Canon 6D vs 5D Mark II: Battle of the Full Frame DSLR

Canon 6D vs 5D Mark II: Battle of the Full Frame DSLR

If you’ve been doing photography for a while there’s a good chance you’ve been tempted to upgrade to a full frame camera. Full frame cameras (those with a sensor that is equivalent to 35mm film in size) are the gold standard for professional photographers and serious hobbyists due to their larger sensors, improved low light performance, and the clearer images they capture. If you’ve considered upgrading to a full frame camera you’re in luck because there are many good options on the market.

The 5D Mark II is best for photographers who want to upgrade to a full frame DSLR and aren’t afraid of buying a used body.

Canon introduced the 5D Mark II in September 2008 as a follow up to the original Canon 5D. The 5D was designed and marketed as a full frame DSLR that was smaller and more affordable than the other high-end cameras (like Canon’s 1D series) on the market. The 5D Mark II upped the ante from its predecessor with higher resolution, better image quality, and improved low light performance. The 5D Mark II, which was discontinued in 2012, has been replaced by the 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV but it remains a formidable option for well-priced full frame DSLRs.

The 6D is best for people who want a professional level DSLR with modern features at a reasonable price.

The 6D is Canon’s entry into the mid-range DSLR market and a direct competitor of the 5D Mark II. Canon poised the 6D, which was introduced in September 2012, as a relatively affordable option for enthusiast photographers and professionals who don’t want to spend a ton of money on a full frame body. The 6D is Canon’s first full frame camera to feature things like built in GPS and WiFi. While it lacks some of the professional level features that are found in Canon’s professional level cameras, it is good enough for most photographers – including those who take photos for a living.

Choosing between the Canon 6D and 5D Mark II may seem like a daunting task but we’re here to break it down for you and hopefully make your decision a little easier.

Camera Canon 6D Canon 5D Mark II
Date Announced September 2012 September 2008
Price $1,270 (body only) $900 (body only)
Format Full Frame Full Frame
Resolution 20.2 MP 21 MP
Max Resolution 5472 x 3648 5616 x 3744
Shutter Speeds 1/4000 to 30 seconds 1/8000 to 30 seconds
Storage 1 SD card 1 CF card
LCD size 3″ rear screen 3″ rear screen
LCD resolution 1,040K dot 920K dot
ISO Range 100-12800 100-6400
Extended ISO Range 100-25600 50-25600
Battery 1x LP-E6 Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery Pack 1x LP-E6 Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery Pack
Shots Per Charge 1,090 850
Burst Rate 4.5 FPS 3.9 FPS
Flash Sync Speed 1/180 second 1/200 second
Flash Exposure -3EV to +3EV -2EV to +2EV
Autofocus Points 11, 1 cross-type 9
AF Modes Single-servo AF (S)

Continuous-servo AF (C)

Manual Focus (M)

Single-servo AF (S)

Continuous-servo AF (C)

Manual Focus (M)

Multiple Exposures Yes No
HDR Yes No
GPS Yes No
WiFi for both image transfer and remote control Yes No
Body Frame Magnesium Alloy Magnesium Alloy
Size 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8″ 6.0 x 4.5 x 3.0″
Weight 1.7 lbs. 1.8 lbs
Video Resolution 1080p at 30 FPS 1080p at 30 FPS
7 Day Rental $78 $124

Resolution: 6D Wins With a Better Sensor

While the 5D Mark II has a slightly higher number of megapixels (20.2 MP on the 6D vs 21 on the 5D Mark II), the 6D has a better sensor overall. The 6D’s sensor has been shown to produce sharper images with more dynamic range and less noise than its competitor. The 5D Mark II’s increased number of megapixels are outweighed by the 6D’s higher quality sensor.

Storage: 6D Wins With the Convenience of SD Cards for Storage

The Canon 5D Mark II writes files to Compact Flash (CF) cards while the 6D uses Secure Digital (SD) cards. While CF cards are sometimes known to be a bit faster than their SD counterparts, they’re also nowhere nearly as convenient.

SD cards are the ones most commonly used for storage of electronic data. This means they’re easy to find, easy to use, and most of all, easy to transfer files from. There is a good chance that your laptop or desktop computer already has a slot for SD cards, which makes transferring photos to your computer incredibly easy. Transferring data from CF cards requires a separate card reader.

Low Light: 6D Wins With ISOs up to 12800

One of the key differences between these two cameras is how they operate in low light situations. The 6D has a native ISO up to 12,800 while the native ISO on the 5D Mark II tops out at 6,400. Both of these cameras have the ability to shoot at expanded ISOs up to 25,600 but that doesn’t mean you should, especially with the 5D Mark II. Being able to use higher ISOs means being able to shoot in darker situations while still retaining detail and minimizing noise.

Field tests have shown that this isn’t just about numbers – the 6D really does perform better at high ISOs in the real world. While both cameras display some noise at ISOs of 12,800 and higher, the 6D is far less noisy than the 5D Mark II.

Autofocus: 6D Wins With 11 AF Points and Better Low Light AF Capabilities

One of the biggest complaints about the 5D Mark II was that its autofocus was inaccurate, slow, and not very good in dim light. If you’re getting your first higher end camera the AF on the 5D Mark II probably won’t seem that bad but if AF performance is one of the things that is most important to you, consider the 6D.

The 6D has two additional autofocus points over the 5D Mark II but that’s not the only reason it wins this category – its AF system just works better. Both of these cameras have cross-type center AF points but the one on the 6D is more sensitive which allows for fewer missed shots.

Creative Modes: 6D Wins With Built-In HDR and Multiple Exposures

High Dynamic Range (“HDR”) is a technique that allows you to compensate for a wide range of lighting across a frame. For example, you may photograph a room with a bright window on one wall. If you expose properly for the room, the window will be blown out. The way to get around this is by taking multiple shots at different exposures and blending them together in post-processing. The 6D makes this vastly easier by doing it right in camera.

Multiple exposures are a popular technique used in film photography to overlay more than one image on the same frame. Of these two cameras, the 6D is the only one that can do multiple exposures digitally. While this isn’t a huge deal for most photographers, those who like to get a little more creative with their gear, or who miss the days of film, will enjoy this feature.

Conclusion

The Canon 5D Mark II and 6D are both good options for photographers who are looking to upgrade to their first full frame DSLR. While the 5D Mark II was widely and fairly praised when it was first released, the 6D is an even better option for most people. The 6D’s improved autofocus, better low light capabilities, and enhanced creative modes make it a more powerful camera than the 5D Mark II. The 5D Mark II was revolutionary when it was released but the 6D has more modern features that photographers love.

The photographers for whom the 5D Mark II might be a better option are those who want a full frame camera but are on a tight budget and not afraid to buy used. Because the 5D Mark II was discontinued in 2012 you can only rent it or buy it used. A diligent shopper who is not afraid of a camera that has already been broken in may be able to find a really good deal on a gently used 5D Mark II. The 5D Mark II may be behind the 6D in most of these categories we discussed but it is still a very good camera – especially if you can find a used one at a good price.

Canon 6D and 5D Mark II vs Canon 5D Mark III


Both of these cameras compete with the Canon 5D Mark III, Canon’s wildly popular professional level followup to the 5D Mark II. The 5D Mark III’s 61-point autofocus system, dual card slots, and 22 MP resolution make it a great option for photographers who need these advanced features. But the 5D Mark III doesn’t come out on top in all categories, especially when compared with the newer 6D. The 5D Mark III lacks some of the more modern features of the 6D like GPS and WiFi. It’s also considerably more expensive.

Canon 6D and 5D Mark II vs Nikon D610


On the Nikon side, these cameras compete with the full frame Nikon D610 which has more megapixels, more cross-type autofocus points (9 on the D610 vs 1 on the 6D) and more dynamic range than either the 6D or 5D Mark II. The D610 also features dual card slots which is something that neither the 6D nor 5D Mark II offer. It’s not all good news, however. The D610 lacks some of the modern features, like built-in GPS and WiFi, that the 6D offers. The truth is that these are all great cameras and at the end of the day whether you go with the D610 or one of its Canon competitors may come down to brand loyalty and the type of equipment you already own.

The Canon 6D and 5D Mark II are both excellent cameras that are worthy of a spot in most any photographer’s bag. Before making a big purchase, you may also want to do a little more evaluation. If so, take a look at our other Canon comparison guides for the Canon 6D vs 5D Mark III, the Canon 7D vs 70D, the Canon T5 vs T5I, or the Canon 6D vs 7D. If you’re having a hard time deciding whether you should splurge on a brand new 6D or find a gently used 5D Mark II,  try taking these cameras for a spin first. Once you’ve found the right camera for you, make sure that all of your gear is good to go and take a peek at our guide for the best wide angle lens for Canon. It never hurts to be well informed and moreover, getting one in your hands may make your decision a lot easier.

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Vivian Liu specializes in family and pet photography. She also spent 2 years as a photographer for Rebuilding Together Peninsula, which rehabilitates homes and community facilities for low-income homeowners and neighborhoods. Her passion is making photography accessible to everyone with straightforward recommendations and approachable tutorials.

1 Comment

  1. From your review, it kind of seems like a no-brainer to go with the 6D if you’re willing to spend the extra money.

    Reply

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