Subjects covered in this guide:
- Shadow noise
- ISO ability
- Wireless operation
- Heat and noise
- Remote release
- Electronic level
- Grid overlay
- Histogram and highlight alert
- Additional camera customization
- Button setup
- Direct sunlight
- Vehicle battery charging
- Tripod setup
- Memory cards
The Canon 6D is a relatively compact and lightweight full-frame DSLR camera. Combine that with some great features, and the 6D works as a versatile and high-performance landscape tool. The following guide shows how you can make use of the 6D features and performance for landscape photography.
Shadow noise has been a hot topic over the last couple of years, with Sony-made sensors outperforming Canon-made sensors. While Canon is currently (early 2014) behind in shadow noise, they have made some progress in the recent 6D sensor performance over previous models. I owned several copies of the Canon 5DII and both exhibited some serious shadow noise and "burlap-esque" patterns otherwise known as banding. This was a limiting factor in how much the files could be altered for brightness in RAW file processing. With my copy of the Canon 6D, I have seen little to no banding or any other sort of patterns emerging from the shadows, just your standard random noise. This allows for a bit more room in pushing the brightness levels of shadow areas over many previous Canon models.
Lifting Shadow Brightness
In cases such as when the foreground is massively under-exposed, it is possible to lift the brightness from a single Canon 6D RAW file by a few stops if shot at ISO 100. In the test below, I have under-exposed the foreground in order to keep details in the sky from blowing out in over-exposure. As a result, the foreground is around 4-5 stops too dark to see details. I took the RAW file into Adobe Photoshop CC to see how much the shadows needed to be lifted for brightness and how much noise resulted from the process. When boosted 4 stops, the image is pretty decent for brightness in the branches, and responds well to some light noise reduction which also didn't kill the details. When boosted 5 stops, the image is better for brightness, but even after a slight noise reduction pass, still shows some considerable noise. In a desperate situation, pushing an ISO 100 shot by 4-5 stops would be possible. These samples are zoomed in 100%, and in a real-world print or web sized image, the noise in the branches would be hard to notice. It really comes down to personal taste and level of acceptance for image noise. For most of my work, I avoid going above a 3 stop push, as I always exposure bracket my shots for both shadow and highlight details.
Dark image of tree, exposure lifted with and without noise reduction.
ISO vs. Dynamic Range
Dynamic Range determines how much an image can be lifted in the shadows without losing details to noise. Less Dynamic Range allows for less lifting in the shadows. ISO 100 always has the most dynamic range and the amount drops as ISO increases. The following test shows what each ISO level looks like in the shadows when lifted by 5 stops. 5 stops is an extreme alteration, but it does show the differences rather well. Each ISO shot was exposed for the highlights, so each one has the same exposure level for the shadows. For the Canon 6D RAW files, lifting by 5 stops seems to hold up best until ISO 800 and up where noise is interfering with details and color. If you plan on lifting shadows, always try to shoot at ISO 100, but ISO 400 could work as well, especially if you need to lift by less than 5 stops.
Various ISO levels exposed for the same highlight level and shadow lifted/pushed by 5 stops.
The High ISO ability of the Canon 6D is really impressive compared to older generations of cameras. I remember when I would avoid anything above ISO 100 using my Canon Pro-1. Today, I don't mind shooting at ISO 12800 using my 6D when the situation calls for it. The majority of my landscape work is done between ISO 100 and 800. I only go above ISO 800 for nighttime shots, and when I need a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of objects moving in the wind. The test below shows the noise levels at all native ISO levels. Notice how ISO 100 and 800 look very similar. The only noticeable difference is the decreasing dynamic range for lifting shadows at higher ISO levels.
The Canon 6D has expanded bracketing options over the 5DII. Most obvious are the new 5 and 7 shot options for brackets, where the 5DII was only capable of 3. The really useful option that hasn’t gained much attention, is the 2 shot bracketing. Instead of taking 3 shots to get the bracketed exposures from only 2 of them, the Canon 6D may be set up to take just 2 shots. This saves both time and memory space, which can be huge gains when doing large panoramic compilations. When 2 shot bracketing is set up in the Custom Function menu, it is possible to set an exposure bracket. By using the scroll wheel, the 2nd exposure can be set above or below the original exposure by 3 stops in either direction. As an added note, it helps to set the camera to the 2 second timer mode when doing exposure bracketing. In the timer mode, the camera will automatically fire off every shot for the exposure bracket in one sequence.
Setting up 2 shot bracketing in the Custom Function menu.
Setting exposure bracketing for a brighter or darker 2 shot sequence.
I was very excited when the wifi ability of the Canon 6D was announced. I have been waiting a long time to get a full-frame DSLR camera with a built-in wireless capability. At first glance, it may appear to be a gimmick with no practical uses. With a little bit of creativity, the wifi feature has the potential to be a powerful landscape imaging tool. You can use a smartphone for remote live view. Want to put your camera on top of a tall pole for a shot? Remote live view, focusing, and exposure controls! Angry bees keeping you away from your tripod and camera? Keep shooting remotely!
In my tests of the wifi range, I have been able to control the camera from distances of up to 300 feet with a clear line of sight and little interference. This is about on par with a high-grade wireless triggering system. Distances can drop to 60 feet or less if going through walls, trees, or if there are high levels of signal interference from other wifi networks.
Setting up and using Wifi
Setting up the wifi can take a while, but is a straight-forward process. There is nothing different in how I set up and use my wifi app than how it is described in the many already existing online guides. Click Here for youtube tutorial video on the 6D wifi setup.
Manual camera control while using wifi
In some cases a smartphone is only needed as a remote viewing device and does not need to operate any controls. The 6D can be fully operated and manually controlled even when connected to a smartphone through wifi. This is very handy for instances such as when the camera might be so low to the ground that viewing the LCD screen isn’t easy or possible. The camera can still be fully controlled, but at the same time using the wifi live view on the smartphone to focus and compose. Another use of this ability would be if you wish to let others remotely watch your camera view and settings as you took photos. This could be useful for some sorts of educational or studio purposes.
Live view vs. quick triggering
There can sometimes be a short lag between hitting the shutter release button in the remote smartphone app and the camera firing off when using live view mode. For most cases, this is not an issue, but in others it can be critical for accurate timing of a shot. If the live view mode is turned off, but the wifi app is still connected, the shutter response time is much faster. In this mode, the remote app works with similar speed to a traditional wireless triggering system.
Wifi camera rigs
There are many ways to put the camera into difficult-to-reach spots using specialized rigs in conjunction with the wifi remote shooting ability. One of the easiest and most likely rigs is actually using a tripod as an extension pole. There may be a shot over a ledge or above a bush that would have otherwise been passed. Another rig may involve ropes for lowering a camera into a cave or off a bridge. I will be making some custom rigs in the next year to achieve shots that would otherwise be impossible.
Smartphone swivel screen
In a lot of instances, it is not possible to hold a smartphone while working on taking photos. Having a remote live view screen may still be helpful, which may be aided with the use of a swiveling smartphone holder. I plan on purchasing one designed for vehicle dashboards and finding a way to attach it to my tripod to hold my iPhone at various angles.
Heat And Noise
Like with any digital imaging sensor, the amount of noise can vary depending on the temperature of the device. In hot weather, ISO 12800 will have more noise than a shot with the same exposure taken in cold weather. It is important to know how warm you can go with high ISO levels while still producing acceptable results. ISO 12800 at 30 degrees may work fine for a shot of the stars, but at 90 degrees Fahrenheit the level of noise may be too strong.
-Note- I have temporarily removed the image samples. I am going to perform the temperature ISO comparison again under more controlled conditions.
Remote shutter triggers are great for when avoiding tripod shake, and are also a necessity for long exposures beyond 30 seconds. I use a cheap and simple shutter release made by SM Development. Even with the wifi feature, I prefer to save battery power on my iPhone and use the cabled remote release, which does not require batteries. When shooting in bulb mode, the remote trigger's button can lock down for super-long exposures. The Canon 6D shows the number of seconds passed on the top LCD display. I also keep count in my head or use the clock feature on my iPhone.
My remote with a little bit of tape over an accidental cut in the wire.
The Canon 6D features an electronic level which assists in achieving straight horizons. The level may be displayed on the back LCD screen at any time by cycling through the Info Button displays. The level is available in and out of Live View mode as well.
There is a trick to leveling the tripod for doing panoramic shots. Turn on the digital level and position the camera in the center of the panorama. Once the camera is set to level, rotate it back and forth along the whole distance of the panoramic frame. If it shows level from edge to edge, then it is OK to take the shot. If it shows any tilt at the edges, the tripod may need to be repositioned to be more level in all directions. It is always good to get everything as level as possible, but small amounts of error are common and usually no big deal.
Tripod not fully level as shown by the electronic level on the left and right sides.
Tripod is fully level as shown by the electronic level on all sides.
It is possible to display a grid over the screen when in Live View mode. The grid helps the most when the camera is low to the ground or in other instances when looking directly behind the screen is not an option. When using a 3x3 grid in conjunction with the electronic level, there is less guesswork for operating at extreme viewing angles. The other grid settings might be useful too, but I find them too cluttered for the small LCD display.
The grid options can be set in Menu>Grid display.
Live View with the 3x3 grid and electronic level.
Histogram and Highlight Alert
In landscape photography, it can be important to make sure that no details are lost due to overexposure. The RGB Histogram and Highlight Alert features help to avoid those mistakes.
It is important to use the RGB Histogram instead of the Brightness Histogram. The RGB version shows more information regarding all of the 3 color channels: Red, Green, and Blue. It can be useful to know where individual channels are exposed in instances where one color is important but the other is not. To set it to RGB mode, go to Menu>Histogram disp>RGB.
The RGB Histogram can be viewed in Live View mode or in Playback mode by cycling through the Info button while in either mode. The RGB Histogram shows darker pixels to the left side of the graph and brighter pixels to the right side of the graph. The height of each graph shows the number of pixels at the same brightness level. The sample images below show 3.2 second and 4 second exposures, along with the resulting RGB Histograms. Notice how the 3.2 second exposure is darker and shows the pixel shifted to the left side of the graph. The 4 second exposure is brighter and it shows the pixels moved to the right side. One thing to note about the 4 second exposure is that a tiny number of red pixels have overexposed on the highlights of the red object in the image. Without the RGB Histogram, it would be difficult to spot potential problems just looking at the images themselves.
RGB Histogram showing darker and brighter exposures in playback mode.
RGB Histogram showing a dark image during Live View mode.
One drawback of the RGB Histogram is that the graphs are calculated based on the JPG image and not the actual RAW file itself. Much of the data is lost after a JPG conversion, so it is important to make sure that the loss is as minimal as possible. This can be accomplished by setting the Shot Settings to custom values. By fully reducing the contrast, more of the RGB Histogram values will be saved from the RAW file when it is converted to the JPG compressed format. To set the Shot Settings, go to Menu>Picture Style. In Picture Style, select Neutral and then hit the INFO button. In the Detail set. menu, set Contrast to -4. While also here it wouldn't hurt to also set Sharpness to 5 and Saturation to +2. Doing so will slightly change the histogram, but adding some sharpness helps with focusing in live view, and increasing saturation helps to predict what the image will look like after post processing. To retain a more accurate histogram of the RAW data, set sharpness and saturation at or below their default levels.
The Highlight Alert also provides visual assistance in determining if a photo has overexposed portions. To activate Highlight Alert go to Menu>Highlight Alert>Enable. When a portion of a photo is overexposed, the review image will blink in those areas. If avoiding overexposure, reduce the exposure level until no blinking is found in the review image. The advantage of Highlight Alert over the RGB Histogram, is that the location of overexposed areas can be easily identified. In some cases, it is OK if certain areas are over exposed.
Additional Camera Customization
There are 3 more customizations I like to use with the Canon 6D. First is the My Menu which is the last panel in the Menu, indicated with a star symbol. You can fill this panel with your most commonly used items. I filled mine with Image Quality, Exposure Comp/AEB, Wi-fi, LCD Brightness, Battery Info, and Highlight Alert. They are now quicker and easier to access without digging through the menus.
My Menu configuration.
The Second customization is to set Silent LV shoot to Mode 1. This will deactivate the mechanical shutter and instead use an electronic shutter for less vibrations and a faster response time in Live View mode. It should be noted that Silent Mode 1 will disable the hotshoe flash and must be turned off when using a flash along with Live View mode.
Menu>Silent LV shoot.>Mode 1
The Third customization is to enable the Lens aberration correction. While this feature does not have any effect on the RAW files, it works in real-time when using Live View mode. Turn on the Peripheral Illumination correction to brighten the dark corners sometimes caused by the lens, and turn on the Chromatic aberration correction to clean up high-contrast corners of the image. I have found that the camera does not slow down or use extra battery power with these features enabled. To activate it go to Menu>Lens aberration correction and Enable both settings.
Menu>Lens aberration correction
There are two nice things about the Canon 6D buttons. First, some can be customized, and second, they are mostly located on the right side of the camera for one-handed controls. The following customizations are what I currently use on my 6D.
I prefer to not flip the AF switch on the lens back and forth to go from autofocus to manual focus and back again. Instead, I always keep the lens with the AF switched to ON and use the AF-ON button to activate it when I need it. The shutter button can be customized to not activate AF when it is pressed. When the camera is set up like this, it is possible to manually focus (with USM lenses only) with the lens always set to AF and press the AF-ON button when AF is needed. The shutter button can be customized in Menu>Operations/Others>Custom Controls>Shutter butt.>Metering Start. The AF-ON button can be customized in Custom Controls>AF-ON Button>Metering and AF Start.
Menu>Operations/Others>Custom Controls>Shutter butt.>Metering Start.
Custom Controls>AF-ON Button>Metering and AF Start.
Playback Zoom Options
A new feature found in Canon's latest models is the ability to set the initial zoom magnification when the magnify button is pressed during image playback or image review modes. This saves time when you are only curious about checking the focus at full magnification and can access 10x with just one button press. To set the initial magnification level to 10x, go to Menu>Magnificatn (apx)>10x (magnify from center).
Menu>Magnificatn (apx)>10x (magnify from center).
Pointing into direct sunlight
It is advisable to NOT leave the Canon 6D pointing into direct sunlight with no lens cap and live view mode activated. This exposes the sensor to direct sunlight for long durations and depending on the lens, may also magnify and cook the sensor. If shooting into direct sunlight, wear a pair (or two) of strong sunglasses and use the viewfinder instead. With viewfinder shooting mode, the mirror protects the sensor and shutter assembly from the damaging light. If live view mode must be used when shooting directly into the Sun, place at least a 3 stop neutral density filter over the lens at all times to help protect the sensor.
Vehicle battery charging
When on long photography trips or when heavily draining the battery power, it is critical to make sure you don’t run out when the conditions are perfect for a shot. I recharge my Canon 6D batteries in my vehicle by using a power inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter socket and connected by extension cord to the Canon charger. I use 5 Canon OEM battery packs, which have so far lasted plenty long for all of my trips and types of photography. Battery power may be greatly extended by limiting live-view use, turning off wifi and GPS, and not reviewing many images stored on the memory card. I use a CyberPower inverter which has proven to be very reliable after several years of use. It also comes with a USB plugin for charging smart phones at the same time.
I use Manfrotto 055cxPro3 tripod legs and a Manfrotto 054 Ball Head with quick release plate. While this setup may be a little overkill for the Canon 6D, it remains steady in even the most extended positions, and in the worst conditions. This setup covers positions from over 6 feet high down to ground level using the sideways option for the mast. With the wifi available on a smart phone, it makes it easy to put the camera in any sort of crazy position too high or too low for normal operation.
Tripod at full extension with Canon 6D and 16-35L II lens.
The beefy 054 Ball Head and Quick Release Plate.
Tripod mast in sideways mode for a low shot.
Tripod in ultra-low mode for a ground-level shot.
I use a combination of both 16 and 32 gigabyte class 10 SD memory cards for my Canon 6D. I recommend spending the extra money for high-quality memory cards. They are often faster and will likely have a lower failure rate. Waiting for long durations to let slow memory cards write data is frustrating, but losing your shots altogether can be devastating. Every time I put a card into the camera I make sure to do two critical things. First is I review the images on the card to make sure they are not new photos which would be erased if I used the card again. Secondly, I perform a low-level format every time I use a card, just to make sure the filing structure is fresh and properly set up. For memory card storage, I use a Pelican SD Memory Hard Case which can hold 8 SD cards. In order to show which cards have been used, I flip the cards upside down so the label isn’t showing. This tells me at one glance which cards have new images on them and shouldn’t be used again until backed up on the computer. Any card with the label showing should be OK, but as a precaution the card is first reviewed to make sure no new images exist.
Low Level format located in Menu>Format Card.