As soon as the Canon 6D was released in the middle of 2012, Canon had created a confusing situation for potential Canon buyers. There were now two semi-professional full frame camera bodies in the Canon line, and although they offered a range of similar features, they different on some major aspects, including price.
So, for those looking to make the jump into full frame DSLR photography, which camera is going to suit better? This article aims to answer that question for you, by examining the strengths of the Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D, as well as their respective weaknesses.
The Canon 5D Mark III differs quite a bit from the previous releases in the same line. Its two predecessors were groundbreaking models, with the Canon 5D being the first ‘affordably priced’ full frame DSLR and the Canon 5D Mark II being the first that offered HD video recording. So, although the Canon 5D Mark III is a great camera, it’s hardly revolutionary.
More similar to the Canon 7D than the Canon 5D Mark II in terms of layout and features, the Canon 5D Mark III offers a good mix of specification borrowed from higher up Canon’s pro line to satisfy the critics.
On the books, the Canon 5D Mark III offers photographers a 22-megapixel full frame CMOS sensor, DIGIC 5+ image processor, an ISO range of 100-25600 standard with 50-102800 expanded, a 61-point autofocus system with 41 points being cross-type, 6 fps continuous shooting capabilities, a silent shutter mode, 1080p30 video recording with external microphone and headphone jack, a 3-inch 1.04m-dot LCD screen and dual card slots for SD and CF.
The Canon 6D represented a really smart move from Canon when it was released in 2012, showing it had accurately read the needs of their market. Its consumers wanted a full frame camera that they could actually afford, which gave them the image quality they were looking for, without some of the expensive extras that might be found on Canon’s pro line. Ideally, the Canon 6D was supposed to sit between the Canon 5D Mark III and the highest level of Canon’s cropped sensor range.
After its release, the Canon 6D was most often considered as a full frame version of Canon’s popular cropped frame Canon 60D. The layout, user interface and size was consistent across the two models, likely as a ploy from Canon to make the Canon 6D more accessible to upgrading cropped frame shooters.
Although intended as a starter full frame body, the Canon 60D offers a range of quality features including a 20-megapixel full frame CMOS sensor, DIGIC 5+ image processor, an ISO range of 100-25600 standard with 50-102800 expanded, 11-point autofocus with 1 point cross-type, 4.5 fps continuous shooting capabilities, a silent shutter mode, 1080p30 video recording, a 3-inch 1.04m-dot LCD screen and built in GPS and Wi-Fi capabilities.
Taking a quick glance over the specifications of the Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D, we can start to see where the confusion between these two models arises. They certainly offer very similar, in some cases identical, features that might leave uninformed photographers unsure about which camera is best suited for their needs. So, we’re going to break down those features a little bit more, and look at where the differences lie on paper, and in terms of actual use.
The Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D are ultimately intended for a different kind of audience. The body and build of the cameras is the first thing that indicates that. While the Canon 5D Mark III is constructed of more durable magnesium alloy, the Canon 6D is made of a compound plastic. This is good and bad, although the Canon 5D Mark III is certainly more durable, it’s also very heavy. It weighs in at 950g, making the Canon 6D around 20% lighter at 770g. The Canon 6D is also thinner and smaller than the Canon 5D Mark III, which does make it easier to carry around for long periods of time.
Screen & Layout:
There isn’t much difference between the screens on the Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D, although some photographers may notice it. The Canon 5D Mark III has a slightly larger 3.2-inch screen, compared to 3 inches on the Canon 6D. The Canon 5D Mark III also offers more direct access to some custom menus, while the Canon 6D has these options buried in sub menus.
When it comes to autofocus there is absolutely no competition between the Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D. Above everything else, this is the big difference between the two bodies. While the Canon 6D offers an almost prehistoric 11-point autofocus system, with just one cross-type point, the Canon 5D Mark III offers a 61-point system with 41 cross-type points. This system is one of Canon’s most advanced, and is borrowed from the Canon 1D-X.
The more advanced system on the Canon 5D Mark III means that it is able to achieve much faster and more accurate focusing on a range of subjects, particularly subjects in motion. This makes the Canon 5D Mark III much more effective for sports photography, as well as better performing in video.
If speed is what you’re looking for, the Canon 5D Mark III has the jump on the Canon 6D. Although the Canon 6D offers a respectable continuous shutter speed of 4.5fps, the Canon 5D Mark III is able to stretch that to 6fps and also offers a max shutter speed of 1/8000s compared to 1/4000s on the Canon 6D. All of this makes a solid case for any sports, wildlife or other high-speed action photographer. However, when it comes to buffering, the Canon 6D as able to manage 28 JPEG or 13 RAW before slowing down, compared to 19 JPEG and 11 RAW on the Canon 5D Mark III.
Again, there aren’t too many differences when it comes to the video potential of these two cameras. That being said, it is worth noting that the Canon 5D Mark III, and its predecessor, have always been held in high esteem for their video ability. In line with this, photographers should be aware that the Canon 5D Mark III offers a headphone jack, that larger screen, and dual memory card slots, all things worth considering for the budding videographer.
By all measurements, and certainly on paper, the Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D perform on par when it comes to ISO performance. However, hands-on testing has shown that this isn’t quite true. At lower levels of ISO performance, and up to about 2,300 ISO noise levels are well managed by both cameras. But, as we move further up the scale, we begin to see that it is the Canon 6D that performs, with the Canon 5D Mark III really struggling to keep up in terms of noise control.
The Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D are almost on par when it comes to battery performance, with the Canon 6D offering about 1090 shots on a full charge compared to the Canon 5D Mark III’s 950 shots. However, in practice reviewers have noted that additional technology on the Canon 6D, which we’ll discuss later, really worsened the longevity of its battery life.
The Canon 5D Mark III, as it is intended for a more professional photographer, surprised nobody by having both an SD card and Compact Flash card storage space. Now, for some photographers this isn’t a major concern, but the single SD storage on the Canon 6D could be limiting for certain photographers.
Where the Canon 6D really shines, and one location where it is clear that Canon wants to target a more modern and technology-focused group of photographers is in the additional technology. The Canon 6D has both built-in wifi and GPS, while the Canon 5D Mark III offers nothing built-in, and indeed users would need to spend some several hundred dollars on plug-in extras in order to have these features on the body.
The Canon 6D’s wifi will allow photographers to upload photos over wifi to a computer when shooting in studio or on location, upload to social networks, or control your camera remotely. The GPS capabilities will allow photographers to geotag their images with their specific locations for easier organization and information.
Both the Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D come in a kit with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM lens. This lens is very similar to a number of others in Canon’s L series, known for being of considerable quality in construction and performance. As this is a lens for full frame cameras only, it is of a much higher quality than lenses of a comparable focal length aimed at the cropped frame camera market.
The Canon 24-105mm is what most photographers would call a ‘general purpose’ zoom lens. It happens to be one of the best and most popular general purpose lenses Canon has ever made, perfect for a variety of uses, situations and styles. Its varied focal length means that photographers are able to make use of a very wide perspective, as well as a mid-range zoom perspective. The lens is partially weather sealed, and includes Canon’s Image Stabilizer (IS) and an Ultrasonic Motor (USM), which is fast, accurate and very quiet.
For those photographers looking for the ideal piece of equipment to start their full frame camera journey, the Canon 24-105mm is a strong contender. Its high quality construction means that photographers get stunning images as well as very smooth handling and Canon’s little extras.
A Final Comparison of the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 6D
The choice between the Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D is a tough one. Yes, the Canon 5D Mark III does offer more features, including a better autofocus system with more points and cross-type points, a larger screen, faster shooting capabilities and more storage potential. However, for that cost it is also considerably more expensive. On the other hand, the Canon 6D is less feature rich, but still does well with a much lighter and smaller body, that includes both GPS and wifi, at prices more than 40% less than the cost of the Canon 5D Mark III.
If you’re a photographer looking to start in the world of full frame DSLR photography, the Canon 6D is a great piece of equipment for you to being with. Although it does not have the vast range of shooting features that the Canon 5D Mark III provides, it still has an impressive line-up of shooting tools that you will likely find very useful. In addition, more modern full frame shooters, especially those moving up from cropped frame cameras with the same features, will enjoy the freedom and added potential that the built-in wifi and GPS add to the Canon 6D.
If you’re a photographer looking to make an impression with your photographs in a professional world, then the Canon 5D Mark III is a camera body that will likely serve your uses best. This is especially true if you want full autofocus control, or you happen to shoot a considerable amount of high speed action photography like wildlife or sport. The Canon 5D Mark III’s autofocus system just cannot be compared to the Canon 6D.
However, photographers will pay more for this feature rich body, so it might only be accessible for those photographers who are passionate about their hobby, or alternatively making a living from it.
All up, both the Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 6D are impressive full frame cameras, that defy their label as semi-pro or entry-level full frame. They really do have a great range of features and potential that photographers of all styles and skill levels will love.