Canon’s EOS 6D – pressed into service

With Photokina drawing the crowds in Germany and with both Canon and Nikon announcing important new DSLRs I have (typically) been having a good look at a camera that has been on the market for ages. I bought my EOS 6D for a very specific reason; the ability to use it as a remote and control it from my smart phone. It performed that task rather well and I will definitely be making use of that function again but I also wanted to blog about what it’s like as a daily working camera.

Canon's small, light full frame DSLR. ©Neil Turner, September 2014.

Canon’s small, light full frame DSLR. ©Neil Turner, September 2014.

I was at another major show last week – The Southampton International Boat Show to be precise and I wanted to carry as little gear around with me as I could. Most of the work was going to be shot using EOS 5D MkIII cameras which have become my favourites (although they are far from perfect) for day-to-day jobs but I had a problem with one of them and decided to use the 6D as my second body once it had performed it’s (not able to post the pictures here) remote task. I had quite a bit of confidence in the camera having used a borrowed one when it was first launched and so I stuck a 16-35mm f2.8L lens on it and away I went.

Press day at the Boat Show is a mixture of dull press events, glitzy celebrity appearances and the search for different and interesting pictures that nobody else has. I found myself drawn to the official opening despite there being over a dozen other photographers there. To get something different I managed to get on board the tall ship Phoenix to see if I could shoot a different angle to everyone else. It wasn’t much of a gamble as the value of having the same picture as everyone else was pretty low on this job for me and I managed to get this nice frame of a couple of the invited children at the helm of the moored ship.

The sons of the late Olympian Andrew

The sons of the late Olympian Andrew “Bart” Simpson at the helm of the tall ship PHOENIX alongside Europe’s largest temporary marina. ©Neil Turner, September 2014.

Anyway, back to the EOS 6D. It is a tiny bit smaller than the 5D MkIII and it is a tiny bit lighter. It has fewer buttons and fewer megapixels (20 for the 6D and 22 for the 5D MkIII) and it only has a single SD card slot compared to the CF + SD combination on the 5D MkIII. It doesn’t have the same amazing auto focus and it isn’t as well built as the 5D MkIII either but, and it is a big but, it is really nice to use. It fits in your hands well and the controls are easy to use even with the camera to your eye – ergonomically speaking it ticks a lot of the boxes for me. I haven’t used it with a big lens attached yet and I suspect that with something like a 70-200 f2.8L IS it might feel a little unbalanced without a battery grip but with the 16-35 and with a range of primes including the 135mm f2L it feels great without a grip (I’m not a grip fan). The shutter sound is OK and the ‘quiet’ option is also pretty good.

I have written a lot about processing RAW files from various cameras recently and I found the 6D files to be remarkably similar to the 5D MkIII ones and that is a big plus for me.

As always there are a few things that I’d like to see changed on. Canon have this amazing knack of producing “almost perfect” cameras and the 6D is no different here. In no particular order:

  • I’d like them to add the ability to add custom file names in camera in the same way that you can in the 5D MkIII and the 1DX – surely this could be done as part of a firmware update?
  • All Canon cameras need to have the ability to lock the diopter adjustment on the eyepiece. Having to put bits of gaffer tape on every camera is getting boring.
  • I know that the camera already has built-in wifi but better Eye-Fi integration and the option to assign a button (the Q button?) to “protect” an image for transmission would be great.
  • Twin card slots on a MkII would be far better than the single slot that this version has. 2x SD would be fine.
  • Similarly, USB2 on a camera of this generation is poor.

I don’t shoot a lot of on-camera flash and I was caught out on this job where I only had a single 580exII with me. With not much time to work I found that the flash exposure with an older lens wasn’t great. It works well with the newer lenses and flash but the technology has left a couple of my older (but still great) L series lenses behind.

There was photocall with a couple of celebrities (Eddie Jordan and Claudia Winkleman) on the Sunseeker luxury yacht stand and I managed to steal the former Formula 1 team boss onto the bridge of a £3.8 million boat for a quick shot. I had to flash it and the head linings of the boat made a low but useable place to bounce from. Sadly my “exclusive” was ruined when a local agency photographer jumped in and did much the same shot. You win some and you lose some!

Former F1 boss Eddie Jordan on the bridge of a £3.8 million Sunseeker. ©Neil Turner, September 2014.

Former F1 team boss Eddie Jordan on the bridge of a £3.8 million Sunseeker. ©Neil Turner, September 2014.

So what about the 6D’s performance as a working camera then? It is good without being brilliant. Lovely to use but not perfect. I could have written the same summary of just about any camera I have ever used but for anyone needing a full-frame Canon body on a tight budget it really does represent a great buy. It will get used again soon and I will add anything that crops up. Anyone want to lend me a 7D MkII for a day?

Cleaning glass

©Neil Turner, August 2013, Bournemouth.

©Neil Turner, August 2013, Bournemouth.

I was looking through a few pictures from this summer this morning when I decided to post this picture just because I liked it. The young man in the photograph is a nephew who has just started his own window cleaning business in the Bournemouth area using filtered water and a long pole instead of ladders, squeegees and chamois leathers. I hope that it takes off and I hope that he gets around to putting this on his website. It was taken with my Fujifilm X20 when I was working at the kitchen table on some pictures that I needed to get to a client and the X20 was the camera that I had to hand.

One thought this morning led, as they inevitably do, to another when I read a posting on a Facebook group by a photographer who has never cleaned their own lenses or their own digital camera chips. Cleaning lenses is too easy to go to the bother of driving to a service centre and parting with money. Obviously if you are at a major sporting event and Canon or Nikon are there you’d be a fool to not take up their offers of free cleaning and checks but beyond that you should learn to do it yourself. I say that as someone who never uses filters on a day-to-day basis as protection and as someone whose home is over 100 miles way from the nearest Canon approved service centre. I also say it as someone who used to be a staff photographer based in London with an employer who picked up the tab for pretty much everything and got quite lazy there for a while! I tend to use the Eclipse solution designed for camera chips along with either a very old quality cotton handkerchief or a soft cloth designed for spectacles. Once I’ve done the glass I usually give the outside of the lens a quick wipe down too – there’s no sense in having dirty gear.

Cleaning camera chips is a whole other matter. Getting it done professionally every once-in-a-while makes sense but at up to £50 + VAT per camera I don’t want to get my chips cleaned as often as I want to get my windows at home done. Of course the “self-cleaning” mechanisms built into today’s cameras really help. In the past it was common to get sizeable amounts of dust on the chip which needed to be removed. These days most of the loose stuff goes away with one or two cycles of the built-in cleaning option. Much of the rest can be loosened or removed using a decent air blower (the rubber bulb type) and if all else fails you can buy the right chemicals and sensor swabs to do a thorough job. If I get an offer of a free clean or I’m having a camera serviced then I always get the chip cleaned too. Canon build in a small sticky strip to catch and keep the dust shaken loose by the piezo-electric motors that do the automatic cleaning every time you turn the camera on and off. The service centre replaces that strip when you take your kit in for an overhaul or repair and it is useful to bear in mind that the strip is only truly effective if a) you have the camera with the baseplate pointing to the ground when the cleaning is in progress and b) the strip gets changed regularly.

Because of the distance I live away from the major repair and service centres I find myself cleaning camera chips using the Eclipse solution every couple of months. It definitely has an effect because I then have to re-calibrate the white balance shifts on the cameras. The end result is that I save a bit of money, a lot of time travelling to and from the service centre and an awful lot of time in post-production not having to remove dust spots. When I travel for work I always take some cleaning kit. I was in India a few years ago now and the dust in my ‘weather sealed’ EOS1D MkII cameras had to be removed on an almost daily basis. I’d hate to think how bad it would have been after a week there without having the kit to do my own cleaning.

It doesn’t have to stop with lenses and chips either. Laptop screens, computer monitors and keyboards are all easy to keep looking their best if you take ten minutes to do so. I used to throw my Domke F-series camera bags into the washing machine (which is how my beautiful grey F1X ended up salmon pink thanks to a stray pair of red socks) and these days I get the vacuum cleaner into my camera bags a couple of times a year.

The day after a bad day at the pool

When we first went digital back in 1998 there were a lot of lessons that we had to learn for ourselves. There hadn’t been much work done by others and there were a lot of mistakes that we made and learned from. One of the worst things to happen to me wasn’t until June of 2006 – long after we all arrogantly thought that we had learned what there was to learn.

I went to shoot some pictures at a swimming event and the atmosphere was loaded with what smelled like chlorine. My cameras had got steamed up quickly and took a while to de-mist and I thought nothing of it, shot the event on a pair of Canon EOS1D MkII cameras and edited my pictures as normal. Nothing wrong… so far. The next day I went to shoot portraits of a young student who had been shortlisted for a writing award – totally run-of-the-mill. The job went well, the pictures looked great on the back of the cameras but when I imported the files from the first camera into the computer I went as white as a sheet.

Dirt on the chip was a common problem, the odd bit of dust that showed up when you stopped the lens down but nothing had prepared me for the amount of spots that were on these pictures.

A small part of the frame before spotting. ©Neil Turner/TSL, June 2006

Thousands of small, circular bright spots in the same place on every single frame. I was swearing, sweating and worrying in equal measure as I put the memory card from the second camera into the card reader. If they were as bad, this job was going to take weeks to edit and retouch. Massive relief… the second camera hadn’t suffered from the same fate. The tighter pictures shot on the longer lens all had the spots whilst the wider pictures shot with a wider lens had none of them. The bonus was that some frames on the spot-free camera were also shot on a longer lens so I had a few spot-free tight portraits too. The panic was almost over but it was clear that at least two or three of the heavily spotted pictures should be in the edit so I spent most of that evening and night painstakingly getting rid of the spots. One-by-one.

The same image after a lot of work getting rid of the spots. ©Neil Turner/TSL, June 2006

After a thorough clean by FIXATION UK the camera was as good as new. The spots were crystallised chlorine and quite why they were only on one of my two cameras used on the bad day at the pool I will never know. People have theorised about having taken the lens off of one and not the other, damaged weather seals, some sort of coating on the chip of one camera that either attracted or repelled the crystals – who knows?

The morals of this story are these:

  • Shooting with two cameras is always a good idea
  • Using a professional to clean problem dirt off of the chip is a great idea
  • Shooting with some wide and some long lens images on both cameras is a good idea too
  • Be careful when taking lenses on and off in unclean environments
  • Retouching spots is a right royal P.I.T.A

That camera went on to give great service for two more years and was sold on having been cleaned and serviced. These days I use a pair of 5D MkII bodies which don’t have the same environmental seals as the 1D series. If I were a rich man, I’d want to own the new 1DX when it comes out!