Today, in 2012, the Canon 6D was announced. It only had a single SD card slot and Canon Rebel-style focus point layout, (so I didn’t count it as a top choice for my day job as a wedding photographer) …but its sensor was, and still is, a huge milestone in high ISO image quality. So, happy birthday, Canon 6D! (Also known as the 6D mk1 or 6D classic, now)
Canon 6D – Astrophotography Legend
The 6D sensor was shockingly good in its day. It forfeited just two megapixels compared to its bigger brother, the Canon 5D mk3, but it was actually significantly better than its predecessor at high ISO image quality, particularly 3200-6400 where many nightscape photographers will likely spend a lot of time.
Smart photographers who needed incredible image quality more than they needed the flagship AF and dual card slots that the 5D3 offered, opted for the 6D as soon as its image quality was extensively tested and nightscape, landscape, and adventure photographers, in general, realized that not only did it have great image quality at high ISOs, it had better dynamic range at its base ISO than all previous Canons ever, including all flagships.
Though, admittedly, that base ISO dynamic range was still 2-3 stops behind Nikon and Sony, so if you also do a ton of shooting at ISO 100, then I must stop praising the 6D for a second and suggest that you consider the similarly priced (used) Nikon D750, which recently had its 5th birthday, I might add. The D750’s high ISO image quality is not as good as the 6D’s, (though it’s close!) but its dynamic range at ISO 100 is still considered “insane” *1 by today’s standards. (Just like the D600 and D610, BTW.)
*1 “insane” is a scientific measurement that means “way better than most photographers will ever need. In fact, you’re more likely to see a bigger difference in image quality by just making sure you use perfect technique, than switching from this camera to anything better.”
Although the Canon 6D lacks a lot of pro features, it wins big in one way- that “magnify” button can be programmed to offer 1-click 100% zooming, unlike the Nikon D600 and D610. It even plays back the zoomed-in image if the LCD is off!
Indeed, when shopping used, you can easily find a good condition 6D for $700-800, making it one of the best values on the market today for anyone who needs a hard-working full-frame sensor in a very affordable package.
Why buy a Canon 6D instead of a newer camera?
By the way, if you’re curious: why wouldn’t you buy a newer camera instead, let alone a camera for a newer, more future-proof mount? There’s the 6D mk2 and the 5D mk4 for Canon’s EF DSLR mount, both which are old enough to be found for decently good deals on the used market. Plus, there’s the Canon EOS RP which is the newest mirrorless camera body in their RF lineup, yet it debuted at a mere $1300 and can be found for under $1000 used, if you’re patient…
The answer is, yes, all these newer cameras are good, great even. BUT, they’re all not as “clean” at ISO 3200+ as the 6D sensor, as per photonstophotos.net. Shocking, but true.
Oh, and what about the Sony A7-series cameras that are also starting to get old, the 1st-gen and 2nd-gen A7, A7S, and A7R series cameras? You can definitely find them for under $1K, that’s for sure! But, this is because as underwhelming as the 6D’s other specs are, (autofocus, card slots, etc.) …the early Sonys are worse. Also, most of their oldest sensors are far worse at high ISO image quality.
The only old Sony A7-series cameras that have equal or better high ISO performance versus the Canon 6D are the A7R2, A7S, and A7S2. (As well as the A7R3, if you count it among the now-replaced cameras since the mk4 is here, but the R3 is still a $2500 camera, and remember, we’re shopping for a ~$700 full-frame body.)
So, if you’re just breaking into astrophotography now, if you’re on an extreme budget, and especially if you’re at all familiar with Canon cameras already, then the 6D is still your best value, despite being 7 years old. Whether or not it’s actually the right choice for you depends on your total budget for both lenses and bodies, and of course the other features you are likely looking for beyond image quality. Last, but the polar opposite of least, remember: it’s not about the gear, it’s about getting out there and shooting.
Search for a used Canon 6D on B&H (Latest price check: $689.95-$879.95, depending on the condition)