Canon Rebel T6s review: Rebel with a cause

by | May 26, 2015

Canon’s new EOS Rebel T6s represents a very positive shift for the Rebel line. Perhaps influenced by small, enthusiast-focused mirrorless cameras, Canon has brought features to the T6s that are normally reserved for the company’s higher-end DSLRs. A top LCD displays camera settings at a glance and dual control dials offer immediate access to both shutter speed and aperture. But do these small additions justify the $100 premium over the T6i, which is otherwise almost identical? Furthermore, does the T6s actually offer enough of what enthusiasts want to draw them to it over competing models from other brands?

Both the T6i and T6s are based on Canon’s new 24MP APS-C sensor. This alone makes either of these cameras worthy upgrades for any loyal Rebel fan (is “loyal Rebel” an oxymoron?). This is the first truly new sensor to be offered in a Rebel camera since 2010’s T2i introduced the venerable 18MP unit that would become the mainstay of Canon’s crop-frame cameras for the next five years. Impressively, it’s also the second new APS-C sensor that Canon has produced in just the last two years, after the 20MP one found in both the 70D and 7D Mark II. This new sensor also finally brings Canon up to par with competing tech from Sony and Nikon, at least in regard to megapixel count.

Fujifilm X-T10 Black

Of course, this has put Canon in somewhat of a conundrum. How can they build a Rebel for enthusiast photographers that is cheaper, smaller, and has a higher-resolution sensor than their own enthusiast-friendly 70D without taking away all the reasons a customer would choose to buy a 70D? It’s quite simple, really: they make it cheaper and smaller. So while the T6s offers a useful top LCD, it is smaller and less useful than that of the 70D. The dual control dials are functional, but also tiny and chintzy in comparison. The viewfinder is the same as the T6i: far too small and only 95% accurate. The maximum shutter speed is also unchanged at 1/4000 of a second. This compares to the 70D at 98% and 1/8000 sec. Am I nitpicking? Perhaps, but that’s exactly what many photo enthusiasts do—that’s why they call them enthusiasts. Then there’s the issue of battery life, with the T6s clocking in at just 440 exposures—barely ahead of most mirrorless cameras—whereas the larger battery of the 70D can keep you going all day long, up to 920 shots. Finally, the build quality is classic Rebel plastic; it’s not bad, all things considered, but it’s not typically what we think of when we picture an enthusiast-level machine.

So I’m sorry, photo enthusiasts, but the Rebel T6s is not the small DSLR we’ve all been waiting for, although it does give me hope for the future. What’s more, if we look beyond what it lacks for the enthusiast and look instead to what it offers the beginner, we will see that the T6s is a fantastic little camera that will appeal most to budget-conscious photographers who aspire to move to higher-end cameras down the road. The controls are laid out in line with Canon’s pro models, with aperture/shutter speed dials, the mode dial, and the power switch where you would expect to find them on a 70D, 7D Mark II, or 5D Mark III. This brings a sense of unity to Canon’s product lineup, and facilitates an effortless learning curve when you’re ready to upgrade out of the Rebel line.

Fujifilm X-T10, not a film camera

Moreover, the camera is just plain fun to use. It’s lightweight, ergonomic, and performs really well. The menu system is straightforward, and even the WiFi functionality is presented simply and clearly, making excellent use of the touch screen. The 19-point AF may seem lacking compared to the 39-point system in Nikon’s competing D5500, but all 19 points are cross-type, meaning AF speed is incredibly fast regardless of which point is active. Live view autofocus, thanks to third-generation hybrid AF technology on the sensor, is also really good—not quite as snappy as the best mirrorless systems, but far better than most other DSLRs.

For video shooting, the T6s also features full-time servo AF in live view, which is lacking from the T6i. This feature alone may be worth the price for any parents trying make movies of their children running around. In fact, anyone looking to do much video work at all will benefit from the T6s, which has clear advantages here over its little brother, including manual exposure in video mode and a new HDR video function. Users of past Rebel cameras designated with an i (T2i, T3i, T4i, T5i) will likely wonder why the T6i has a truncated video mode, no longer offering manual exposure. Well, kids, it’s because Canon wants to sell you the T6s now.

Aside from the bolstered video features, though, the things that make the T6s a joy to use are the same on the T6i, so if video isn’t a big concern, chances are the T6i will make you perfectly happy. Other than the LCD and dedicated aperture control dial, the only other thing you’d be giving up is an on-screen virtual level, which, to be honest, is great for making you feel like a fighter pilot, but not much else. I’d rather just use a tripod with a bubble level when I need my horizons to be perfectly flat (although, I suppose this is just my personal opinion—others may really want a virtual level). That said, I do certainly appreciate the added control of the T6s, I’m just not sure it’s worth $100 to most beginners. It’s worth noting, though, that at a body-only price of $850, it’s actually cheaper than the pre-rebate price of Nikon’s D5500 at $900*, so Canon is packing in a lot of value to this camera.

Of course, price and features aren’t the only points of comparison between the T6s and the D5500. Now that both Canon and Nikon offer 24MP sensors at entry-level price points, it begs the question: whose is better? Well, you can find plenty of technical analyses out there that give Nikon the edge, but most novice photographers likely won’t notice the differences. One disappointment I can speak to, though, is a noticeable level of noise at base ISO in the raw files. It’s most prevalent, obviously, at 100% magnification, and it is slightly worse than Canon’s 20MP sensor found in the 70D and 7D Mark II (so owners of those cameras need not worry about being outclassed by a less expensive model so soon). In JPEG, Canon’s processing is good enough to erase the noise completely without any noticeable hit to resolution. Still, I’m not sure why they would employ a 24MP sensor over a cleaner 20MP one, except for, you know, marketing.

As it is, the T6s occupies a middle ground somewhere between beginner and enthusiast camps, offering advantages the former may not consider valuable, without giving enough to the latter, who tend to pay greater attention to details like viewfinder coverage. If you’re just looking for a kick-around family camera, the T6i probably is everything (and more) than you need. However, if you’re a photography student or a beginner who aspires to move up the ranks, the T6s will keep you happier in the long run and provide a simplified upgrade path, and is worth the extra $100 in that case.

There’s no denying that the T6s is absolutely the best Rebel camera Canon has ever made, and arguably the best DSLR in its class from a usability standpoint, but the promise it holds for the future of small DSLRs is perhaps even more exciting than this current incarnation. A DSLR of this size with true enthusiast-level functionality and build quality could serve to keep DSLRs relevant at a time when mirrorless technology is stealing the show. Time will tell if Canon (or anyone, for that matter) will deliver on this concept, and I, for one, really hope they do.

*At the time of writing, there is a $150 instant rebate on the Nikon D5500 body, for a final price of $750, $100 cheaper than the T6s.

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