate of the highest sensitivity at which a camera can capture excellent quality photos.
Cameras with higher effective ISO will be better choices for indoor photography, night shooting, and indoor sports photography, especially if you intend to make large prints.
You can learn more at our glossary entry.
Maximum effective ISO test data courtesy of DxO Mark.6D test data on DxO Mark 7D Mark II test data on DxO Mark
Cameras with longer battery life can take more photos before exhausting their batteries.
Special note: The measurement standard for battery life stipulates that if a camera has an internal flash, it must be used for 50% of photos taken. For this reason, comparisons of one camera with an internal flash to another without will not be comparable
Excellent image quality on par to more expensive full-frame DSLRs (including the 5D Mark III); Responsive all-around performer; Superior HD video-shooting chops; Built-in Wi-Fi with remote control and sharing features, Built-in GPS and geotagging.
Lacks a built-in, pop-up flash; No external headphone jack; Rather basic 11-point autofocus system; Mediocre burst speed.
Excellent image quality; High ISO performance improved over predecessor; Excellent burst speeds (up to 10fps); Significantly improved buffer depths; 65-pt AF system; Dual Pixel CMOS AF; Can focus down to f/8 (great for teleconverters); 1080/60p video; Headphone and mic jacks; Rugged build quality.
Autofocus speed (AF shutter lag) slower than 7D and 70D; Mediocre battery life for a pro DSLR; Dynamic range at low to moderate ISOs not as good as competitors; Phase-detect AF did not perform as well as expected in our low-light AF tests; No built-in Wi-Fi; No autofocus for 1080/60p video.