If you're looking for an affordable, full-frame digital SLR, the Nikon D610 and Canon 6D will doubtless both be near the top of your list. The two cameras share a lot in common. Each is the most affordable option from its respective manufacturer that uses a sensor with the same size as a frame of 35mm film (known as 'full-frame'), and each has a list price of around US$2,100 body-only.
But how to decide between the two, if you don't already have a large collection of full-frame lenses for either the Nikon F or Canon EF lens mounts? Having reviewed both cameras, we're here to help: We've carefully compared them side-by-side, and we've cast our verdict. Which is the best affordable full-frame DSLR? Read on, and find out.
Both the Canon 6D and Nikon D610 feature a mixture of magnesium alloy and polycarbonate body panels in their construction, a concession to both weight and cost savings. The Nikon D610 features mag-alloy panels top and rear, while the Canon 6D has mag-alloy panels on its front and rear.
Ergonomics of both cameras are much as we've come to expect from Canon and Nikon -- that is to say, very good. If you're moving up from another DSLR made by either brand, you should feel right at home, and you'll face a relatively short learning curve. Of course, there will be a much bigger difference if you plan to jump ship from one brand to the other. Whichever you choose, we found both cameras to be solidly built, and very comfortable in-hand.
The spec sheet will tell you that the Nikon D610 is a good bit larger than the Canon 6D, but really, the difference is quite modest. The top of the Nikon's grip is just a little deeper, and a popup flash protrudes from above its viewfinder. The Canon is unencumbered by a built-in strobe, and so has a gently-rounded viewfinder hump.
In other respects, though, the pair are of quite similar size. There's more of a difference in terms of weight, with the Canon 6D the lighter of the pair, weighing around 11% less body-only, with battery and memory card.
Both cameras are weather-sealed, but it's hard to draw a direct comparison between the two as to the efficacy of the sealing. According to Nikon, the D610 has similar protection to that of the D800, while Canon says that the 6D is sealed similarly to the 5D Mark III.
On paper at least, there's not much to separate the Nikon D610 and Canon 6D in the sensor department. Both have nearly-identical sensor area, and while Nikon leads by around 10% in terms of linear resolution, that difference is more modest than the pixel counts of 24.3 megapixels for the D610 and 20.2 megapixels for the 6D might otherwise imply.
Still, if you're shooting with sharp, high-quality glass and aiming for larger print sizes, the Nikon D610 has a slight edge in terms of detail, capturing around 2,700 lines per picture height in our detailed lab testing, where the Canon 6D manages around 2,400 lines. (These figures are for JPEG mode at low ISO and low compression; both cameras can manage perhaps another hundred lines of detail, if you're willing to shoot in raw mode.)
On paper, the Canon 6D looks to have a significant edge in terms of sensitivity, with an upper limit of ISO 102,400 equivalent, where the Nikon D610 tops out at ISO 25,600 equivalent. Our in-depth testing found that the Canon's higher sensitivities were of relatively little utility, however, with ISO 51,200 from the Canon 6D only capable of producing a 4 x 6-inch print, and ISO 102,400 equivalent best avoided altogether.
Crank up the sensitivity, and both cameras will of course suffer the effects of noise (and noise reduction) on image detail. Both cameras provide four-step control over noise reduction, but Canon's NR is heavier-handed, doing a better job of reducing chroma noise in particular, but at the expense of fine detail. (Again, though, if you really care about detail, shoot RAW and convert using Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One, Bibble, DxO Optics Pro, etc)
We also looked at dynamic range of both cameras, and here there was a slight advantage for the Canon 6D over its rival. Where the Nikon D610 offered a range of about 11 stops in JPEG mode, the 6D bested it slightly with an 11.5-stop range. Switch to raw shooting, and the two were essentially tied.
Image quality, then, isn't a huge point of differentiation between these cameras. Overall, we'd probably call it for the Nikon simply because it offers slightly more detail, but JPEG shooters might find the Canon's better dynamic range and control of chroma noise at high sensitivities appealing.
There's a very clear difference between these two cameras in their dedicated, phase-detection autofocus sensors, but which will prove the better option likely depends on the type of shooting you'll be doing. Nikon has opted for a much more densely-packed, 39-point autofocus sensor with 9 cross-type points. By contrast, the Canon has just 11 autofocus points in total, of which only one is a cross-type point.
The D610 can also function in 11-point mode, if you find so many active points to be overkill, but the greater number of points will mean less need to reframe to focus, and also translates to better autofocus tracking. That's potentially a big deal if you're a sports shooter, and so is the fact that seven of the D610's autofocus points will work down to f/8 -- meaning you can use a teleconverter and still use autofocus. The greater number of cross-type points also mean you're more likely to get a focus lock on difficult subjects.
Canon, though, has an ace up its own sleeve. The 6D's center focus point is a high-precision type whose vertical line-sensitive element will work with apertures as wide as f/2.8, for more accurate focusing with bright lenses. This point is also able to focus in lower-light conditions down to -3EV, where the D610 is limited to -1EV. But while Canon offers a much more sensitive center focus point for lower-light AF, they've omitted an AF assist light.
Overall, AF is an area where the type of shooting you do will have a strong influence on your choice. The increased accuracy of the 6D's f/2.8 center focus point can make a big difference with wide-aperture lenses, shot wide open, and the 6D's extra 2EV of low light capability is a big deal for low light shooters. If your subjects are beyond 10 feet or so, an on-camera focus-assist light isn't likely to help much. On the other side, though, The D610's f/8 capability would easily win the day if you shoot with teleconverters much.
Simplifying things greatly, Nikon's autofocus system will serve you better for sports and general usage, whereas Canon's AF system is a low-light, wide-aperture specialist.
The Nikon D610 has a much finer-grained, 2,016-pixel RGB metering sensor than the 6D's 63-zone dual-layer 'iFCL' sensor. That brings a couple of benefits. Although both sensors are color-sensitive, which allows them to provide some subject information that can be used to help with tracking and face detection, the higher resolution of that in the D610 means it should be more capable for both tasks. And of course, it should be able to take account of smaller details when metering. It's a triple-whammy, too: Nikon's metering sensor has a slightly wider metering range than Canon's, with a working range starting from 0EV instead of 1EV.
But there are other areas in which the Canon 6D wins which will be of great interest to HDR and effect photography fans. Although both cameras have similar exposure lock and compensation features, the 6D has a much wider bracketing range. Nikon's D610 allows only two or three-frame bracketed exposures, where Canon allows two, three, five, or even seven-shot bracketing. The 6D also boasts better in-camera HDR merging, combining three exposures instead of the two-shot HDR supply by Nikon. And it has a more powerful multiple exposure function, too, allowing a nine-shot merge that's three times as generous as the Nikon's three-shot multiple exposure function.
Although the D610 and 6D have identical shutter speed ranges -- 1/4,000 to 30 seconds plus bulb -- there's a very important difference between their shutter mechanisms.
When you're putting down around US$2,100 body-only for a camera, you want it to last for a while. Based on the manufacturer shutter cycle ratings, the Nikon D610 should last about 50% longer than your 6D would. Canon rates its affordable, full-frame camera at a 100,000 cycle shutter life, where the Nikon D610 is rated as capable of 150,000 shots. (Of course, even 100,000 cycles is a lot of shutter life. If you shot an average of 100 shots per day, every single day of the year, that would be roughly 3 years of life. The longer-lasting shutter in the Nikon could be important for pro shooters, but most of us amateurs would ever notice the difference.)
And as an added bonus, though, the Nikon D610 will sync with flash strobes at 1/200th second (or even 1/250th second, with reduced flash output), where Canon's 6D has a 1/180th second X-sync speed.
Even if the difference isn't night and day, the Nikon D610 is a faster camera in almost all respects than the 6D. (And it's certainly enough of a difference to be worthwhile and noticeable).
Burst-shooting speed is probably the most significant area of differentiation between the performance of the two cameras, with the D610 capable of 5.9 frames per second, versus the 6D's 4.4 fps. That's fully one-third faster than its nearest competitor; for every ten one-second bursts, you'll get an extra 15 images out of the Nikon. And that despite Nikon boasting higher resolution and better burst depths (meaning it can take more photos before stopping to clear its buffer). Neither is blazingly fast, but the D610 certainly wins in this respect.
And it's not just burst performance, either. The Nikon D610 is more responsive in general. Only in a few areas did the 6D win in our performance testing, and these were all due to its having less data to process. For example, the 6D determines a focus lock more quickly in Auto Area AF mode, but there are 72% fewer AF points to consider. Its buffer-clearing times are also faster than the Nikon, but that's probably because it has a lower buffer depth and resolution. In other respects, Nikon wins hands-down with better performance. Score one for the D610 on the performance front, although it's not likely to be a make-or-break difference for most folks.
Both cameras also offer special quiet shooting modes, either for single-shot or continuous-burst capture. When using these modes, the performance disparity is erased, with both D610 and 6D capable of a sedate three frames per second. Of the pair, though, the Canon is the quieter camera, so if not disturbing wildlife or other subjects is your goal, the EOS 6D is the better option here.
The TTL pentaprism viewfinders of the Canon 6D and Nikon D610 are among their defining features, differentiating them from more affordable full-frame mirrorless cameras offered by Sony. Compare the two side by side, though, and they're extremely similar. The Nikon D610's finder has just slightly better accuracy, but you'd have to be really paying attention to notice, and the difference in magnification is equally subtle. Call it a wash in the viewfinder department.
In the LCD monitor department, though, we have to give the prize to Nikon. Although Canon's 3.0-inch display has slightly higher 1,040k-dot resolution, the Nikon D610 has a larger 3.2-inch panel with nearly as much resolution (921k-dots). It's also a gapless design (meaning there's no gap between the LCD and the protective surface that sits above it), unlike that of the 6D. This reduces glare, improves contrast, and makes the screen easier to see in daylight. And the coup de grace: An ambient light sensor that allows the Nikon D610's LCD brightness to adjust automatically, where the Canon 6D offers only a manual brightness adjustment.
Nikon also boasts a dual-axis level gauge function that will help you not only frame images with a level horizon, but also avoid converging verticals (if your camera is angled up or down relative to the horizon, vertical lines that would normally look parallel will appear to converge). By contrast, the Canon 6D has only a single-axis level gauge for side-to-side roll.
Want to throw some more light on your subject? Both the Canon 6D and Nikon D610 offer access to the companies' respective, comprehensive wireless flash systems, and it's hard to call one system better than the other, per se.
Only the D610, though, will give you an in-camera flash. Some enthusiasts will turn their nose up at its presence, and we'd admit that in a pro camera, a popup flash isn't necessary. But these aren't pro cameras, and the availability of a built-in flash means that if you leave your dedicated strobe at home, you'll still have a way to even the odds in poor ambient light. It also doubles as a wireless controller for external strobes.
Both the Canon 6D and Nikon D610 can shoot Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) video at a rate of up to 60 frames per second. When it comes to video quality and compression levels, though, there are important differences, and you'll be moved in one way or the other depending on whether you want to record to the in-camera memory card or via an external recorder.
For those who'll be primarily recording to memory cards, the 6D offers the option of ALL-I intraframe-compressed video vs the default IPB interframe recording. The former saves each frame individually -- making it easier to decode and edit -- while the latter looks across frames to compress the video more efficiently. The D610 provides only IPB, while the 6D gives you the option of ALL-I or IPB. On the other hand, if your workflow is primarily built around using an external recorder, the D610 supports uncompressed HDMI video output, so you can record without any compression artifacts. So there's no clear winner in video recording, it depends entirely on what your workflow will be.
Nikon wins on the connectivity front, though. Both cameras sport stereo microphone jacks, but the D610 supplements this with a headphone jack for audio levels monitoring. And where Canon relies on an external Wi-Fi capable device to shoot time-lapses (whether still or movie), the Nikon D610 can do both in-camera.
Canon and Nikon both give you access to Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity (complete with remote control capability), as well as a GPS radio for geolocation, but they do it in rather different ways. Where Nikon places both functions in external accessories that add cost and bulk, and negate your weather-sealing while the devices are in use, Canon puts them inside the camera body for a much more seamless experience.
Needless to say, that's a big win for the Canon 6D over its rival if you plan on sharing images without a cable or card reader, or you want to keep track of where your images were shot, saving time in manually tagging them. Connectivity for the two cameras is otherwise similar, although as mentioned above, Nikon does give you a headphone jack for audio levels monitoring.
In turn, though, Nikon gives you two flash card slots, where Canon gives you only one. Not only does this save a little downtime spent swapping cards when they're full, but it also improves organization, letting you write different media types to each slot -- raw to one, JPEG to the other. And perhaps coolest of all, it gives you the ability to automatically make an in-camera backup of images as you're capturing them, potentially saving you a lot of upset if a card dies or is accidentally erased.
On paper, Canon wins the battery life battle by 21%, but we think there's more to the story, in that there are likely several reasons for this. Because it shoots a little slower and at lower resolution, there's less data for the Canon 6D to process and write. Perhaps more importantly, though, there's also no built-in flash strobe.
If you have a flash, CIPA battery life test rules mean that you must fire it for 50% of shots -- not the most realistic usage for this kind of camera. So where the Nikon D610 must fire its flash every other picture, the Canon 6D doesn't have to use any power for flash. Use both cameras similarly, and the Nikon would likely do much better. We're going to call this at the very least a tie, and quite possibly a win for Nikon.
As we noted at the start of this comparison, both cameras can be bought body-only. However, it's worth considering their stabilized kit lenses as well, and here there's quite a difference.
Nikon's lens is a full inch shorter and seven ounces lighter, but it also provides much less reach, with a 24-85mm focal range. Canon, though, offers a further-reaching 24-105mm zoom. And while Nikon's variable-aperture f/3.5-4.5 optic is brighter at wide-angle, Canon's constant-aperture f/4 zoom is brighter at telephoto, where it's arguably more useful.
And not only does Canon's lens provide more reach, it also has sharper corners and less vignetting, as befits its Canon 'L' designation. Although it has more distortion than Nikon's lens at wide-angle, it has less at tele, and we think it's just the better of the two lenses.
Surprisingly, it's also the cheaper kit addition, adding just US$400 to the cost of the camera body alone for a final list price of US$2,500. By contrast, Nikon's list pricing at press time puts the D610 kit with 24-85mm lens at US$2,600, a hundred bucks more than Canon's kit. If you factor the quality of the kit lens into the equation, it's a big win for the 6D.
At the end of the day, both of these DSLRs are spectacular full-frame cameras for the price. If you want a through-the-lens optical viewfinder and can't stretch to more expensive models in either company's line, the Canon 6D and Nikon D610 will both serve you well.
There are a number of important points in favor of the Canon EOS 6D, when compared to its nearest rival -- especially its quieter shutter mechanism, greater JPEG dynamic range, ALL-I video recording in-camera, better kit lens, and in-camera Wi-Fi and GPS. It's also a good choice for anyone whose primary focus is on low-light, handheld exposures or shooting at extremely large apertures for razor-thin depth of field, where its central autofocus point will come into play. If you're a regular HDR shooter, you'll probably gravitate to it for its wider bracketing range, as well. And oh, what a kit lens!
On the other hand, Nikon's autofocus and metering systems are more impressive, and while it lacks in-camera Wi-Fi or GPS, it provides something you're likely to use more often: an in-camera flash strobe. Throw in the fact that its shutter life is rated a full 50% higher than the Canon -- meaning this camera should serve you reliably for longer -- plus a headphone jack for monitoring audio while recoding movies and dual card slots, slightly better image quality, and significantly better burst shooting speeds, and we think the Nikon D610 is probably the best bet for anyone who doesn't already have an extensive selection of Canon EF-mount lenses (or a friend with same).
While Canon has the 5D Mark III, that's really unmatched in its category, the Nikon D610 strikes us as more camera for the money in this particular matchup.
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.
Eliminated sensor dust-and-oil spot issue from D600; Great controls for amateur or pro; Comfortable ergonomics and weight; Excellent image quality and low-light performance; Very good dynamic range; Excellent battery life; Built-in lens correction.
Not drastically different from D600; Moire with certain subjects; Auto WB still too warm in incandescent light; Slow AF in live view mode; Aliasing in videos.