Sunday, May 3, 2015

Canon EOS Rebel T6s (760D) and T6i (750D) Review

Canon Rebel T6s with 18-135mm STM

The Canon Rebel DSLR as a concept is pretty much the Toyota Corrolla of the camera world. It's inexpensive, it's dependable and it's a known quantity that is easily accessible for new-comers. However, like it's automotive counterpart, it also doesn't do much to excite enthusiasts. This might sound like the typical internet snobbery of mass-market blandness... it's very much not the case. If every camera was as capable as the 7D Mark II there would be a large contingent of people who would be turned off of the cost of digital photography. Cameras like the Rebels are important, as everybody has to start from somewhere.

Wait long enough and there will be a new digital Rebel. This time there are two new cameras; the T6i which is almost a straight up upgrade of the T5i, and the T6s, which fills in the (narrow) niche just below the EOS 70D. Specs that are common to both cameras are:

  • 24.2mp sensor, anti-aliasing filter present
  • 19-point autofocus system
  • Hybrid CMOS AF III live view focus
  • 7560 pixel RGB + IR metering sensor with skin tone detection
  • 3" flip-out touchscreen LCD
  • 5 fps continuous shooting
  • 1080/30p video
  • Wi-Fi with NFC

Features that are unique to the T6s and not found on the T6i are:

  • Eye sensor for optical viewfinder 
  • Top LCD display
  • Rear control dial 
  • Servo (continuous) AF in live view 

Compared to the T5i, both cameras are a significant upgrade in terms of autofocus and exposure meter capability. That's a low bar to cross, as the T5i was essentially a re-skinned T4i. The truer test of these cameras is the competition from outside the Canon family.

Build, Design and Operation

Both the T6i and T6s are obviously descendants of the T5i. The T5i is fairly reminiscent of the earlier camera. The T6s is a mimic of the 70D, what with the top LCD screen and rear control dial. Though it does resemble the more enthusiast-oriented cameras physically, it isn't the same in terms of operation.

Left: T6i with 18-55mm STM    Right: T6s with 18-135mm STM

For one, the rear control dial, long a hallmark of "serious" Canon DSLR's, is small and uncomfortable to use.  Size-wise the dial is better suited to a compact camera than a DSLR. The top LCD, while useful lacks the full array of button functionality of the 70D, let alone the 7D Mark II. From a tactile point of view, these cameras share the same quality as Nikon's D5xxx series of cameras: the buttons are a bit "clicky" and give positive feedback for single-press operation, but the amount of resistance isn't conducive to to rapid-fire operation.

Operational upgrades includes much needed bumps to the autofocus and exposure metering. The new exposure meter has higher resolution than the old component and lets the camera manage exposure to a finder degree of detail. However, the most evident upgrade is in the autofocus, which uses the same 19-point system as the 70D. The old 9-point system on the T5i was horribly confining. The 19-point array is descended from the original 7D, and is quite quite to achieve initial focus lock. It might not has as many points as the Nikon D5500's 39-point array, but the subjective quality of the Canon system is that it is more "dependable" whereas the Nikon system is more "clever". This is true for non-moving subjects, but the Nikon seems a bit better at maintaining focus tracking on moving subjects.

The video system is a mixed blessing. This is the third iteration of Canon's hybrid contrast/phase detection autofocus sensor. It is not the same as the more advanced Dual Pixel system sued on the 70D and 7D Mark II, but it is a bit better than the system that was previously used on the T5i. With the T6s, you get the sense that the phase detection elements on the sensor are actually doing something; with the T5i  you were never sure. The difference is immediately apparent in live view; the T5i still "rattles" the lens back and forth during autofocus, whereas the T6s goes immediately from out of focus to in-focus. The T6s also gains Servo autofocus during video, but neither camera is capable of 60 fps output. Unlike 4K, which is a non-factor for the majority of of the population, 60fps is something that can be used immediately by most shooters. In this regards, the non-upgrade is a disappointment given that Canon has paid more attention than Nikon to building a viable video system out of their DSLR lineup, particularly with the smooth silent focusing of the STM lenses.

Image Quality

The following is an ad hoc demonstration of the camera's JPEG output quality through the ISO range. Pay attention to the legibility of the soda bottles for detail retention (or lack thereof) as the ISO value rises, speckling in the broad colour patches for overall image noise, as well as the harshness of the reflections and shadows as dynamic range decreases. These samples are not directly comparable to similar samples found elsewhere in this blog because of variable ambient lighting conditions.

For comparison, the T6s is compared to the Nikon D5500 below. Both are shot at default JPEG settings, dynamic range optimization and high ISO noise reduction turned off, and  center weighted exposure metering. The kit lenses were used for both at 18mm set at f/5.6 Note that because of the difference in crop factor 1.6x vs 1.5x), the Canon gives slightly more magnification at the same focal length. Canon's and Nikon's perform exposure metering differently; usually, the consumer level Canon cameras tend to require 2/3 to 1 EV more exposure to create an image of comparable brightness when shot in the same manner. To that end, an intermediate sample set with the T6s dialed down 1/3EV is given for comparison. Click on images for 100% crop view.

ISO 100
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

A number of differences are evident. First off, the Nikon does not have an anti-aliasing filter, whereas the Canon does. For this reason, the Nikon images look crisper because of the absence of the subtle blurring effect that an optical low-pass filter produces. Theoretically, this also makes the Nikon more susceptible to producing false colour patterns (moiré) on tightly-repeating textures (such as fabrics), but in practical terms, few users of this type of camera will ever encounter significant trouble.
High ISO image noise is comparable between the two cameras above ISO 3200, but the lack of the anti-aliasing filter on the D5500 improves detail retention.

Canon sensors are notorious for lagging the competition in dynamic range, particularly low-ISO dynamic range. You can see this in the ISO 100 sample above. It's evident in the shadow portions of the image, in the black frame of the refrigerator and in the smoother tones on the Pepsi sign on the Nikon. Highlights are also somewhat softer on the Nikon, as the reflections and highlights on the soda bottles are less natural looknig on the T6s.

The narrower dynamic range of the T6s also shows up in terms of tolerance to underexposure. At ISO 100, the difference in image quality with a 1/3EV drop in shutter speed is minimal, but at high ISO (3200 and above) there is an evident increase in image noise in the shadows. 

The upshot about the Canon 24.2mp sensor is a bit like damning with faint praise. The image quality is perfectly fine for the intended audience. You can get quality results with it even up to ISO 3200, which is generally true of all APS-C sensor cameras. However, even if the megapixel count is competitive the subjective and technical aspects of the image quality aren't class-leading.

Concluding Thoughts

Left: EOS 70D   Right: Rebel T6s

Both the T6i and T6s are simple, straightforward cameras. From a technical standpoint, the Nikon D5300 and D5500 are better stills cameras, but the Canon's are better with video if you account for the STM lenses. If you are just stepping into a DSLR, the real-world differences between the two are somewhat academic, and the more pertinent issue is that you get to try these in person to see which resonates more with your needs.

Lastly, it must bear repeating that the true competition for cameras like this are coming from the mirrorless likes of the Sony A6000 for the Fujifilm X-M1. Canon  and Nikon have their sights set unwaveringly on each over, but the challenge is that consumers are broadening their scope of vision to other possibilities. There are still good reasons to have a DSLR, though, and these cameras can give that.

Note: LensRentals noted that some of their early samples had sensor dust/particle issues. No such defect was noted on the test sample used for this post.

With thanks to Broadway Camera

1 comment:

  1. im using a the original martinfields screen protector which i recommend to anyone this is extremely durable, i love this camera its clear images are crisp excellent buy