Canon EOS Digital Rebel SLR Review

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Canon EOS 300D

Steve's Conclusion

The first thing we need to point out is that there are now three distinct categories of digital SLR cameras: Amateur, Enthusiast and Professional. Canon's new EOS Digital Rebel (also sold as EOS 300D and EOS Kiss Digital outside of the U.S.) falls into the newly created Amateur dSLR category. At the moment only Canon's Digital Rebel is in this category but we imagine that Nikon and others will follow suit with their own under-$1000 dSLRs in the near future. In the meantime, I feel comfortable in predicting that Canon will sell Digital Rebels as fast as they can make them, it's sure to be the #1 dSLR this holiday season.

The EOS Digital Rebel is a somewhat de-featured EOS 10D, using a similar (but different) 6.3-megapixel CMOS imager and Canon's DIGIC processor. It lacks features such as the ability to select the metering mode, less control over focus modes, no Custom Settings Menu and no external flash PC connector. The Digital Rebel has a polycarbonate (high-impact plastic) body whereas the 10D has a cast magnesium (metal) body. This is like the car manufacturers that offer deluxe high-powered models and "stripped down" economy models. Both cars get you where you want to go and believe me, the EOS Digital Rebel is as capable of taking a great picture as the 10D. By offering an interchangeable lens SLR camera for under $900 (body only price) Canon opens up the world of advanced digital photography to a much larger base of consumers. If you need the more advanced features of the 10D then you need to spend more money, it's your choice. The Digital Rebel will more than fill the needs of non-professional users who tired of dealing with the limitations of consumer digicams.

The Digital Rebel may be considered "large" by some but it's what I would call "average size" for a 35mm SLR camera. Contrary to some of the comments that I've seen on the forums, the Digital Rebel does not feel or look "cheap" because of its silver plastic body. Quite the contrary, the Digital Rebel has a good, solid feel in your hands and the 'fit-n-finish' is on par with other SLRs bearing the Canon name. I think that once you actually hold and use this camera, you will like it, it's very well designed. The handgrip is large and covered with a black, rubberized material that makes it secure in your hand and adds to the overall styling of the camera. The Digital Rebel is a lightweight camera, weighing just under 20 oz without the battery, that's a good 8 oz lighter than the 10D. Even when configured with the 18-55mm "kit" lens, battery and CF card, this is a camera that can be carried comfortably for long periods of time.

Those familiar with digital cameras will find the controls well positioned and easy to use with very little practice. For complete novices it may be a little overwhelming at first but you do need all of those buttons and knobs to make it all work. Just leave everything on automatic at first, go out and shoot some pictures and learn the rest as you go. The camera controls are on the front and top and are the same as those on its film counterparts. The digital controls are on the back, centered around the 1.8-inch color LCD which is the "heart" of any digital camera. This monitor offers excellent color rendition and it's large enough to make menu navigation and selection easy too. Just a reminder that this is a true SLR camera with a mirror and as such you cannot use the LCD as a viewfinder, it's for image review and menu operations only.

And speaking of SLRs and mirrors, the Digital Rebel varies from the norm in that it does not use a pentaprism. Canon designed a "pentamirror" viewfinder for the Digital Rebel that incorporates several mirrors to angle the light to the viewfinder rather than a pentaprism. Other cameras using this type of through the lens viewing system have been less than optimal but Canon certainly did it right as the viewfinder image is bright and sharp. Very important to an SLR is the field of view coverage by its viewfinder and the Digital Rebel in this respect is excellent with a coverage of 96-97%. Inside the viewfinder you will find a circle that denotes the center-weighted metering area and seven AF-point box outlines for the focusing points. When these points are selected a small red dot lights up inside of it to let you know exactly what part of the frame the camera focused on. Along the bottom of the viewfinder is a digital display that indicates the most important camera settings (shutter speed, aperture, flash, focus confirmation, exposure compensation, number of burst images available and more.) The viewfinder itself is covered by a soft rubberized eyecup and offers a high eye point with a -3 to +1 dioptric adjustment for those with less than perfect eyesight.

Image storage is not a problem, the CompactFlash Type II card slot is both FAT-16 and FAT-32 compatible. This means it can take all existing CF and CF2 cards and Microdrives and will also be able to take the newest high-capacity CF cards and 4GB Hitachi Microdrives using the FAT-32 file system for capacity beyond 2GB. The camera comes without any CF memory card whatsoever and my recommendation is to buy at least a 512MB size one or even larger if you plan on shooting in Raw+JPEG mode. Large / Fine quality JPEG images will consume ~3.1MB each and those RAW images will eat up 7MB each so even 1GB size cards fill up rapidly if you push the shutter button frequently. With the proliferation of the faster (32x, 40x, 45x) CF cards it makes sense to get not only a large card but a reasonably fast card as well. I used the reasonably priced 45x Transcend 1GB CF card, it speeds up not only the "write to card" operations but the "read from card" operations as well. Using a memory card like this makes the Digital Rebel perform as fast as it is capable of going.

The Digital Rebel may be Canon's "economy model" dSLR but it's loaded with performance features such as a continuous shooting speed of 2.5 frames per second up to a maximum of four frames. A robust 7-point autofocus system and a 35-zone matrix exposure metering with center-weighted averaging and 9.5° spot metering options (selected by exposure mode only). User-selectable shutter speeds from 30 seconds to 1/4000 second including Bulb and a very useable range of sensitivity from ISO equivalent 100 to 1600. Canon's noise reduction system makes 30 second ISO 100 shots nearly as noise-free as 1/100 sec. shots. It's a great camera for capturing night and other long-shutter shots. And there's no waiting after a timed exposure shot either. The noise reduction is applied "on the fly" rather than using the old dark frame subtraction method that doubles the exposure times. The only "gotcha" here is that the Digital Rebel does not have a mirror lockup function so you do need to use a good professional level tripod to eliminate all camera shake.

The Digital Rebel's autofocus system is excellent, especially when using Canon USM lenses with the ultrasonic focusing motors. We were quite impressed with the new EF-S lens even though it is a relatively inexpensive optic. The EF-S 18-55m lens' average shutter lag to full autofocus time (in normal lighting conditions) was consistently about 1/4 of a second. The shutter lag with the camera pre-focused was about 1/10 of a second. Note that the shutter lag to full autofocus is dependant on the lens being used but we expect many users will have the 18-55mm lens to start with. Canon has stated that the Digital Rebel uses the same AF system as the 10D and that was a 50% improvement over the earlier D60 model. As stated at the start of the conclusion, the user cannot select the desired AF mode, the camera selects it based on the subject. In the main exposure modes (P, A, M, S) the camera uses AI Focus AF which means that it selects One Shot or AI Servo modes based on subject movement. If the subject is motionless then One Shot mode is used, if the subject is moving then AI Servo mode is used to "track" the subject. The autofocus systems functions properly down to EV 0.5, in light levels below that you need to use the flash so the camera can use it as an AF-illuminator. It emits low power flashes to improve the subject contrast for focusing. However, it can't be used as an AF-illuminator unless the flash is enabled. If you need a low light focusing aid without flash illumination then you need to use an external Canon EX speedlight with an AF-illuminator or the Canon ST-E2 wireless transmitter. A local pro shooter friend of mine has been using the 10D and ST-E2 combination for over a year now and swears by it.

The EF-S 18-55mm is a surprisingly good lens despite its relatively low $100 cost. I'm sure that some purists out there will call it a poor lens but it is a good starter lens. It's - only- available if you buy the Digital Rebel kit that includes the lens, you can't buy it later as an accessory. Unless you already have some Canon lenses or even if you do, I still recommend buying the camera kit with the lens. This is a robust focusing and extremely lightweight (lots of plastic) lens that covers a very useable focal length range of approx. 29-88mm (in 135 equivalent) which makes it a good little wide angle zoom. We were pleased with its optical quality and found it to be the equal of more costly lenses -- no it isn't a Canon "L" lens, but for the money it is a winner. The only negative things I have to say is that by 35mm standards it's a bit "slow" with a maximum aperture of f/3.5-5.6, it isn't super-sharp and if you use a polarizing filter you will be annoyed by the fact that the front of the lens rotates as it focuses. The great thing about interchangeable lens cameras is that you're never stuck with just one lens, Canon and others make a lot of lenses that will work on this camera.

Overall performance of the Digital Rebel is quite robust. About the only slow operation is the turn on time of about 3-4 seconds. Shut down time depends on whether the camera is still processing an image and is not really an issue. This is a capture-priority camera meaning that when you are in review mode all you need do is tap the shutter release to return to capture mode. Going from review to capture in this manner requires less than a second. It only takes 1-1.5 seconds to bring up the playback image after pressing the review button and scrolling from image to image is nearly instantaneous. The average shot to shot time with Large/Fine JPEG quality is about a half a second until you fill the buffer with four frames. You need to wait about 2-3 seconds and then can shoot up to another four frames. Shooting in RAW mode is only slightly slower requiring less than a second between frames and about the same 2-3 seconds after filling the buffer before you can shoot again. In Continuous mode you can achieve the rated 2.5 frames per second with a 1/250 second or faster shutter speed. The buffer limit is four frames whether in JPEG or RAW quality. Buffer clearing times are more important when shooting in continuous mode and we did see a little improvement in that respect. Large/Fine JPEG quality we were able to shoot a burst of four frames and then shoot another four frames about two seconds later, the wait increased to about five seconds for the next sequence. If you wait for the entire buffer to be processed it takes about twenty seconds. RAW mode was about the same for the second group but the third group required about 8-9 seconds and it was about 22-25 seconds to process the entire buffer. All of our tests were conducted with a 45x speed rated 1GB CF card.

The image quality is very good, Canon has been steadily improving this every year and we're now looking at a fourth-generation camera. The color is about as good as it gets, the automatic white balance works extremely well in a wide variety of lighting, if you want it perfect then use the manual WB and a gray card. Image noise at ISO 100 and 200 is virtually nonexistent and even the higher ISO speeds are very useable. Long exposure night shots are amazing at low ISO speeds, Canon's noise reduction technology really works. As with all dSLR cameras, the Digital Rebel's images are a little "soft" even when you push the in-camera sharpening to the max. This is not necessarily a bad thing, I for one think it's a good thing because an over-sharpened image is a ruined image. If you're going to own and use a camera of this caliber then you should also be ready to do some software manipulation of your images to achieve the optimal results. Canon's bundled software is OK but far from great. There are a number of alternative third-party software applications to vastly improve your Digital Rebel's RAW images. Two of the best are BreezeBrowser and C1 Rebel RAW Convert, they're reasonably priced and will let you manipulate your RAW images to their fullest potential. Currently the Phase One folks are offering the C1 Rebel software for just $29. It's very powerful yet easy to use software for color correction, exposure adjustment and sharpening. With just a little tweaking you can make Digital Rebel images the equal of dSLR images from cameras costing 4-5 times the price of the Rebel.

Battery life is nothing short of phenomenal thanks to Canon's high-capacity BP-511 Li-ion battery pack. This same type of lithium battery is now showing up in other maker's cameras (Nikon D100, Minolta A1, Olympus E-1) -- Canon has been using this same pack in digicams and camcorders for over three years now. One would have to assume that Canon believes in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" theory because there is nothing wrong with this battery at all. The BP-511 is more than capable of going an entire day and then some, that is unless you can manage to take more than 400 - 600 pictures. If so then either buy a second battery or get the BG-E1 battery grip, it holds two BP-511 or BP-512 batteries. If you plan on using a big zoom or prime telephoto lens then I would strongly recommend the purchase of the BG-E1 grip. It helps to lower the center of gravity and gives you a lot more camera to hold which equates to less camera shake and sharper images. The BG-E1 also makes shooting in portrait mode a breeze with its vertical shutter release and grip.

The bottom line -- The EOS Digital Rebel is undoubtedly the most important dSLR of 2003. Its performance and price point mark a whole new era for digital SLR cameras and who better to do it then Canon. A thousand dollars is still a lot of money for a camera, digital or otherwise, but it wasn't that long ago that digital SLRs with 1/3 the performance and image size were selling for tens of thousands of dollars. If we keep heading in this direction then it is only a matter of another few years before we see really affordable dSLRs well under $500. And I'd be willing to bet that the first one out of the chute has a Canon insignia on it. But for now (Fall/Winter 2003) the EOS Digital Rebel is the most bang for the buck in dSLR cameras. If you're fed up with the limitations of consumer digicams (excessive shutter lag, slow AF, non-interchangeable lenses, pathetic battery life, poor image quality, etc.) then give this camera a serious look, you won't be sorry.

Order your EOS Digital Rebel book or e-book today!

Better than the manual and filled with tips & tricks to
help you capture the best possible digi-photographs.

EOS 300D/Digital Rebel Firmware Upgrade

10/23/03 - Canon has posted a firmware update for the EOS 300D / Digital Rebel on their BeBIT site . This can be used on cameras with firmware version 1.0.2 to bring it up to firmware version 1.1.1. According to Canon it increases the reliability of RemoteCapture application when the camera is used. And increases the reliability of operations when used on Windows XP and Mac OS X with [PTP] selected in [Communication].

Tips, Tricks & Firmware Hacks

If you like to experiment or just want to know what other things that the Digital Rebel is capable of doing then check out this web site. There are tons of nifty tips and tricks and links to the now infamous Russian firmware hacks that enable custom feature settings like the EOS 10D. Well worth the reading time...

EOS 300D Tips & Tricks

Fix for Flash Exposure Compensation

FECSet is a free and simple program that allows you to set the flash exposure compensation (FEC) level on a Canon Digital Rebel (also known as an EOS-300D and Kiss Digital). The camera has the ability to use FEC when taking a picture but Canon did not include any way to set it. There are many people out there who swear that a setting of +2/3 makes a huge difference. Certainly it's a choice best left to the individual and it's unfortunate that Canon choose not to include controls for it.

In order to use this program you must have the Canon USB camera drivers already installed and working. The FECSet download is a standard Windows MSI install package meaning setup and removal is simple and straightforward.

Go to the FECSet web page

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Sample Photos

Want a second opinion?

Imaging-Resource's EOS 300D review

DP Review's EOS 300D review

DC Resource's EOS 300D review

LetsGoDigital's EOS 300D review

Luminous Landscape's EOS 300D review

A-Digital-Eye's EOS 300D initial impressions

Digital Outback's EOS 300D experience report

DC View's EOS 300D review

Thom Hogan's Digital Rebel review

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