The new Canon 6D and Nikon D600 entry level full frame dSLRs compared to the new Sony SLT alpha A99

Written by Gary on September 18th, 2012

It has been an exciting week with the announcement of of new cameras from all the major manufacturers.

I am sure all of the cameras for which I have posted blogs this week will be fantastic cameras capable of brilliant image quality.

As excited as I am about the new Micro Four Thirds gear, such as the new lenses on their road map, the new PEN cameras with their important image quality upgrade, and the awesome videographer’s camera, the Panasonic GH-3, it is the raft if entry-level full frame dSLRs that have been announced which finally bring full frame dSLR photography to the enthusiasts for around the $2000 mark which may be the most significant of all the announcements.

Why is this such a significant event?

If you can buy a full frame dSLR for about $2000, why bother with a cropped sensor dSLR unless you are primarily doing sports or wildlife photography where you need all the telephoto reach you can get?
After all, unlike Olympus, neither Canon nor Nikon really have committed to making great lenses for their cropped sensor cameras – all the really good lenses are designed for full frame sensors, so you may as well buy a full frame dSLR rather than a $1,000+ Canon or Nikon cropped sensor dSLR.

Let’s compare the new full frame cameras.

The most exciting of them in my mind is the Sony SLT alpha A99 as it is the only one truly optimised for Live View and thus videography and accurate manual focus using magnified view assist, as it is the only one with full time electronic viewfinder and fulltime phase contrast AF system (although we do need to wait and see how well it really does perform given past SLT cameras have not quite matched their hype in this regard).

Not only these features, but of critical importance to those using prime lenses for still photography is that the Sony SLT has sensor-based IS built-in – something that neither Canon nor Nikon have in any of their cameras.

The Canon 6D and Nikon D600 are both good cameras missing some features of their more expensive counterparts.

Their AF system has been scaled down – in the Canon 6D it only has 11 AF points instead of 61 points on the 5D Mark III, while the Nikon D600 has 39 points instead of 51 on the Nikon D800. This means gaining AF outside the central area requires AF then recompose techniques – this also applies to the Sony SLT A99.

Presumably, the 6D will have the same deficiency as its expensive cousins, the 5D Mark III and 1D X – inability to AF when using a lens with aperture smaller than f/5.6 such as an f/4 lens with 2x tele-extender – this will limit the utility of these cameras for wildlife photographers!

The burst rates are modest ranging from 4.5fps for the 6D, 5.5fps for the D600 and 6fps for the Sony SLT.

In particular, their shutter system is lower end with a fastest shutter reduced to a consumer level of 1/4000th sec and a flash sync reduced to 1/200th on the D600 and only 1/180th sec on the 6D – heck even the new Olympus PEN cameras have a flash sync of 1/250th sec!

This is VERY important for fashion and outdoor portrait photographers using lenses such as the 135mm f/2.0 and fill-in flash. Without image stabilisation, a shutter speed of only 1/180th second is really pushing your luck in allowing sharp hand held photos consistently.

In this regard, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera with its built-in 5 stop image stabilisation system, matched with the superb Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens and Olympus FL-600R flash which can sync at 1/250th sec, accurate closest eye, face detection AF anywhere in the frame (no need to AF and recompose and worry about AF microadjustments) will most likely give you far more accurately focused and sharper photos whilst still having a similar perspective and a shallow enough depth of field to make your subject really pop.

On this same matter, if you need even shallower DOF at 35mm focal length and you are doing flash photography outdoors, then the new Sony RX-1 full frame fixed lens compact with its silent leaf shutter and flash sync to 1/2000th second would be ideal although at $2,800 it is not cheap!

Of note, the Sony SLT A99 gives you the best of all worlds in this regard – sensor-based IS plus flash sync of 1/250th sec, and a fastest shutter of 1/8000th sec.

For video work, the 6D and D600 only have mono mics, and 30p/25p/24p frame rates and thus no option for slo-mo work whereas the Sony has a more usable 60p/24p plus stereo mics, but none will really compete in functionality and image quality with the new Panasonic GH-3, although the D600 and the A99 both allow the option of uncompressed video output.

For a detailed table of the main differences between all the current full frame dSLRs, see here.



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