DSLR Dilemma: Canon EOS 60D or new full-frame EOS 6D?

Just how I contemplated upgrading to a 5D Mark II (and then the Mark III) I realize that the benefits over something like the EOS 60D probably don't warrant the incremental outlay.

Canon EOS 6D full-frame DSLR: For videographers, is it worth the upgrade over the EOS 60D?
Canon EOS 6D full-frame DSLR: For videographers, is it worth the upgrade over the EOS 60D?

Canon today took the wraps off the EOS 6D, a new full-frame DSLR, at the Photokina trade show in Germany. The 6D brings all sorts of firepower to the battle against Nikon for DSLR supremacy — only us consumers win that one, with amazing cameras available at ever lower prices.

Features include: a 20.2 MP sensor, DIGIC 5+ processor, (4.5 fps), native ISO 100 to 25,600, and for the first time ever in a Canon EOS camera, 11-point AF system with a single cross-type focus sensor (many are extremely disappointed by the absence of a better AF system; see Nikon D600), wi-fi and GPS (neither of which matter to me).

The biggest news related to the 6D announcement is the price. For only $2,099 (body) you get a full-frame, professional grade camera, whose high-end capability even just years ago was only available in the likes of the 5D Mark II. Now you can get similar performance for almost half the price. Canon says it will ship in December.

Across the forums many are trying to figure out where the new 6D slots in to Canon’s line-up. From what I can tell it appears most likely to be a new “budget” full-frame model, that slots neatly between the higher end 5D Mark III, and APS-C based EOS 60D.

As is always the case, dpreview has a great hands-on 6D preview, including comparisons with the Canon 5D Mark III, and Nikon D600.

Go full-frame?

On the set at Opera San Jose: Low-light performance is critical when lighting isn’t always in my control.

I’ve been shooting video on a Canon 60D (and before that a T2i) for several years now, and find its performance outstanding (you can see examples at the bottom of this post). I suspect many in the market for a performance/semi-pro DSLR will cross-shop the 60D, 6D and 5D Mark III. Even though each is clearly targeted at a specific market, there’s many scenarios where buying the lower cost 60D ($999) and applying the remaining budget, that would have otherwise gone to a full-frame camera such as the 5D, to better glass, upgraded audio gear, accessories and the like. Many, myself included, are probably salivating at the prospect of potentially upgrading their 60D to a brand-spanking new full-frame 6D when it arrives in a few months.

Upon further inspection, however, I still think the 60D is the better all-rounder for video if price is a consideration. If you’re a stills-only pro, the 6D is a tantalizing prospect as you can get near-5D performance, at a fraction of the cost. But for video, I’m not so sure the argument is as clear cut.

But just how I contemplated upgrading to a 5D Mark II (and then the Mark III) I realize that the benefits over something like the EOS 60D probably don’t warrant the incremental outlay.

6D lacks articulating LCD

There’s at least one glaring omission in the 6D that we videographers rely on, and that’s an articulating viewfinder. True, indie filmmakers will rightfully rig up external monitors, rendering that shortcoming a non-factor. But for many of us run-n-gun style, street types — who aren’t setting shots up — it’s at least one area where the 60D is possibly a better choice.

But it wins in low-light

Low-light performance appears (at least spec-wise) to be an area where the 6D will offer significant improvement over its junior sibling.

With a native maximum of 25,600 on the 6D some have suggested you can shoot nearly in the dark. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but the sentiment is likely accurate. Meanwhile, the 60D can go up to 6,400 – though you’re best trying not to shoot video higher than 800 lest you enjoy noise, and lots of post-production clean-up work. I do a lot of work in dark theaters, and often have little to no control over lighting. Even more challenging is that I need to be in and out in 20-30 minutes. There are exceptions. When I shot this behind-the-scenes segment at Cavalia in San Jose, the crew was generous enough to shut down rehearsals, give me full-on lighting, actors, and even snow (!). Other times, like when I filmed at Opera San Jose in the magnificent California Theatre, the set was darker (but gorgeous) and I had about 25 minutes to get in and be done with the segment (again, perfectly understandable). Because time is of the essence I don’t have the luxury of switching lenses; so I rely on a Canon 18-200mm telephoto because of its flexibility. But a stellar low-light performer it is not – in a few situations I’ve had time to swap in for Canon’s nifty-fifty (50mm f/1.8), truly stellar glass. In most cases though I’m at the mercy of the ambient light, hence the attraction of the 6D and its incredible ISO flexibility.

One other advantage to the 6D that will appeal to those shooting video is its ability to shoot up to 30 minute video clips. That’s huge in my books. With the 60D I’m constantly running into the 12 minute (or so) time limit. That means a 40-60 minute interview for Stark Insider TV turns into 4-5 clips, all that need to be synced in post, slowing workflow. The 6D would eliminate most – and in some shorter shoots all – of that inconvenience.

Cropped EOS 60D or full-frame EOS 6D?

At the end of the day, if our production budget would allow I’d absolutely go for the EOS 6D. The lack of articulating LCD is a minor inconvenience, but there are plenty of proper workarounds for that. Full-frame performance, of course, is lust-worthy. And its incredible ISO specs (we’ll soon find out how well that translates into real world performance) could make it impossible to pass up.

But just how I contemplated upgrading to a 5D Mark II (and then the Mark III) I realize that the benefits over something like the EOS 60D probably don’t warrant the incremental outlay. All of those funds can go to better glass (24-105mm is next and 85mm next on my list), upgraded audio (need better lavs, shotgun mic) and stabilizers.

Then again, if I sold that old T2i, listed some of those Argento Blu-Rays on eBay, and dipped into the hockey collectibles…

Mad Men – Vincent Kartheiser Interview

Canon EOS 60D, Eos Rebel T2i, Rode Videomic Pro, Zoom H1s, Adobe Premiere Pro

San Francisco Black & White Ball feat. The Wallflowers, Janelle Monáe

Canon EOS 60D, Rode Videomic Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro

Behind the Scenes at ‘Cavalia’

Canon EOS 60D, Eos Rebel T2i, Rode Videomic Pro, Zoom H1s, Adobe Premiere Pro + 1 willing on-air stuntwoman/host

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  • Lubor

    I’m leaning towards the T4i.

    • Great choice. I’m still going strong with a T2i as secondary/backup camera to my 60D.

  • Bart

    I fought the same battle. I decided on the 60D last year because I upgrade every couple of years and shoot in camera-unfriendly places (just got back from a month in Iran). For me, cameras must be more or less expendable and a 6D is not “expendable”. One other thing: the articulating LCD lets me shoot from over my head and way down low much more easily and the live view is sometimes very handy. True, I would like a higher native ISO; that is a trade-off.
    PS: Pearl Fishers was very well done.

    • Bart, sounds like an interesting shoot in Iran. Do you have link to some shots? Good point regarding “expendable” – I agree at $2K+ a camera loss becomes more serious! Also, with you on articulating LCD. I think it’s likely more useful than I realize. Thanks for Pearl Fishers comment, appreciate it. Cheers!

  • Hey Stark–great observations! Lots of the advantages of a full-frame sensor require a movie screen-size playback (done those) and a crew to set up the camera and pull manual focus. But for everything from YouTube to 60″ TV–no one could tell the difference in quality. I’m a videographer with good Sony Videocams looking to augment with a DSLR for depth-of-field control. Have you ever shot your 60D in manual so you can take advantage of that?

    • Totally agree with you regarding screen size. I shoot for the “small” screen- the increasingly mobile one (iPad, smartphones). Yes, I use manual mode on the 60D as often as possible. In video, of course, that’s the only way. I especially find that with in extreme lighting situations (too much, too little) using manual for photos is the only way to get decent result. My favorite for DOF and gorgeous Bokeh is the Canon 50mm. Beauty!

  • ali

    Thanks for the Article, it was great..
    I was thinking to get the new 6D rather than 60D for my first DSLR. However after reading your article, I decided the 60D is the way to go, also it is much cheaper..

  • Good article, Stark. You and I think a lot alike: I have the same setup, 60D constantly shooting with an 18-200 with a nifty for when I need it. And the same wishlist, a 24-105 hopefully by December. So I guess it’s no surprise I agree with your thoughts on the FF Canon. Would be nice, but there are other things that easily take priority.

  • Hamdan Ammu

    what about today stark?… whats a good option for a videographer these days with nearly a budget of 60D in hand