Gear

Canon 6D vs. 5D Mark III vs. 7D – Which One Should You Buy?

Canon, like Nikon have had a busy year with regards to their full frame camera releases. They unveiled quite possibly the most anticipated release of 2012 in the 5D Mark 3 and, just in time for Christmas their answer to the D600 in the 6D. How do these models stack up though, for those looking to upgrade this holiday season? The question is obviously where your money should go, so let’s compare three of Canons most wanted cameras; the 7D, 6D and 5D Mark III.

Sensor Details

The 7D is the oldest here and the only one of the three with a crop sensor. There is the obvious extra reach advantage to this sensor, especially for sports and wildlife shooters but obviously this comes with the price of noise at higher ISO.

Both the 6D and 5D Mark III benefit from newer full frame CMOS chip, although it has to be noted that the 6D is not quite a full frame sensor (35.8×23.9mm vs. 36x24mm on the 5D3) being almost identical to that found on the original 5D.

The 6D autofocus works well in incredibly low light conditions

The only way that the sensor will influence your decision to purchase is whether you want the extra reach offered by the 7D or the lower noise at higher ISO and shallow depth of field offered by both of the full frame options. The pixel count difference is negligible with all 3 cameras offering plenty of megapixels, although it has to be said they are still quite a way behind the megapixel monster that is the Nikon D800.

Canon 7D Canon 6D Canon 5D Mark III
Effective Pixels 18 mp 20.2 mp 22.3 mp
Image Ratio 3:2 3:2 3:2
Sensor Type 1.6 Crop Sensor Full Frame Full Frame

Image Details

It will come as no surprise that the 7D is the worst performer here at high ISO. Noise is one of the major drawbacks of APS-C. That said though it does hold up well with other cameras in its class such as the D300. It is very usable up to ISO 800 and will hold up above that, especially with a little extra post processing of the image.

Both the 5D Mark III and the 6D deliver amazing high quality images at higher ISO. They deliver a huge jump in noise for those coming from a crop sensor.

High ISO from the 6D is very good. It is almost identical to that of its biggest competitor, the D600. There is very little either way, although I am sure it will be hotly debated among rival owners over the coming months.

The 5D Mark III delivers exceptional high ISO images. Almost a stop better than the 5D Mark II. ISO 6400 is usable and above that is equal to the best in class. This means for those who shoot in low light situations it will deliver consistently outstanding results.

Canon 7D Canon 6D Canon 5D Mark III
ISO Range 100-6400(expandable to 12800) 100-25600 (expandable to 50-102400) 100-25600 (expandable to 50-102400)
Uncompressed Format RAW (14 Bit) RAW (14 Bit) RAW (14 Bit)
JPEG Settings FineNormal FineNormal FineNormal
Image stabilisation X X X

Autofocus System

The 7D system is a very good system. The 19 cross type focus points track well and it works well in lower light conditions. There are several options within the system that, along with the maximum 8fps make the 7D a perfect choice for sport shooters on a budget, or those who are simply looking for a reliable backup to their 1D range camera.

The 6D autofocus works well in incredibly low light conditions and therefore instantly makes it a step up for owners of the 5D Mark II or 5DC. The 11 point system with only one cross type will pretty much rule this camera out for those who are wanting to shoot much in the way of action. This is not where this camera excels. The 11 point system will work perfectly well for those who shoot portraits or studio work and the ability to focus well in low light conditions make it a solid choice for wedding shooters. It still is slightly disappointing when compared to the D600, but it is a solid performer as long as you understand it does have some limitations.

Finally the 5D Mark III autofocus system is outstanding. The autofocus system on the 5D Mark II was terrible to put it mildly. Luckily, the 5D Mark III addresses all the issues from the Mark 2 and adds much, much more.

The camera has a new autofocus system that bares more than a passing similarity to the one found in the flagship 1DX. It has 41 cross type focus points available when using lenses that are f4 or faster and if you have f2.8 glass then you also benefit from 5 double cross type sensors. It also features highly customisable, but surprisingly simple configuration, based around presets. In fact the only small thing to criticise is that the cross type points can only be used with lenses f5.6 or brighter. Otherwise Canon, dare I say it, have a Nikon beating AF system.

It also functions incredibly well in low light conditions that the 5D Mark II would have not been able to cope with. This will come as a huge sigh of relief to those who have fought with the 5D Mark II autofocus system (me included).

Canon 7D Canon 6D Canon 5D Mark III
No. of focus points 19 (19 cross-type) 11 (1 cross-type) 61 (41 cross-type)
Autofocus modes Contrast Detect (sensor)Phase DetectMulti-areaSelective single-pointSingleContinuousLive View Contrast Detect (sensor)Phase DetectMulti-areaSelective single-pointSingleContinuousLive View Contrast Detect (sensor)Phase DetectMulti-areaSelective single-pointSingleContinuousLive View
Digital Zoom X X X
Len Mount Canon EF/EFS Canon EF Canon EF

Viewfinder/Screen

The only thing of note is the fact that the 6D only has 97% viewfinder coverage. Some may make this an issue, but the 5D Mark II only had 98%. In real life it will be highly unlikely you will notice it and the chances of it affecting your shooting is virtually nil. Apart from that very small point, everything else is business as usual.

Canon 7D Canon 6D Canon 5D Mark III
Viewfinder type Optical Optical Optical
Rear screen 3” LCD 3” LCD 3” LCD
Live View mode
Viewfinder coverage 100% 97% 100%

Photo Features

The 7D is the only model here with a built in flash as Canon tend to not have a built in flash in their full frame models. The thing is, although a built in flash will rarely lead to an amazing image, sometimes can get you out of a pinch.

Talking of flash, the sync speed on both the 5D3 and 6D are not good, especially the 1/160th on the 6D. This is a nightmare to strobist style shooters and enough to put many off. Why not move to the 1/250th offered by the 7D or at least keep up with those offered by the current equivalent Nikons?

Max fps are good for both the 5D3 and 7D which will keep sports shooters happy. The 6D has a max speed of 4.5fps max, which is slightly faster than the 5D Mark II but still limiting for its use for things such as wildlife, still fast enough for almost all other situations though.

The 5D Mark III and the 6D also feature Canon’s silent shutter mode which offers quite, discreet shooting. Something that is very nice to have in certain situations.

Canon 7D Canon 6D Canon 5D Mark III
Min shutter speed 30 sec 30 sec 30 sec
Max shutter speed 1/8000th sec 1/4000th sec 1/8000th sec
Exposure modes AutoCreative AutoProgram AEShutter priority AEAperture priority AEManual (Stills and Movie)Custom (x3) AutoCreative AutoProgram AEShutter priority AEAperture priority AEManual (Stills and Movie)Custom (x2) Auto+Program AEShutter priority AEAperture priority AEManual (Stills and Movie)Custom (x3)
Built in flash X X
Flash modes AutoOnOffRed EyeSlow SyncHigh Speed SyncRear Curtain AutoOnOffRed EyeSlow SyncHigh Speed SyncRear Curtain AutoOnOffRed EyeSlow SyncHigh Speed SyncRear Curtain
Maximum flash sync speed 1/250th sec 1/180th sec 1/200th sec
Drive modes SingleContinuous LContinuous HSelf-timer SingleContinuous LContinuous HSelf-timerSilent single shootingSilent continuous shooting SingleContinuous LContinuous HSelf-timerSilent single shootingSilent continuous shooting
Max continuous drive mode 8 fps 4.5 fps 6 fps
Metering modes MultiCenter-weightedSpotPartial MultiCenter-weightedSpot MultiCenter-weightedSpot

Video Features

Canon has a reputation for video. The 5D Mark II was the camera that launched a thousand film makers and they have heavily invested in the C300 for film makers. The 5D Mark III continues in the tradition of outstanding video quality from a DSLR. The main gripe about the new 5D Mark III is that there is no clean HDMI output, which is an annoyance. There are relatively few changes to video, obviously the cleaner image at high ISO is welcomed and the inclusion of a headphone jack is nice. Basically though, it is made up of small improvements over the video on the 5D Mark II, which is obviously not a bad thing.

The 6D has identical video modes as the 5D Mark III and will be bought in large numbers by those who are purely using their DSLR for video.There is a disappointment that it does not have the headphone jack or audio input found on the 5D Mark III. In some tests on pre production models there was also talk of moire but, footage from the 6D seems to be of a high quality.

The 6D is aimed at those who want to make the jump to full frame.

The main advantage both of these cameras hold over the 7D for video is the better performance in low light. It also lacks the headphone jack, but this can be done with a well known work around. The 7D still holds up well for video and although there is a slightly different look to video shot on the 7D, many used it in conjunction with a 5D Mark II on productions and the difference on final footage was unnoticeable to all but the most trained of eyes.

Canon 7D Canon 6D Canon 5D Mark III
Format H.264 H.264 H.264
Microphone Mono Mono Mono
Resolution 1920 x 1080 (30, 25, 24 fps)1280 x 720 (60, 50 fps)640 x 480 (25, 30 fps) 1920 x 1080 (30, 25, 24 fps)1280 x 720 (60, 50 fps)640 x 480 (25, 30 fps) 1920 x 1080 (30, 25, 24 fps)1280 x 720 (60, 50 fps)640 x 480 (25, 30 fps)

Everything Else

The lack of USB 3.0 in the newer models shown here is something of an oversight by Canon. Everything else is pretty much standard apart from on the 6D.

The 6D has the inclusion of WiFi and GPS built into the body. This is a first for Canon and a feature that will interest many, especially as with the addition of your smartphone you can have full remote control over the camera including live view.

The 6D is also currently the lightest full frame camera on the market. Many will not be fussed by this, but it is good news for some. A camera and lens combo can be heavy, especially when being used all day. For those looking for a more light weight camera setup the 6D coupled with the new 24-70 F4 saves a lot of weight compared to the 5D Mark III and a 24-70 f2.8 (Around 500g).

Canon 7D Canon 6D Canon 5D Mark III
Storage type Compact flash SDSDHCSDXC Compact flashSDSDHCSDXC
Connectivty USB 2.0Mini HDMI USB 2.0Mini HDMI USB 2.0Mini HDMI
Weather sealed
Built-in GPS X X
Weight 820g 770g 950g

So you have looked through the spec sheets, but where do you spend your hard earned cash?

The 7D is a great camera. For wildlife or sports photographers on a budget it offers a great image quality and a very good autofocus system. It is a good upgrade from models lower down the Canon range. You will also benefit from the extra reach that the 1.6 crop offers as well as the benefit that it will take any EF-S lenses you may already have in your collection. The only downside to the 7D in this test is it cannot compete in terms of high ISO with the other two cameras on this comparison.

The 6D is aimed at those who want to make the jump to full frame. It does this incredibly well. The image quality is very good and it competes in most respects with the Nikon D600 although the D600 does benefit from a slightly better autofocus system and a higher fps burst rate.

It would be simple to say that it is the 5D Mark II replacement. Well it is aiming for the market that was dominated by that camera and it does it well, even beating out the 5D Mark II in some respects. The addition of built in GPS and Wi-Fi is a first for Canon and the remote control via Smartphone feature is certainly a very nice touch. Also if weight is an issue then it is the lightest full frame DSLR currently available.

“The 6D has a max speed of 4.5fps max, which is limiting for things such as wildlife.”

The 5D Mark III is a great camera. It outperforms the 5D Mark II in every area but unfortunately this also includes price. It is very much a worthwhile upgrade from the Mark 2 simply on the new autofocus system alone. Add to this higher fps and a stop advantage in high ISO images and it is a simple decision. To put it simply the 5D Mark III is a stunning camera and one that many (including this reviewer) will want to own. If you are a Canon shooter and can afford it this is the camera you should buy.

There is an elephant in the room here though and that comes in the form of the Nikon D800. It too is a stunning camera and slightly cheaper than the Canon offering. It measures up in every regard and actually wins out in some, most noticeably pixel count. Now obviously most people who will buy the 5D Mark III will already be heavily invested in the Canon system. But, what about those who are upgrading from an APS-C Canon and only have EFS lenses? That decision is a much more difficult one.