Shira gave me a Canon T6s with a matching 70-300mm Canon Zoom Lens for my birthday. And while the specs of the T6s far surpass my aging T3i, we were both curious how they'd stack up in a live shooting scenario. To answer this, we brought both cameras on a hike and trip to the ballgame, and each of us took turns shooting with each of the cameras. The results are actually pretty dang surprising.
Question #1: Does the T6s shoot better photos than the T3i?
Take a look for yourself. Here's the photos from our hike and here they are from the ballgame. Can you tell which photos were shot with the T6s and which the T3i? Me neither. Here's a few specific comparisons:
See what I mean? Seriously, they look like they are taken from the same camera, but I promise you they aren't. They're from: T6s, T3i, T6s and T3i respectively.
In the above shot, one makes use of a flash and the other doesn't. But here's the thing, the one without the flash is from my Galaxy Note 5. The one with the flash is from the T3i. If I go back to these posts here and here, not only can't I tell which photos are from the T6s and the T3i, it's often confusing which ones came from my cell phone vs. DSLR. The key giveaway, of course, is that the DSLRs had telephoto lenses on them, while my cell phone is fairly wide. But from a quality perspective, they all seem about equivalent to me.
Here's a few more shots. The first is from the T3i, the second from the T6s:
For all the talk of megapixels (the T3i has 18, the T6s, 24) and improvements to the autofocus and such, the T6s, in our tests, simply didn't outperform the T3i. Both took great shots. And like I said, my Galaxy Note 5 hung with the best of them. Ultimately, it was really a question of composition and camera settings that drove whether the photo would be a winner or not.
So to answer the question: no, the T6s doesn't take quantifiably better shots than the T3i.
Question #2: If your cell phone takes such great photos, why bother with a DSLR?
It's a fair question and one I've wrestled with enough to know the answer to. The DSLR does two main things my cell phone can't: (1) it has more focal length choices and (2) it has support for off-camera flash. I don't shoot a lot of off camera flash, but I very much like having access to other focal lengths than just 28mm lens built into my cell phone. In other words, I want to be able to capture this:
Versus only getting this shot:
My standard setup is to have my DSLR with a telephoto lens on it, and my cell phone in my pocket. That way, I can shoot the wide angle and far away action. One day, someone will solve the telephoto lens challenge for cell phones and I'll have yet another reason to rethink my need for a DSLR. But until then, I'll rely on a DSLR to get me up close to the action.
Question #3: If the T6s doesn't take better photos, why bother with it over the T3i?
On the surface, it looks like the T6s brings a host of features that would make it a worthy upgrade to the T3i. Some of them fall away pretty quickly. The quality question we posed above is a major one. And there's plenty of gimmicky junk on the T6s that I'll never use. The Wifi is among the biggest offenders: it wouldn't pair with my home network, and when I finally got it paired with an alternate network, it refused to upload photos to Google Drive. It's a great concept, but just not implemented.
Then there are features which do show real promise: built in HDR support, the ability to record two photos on creative mode: one with funky settings and one plain and the vast improvements in live-preview may all turn out to be pretty useful.
For Shira, the touchscreen is a game changer. She loves navigating the menus by touch. I'll use touch occasionally, but I've got most of the dials and button presses pretty well locked down in my brain thanks to the T3i.
Of course, the T6s is faster. It's faster to focus and faster to snap off photos. That's certainly a nice bonus.
But the real win for me, the feature that is worth the cost of the upgrade by itself, is right here:
That's right, they moved the mode-dial to the left hand side of the camera. Over the years I've lost a number of really important photos because I was happily shooting away in Av mode and accidentally nudged the camera into M. I'd keep snapping away, only to look back later and realize that shots that I assumed were properly exposed were anything but. Not only is the dial moved to the other side, but by default, it's locked in place. You need to hold down a button in the center of the mode dial to change modes. Hallelujah! Perhaps I'm not the only one who got bit by this. I'm just glad it's fixed.
Bottom line: The T6s feels like a great camera. It's got lots of fun improvements and was a great upgrade. It just doesn't automatically take better photos. This is both obvious and surprising at the same time.