Canon Rebel T6s Field Test

A beefed-up entry-level DSLR bridges gap toward enthusiasts

by Jeremy Gray | Posted

EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM: 18mm, f/8, 0.8s, ISO 100
This image has been retouched slightly. Click for original image.

Introduction

At $849 USD (body only), the Canon Rebel T6s provides a lot of performance for the price. It's about $100 more expensive than the T6i, but it brings a handful of notable improvements over the T6i while sharing many key features. The T6s includes the same sensor, AF system, and processor as the T6i, but brings numerous improvements to the camera body itself, including a top LCD display and a rear 'quick control' dial. The T6i continues in the footsteps of prior Rebel DSLR cameras, whereas the higher tier T6s further bridges the gap between entry-level and mid-range cameras, making the T6s Canon's new flagship Rebel model.

Key Features

With a 24.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, the T6s (and the T6i) are the highest resolution Rebel cameras to date, besting the T5i's 18 megapixel sensor. The T6s has a new autofocus system with 19 cross-type phase-detection AF points, can shoot continuously at up to 5fps, and has a native ISO range of 100-12,800 (which expands up to ISO 25,600). Metering has also improved with a 7,560 pixel RGB + IR metering sensor with skin tone detection.

Camera Body and Handling

The T6s feels fine to hold, although the camera's grip is small and not very deep for my liking. The buttons are all generally easy to reach, although the Quick Control dial is difficult for me to reach while still maintaining a strong grip on the camera because the dial is quite low on the back of the camera body. The T6s is not weather-sealed nor particularly heavy-duty, but this helps to keep its weight at a light 565 grams including the battery. With that said, Canon has a long history of producing quality cameras, and I expect that the T6s' durability will be very good.

Operating the camera via the 3" fully-articulated touchscreen monitor works well as on-screen elements are large enough to touch accurately with all of my touches registering correctly. As with many touchscreens, the display gets covered with fingerprints quickly, which can make the display harder to use in bright light. The display fully articulates, which is great when you need to reposition it to reduce glare in sunny shooting conditions. The screen feels sturdy and the rotation/articulation is very smooth.

The mode dial on the top left of the camera works great and it rotates firmly into place with each adjustment. Like a higher-end mode dial has a locking mechanism, in which you press and hold to unlock the dial as you rotate. Along the top of the top-plate LCD screen sit three buttons: AF Area selection, ISO, and LCD panel illumination. The ISO button has a small bump in the center to make it easier to locate just by touch while looking through the viewfinder.

The top display itself is rather small but still provides a variety of useful information in an easy to read letters and symbols, like it's larger brethren. The information displayed depends on the shooting mode of the camera, but in creative shooting modes (P, Av, TV, and M), the display shows ISO speed, shutter speed, aperture, highlight tone priority, battery life, Wi-Fi status, remaining images that can be captured given current image recording settings, and exposure level/exposure compensation. The mode dial is on the top left of the camera body.

Moving to the back of the camera body, below the tri-modal on/off/movie-mode switch are the Menu and Info buttons. These two buttons are small and barely extend beyond the camera body, so they can be a little difficult to press. To the right of the viewfinder is a small Live View Shooting/Movie Shooting button. Despite being a small button, it however protrudes outwards more than the menu and info buttons and is easier to press. There are AE lock/FE lock/Index/Reduce and AF point selection/Magnify buttons above the thumb grip. Below the thumb grip are 'Quick Control' and Playback buttons. Further down is the Control Dial wheel, a first for a Rebel camera, which has been brought over from Canon's higher-ends DSLRs and replaces the standard 4-buttom+SET control cluster from earlier Rebel models. Inside the 4-way-directional Control Dial are white balance, picture style, drive mode, and AF operation selection buttons with a 'Set' button in the center.

Shooting Experience

Image files from the T6s look really nice. Both RAW and JPEG files have pleasing, smooth tones and good colors. In my opinion, RAW files are slightly soft straight from the camera, but the files sharpen well. The dynamic range of RAW files certainly can't match recent full frame cameras, but there is still a lot of data in the files that allows for moderate exposure adjustments. Overall, I was pleased with the images from the T6s and was impressed with the amount of flexibility that the RAW files provided.

EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 250mm, f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 3200
This image has been retouched slightly.
Click for original image converted from RAW using Adobe Camera Raw with default settings. (RAW)

The T6s' optical viewfinder is clear and bright with large, easily readable text along the bottom of the viewfinde. The viewfinder, however, only provides 95% frame coverage with a magnification of 0.82x. The viewfinder feels rather small; it would be nice if it had 100% coverage. The T6s also has an eye sensor above the viewfinder. The camera uses this sensor to determine if you are looking through the viewfinder. When looking through the viewfinder, the camera turns the display on the back of the camera off to save battery (which is rated to last for 440 shots). The T6s also features a single-axis electronic level. The level is fairly simplistic, but it does work well.

The T6s offers both silent continuous and silent single shooting modes for use in sound-sensitive situations. The silent continuous shooting mode decreases the continuous shooting frame rate from 5 to 3fps, yet the shutter is only marginally quieter when shooting using this mode, though, so it's hard to see a significant benefit.

Using the Canon Camera Connect application, you can remotely capture and download images using your mobile device with Wi-Fi, or NFC if your device supports it. Using my iOS device, the Wi-Fi connection process was slightly more complicated than previous cameras I've used. To connect the camera to my mobile device, I had to enter the camera's menu system to activate the Wi-Fi network, then my device's menu system and locate that network, enter the encryption key into my mobile device, and then enter a command into the camera's menu system. Fortunately, the encryption key is saved for future connections.

EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM: 18mm, f/7.1, 1/40s, ISO 100
This image has been retouched slightly. Click for original image.

The app itself offers some control over the camera, including changing drive mode, AF mode, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation depending on the mode you're in. Unfortunately, you cannot change the shooting mode of the camera remotely and changing the mode on the camera itself disconnects the camera from the phone. Additionally, white balance, metering, and file recording settings cannot be changed remotely. I also experienced a slight delay -- about a second or so -- when trying to move the focus point around the screen on my mobile device. It isn't a huge delay, but certainly enough of a delay such that you wouldn't be able to remotely shoot a moving subject very easily. There's also a slight low framerate/stuttering lag appearance to the remote live view with the app. I did like that the app has a smaller button beneath the shutter release that controls the camera's focus without capturing an image. Overall, the app can be useful in a variety of situations depending upon the control flexibility that you desire, though capturing fast moving subjects can be challenging.  

The usabilty of Live View shooting on the T6s is excellent. As with other recent Canon DSLRs, there's a live view mode toggle buttom right next to the viewfinder. I'll talk about viewfinder AF performance a bit further down, but for manual focusing, the T6s gives you the ability to zoom in at 5x and 10x increments to adjust and check focus, however, the camera doesn't offer focus peaking option, unfortunately. The 3” articulating display works really well for live view shooting, making it easier to get shots from various high or low angles. Using the touchscreen, you can tap to focus as well as tap the screen to trigger the shutter release. An excellent feature of the T6s when using live view is tapping your subject so that the camera begins tracking it with autofocus. There is a simulated exposure option that does a good job of giving a live preview of what the captured exposure will look like given the current camera settings (there's also a optional live histogram overlay available). This feature struggles when lighting conditions are low, however, but it works well in most other situations I experienced.

EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 250mm, f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 640
This image was converted from RAW using Adobe Camera Raw with default settings. (RAW)

Autofocus Performance

The T6s has a 19-point autofocus system, which is borrows from the Canon 70D. The T6s' 19 points are all cross-type phase-detection AF points. In many lighting conditions, the T6s focuses quickly and accurately, struggling only with particularly complex scenes and in very low light. There are three AF point and area options: Single-Point AF (manual selection), Zone AF (manual selection of zone), and 19-Point Automatic Selection AF. The latter option, 19-point automatic selection AF, is the simplest AF area option to use, and it performs well at selecting the correct subject. Manually selecting an AF point or an AF zone takes a few seconds to do as the directional buttons on the back of the camera all have functions mapped to them and cannot be used to quickly move the AF point (or zone) as I'm used to with my Nikon DSLRs. You'll first have to press the AF point selection button located in the upper right corner on the rear of the camera next to your thumb, and then an AF point (or zone) can be selected using rear multi-directional button, the top and rear control dials, or even the LCD touchscreen.

Continuous autofocus performance with the T6s is good; it's quick to acquire and reacquire focus when burst shooting using AI Servo AF. When using the full 19-point automatic AF point selection mode and AI Servo AF continuous focus mode, the camera uses a manually-chosen AF point first as its starting point, and then if the subject moves away from this point, the camera continues to track focus across the frame while the subject is within the area of AF points. This is a different behavior than when using the 19-point automatic AF point selection mode in One-Shot mode, in which the camera automatically determines focus point with no user-selectable "starting point." When using AI Focus AF -- where the camera automatically selects beween One-Shot AF and AI Servo AF, modes -- you are not given a starting AF point for any sort of subject tracking. However, I found AI Focus AF is not quick to determine when a subject starts moving, so, in my shooting experience, I found that a single AF point or AF zone works better when continuously shooting using AI Servo AF -- provided that you can keep the focus point (or zone) on the subject.

EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 250mm, f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 1000
This image has been retouched slightly.
Click for original image converted from RAW using Adobe Camera Raw with default settings. (RAW)

Autofocus in live view is impressive. The T6s uses a new Hybrid CMOS AF III focus system here, which utilizes a combination of traditional contrast-detect AF areas and on-sensor phase-detect AF points. Autofocus areas in live view cover 80% of the width and height of the sensor. Live view autofocus is quick and accurate in various lighting conditions, and Canon claims this new live view AF system approaches the performance of their Dual Pixel CMOS AF system seen in their higher-end models like the 70D and 7D Mark II. Unlike the T6i, the Canon T6s has the advantage where it can use Servo AF while in live view to continuously adjust focus between frames when shooting a burst of images.

Subject tracking also works well in live view. In fact, I found that subject tracking works better in live view than it does when shooting through the viewfinder. When using subject tracking, a blue rectangle covers the subject, and the T6s follows it throughout the frame accurately and lagging behind the subject only when the subject is moving quickly. I was impressed with the T6s' ability to track a subject while in live view, and I found it a viable alternative to using the viewfinder, particularly when shooting a moving subject, so long as the subject isn't moving very quickly.

Metering

Using its new 7,560 pixel RGB + IR metering sensor, I found the T6s provided consistent and accurate metering results. The camera uses the EOS scene analysis system and routinely selected the appropriate exposure while using evaluative metering in a wide array of lighting conditions. In addition to evaluative metering, there is center-weighted, partial, and spot metering as one most modern cameras. Unfortunately, spot metering is not tied to the AF point, which means you still have to meter using the center AF point, and then use AE lock and recompose the shot. In cases where the camera fails to deliver the desired or expected exposure, exposure compensation is available up to +/-5 stops. There isn't a dedicated exposure compensation button or dial on the camera body, but when the T6s is in certain shooting modes, such as aperture or shutter priority, the Quick Control dial can be rotated to adjust exposure compensation settings on the fly. Additionally, it is always easy to access exposure compensation through the Quick Control menu.

EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM: 38mm, f/8, 1/50s, ISO 500
This image has been retouched slightly. Click for original image.

Shooting in Automatic Modes

Given the good autofocus and metering performance of the T6s, it is no surprise that the camera's automatic shooting modes work well. There are some built-in automatic preset modes, such as creative auto (CA), portrait, landscape, close-up, sports, and special scene modes (SCN). Within special scene modes, presets include kids, food, candlelight, night portraits with a tripod, handheld night scenes, and HDR backlight control. I found the HDR backlight control scene mode to work particularly well.

HDR Backlight Scene Mode
EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 70mm, f/4.5, 1/320s, ISO 160

The T6s offers auto ISO capability, with the default range set to 100-6400, except for in Landscape preset mode where the ISO is capped at 1600. The maximum allowable ISO can be changed through the menu system, but you cannot select a minimum shutter speed, unfortunately. The camera does, however, consider the focal length of the lens when choosing the shutter speed and ISO combination, but it would be beneficial to be able to set a minimum shutter speed when photographing moving subjects in order to ensure crisp shots.

Landscape Scene Mode
EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM: 18mm, f/6.3, 1/400s, ISO 100

This image has been retouched slightly. Click for original image.

Speed

The T6s can capture images at up to five frames per second. The speed is okay for the most part, but the maximum burst is poor when capturing RAW files. When recording RAW files to a class 10 SD card, the T6s captured only seven ISO 100 images at five fps before slowing down to roughly 0.5fps. The camera took slightly over five seconds to clear the buffer of this burst of RAW images. With that said, buffer depth and processing speed depends on many conditions, such as the SD card and camera settings. Buffer performance improves dramatically when shooting solely high quality JPEG files, however. The T6s can capture up to 940 best-quality JPEG images in a single continuous burst and processes these JPEG files very quickly.

While the number of RAW images you can capture at five frames per second is limited, the T6s is still a quick camera at this price point. The T6s is not the ideal camera for capturing RAW images of action, but it handles JPEG shooting very well.

EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM: 10mm, f/4.5, 16s, ISO 3200
This image has been retouched slightly. Click for original image.

Shooting in Low Light

While the T6s does not excel with low light autofocus, but its high ISO image quality is good considering its high resolution APS-C sensor. The autofocus sensor is rated to autofocus at just -0.5EV on the low end, and up to 18 EV. In low light, the camera can be slow to acquire focus, and I also tried live view shooting in low light, finding similar performance to that of viewfinder shooting. The built-in flash can be used as an AF assist lamp with a range of 4m in the center of the frame, but mindful of that bright, often-distracting burst of light.

The ISO range of the T6s is 100-12,800 with the ability to boost to ISO 25,600. The camera includes both high ISO and long exposure noise reduction options. I was impressed by the camera's ability to record good images at higher ISOs. While the amount of noise gets quite high at ISO 1600, the noise is evenly distributed and files retain a lot of detail, particularly when shooting RAW. For an APS-C sensor, the T6s performs well at high ISOs, I found. I had no issues allowing the camera's auto ISO range to remain at the default 100-6400 because images shot at ISO 6400 remain usable despite noise becoming less evenly distributed with some loss of detail. However, ISO 12,800 is not particularly useful as there is a lot of false color, particularly in shadow areas.

 

Canon T6s Noise Reduction Comparison: ISO 12,800 (Click images for full-res)
NR Off
NR Low
NR Standard
NR High
Multi-shot NR (Stacked)

The camera's noise reduction is good at smoothing out the noise at high ISOs, but it also removes some fine details at its default setting. The 'low' noise reduction setting does a good job at removing color noise, but does not do much to reduce luminance noise. The 'high' noise reduction setting is great at reducing noise, but it reduces much of an image's sharpness as well. There is also an option to stack images to reduce noise when shooting JPEG files, which works quite well, however, you are not able to record RAW files while using this multi-shot NR setting.

The built-in pop-up flash, with a flash guide of 12m, has decent power for use as a fill flash. Flash exposure compensation can be adjusted from -2 to +2 stops, and flash sync is 1/200s. Like other EOS cameras, the T6s includes a hot shoe so that an external flash can be used.

EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM: 18mm, f/3.5, 25s, ISO 6400
This image has been retouched slightly. Click for original image.

Shooting with the Kit Lens

The Canon T6s can be purchased with an EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens, which is one of the lenses I used here in my report. This kit lens itself is lightweight and provides a healthy focal length range from wide-angle to . The lens performs nicely, although I found that it is a little soft at both ends of the focal length range. There are also some minor aberration issues, particularly around backlit fine detail. Autofocus performance with the 18-135mm lens is quick and accurate and the image stabilization works well. Overall, it's a good kit lens that provides a versatile focal length.

Scene Intelligent Auto, flash fired
EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM: 19mm, f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO 100

This image has been retouched slightly. Click for original image.

Shooting with Other Lenses

Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens

Offering good reach on an APS-C sensor, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens pairs nicely with the T6s. The lens is small and light for its focal length with a 58mm filter thread. The lens autofocuses quickly and accurately, and the built-in image stabilization is very helpful -- especially at the long end -- and was very quiet. The lens produced is a sharp images, even when shooting with the maximum aperture at 250mm.

EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM: 250mm, f/8, 1/50s, ISO 400
This image has been retouched slightly. Click for original image.

Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens

This ultra-wide-angle lens is a lot of fun to shoot with because of its large angle of view. There are some vignetting and distortion issues associated with the lens, but the camera does a good job of correcting them. The sharpness falls off at the corners when shooting wide open across the focal length range, but it is still an impressive lens, especially considering the very low price-point.

EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM: 11mm, f/5, 15s, ISO 800
Converted to black & white. Click for original image.

Video

Video performance on the T6s is impressive for a camera in this price range. While the video options and features on the T6s are not extensive, the camera is capable of recording good-quality video. The T6s handles auto exposure well when shooting video, though PASM exposure modes are also available. Autofocus is quick and accurate, as well, thanks to the hybrid focusing system. Servo AF is particularly impressive as the focus changes quickly and smoothly with minimal hunting thanks.

Canon T6s 1080p Sample Video
1,920 x 1,080, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps
Download Original (27.7MB MP4)

The T6s can record video at up to 1080p/30fps. However, to record video at 60fps, you are limited to a 720p resolution. Video is recorded in MPEG-4 format with H.264 codec. You can choose between 'standard' or 'lightweight' video recording. Lightweight recording results in smaller files as the video is recorded at a lower bitrate, which means a slightly lower image quality. The file sizes for the same duration of video are roughly 2.5x smaller when recording using the 'lightweight' option. The T6s has a built-in stereo mic with the option to filter wind noise, which is set to 'auto' by default. There is a port for an external mic, but there is no headphone port, however, which is a disappointment for sure to the more advanced videographers out there.

The T6s has two interesting video features that the T6i does not, HDR movie capture and digital zoom. HDR movie capture is a nice feature but has some limitations. Firstly, you cannot record HDR video in all shooting modes. HDR movie recording is not possible when shooting in M, Av, TV, and P exposure modes -- it's auto-exposure only. Secondly, HDR video is recorded at 720p rather than 1080p resolution. Thirdly, you cannot use HDR movie recording and digital zoom simultaneously. Digital zoom itself allows 3-10x additional zoom when recording video by reducing the window on the image sensor. Digital zoom reduces the sharpness of video somewhat, which is particularly noticeable when maxed-out at 10x. It is a tradeoff between reach and sharpness. It's probably a worthwhile tradeoff when the extra reach is necessary. Additionally, you can record "miniature effect" video when the camera is set to record JPEG files. Miniature effect video can be recorded at 5, 10, and 20x speed. Additionally, the miniature effect's simulated thin depth of field can be switched between horizontal or vertical orientation and can also be shifted across the frame.

Canon T6s HDR Movie Sample
1,280 x 720, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps, High
Download Original (6.5MB MP4)
Canon T6s NON-HDR Movie Sample
1,920 x 1,080, H.264, Progressive, 30 fps, High
Download Original (19.1MB MOV)

Summary of T6s-only Features

With Canon releasing both the T6s and T6i at the same time, there is a choice to be made for those looking to jump into the Canon DSLR system or looking to upgrade. The T6i is more like previous Rebels in the way it handles and is also $100 less than the T6s. On the other hand, the T6s includes features that make it handle more like a higher-end Canon DSLR. Whether or not these added features are worth an extra $100 depends on the individual, and I would personally opt for the T6s.

The LCD information display on the top of the T6s is very useful to have out in the field, and I missed having it when shooting with the T6i. While in a less than ideal position on the camera for me, the Quick Control remained useful and faster than the directional buttons on the T6i for navigating menus and changing settings. The single-axis electronic level and the eye sensor for the optical viewfinder are both nice features of the T6s as well. On the performance side of things, the T6s has the ability to continuously focus between frames while burst shooting in live view, capture HDR movies, and squeeze out some extra zoom reach with digital zoom in movie mode. Servo AF in live view is a particularly excellent feature and it helps the T6s perform well at continuous shooting in live view.

Lanscape Scene Mode
EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM: 10mm, f/5.6, 1/30s, ISO 320

This image has been retouched slightly. Click for original image.

Field Test Summary

What I like:

  • The 24.2 megapixel sensor captures good images
  • The 3” articulating touchscreen works well
  • Live View Servo AF is excellent
  • Autofocus performance in good conditions is impressive
  • High ISO performance is impressive for an APS-C sensor
  • HDR video provides unique shooting opportunities, albeit with caveats

What I dislike:

  • The viewfinder is small and has only 95% coverage
  • When burst shooting RAW files, the buffer depth is small and slow to clear
  • No 1080/60p video

The Canon EOS Rebel T6s is not only a big improvement over the Canon EOS Rebel T5i in many important respects, but it is also an attractive alternative to the Canon EOS Rebel T6i. The 24.2 megapixel sensor delivers great images, and the 19-point autofocus system works well in a variety of situations. High ISO performance is impressive even if low-light autofocus is not. The T6s handles particularly well out in the field due to its top information display and Quick Control dial. The 3” articulating touchscreen is great, and the live view features of the camera, such as Servo AF, are excellent. Video features may leave something to be desired, but the T6s remains capable of recording good video. Overall, the T6s is a great entry-level DSLR camera.

 



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