Canon T6 Field Test
Canon T6 Field Test
It's priced to sell, but does this modestly-upgraded Rebel have what it takes to beat its rivals?
By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 08/04/2016
Two years ago, we reviewed the Canon T5, the company's most affordably-priced DSLR. Although not surprisingly it lacked bells and whistles of more fully-featured (and more expensive) cameras -- especially in terms of burst performance -- we nevertheless found a lot to like in Canon's entry-level DSLR. And with a pricetag just under $500 with kit lens, it was certainly priced affordably, putting it within easy reach of those looking to trade up from a smartphone or point-and-shoot camera.
The combination of low cost and great image quality ensured that the T5 took home our Dave's Pick award, recommending it as a good choice for photographers on a tight budget. Now, we're two years further down the road and the Canon T6 has landed on my desk for a review. By and large, it retains its predecessor's feature set almost intact, with upgrades in just a couple of key areas.
Perhaps the most important of these is the addition of in-camera Wi-Fi, ensuring that you can get photos off the camera and onto your phone quickly and easily. (And from there, it's just a quick hop further to put them on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and their ilk, ready for your friends and family to see.) Compared to its predecessor, the Canon T6 also brings support for Wi-Fi remote control, and a crisper, higher-resolution LCD monitor.
The list of unchanged features is rather longer. The Canon T6's polycarbonate body is near-identical to that of the earlier camera, save for the addition of a Wi-Fi status lamp and a few subtle tweaks to styling and labeling. Inside, the entire imaging pipeline from sensor to card slot is essentially unchanged. That means the Canon T6 still boasts a reasonable ISO range compared to smartphones and compact cameras, but has rather sluggish burst capture and a very limited raw buffer.
Its predecessor was a great pic two years ago, but how does the Canon T6 stack up in today's camera market? That's what I wanted to find out in my real-world field test!
How does the Canon T6 compare to its nearest rivals?
The first thing I wanted to do when I got my hands on the Canon T6 was to compare it with its rivals, just quickly. And since we're talking about a DSLR camera here, I limited myself to comparisons with other SLRs. (At the entry level, I think that likely makes more sense. Size and weight of entry-level DSLRs is already fairly modest, and even a pentamirror viewfinder will fare well in comparison to the lower-res electronic viewfinders typically found in entry-level mirrorless cameras.)
Three cameras stood out to me as the most valid comparisons, once I dropped some much older cameras that are still available in the market from contention. Nikon's nearest rival is the D3300, while from Pentax the K-S2 was the closest equivalent.
Head-to-head with the Nikon D3300
We'll start with a comparison to the Nikon D3300, and to be completely fair we should note straight away that it's a bit more expensive than the Canon T6. At some US$650 with 18-55mm kit lens, its list price is around US$100 higher. On the street, the difference as of August 2016 is even a little greater, with the T6 selling for about US$150 less than its Nikon rival. Given that the T6 currently has a street price of some US$400 with kit lens (again, as of August 2016), that's a pretty substantial price advantage in the Canon's favor.
Nikon's camera also boasts somewhat higher resolution, and yet a wider sensitivity range, helped in part due to a slightly larger sensor. It also shoots quite a bit faster -- some five frames per second for the Nikon, versus three for the Canon -- and boasts both a more generously-sized viewfinder image and a significantly longer battery life. (You'll be able to keep shooting with the D3300 for around 200 shots after the T6 has run out of juice.)
But in the Canon T6's favor -- as well as the aforementioned lower pricetag -- it boasts in-camera Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity that its Nikon rival lacks. That means you'll be able to share your images straight away so long as there's cellular data or Wi-Fi connectivity in your shooting location, where with the D3300 you'd need to pay for a separate Wi-Fi adapter ($60 list / $40 street) or fumble with cables or flash card adapters.
For a more detailed breakdown of each camera's strengths and weaknesses, take a look at our Nikon D3300 vs. Canon T6 comparison.
Head-to-head with the Pentax K-S2
And how about the Pentax? Well, the K-S2 again has rather higher list price than the T6, at US$600 for the Pentax versus US$550 for the Canon. And street prices again show even more of an advantage for the T6, as of this writing in August 2016. Where you can pick up the Canon T6 with 18-55mm kit lens for around US$400, the Pentax K-S2 will run you around US$550 street with its retractable 18-50mm lens.
But the laundry list of advantages for the Pentax K-S2 is even longer. It has an even roomier viewfinder than either the Canon T6 or Nikon D3300, and it's a glass pentaprism type that's sharper and brighter than the pentamirror viewfinders of its two rivals. It also shoots faster than either camera at around 5.2 fps, versus the Canon T6's three fps. And it bests the T6 for burst depth in either raw or JPEG shooting, as well as providing a much wider sensitivity range and a faster top shutter speed of 1/6,000 second. (The T6 tops out at 1/4,000, making it harder to freeze motion in sports or shoot with a wide aperture in bright light or with flash.)
Add in a more sophisticated autofocus system, in-camera image stabilization, external microphone connectivity for movie capture, and a clever on-demand anti-aliasing filter function which lets you choose whether you're more concerned about resolution or avoiding ugly moire and false color artifacts for any given photo -- the T6 has a resolution-sapping fixed anti-aliasing filter -- and it's obvious that for a bit more money, the Pentax K-S2 is a whole lot more camera.
But that's not to say that Pentax wins in every respect. As well as being more affordable, the Canon T6 has noticeably longer battery life than does the Pentax K-S2, letting you shoot an extra 90 shots or so before you run out of charge. It also starts up a fair bit more quickly, and has a crisper, higher-resolution LCD monitor. And where Canon and Nikon both have much larger communities of users -- meaning its quite likely you'll know at least one or two friends with whom you can share gear and advice -- the Pentaxian community is still pretty small. (At least, in the North American market, anyway.) That means you'll probably be the only person you know with a Pentax, and you'll also find third parties less likely to offer gear you can use with your new camera.
For a more detailed rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of each, take a look at our Pentax K-S2 vs. Canon T6 comparison!
A solid, comfortable body with very approachable handling
As I noted earlier on, the Canon T6's polycarbonate body is near-identical to that of the earlier Canon T5, save for a few subtle changes. These include the addition of a Wi-Fi status lamp, subtle styling tweaks to the flash button and both front and rear grips, an extra logo to mark the position of the new NFC antenna, and one additional scene mode position on the mode dial.
As Jason Schneider noted in his Canon T5 field test, the Canon T6's body is lightweight for a DSLR, and really quite comfortable in-hand. It's gently-rounded corners really help here, as well as making it quite a handsome camera.
I did find myself wishing for a slightly deeper handgrip, though, as my fingers pressed into the camera body on the inside of the grip a bit more than I'd have liked. I'm tall, though, at a little over six feet, and have rather large hands. (And with the relatively light weight of the body and typical consumer lenses, it really wasn't too much of an issue.)
And as Jason noted with the earlier camera, almost all of the main controls are well-positioned and clearly labeled. There's not a lot of room on the back of the camera, so the rear-panel controls are quite close to the edge of the camera, and most of them hence dictate a two-handed grip. That's not unusual in a consumer DSLR like the Canon T6, though, so I wouldn't consider it a concern.
I did find myself wondering why Canon did away with the screen-printed label next to the flash button on the top deck, though. Sure, almost all of the other controls are labeled on the button or dial itself rather than on the adjacent body panel, but the new flash button still differs from the others, so it wasn't changed for consistency. And the flash button now has only a slightly indented flash logo on its surface which isn't colored in any way, making it hard to see if there's not much light or it's from the wrong angle. But again, you'll get used to this pretty quickly, so it's not a big deal -- I just mention it for completeness.
The viewfinder is a bit of a tunnel compared to rivals, but better than entry-level electronic viewfinders
As I noted in my comparisons against its Nikon and Pentax rivals, the Canon T6's thru-the-lens optical viewfinder is a bit on the small side, delivering a rather less generous view than other entry-level DSLRs. And since it's a pentamirror design, it's also not quite as bright or crisp as would be a pentaprism viewfinder. (But then only Pentax gives you that feature in an entry-level DSLR.) With all of that said, though, I certainly prefer shooting with the optical viewfinder of the Canon T6 to the electronic viewfinders typical of entry-level mirrorless cameras.
For one thing, there's zero lag with a true optical viewfinder, where more affordable mirrorless cameras can have slight (but noticeable) lag between something happening in the real world, and being shown in the viewfinder. Entry-level electronic viewfinders can also tend to have rather low resolution, whereas with an optical viewfinder you get a sharper image. That pays dividends if you decide to focus manually.
I don't wear eyeglasses, but if you do, it's good to know that there's a -2.5 to +0.5 m-1 dioptric correction available. If that's not sufficient, the included eyecup can be removed and various dioptric adjustment or other accessories attached. (For long exposures, you can also cover the viewfinder with a small eyepiece blank that's attached to the bundled shoulder strap.)
The Canon T6's new display is crisp and fairly good outdoors
For an entry-level DSLR, the Canon T6's new display is reasonably crisp, thanks to its upgraded 307,000-dot screen. Colors are also reasonably accurate, even if viewed from a fair angle. (The screen does dim quite a bit from extreme vertical angles, though.)
Shooting outdoors in sunlight, I found the T6's monitor to have reasonable brightness, as well. Especially if it's turned up to the maximum brightness, which is done manually through the menu system. It's a bit prone to glare in direct sunlight, though, so when reviewing images, fiddling with the menu system or shooting in live view mode, you may occasionally need to shade it with your hand.
And it's a shame that it lacks any articulation mechanism, of course. But then just as with the pentaprism viewfinder, no other DSLR manufacturer really offers tilt/swivel screens at the entry-level.
Thoughtful controls and an entry-level feature set mean you'll get to grips with the Canon T6 very quickly
As interchangeable-lens cameras go, the Canon T6 has a relatively modest learning curve. If you don't know even the basics of exposure variables yet, you'll find the Scene Intelligent Auto or Creative Auto modes will offer all the hand-holding you could ask for. They'll even raise the popup flash automatically as needed.
There are also six scene modes, including a new Food mode that will be a natural fit for the foodies amongst us. And when changing modes or options in the quick menu, you'll also get handy tips that tell you precisely what the mode or option you're considering will do.
The full menu system, too, is pretty straightforward and approachable, although it lacks the tips shown in the quick menu system. As you'd expect in an entry-level camera, there aren't too terribly many screens of options, and they're fairly well organized. And depending on your shooting mode, you may find that many of these options are also disabled.
In fact, in the Auto modes, there are a total of just nine record menu options and one quick menu option available! It really couldn't get much simpler, but at the same time there's a reasonable amount of room to grow as you get more proficient and learn the basics of photography.
Performance is mostly fair, but burst capture is slow compared to the competition
If there's an Achilles heel for the Canon T6, unquestionably it's the camera's burst performance. At its maximum capture rate, you'll manage only a sedate three frames per second. That's below average even at the entry level, these days. , Single-shot cycle times are more average, at around a half-second per shot.
And burst depth, too, is somewhat limited at just 15 frames or so in JPEG mode, six frames for raw only, and as few as four frames in raw+JPEG mode. Buffer clearing, too, is a bit on the slow side. Snap just a handful of shots in a row in raw mode, and you'll find yourself waiting as long as ten seconds or so for the buffer to clear. Even in JPEG-only mode, a few seconds of shooting will leave you waiting around five seconds for the buffer to clear.
Depending on your subject and shooting style, this may well not be a concern. If you're wanting to shoot a lot of sports or particularly active, unpredictable subjects, though -- pets or young kids running around, say -- then you may want to consider either a higher-priced, better-performing model in Canon's own EOS lineup, such as the Canon T5i or T6i, or an alternative from Nikon or Pentax. But if you're more judicious in your shooting, taking time to compose your shots one at a time, it's going to prove much less of an issue.
And while burst performance is undeniably slow, in other respects the Canon T6's performance is about par for the course. Startup is reasonably swift, and autofocus performance is fair, if not startlingly quick. The AF system can struggle a bit in low light, if your subject is too far away to be illuminated by a brief burst from the popup flash strobe, though. Oh, and speaking of the flash, its recharging time is reasonably good at around 1.8 seconds.
Great image quality in most respects, but watch for somewhat limited dynamic range
Especially when bearing in mind its affordable price, the Canon T6 offers pretty decent image quality. Exposure is generally pretty accurate, and so too is white balance for the most part, although it can tend a bit warm under incandescent lighting. Colors look realistic, and while they tend to be a bit less saturated than consumer tastes typically favor by default, it's easy enough to tweak them if you feel you want a little more punch to your photos.
During my review, I've only had consumer-grade glass available to me -- the EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM, EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II and EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lenses, with the 18-55mm being the same lens included in Canon T6 kits -- but bearing that in mind, detail has been pretty good. Put some better glass on there and for its resolution, the Canon T6 can provide excellent detail levels.
I didn't feel that noise levels were an issue up to the maximum standard sensitivity of ISO 6400-equivalent, either. Even the expanded ISO 12,800 position was reasonably usable, in my opinion, although finer details certainly suffered the effects of noise reduction, and a fair bit of chroma noise was visible, especially in the shadows. Of course, it has to be pointed out that the Canon T6's ISO sensitivity range is rather more abbreviated than is offered by its nearest competitors, these days.
If there's a weak point in the image quality department, it would have to be dynamic range. Whether you shoot in raw or JPEG modes, the Canon T6's sensor just won't provide quite as much of a range from shadows to highlights as will the competition these days. You can work around this to some extent with the Highlight Tone Priority and Automatic Lighting Optimization functions, though.
Overall, I think most Canon T6 shooters will be happy with what they see in the image quality department, especially if they stay at around ISO 3200-6400 or below. Realistically, this camera is a step-up option for smartphone or compact camera shooters, or perhaps those still using a much older entry-level DSLR. In comparison with any of those, image quality should be significantly better than what you're used to, even if it's not quite the match of the entry-level DSLR competition in all areas.
Wi-Fi and NFC make it easy to get your photos off the camera and onto the Internet
The biggest difference between the Canon T6 and its predecessor, the T5, is the addition of in-camera Wi-Fi wireless networking. It comes complemented by NFC technology for quick-and-easy pairing, and makes light work of getting your photos off the camera, onto your phone, and from there onto the Internet for family and friends to see them on your social network of choice.
The fact that the feature is included in-camera is a big boon versus the competing Nikon D3300, which has to rely on a separate Wi-Fi dongle which plugs into the camera. With the Canon T6, your shooting ergonomics aren't degraded to use Wi-Fi, and you don't need to spend more money to make it happen, either. Of course, as we saw in my review of the Pentax K-S2, the inclusion of Wi-Fi in the camera is only half the battle: You also need a good implementation for it to be really useful. (And sadly, the K-S2's implementation wasn't great.)
Pairing by NFC is quick and easy once you enable Wi-Fi
Thankfully, Canon's implementation is much better. If you have an Android phone with NFC support -- and that's almost all of them, these days -- then pairing couldn't be much easier. Simply tap phone or tablet to camera, aligning their NFC antennas as you do, and you'll be taken to the Google Play store to install the required, free Canon Camera Connect app. A second tap will open the app and trigger a connection to be set up automatically, so long as Wi-Fi and NFC are enabled on the camera.
The only real stumble is that by default, they're completely disabled, causing your phone or tablet to complain that it "Cannot connect because NFC is not enabled on the camera". It'd be nice if NFC was always active (and could enable Wi-Fi by itself), given that it only has a range of a couple of inches. If somebody is close enough to pair by NFC, they're close enough to change the camera settings anyway, so any feeling of safety from requiring the manual interaction with the camera is illusory. And NFC uses next-to-no power, so it's not really a concern for that reason, either.
iPads and iPhones pair manually, but that's Apple's fault
Of course, all of the above is applicable only to Android users. Those of you with iPads and iPhones will need to pair manually, selecting the camera-created Wi-Fi network from your smart device and entering the provided security key as you connect.
That's entirely Apple's fault, though, as even though all of its latest devices contain all the hardware required to skip this step, the tech giant continues to refuse to let third parties access the hardware you paid for. Only Apple can change that, and it doesn't seem likely to do so any time soon.
Three choices once you're connected: View, Shoot or Setup
Once connected, you have a few options: view the images on your camera's SD card, shoot images remotely, or adjust camera settings. This last simply lets you sync the date, time, timezone and daylight savings status of your phone or tablet to the camera body, ensuring that your camera's time is accurate.
Image transfer is quick and very easy
Viewing and transferring images is quick and easy. You're presented with a thumbnail view of the images on your camera, which loads fairly quickly. You can then either tap on the image you want to view -- in which case a higher-resolution copy is quickly transferred for a full-screen preview -- or tap on buttons to select multiple images for download or deletion at one time.
By default, images are downloaded at 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution, but you can override this to always download full-resolution versions, or to ask you as each image or batch of images is downloaded. You can also opt to display basic exposure information alongside image thumbnails, to sort images by date, folder or rating, and to jump to images from a specific date.
Images are rated in the full-screen preview mode, and you can also choose to enable or disable an overlay of basic exposure information here. And image transfers are pretty swift, taking perhaps three seconds or less to transfer each full-resolution image, and less than a second for resized images.
Remote control is basic, but works nicely
The real fun is to be had in the remote shooting section of the app. Here, the interface isn't quite so polished, although it's still much better than that offered up by Pentax. For one thing, screen real-estate is used efficiently: On a tablet, you can get almost a full-screen live view feed that's positively huge, although resolution is fairly low, and so it's quite pixelated. Canon also doesn't force its choice of orientation on users, allowing the screen to rotate by default, but giving you the option to lock the orientation.
Once connected, you get an array of options you can control, based on the current operating mode of the camera. These can include shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, manual focus adjustment, drive mode, and autofocus mode. Tapping on-screen sets the focus area on-screen, and double-tapping enables a focus magnification function.
You also have a shutter button, an info button to select which exposure overlays should be shown, and through a drop-down menu can access screen orientation and AF button controls. The latter adds an on-screen autofocus button, rather than waiting to focus before image capture. It takes a second to realize that you have to hold this button in to focus, but once you do it works nicely. And courtesy of the autofocus mode button, you can opt for regular contrast-detection, contrast detect with face detection, or phase-detection autofocus. (This last option drops the reflex mirror briefly to focus, causing an interruption to the live view feed.)
There are a few rough edges to remote control, though
So what are the rough edges here? Well, for one thing it is a little unintuitive that if you just tap the focus button, nothing happens. It'd make more sense for this to trigger a full AF cycle. Also, only a handful of exposure controls can be shown on-screen at once, with more hidden behind two arrow buttons at screen left or right -- even though you may have plenty of room to show every single button at once.
And although you can use the camera in different exposure modes, seeing only the variables relevant to that mode, it's not possible to change modes from the app. Instead, you have to turn the mode dial on the camera -- and doing so instantly drops the Wi-Fi connection entirely, causing you to have to reconnect.
Finally, it feels just a tad unintuitive that the manual focus adustment control is separate from the autofocus mode control. It'd make more sense to me to have a single focus control option (with manual focus as one of those options) and then only show the manual focus adjustment control when you believe yourself to be in manual focus mode. As-is, since the focus button isn't shown by default either, if you miss the tiny arrows to get you to the autofocus mode control, you could think that manual focus was your only option.
The Canon T6 boasts hands-down the best Wi-Fi setup in an entry-level DSLR
These are relatively minor quibbles, though. As-is, the Canon T6's in-camera Wi-Fi is already a much more friendly and robust solution than that provided by Pentax, and much more seamless than Nikon's reliance on an external Wi-Fi dongle. And perhaps most important of all, as well as transfer speeds being good, range is also pretty decent. I found that I could get perhaps 30-40 feet from the camera in line-of-sight, or 20-30 feet with a wall between myself and the camera, before the live view feed degraded to the point of being unusable.
Movie capture is present, too, but a bit of an afterthought
We've discussed still images quite a bit, but what about movies? Here, the Canon T6 feels a bit dated, with its movie mode lacking some of the functionality found on some rivals. For example, the Nikon D3300 offers full-time autofocus during movie capture, where the Canon T6 will limit you solely to single autofocus operations.
And the Canon T6 also limits capture framerates at the full 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution to just 30 frames per second or below, where rivals like the D3300 offer up to 60 fps capture at full resolution. (You can manage this framerate with the T6, but only if you're willing to drop the movie resolution to 1,280 x 720 pixels.) And where the D3300 provides clean HDMI output for recording on an external device, the Canon T6 lacks this capability too.
Nor can you attach an external microphone to the Canon T6, although both the competing Pentax K-S2 and Nikon D3300 offer this capability. Instead, you're limited to the built-in microphone, which is monaural and so can't record stereo sound. (You could get around this by using an external audio recorder and then manually replacing the audio post-capture, but that's a hoop most Canon T6 owners won't want to jump through.)
On the plus side, you can shoot not only with automatic exposure control, but also by controlling the aperture and shutter speed manually. It's an all-or-nothing option, though: Unlike both the Nikon D3300 and Pentax K-S2, the Canon T6 doesn't allow aperture-priority movie capture.
A quick recap of my Canon T6 shooting experience
At the outset of my field test, I said that I wanted to see how the Canon T6, which is pretty closely-based on a two-year old design, fares against its rivals in today's entry-level DSLR market. Having spent a fair bit of time shooting with the T6, I have to say that overall it fares pretty well, especially when considering its pricetag.
As of this writing in August 2016, it's a significantly more affordable camera in terms of street pricing than its closest competitors, the Nikon D3300 and Pentax K-S2. Enough so that you could potentially afford an extra lens or accessory with the money you've saved.
With that said, there are a couple of weak spots to be aware of. Perhaps the most important of these is the Canon T6's sedate burst-capture performance. The T6 also trails its nearest competitors in terms of dynamic range, ISO sensitivity range, and its video capabilities.
For most potential Canon T6 buyers, though, it's really the burst performance that's most likely to prove of significant concern. My advice would be to think carefully about what you're planning to shoot. If it involves sports or other very active, unpredictable subjects, this alone should be enough to sway you either to a more fully-featured model in Canon's own DSLR lineup, or to a competing camera.
(Note: This image shot through glass window)
If you're mostly going to be avoiding burst shooting in favor of carefully-framed exposures or lots of landscapes, still lifes and pictures of family gatherings, though, then the Canon T6 offers a nice, approachable introduction to DSLR photography with a relatively minimal investment -- and the Canon EOS lineup will give you plenty of room to grow should you get really serious about your newfound hobby!