June 2014

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The Canon EOS 6D is a full-frame DSLR that sports 20-megapixel resolution and a host of professional-grade features. 

One of its standout features is the high-ISO / low-light performance. 

In This Article

Test Subject

Signal to Noise

100% Crops

6D vs. Rebel T3

6D vs. Everything Else

One More Thing


Test Subject

In the main 6D review article you probably saw the pics of that cute spotted hippo.   

Let's see just how well the Canon EOS 6D captures this rare beast in low-light situations.

If you want to see other low-light subjects with the Canon 6D, check out page 3 of the Canon 6D gallery.  Take note that some of those photos were done in utterly ridiculous situations you'd never actually do in real life, such as taking pictures after dark without image stabilization and without a tripod.  If it works well for that crazy stuff, rest assured it will work well for the average home-lighting situation.

Signal To Noise

Here's something many people do not realize.   High-ISO is less noisy in brighter light.

If you don't believe me, pick up your best low-light camera and try to take a picture of something in the dark. 

When the sensor receives fewer photons over a longer time, the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) goes way downhill.   The sensor has more time to generate noise, while fewer actual photons from your subject are adding to the image information.  

That's why I chose a real-life situation where the light is actually dim.   Not ridiculous, but dim.  (If you want to see the extreme challenges, visit the gallery.)

100% Crops

The spotted hippo's lair is in a room where it's not really bright enough to read a book.   I mean, you could if it were large print, but this is not what you'd choose for a "reading room".

Here we go, starting at 800, because 800 is the place where most any digital camera can perform well nowadays.  Even the Canon SX50, which has an ultra-tiny 1/2.3" sensor, does fairly well at ISO 800.

Well, the Canon 6D does better.

You can just about press your face up to the computer screen... but there's no noise at ISO 800.   At least I don't see any.   Clean, clear, noise-free.  At ISO 800, Canon 6D images are as clear as you'll get from some cameras at ISO 100 or 200.

Now, how about ISO 1600...

Vaguest hints of luma noise are beginning to show at 1600, but we're still about two stops before most people will even notice it at all.  You have to be a serious pixel nitpicker to see anything there.

3200 looks virtually the same as 1600... which looks about the same as 800.  That's a good sign.  At 3200, there is a little bit more noise just starting to emerge, but not much.

OK, what about ISO 6400?  This is where it gets really rough for most APS-C cameras, even the good new ones. 

ISO 6400, and there's only a bit of luma noise.  It's not a problem, because it resembles the soft, low-key film grain that you'd see in a pro film. 

So far I don't see any chroma noise.  If there is, I don't see any of the blotches that I would have expected.  Yep, ISO 6400, and no chroma noise to speak of.   This camera is incredible.   Most APS-C cameras, with the exception of the Fuji X-series, are starting to blotch up pretty fast by ISO 6400.   The Canon EOS 6D is at least one full stop ahead of the best ones in terms of high ISO quality. 

Maybe it's even better than that.  Let's see the ISO 12800 photo.  Again this is a 100% crop, so you would not normally look at the photo this close.   (And yes, I used paper-thin depth of field, when in fact I should have used f/8 or f/11.  But it works for our purposes.)

I'm only just starting to notice image degradation and chroma noise here, but there's really not much of it.  This camera is pretty solid at ISO 12800.  The luma noise gives it the appearance of maybe an 800-speed film, pushed to 1600.  But this is ISO 12800!    This fact was enough to make up my mind on the 6D.  (If it helps you, please get your camera through this link so I can keep this website going.  Thanks!)

12800 is great.  Now, how about 25600?

At ISO 25600 the noise is really starting to show, but it's still not obnoxious.  Detail loss is not that bad.  Unless you pore over 100% crops, the pictures are still usable.  

This camera does better at ISO 25600 than some DSLR's do at ISO 6400.  That's two full stops. 

APS-C is a great format for DSLR's, but it can't run with the 6D at these high ISO settings.  Even the incredible Fuji X-T1 falls way behind the 6D at ISO 25600.  It's widely accepted that full-frame is one full stop better than your typical APS-C in low light.  Well, I'm thinking the Canon EOS 6D may be closer to two stops.

Canon EOS 6D vs. EOS Rebel T3

For real?

Wait, we're actually going to compare the 6D with that plastic little cheap DSLR, the Rebel T3? 

Ah, why not:  Canon's best low-light DSLR pitted against Canon's least-expensive DSLR.  Let's see what happens!! 

I chose the T3 because actually, most other APS-C DSLR's don't have any better low-light performance.  Not even the 7D.  Their real advantage is in their feature set, not really their image quality.  (Technically, some of their features help you get better images;  but the point is that the T3 sensor is actually pretty good.)

I chose 3200 because this is the highest ISO setting that's practical to use on the T3.  (6400 is possible, but it starts to look rough.)

First, here's the Canon Rebel T3 image.  This is a 100% crop at ISO 3200. 

Actually that's not bad at all.  When you look at the image regular-size, it's harder to notice the noise.  The T3 is a great little camera up through ISO 3200.

Now, for the EOS 6D at 3200:

The 100% crop from the 6D has more fine detail and far less noise.   Look in the upper right-hand corner of the pic.  Also look at the fur detail on the right side of Mr. Hippo's snout.

These crops represent an enlargement size of about 34 inches on the long side.  That's almost three feet wide.  The Rebel T3 doesn't do badly at all (with a good lens).... but the Canon 6D is stellar.

I like to use DSLR's at ISO 3200.  On the 6D, the noise is so low as to be practically non-existent at Web resolutions and in small prints:

Canon EOS 6D
ISO 3200
f/4 @ 1/30th
Lightened a bit for the Canon T3 comparison

With a faster lens like this one, this one, or better yet this one, the Canon 6D is pure joy in low-light.

Canon EOS 6D vs. Everything Else

You might be wondering, "Hey, what about the Nikon D800?  What about the D610?"

Or how about the Sony Alpha A7?

The Nikon D800 with its high megapixel count (36) has considerably smaller pixels than the EOS 6D.  Nikon's noise-reduction algorithms also tend to leave more luma noise in the images.  They do this to preserve image detail, but honestly I don't see that much of an improvement over the 6D, and it's at the expense of more image noise.  I'd go for the Canon 6D here.

The Nikon D610 has larger pixels than the D800, so it should in theory be better for low light.  I hate to say it, but unfortunately the D610 is still not even in the same league as the Canon 6D.  The Nikon D610 images are noticeably noisy at high ISO, even with brighter lights and short exposure times.   The Canon 6D wins by a considerable margin here.

The Sony A7 seems like a good contender, but the Sony images at high ISO have more noise and artifacts.  They're also not quite as sharp.  For low-light use, the Sony A7 would probably be a better choice than the Nikon D610, but the Canon 6D is better than either by a noticeable amount.  

Canon DSLR's also have more lenses available than the Sonys.

I haven't been able to find anything that tops the Canon 6D for low-light.  In 2014, the Canon 6D is the best low-light DSLR in the world. 


One More Great Thing

It's generally accepted that Nikon DSLR's have somewhat better dynamic range than Canons.

One remarkable fact about the Canon 6D:  at high ISO, it has better dynamic range than its competitor from Nikon, the D600 / 610.  Starting at ISO 6400, the 6D is better than the Nikon or the Canon 5D Mark III.    At high ISO the 6D also has much better signal-to-noise ratio than even the 5D Mark III.

If you want the ultimate low-light DSLR, this is the one.  


This camera is awesome for low-light photography.  I've looked all over the place for a good low-light / high ISO camera, and I have not found anything that can surpass it.  Certainly nothing else in Canon's 2014-2015 catalog can outdo it, not even the 5D Mark III. 

If you liked this article or found it helpful, you can really help me (and my family) by purchasing your EOS 6D with 24-105mm lens through this link or any of the ones shown above.  Or, get your 6D without a lens here.  Then, if you want the best lens for the lowest price, pick up one of these straightaway.   Using these links doesn't add anything to the cost, and it helps me keep this website going.

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