Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i SLR Review
By Mike Flacy
Canon's latest entry-level dSLR, the Digital Rebel T1i (aka EOS 500D) directly replaces the popular Rebel XSi from 2008. This updated model shares many of its features with the advanced amateur Canon EOS 50D, including the same 15-megapixel CMOS image sensor, EOS Integrated Cleaning System, DIGIC 4 processing system, Live View, 3.0-inch LCD (920K dots), etc. The T1i has also adopted the same Full HD (1080p) video function found on the EOS 5D Mark II. While labeled 'entry-level', the T1i offers some very high-end features. Other improvements made to this new model over the XSi include a broader sensitivity range, from 100 to 3200, and an ISO expansion option that adds ISO 6400 and H (High, 12,800).
As with past Digital Rebel models, carrying the T1i around while shooting our sample images was a blast. This camera has a good size and weight, especially when you compare the features of this little tike to other, larger dSLR models. I found the build quality was excellent, giving the camera a nice 'well worth it' feel. The ergonomics are also quite good. All of the various camera controls are laid out in a comfortable manner, falling naturally under your thumb or index fingers. I was glad to see that Canon still uses rubber around the hand-grip as well as on the thumb rest. Many models in this price range do not offer this 'small' feature. I feel this adds superior 'grip' to the camera, ensuring you have a good hold on it. The menu layout is right in line with past models, so those of you who have owned or used a Canon dSLR in the past will be right at home. While this is a Very capable mode, the menu system is still organized so that even novice users will have few problems finding settings. While the XSi also offers a 3.0-inch LCD screen, the display featured on the T1i is far superior in picture and quality, with 920,000 pixels or dots of resolution. I found this new screen was a pleasure to use in almost any lighting situation. There are a few angles which will reflect bright light (like the sun outdoors), however the live image is still bright enough that you won't have problems seeing the menu or framing in live view when shooting in bright conditions. Another benefit of this new display is image playback, as there is a great deal more detail when viewing captured images or movies when compared to its predecessors screen. Like we mentioned earlier, Canon has included their latest processing technology on the T1i, DIGIC 4. With 14-bit A/D conversion, this system not only helps the T1i offer better battery life, and more robust shooting performance, but also offers faster processing speeds for both the 15-megapixel images and 1080p video files.
The Rebel T1i offers the same pentamirror type viewfinder found on the XSi. This eye-level viewfinder provides a larger overall view, and increased brightness and clarity. Viewfinder quality is one of the distinct advantages a dSLR has over high-end point-n-shoot cameras with electronic viewfinders. This optical viewfinder covers approx. 95% of the captured image, and is not subject to the blanking effect of electronic units. Relevant shooting information is displayed in the viewfinder so you can easily review settings without moving the camera away from your eye. The T1i offers -3.0 - +1.0 diopter adjustment as well as a nice soft rubber eyecup that fits comfortably against your face. Overall I enjoyed using the viewfinder for almost all of my shooting needs, and I really like the Display-Off sensor that's mounted underneath the viewfinder, which automatically turns the LCD monitor off whenever you bring your eye up to the camera.
Like we predicted in the past, Live View has become a standard on digital SLRs these days. From entry-level to Pro, all of the major manufactures have added this feature to their newer models. While I still don't use Live View often, it does offer a few 'nice' things. One is tripod shooting, no longer do you have to bend over to peer through the viewfinder. Another benefit is over the head or waist level shooting. Even with the T1i's fixed LCD, this can be accomplished much easier than just 'winging it'. Some manufactures, Like Sony for example, even offer tilting LCDs, further enhancing this options usefulness. Canon has definitely improved the Live View function on the T1i over past models. Canon's earlier Live View enabled models were more of a pain to use, with Several steps involved just to capture a single photo. This is not the case with the T1i, you simply press the Live View/Movie record button on the back, and the camera quickly switches to Live view mode. Then you press the AE/AF Lock button (depending on the AF mode chosen), and the camera will quickly focus on your subject. It's still not quite up to par with Sony's method, but Much improved over the XSi's system.
The T1i is a Very robust little dSLR. From power-up until the first image is captured took about 2-3/10 of a second - which I feel could have been even faster, but was slowed by my response time. Shutter lag, the time delay between depressing the shutter and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous when pre-focused and between 1-2/10 of a second including Autofocus, depending on the amount of focus change required. In single-shot mode, the camera was able to capture images at 3/10 of a second intervals without flash, and 7/10 second intervals with flash. Continuous capture mode allowed me to shot 25 JPEG images in just 7.0 seconds, without the camera showing any signs of slowing down. This is about 3.6fps, which surpasses Canon's claims of 3.4fps using JPEG image quality.
When using RAW mode, shutter lag was the same, and the shot to shot delay in single exposure mode was only 1/10 of a second slower. This is due to the extremely fast DIGIC 4 processing. The only real slow down you are going to see when shooting RAW mode is when you fill the buffer. In single shot mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 4/10 of a seconds between frames without and flash, and about 8/10 of a second with the flash. Canon claims that in burst mode you can capture up to 9 RAW images before filling the buffer. I was able to capture 9 frames in 2.4 seconds before the camera slowed down. Again, we surpassed Canon's claims, capturing RAW images at about almost 3.8fps.
Like past models, the T1i's performance only disappointed me when using Live View. Shutter lag measured about 1/10 of a second, and the process of focusing the camera + shutter lag time averaged 1.5 seconds. This was using the 'Quick mode' AF option in the Custom function menu. Using the 'Live mode' AF option, this process of focusing + shutter lag ranged between 1.2 - 3.5 seconds, depending on how long it took the Live mode AF system to lock focus. Our tests were obtained using the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom kit lens, shooting Large/Fine JPEG images, Program mode, image preview On, ISO Auto, with an ATP Pro Max Class 6 4GB SDHC memory card, and all other settings at factory default. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
We were again thankful that Canon included their EOS Integrated Cleaning System on the T1i. In the past, when you got dust on the image sensor (which is bound to happen), you had to attempt to clean the sensor yourself, which was 'fun' to say the least. The Self Cleaning Sensor unit uses a low-pass filter at the front of the sensor to shake off dust automatically with ultrasonic vibrations, removing dust from the sensor assembly. The EOS Rebel T1i also has a new fluorine coating on the front surface of the low-pass filter, to increase its resistance to dust sticking to the sensor. However, any dust that sneaks through can be eliminated using the Dust Delete Data Detection feature in the included Digital Photo Professional software (DPP ver. 3.6).
Our image quality results were outstanding, however we expected this since we've already seen what Canon's 15-megapixel CMOS image sensor and DIGIC 4 processor can do on the EOS 50D. Image quality from a dSLR is just as dependent on the lens used, as it is on the body itself. The kit EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens is an excellent starter lens, and helped us produce some really nice results. However, pair the T1i with a nicer piece of glass, and I'm sure the camera will continue to impress you. We found that the T1i consistently captures sharp images with lots of fine detail. The exposure metering system was accurate when using the default evaluative setting, however I did notice that it sometimes produced exposures that were on the verge of having some blown out areas. You can see what I mean by looking at our Chinese Restaurant photo. Colors are very natural when using the Standard Picture style, which I used 95% of the time during our testing.
The camera also produced beautiful people photos when using any of the automatic exposure modes; like full Auto, Program AE, or the dedicated Portrait Scene mode. When shooting portrait style photos, skin tones were also very pleasant, and facial detail was nice and sharp. I found that the Portrait Picture Style mode did well at increasing the saturation a bit, to help produce 'rosier' skin tones, which many find more pleasant. Like we mentioned earlier, the T1i offers much higher ISO capabilities than any of the past Rebel models. I found that this camera handles noise very well for an entry-level model, which actually allows the camera to out perform many of its more expensive competitors in low light conditions. When viewing our ISO examples, you will see that there is Very little noise detectable from ISO 100 - 400. At 800, you can start to see some traces in shadow areas, however this is still quite low when compared to other cameras in this same category. As the sensitivity climbed, the images we captured were still very usable, in my opinion. ISO 1600 looks great, and once you reach 3200 you do see a noticeable increase in speckling. Again, these images still look good to me. When you have the ISO expansion option enabled via the Custom Functions menu, you unlock access to two higher settings, 6400 and H (12,800). While these settings do produce a good about of speckling throughout the image, you can see that detail is still quite good. Most NR (Noise Reduction) systems sacrifice detail when trying to remove noise, but this doesn't seem to be the case with the T1i. Overall, I feel that the T1i does exceptionally well when using its new high ISO capabilities.
As mentioned earlier in this review, the Rebel T1i is the second digital SLR from Canon that I have used that offers HD video capture. You can record videos at three resolutions, 1080p (1920x1080, 20fps), 720p (1280x720, 30fps), or SD/VGA (640x480, 30fps) with audio. We enjoyed using the video feature of this camera, and feel that it is a great addition. As you can see on our Sample Photos page, the T1i captures nice smooth video and sound, and the exposure system did well on a bright sunny day outdoors. The only issue I have with the T1i's movie mode is focus. You have to focus on the subject before you start recording; there is not a continuous AF option. You could just manually focus the lens, but who wants to do that? Lastly, Canon warns that you need to ensure you are using at least a Class 6 or faster SD/SDHC memory card when using the full HD video option.
Battery life from the LP-E5 was good. I was able to capture over 250 sample images, as well as more than a dozen short video clips, and the battery level indicator is still showing 2/3 full. Canon claims that in normal temperatures (73�F and above), you can capture up to 500 photos with the flash off or 400 using the flash 50% of the time (not using Live View).
Bottom line - we are very pleased with Canon's Latest Digital Rebel. The T1i offers some very powerful features that have been handed down from its big brothers, the Canon EOS 50D and EOS 5D Mark II. This camera possesses a high degree of appeal with loads of exposure options, and class leading ISO capabilities, performance, and image quality. With a sticker price of US $799.99 for the body only or US $899.99 with the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens, we feel the Canon Rebel T1i / EOS 500D offers a very competitive price for a camera that delivers so much.
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