Canon has been building budget priced digital SLRs for almost 6 years now. Since the debut of the original Digital Rebel back in 2003, Canon has been offering users the sophistication of an interchangeable lens system, at a price level that nowadays is just beyond high-end (prosumer) consumer digicams (sub $700). For 2008 Canon released two models, the 12-megapixel Rebel XSi we reviewed earlier in the year, and now the Rebel XS. Deemed the actual replacement of the Rebel XTi, the XS seems more like a "detuned" XSi in my opinion. This new model still retains the same 10-megapixel CMOS imaging sensor, ISO 100-1600 sensitivity range and 2.5-inch LCD found on the XTi, but most all of the other features are shared with its big brother. These include Canon's DIGIC III processor, EF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS (Image Stabilized) kit lens, Live View function, integrated EOS Cleaning and Dust Delete Data Detection systems, LP-E5 Li-ion battery pack, SD/SDHC memory card usage, etc. The exceptions to this are continuous JPEG shooting at 3.0fps until the memory card is full, and an all new 7-point AF system (compared to the 9-point system on the XTi/XSi).
The XS offers the same exposure mode options as found on the XSi too. This means beginners have several "Basic" or Automatic exposure modes to choose from (like Full Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, etc.) that will allow them to capture great shots in almost any situation. For the more experienced users, The XS offers various "Creative" modes, that will let you control as much of the exposure process as you feel comfortable with. These include Program AE, Shutter speed priority (Tv), Aperture priority (Av), full Manual, and Automatic depth-of-field (A-DEP). There are also various Picture Style modes along with 12 Custom Functions that will allow you to further extend you creative abilities. For those who want ultimate control, there's the RAW image capture mode. This combination of User-friendliness and precise control are what make the Rebel series such a great "stepping stone" into the dSLR world. Users can have confidence that they will be able to capture beautiful photographs, regardless of the photographic knowledge.
While its internal makeup is similar to past models, the XS is the lightest and most compact Digital Rebel to date (8/2008). Weighing in at a mere 15.9 ounces and measuring 4.96 x 3.8 x 2.4 inches, this model is over 2 ounces lighter than the Xti and about 1 ounce lighter than the XSi. At first, I was a bit concerned with the smaller size, as I have large hands. However, after receiving our eval unit, I found the Rebel XS was a pleasure to use. The smaller design allowed me to have more room in my camera bag for accessories (and other cameras), and because my bag wasn't so heavy, the strap didn't dig into my shoulder. Ergonomics are also great. I had no problems carrying the XS around while capturing samples images for a good part of the day. One feature I do miss is the rubberized hand grip, the one on the XS is more of a textured plastic. This offered a less secure feel, mainly due to it being a bit more "slippery". The rubber grip of past models seems to grab your fingers better due to more friction between the surfaces. The XS has the exact same control layout as the XSi, which overall I found all of the controls were placed in a comfortable manner. The 2.5-inch LCD offers 230,000 pixels of resolution along with 170 degree viewing angle and 100% frame coverage. While the surface is a bit reflective, I had no problems reviewing pictures, browsing the menu, or framing with Live View outdoors.
Live View mode is something that is becoming almost standard on digital SLRs, whether it be a consumer model like the XS or a professional model. I find that this is a "We've got it" feature that everyone is jumping on board to offer. The usefulness of Live View on the Rebel XS (and XSi for that matter) is something that I could not find. Not only is it difficult to engage when compared to say the Sony A300/A350, but its at least a three step process to capture a single image. In my opinion, Sony is the only manufacture that has got this Live View concept down. On the Sony DSLR-A350 and DSLR-A300, you simply flip a switch that says Live View, and you're on your way. And because they use a separate CCD imager for the Live image that is displayed on the LCD, you don't have to wait for the mirror to move several times. On top of this, the A350 has an articulating LCD, which makes Live View actually usable for shooting over crowds, from the waist, etc. To activate this function on the Rebel XS, you first have to enter the menu and enable it. Then, you press the SET button on the 4-way controller to enter into Live View mode. Once you have framed your shot, next you have to press the AE lock/FE lock/Index button, then the camera will start to focus (pressing the shutter release half-way does nothing). Depending on the AF mode chosen via the Custom Function menu, the screen will go blank as the camera moves the mirror once again to achieve focus. The only exception to this is when using Live mode AF. So, when using Quick mode AF (which utilizes the 7-point AF system), I counted a total of 4 times that the mirror moved! As I stated earlier, I really don't see a use for this feature on the XS. While I feel it's a great camera, if you are one who plans on using Live View often, I suggest looking into some of Sony's dSLR models instead.
The Rebel XS features a pentamirror type, high magnification viewfinder that provides a nice overall view of your subject. Viewfinder quality is one of the distinct advantages a dSLR has over high-end point-n-shoot cameras with electronic viewfinders (aka EVFs). The XS's viewfinder offers 95% field of view coverage and is not subject to the blanking effect found with EVFs when shooting a Burst sequence. I did miss the Display-Off sensor found on the XSi, which automatically turned the LCD monitor off whenever you brought the camera up to eye-level. Instead, the display is switched off when you press the shutter release (can be changed via the Setup menu). Important shooting information is displayed in the viewfinder so you can easily view camera settings without having to move the camera away from your eye. There is a built in -3.0 - +1.0 diopter adjustment for those that wear glasses, and I found the rubber eyecup was nice and soft.
Our shooting performance results were awesome for what is considered an "entry-level" dSLR. From power-on until capture of the first image took 2-3/10 of a second - which I feel could have been even faster, but was slowed by the photographers response time. Shutter lag, the time delay between depressing the shutter and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous when pre-focused and between 1-3/10 of a second including Autofocus, depending on the amount of focus change. In single-shot mode, the camera was able to
capture images at 4/10 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 7.6 seconds, without the buffer showing any problems. This is about 3.3fps, which surpasses Canon's claims of 3.0fps in JPEG image quality.
When using RAW image quality, shutter lag was the same. In single shot mode, the delay average 7/10 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 RAW images at 1.5fps, up to 5 images. I was able to capture 5 frames in 2.6 seconds before the camera slowed down. Again, we surpassed Canon's claims, capturing RAW images at about 1.9fps.
During Live View is the only time this model's performance disappointed me. Shutter lag measured about 2/10 of a second with the camera focused, 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 1.5 - 3.1 seconds, depending on how long it took the Live mode AF system to lock focus. Again, these findings are just another reason why I feel you should stay away from the Live View function on this camera. 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.
The Rebel XS has the ability to produce beautiful photos, right out of the box. The vast majority of our outdoor photos showed excellent exposure, nice image sharpness (using standard Picture Style), and pleasing color saturation. The included Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom is a great starter lens, offering about 3x magnification. While using this combo, I saw very little edge softness and only very moderate barrel distortion. I also found that there were no traces of purple fringing (aka Chromatic Aberrations) in any of our samples. High ISO performance has improved over the XTi. When reviewing our ambient light M&M man shots, I found that image noise is almost nonexistent at ISO 100 and 200 and becomes very minute in shadow areas at 400. At ISO 800, you can start to see some speckling, especially on the lower half of the M&M where it's a bit darker. However, this still pretty impressive for an entry-level consumer dSLR. Even though there is a small amount of noise in the picture, it is still very sharp and I don't really see real heavy High ISO Noise Reduction going on here. The ISO 1600 image also looks good, in my opinion. While there is a slight amount of softness due to NR, and noise is easily seen when viewing at 100%, I still feel you could create very nice prints up to A4 size without a problem. Only under some critical inspection would someone be able to see much noise in the print.
As with past Rebels, the XS does very well when taken indoors for some portrait or people photography. While testing, I also used an old Canon 380EX Speedlite, which the XS had no problems controlling the zoom head as well as using the more powerful AF-assist lamp. The fully automatic Portrait mode will allow the newbies to capture awesome pictures. I personally felt this mode produced images that were a bit more exposed than I like, so I shot most of our samples using Aperture priority at about F5.0. The built-in flash did very well when shooting a couple portrait from about 5 - 6 feet away. Canon claims a Guide number of 13/43 (meters/feet). At ISO 100 using F5.0, which was what I used, the flash range is approx. 8.6 feet. This means, a subject within that range (8.6 ft.) will be fully illuminated. I found that Canon's suggested range is very accurate if not a bit underrated. As you can see from our portrait examples on the Samples page, flash exposure using both the built-in and 380EX units was very nice, and facial features are sharp with pleasing skin tones.
I found that battery life was excellent with the included LP-E5 Li-ion rechargeable battery pack. Canon claims that in normal temperatures (73°F and above), you can capture up to 600 photos with the flash off or 500 using the flash 50% of the time (not using Live View). I was able to surpass this claim by capturing 888 photos, and the Rebel XS still has some juice left. While a large majority of these were using burst mode, this also included all of my indoor flash shooting as well as my Live View and other testing. Normally, I would recommend you go purchase a second battery pack, which is still a great idea. However, with the results I found here, I'm not going to stress this as much, unless you plain on taking more than 800 photos in a two or three day period (e.g. on vacation, wedding, etc.).
Bottom line - Canon has put together yet another awesome Digital SLR for the beginner to intermediate user. The combination of ease of use and versatility make this a very appealing model in the "entry-level" category. With a street price of US$699, it's about $100 less than its big brother, and I feel the XS offers a great "bang for your buck". With outstanding image quality, very robust performance, and loads of useful exposure options, the Rebel XS will make a great camera for anyone who is just stepping into the dSLR realm, or for an experienced photographer who would like a more compact model. The only issues I really had with this camera were the useless Live View function, and the loss of the rubber hand grip. Overall, I would highly recommend this model to anyone looking at purchasing their first dSLR.
4/23/2009 - Canon has announced an updated firmware for the Rebel XS
Details - Rebel XS Firmware Update Version 1.0.5
This firmware update incorporates the following improvements and fixes:
- 1. Supports the AF assist beam features of the new flash, Speedlite 270 EX, which is scheduled to be released in April 2009.
To download either of these new updates, visit Canon's Japan Support site.
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