Canon Rebel T1i Digital Camera Review
By Sandy Berger on November 30, 2009
The Rebel series of digital SLR cameras has been a big winner for Canon. The new Rebel T1i has added the ability to take video along with several advancements in the Rebel’s photo-taking abilities. This camera is touted by some as being an entry-level digital SLR, yet it has so much functionality that we weren’t convinced that it was easy enough for a beginner. We decided to take a closer look to determine the quality of the camera and the photos as well as just what level of digital photographer the Rebel best fit.
As shown in Figure 1, the Rebel comes in a blue and black box with the large word “REBEL” written in red in a care-free-looking font.
The contents of the box are shown in Figures 2 and 3. They include the Rebel T1i body, an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens and cover, a wide black strap marked” Canon EOS Digital,” a USB interface cable, an AV cable, and the battery charger and battery. Three software disks are also included: the EOS Digital Solution Disk, a disk with the Instruction Manuals, and a disk called “Step Up Photography.” Also included is a small instruction booklet, a very small Pocket Guide and 2 booklets entitled: "Great Photography is Easy" Booklet and "Do More with Macro." All software comes in both PC and Mac versions and works well with Windows 7 as well as older versions of Windows.
Documentation on using the camera is good. The Pocket Guide will get you started and the User’s Manual is well laid out with good drawings and explanations. However, we would have liked to see at an explanation of the included software in the written documentation. The software is comprehensive, including photo editing, stitching, and much more. But, unfortunately, you must search through each piece of software to see what it does and how you will want to use it. Some functionality, like the remote control that we will talk about later in this review, can easily be overlooked.
Although the box reads “Rebel,” it also says that this is an EOS camera. In fact, in some countries the Rebel T1i is sold as an EOS 500D. The neck strap, shown in Figure 4, also confirms the EOS connection. Some users find this a bit confusing.
EOS, however, is simply Canon’s name for a certain type of SLR camera. The name is said to come either from Eos, the goddess of the dawn from Greet mythology, or to stand for Electro-Optical System which represents the electronic data communication between the camera and lens.
There are times when you must remember that the Rebel T1i is an EOS camera. For instance when you use the included software to connect the camera to the computer, if you choose “Connect to Camera,” the software will not find the Rebel. You must choose “Connect to EOS camera” for the software to recognize the attached Rebel camera.
This is also important when choosing additional lenses. Any Canon EF (Electro-Focus) lens will work with any Canon EOS body.
Although the body is made of mostly plastic, the camera has a sturdy look and feel. For an SLR, the camera is lightweight, the body weights in at approximately 16.9 oz or 480 g. The camera measures 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in (128.8 x 97.5 x 61.9 mm).
As seen in Figure 5, the Rebel T1i is shaped like most digital SLR cameras. On the lens you will see the Stabilizer on/off switch. In the center is the retractable, pop-up flash and the hot shoe for an external flash. Next to (and slightly in back of) the hot shoe is the Dioptric adjustment knob.
On the right side is the silver mode dial. The icons are easy to read. They are divided into two sections: The Creative Zone and the Basic Zone. The Creative Zone gives you more control over the settings. It includes: P (Program, Tv (Shutter-priority), Av (Aperture-priority), M (Manual), CA (Creative Auto) and A-DEP (Automatic depth-of-field). The Basic Zone gives you more automatic shooting. This area includes a Square icon for Full Auto, and icons indicating Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait, Flash Off, and Movie Mode.
Next to the Mode Dial is the On/Off switch. In front of that is a dedicated ISO speed setting button, the main dial, and the shutter button. In this figure you can also see the AE lock button marked with an asterisk (used to lock the Auto Focus in Live mode). Next to that is the Magnify button which is used to zoom in on an area when in Live mode. The icons marking these two buttons are on the top of the camera while the buttons themselves are on the back of the camera.
The back of the camera, shown in Figure 6, shows the other camera buttons and knobs. On the left side of the view finder are the Menu and Display buttons. To the right of the screen are the Av, Aperture/Exposure compensation button, and the Live View shooting/Movie shooting/Print/Share button. Below that is a circular pad with cross keys. Up is the White balance selection, down is the Picture Style selection, to the left is the Drive mode selection button, and to the right is the AF mode selection button. Under that you will see the Playback button and the Erase button.
On the bottom of the Rebel, shown in Figure 7, you can see the Tripod mount and the battery door. The rechargeable battery is rated at about 500 photos with no flash. Even with the LiveView and some flash photos, we got several hundred photos. There is also an AC adapter available and the camera can use AA batteries with the optional battery grip.
All of the dials and buttons on the Rebel T1i are clearly marked and the placement allows easy access.
One of the first things that you will notice when you start using this Rebel is the wonderful 3” LCD screen. At 920,000 dots (VGA) it is clear and crisp. Even the text is clearer than most camera screens. The screen also has anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coatings for improved viewing and smudge protection. Although depending on your physical makeup, looking through the view finder may press your nose against the LCD screen causing a smudge every time you take a picture using the view finder.
Unlike many older SLR’s, you can use either the LCD screen or the view finder to frame your photo. Canon calls using the LCD screen Live View. To initiate Live View, you simply press the Live View button seen in Figure 6. Since this button is also used to capture a video when in Movie View, it will be an often-used button. For that reason, Canon has put a small protruding dimple on the top of this button to help differentiate it from nearby buttons.
When you change to the Live View the camera gives you on-screen instructions for pressing the exposure-focus lock (asterisk) button to set the auto-focus. Live View has several focusing options that can be accessed through the menus.
Live View also allows you press the DISP button and see the camera settings, grids, and histogram on the screen. You can also press the magnify button to magnify the view and you the arrow keys to move the focus to magnify the area of your choice. This can be used in conjunction with manual focusing to get the camera precisely focused.
Although the LCD screen doesn’t flip out like some of the Rebel’s competitors, it is still extremely functional.
The combination of the large, clear LCD screen and the dials and buttons shown in Figure 8 also makes it easy to navigate the menu system.
Canon also provides a quick menu function that is activated by pressing the SET button (shown in Figure 8). This allows to you quickly set the functionality. The function that you are working with is highlighted in blue is also shown in Figure 8. You press SET to change the highlighted option. You move to the other choices for that option by pressing the arrow keys. Then you set each function by pressing the SET button. If you are changing an option that has a corresponding function on the mode dial, you can also highlight that option and turn the mode dial to the selection of your choice.
You can also store a set of custom settings that you use often.
The biggest addition to this new Rebel is the movie mode. The Rebel T1i takes movies in 720p and 30 frames per second or 1080p and 20 frames per second. Because the 1080p mode only shoots with 20 frames per second the results were slightly choppier than we would have liked. However, we were quite happy with the 720p videos. They were smooth and good in low light. The camera videos are in an H.264 AVCHD format rapped in a Quick Time rapper.
Sound is recorded through the camera microphone which is located above the EOS label on the front of the camera, as shown in Figure 9. Unfortunately, this placement of the microphone means that it will also picks up any camera sounds as well as the audio you are trying to capture. In our testing this was not an issue, but it is something to be aware of.
You also have the ability to zoom while taking a movie. Doing so smoothly requires quite a bit of practice, but this is a function not found in many digicams. You can shoot a video up to 30 minutes long. However, the camera becomes quite hot when using the movie mode for long periods of time. It may be best to try to limit the videos you shoot to shorter clips. Also when shooting movies be sure to use an SD card Class 6 or higher, which basically means a high speed card. Use of a slower SD card gave us much poorer quality videos.
On the left side of the camera, shown in Figure 10, you can see the Remote Control terminal, the Audio/video out/USB port, and an HDMI mini Out. The mini HDMI port can be used to show the hi-def movies you shoot on a television screen.
You can use included USB cable to hook the camera up to a computer and use the included software to remote control the camera. This allows you to control the camera functions with your mouse and puts the pictures directly on your hard disk.
The thing that amazed us was the ability to use Live View on your computer screen. You can even focus the camera while working directly on your computer screen.
With some cameras remote control software of this type can be a pricey added cost. We were amazed to find it included at no cost with the Rebel T1i. If you have any use for this type of remote control, this camera performs admirably. Even if you don’t think that you will need it, the remote control software is fun to try out and use when the occasion arises.
As you use the Rebel T1i and the included software you will find that there are plenty of other useful features. For instance, the camera also has face recognition, the LCD has 7 levels of brightness, and the software has the ability to interface with Photoshop.
The Rebel T1i is a 15 megapixel camera with a high-sensitivity, high-resolution, large single-plate CMOS sensor. The sensor is an APS-C size of 22.3mm x 14.9mm. In our testing pictures were sharp, well exposed, and had good color reproduction. They showed only minimal artifacting along high-contrast edges.
A wide range of ISO settings is available on the Rebel from 100 to 3200 with expansion to 6400 and 12800. Although there was some noise in high ISO settings, we were happy with the wide range of ISO settings.
We loved the fact that the camera was able to take either JPEGs, RAW, or do a simultaneous recording of both. With the simultaneous recording we could connect the camera to a PictBridge enabled printer or insert the memory card into a printer to print a quick JPEG while still maintaining the RAW image for future manipulation with the included Canon software.
We found the Rebel’s picture settings effective. For example, Portrait brightened the face and Landscape greened up the foliage.
The camera can handle up to 3.5 frames per second in burst mode. While this is a bit slower than some other digital cameras of this type, it is only minimally slower and most amateur and semi-professional photographers will have no gripe with this.
A built-in dust removal system shakes the dust off the sensor. This is done by default every time you turn the camera off, but it can also be performed at the user’s discretion.
The left side of the camera has a door that opens to reveal a USB port and the SD memory card slot, as shown in Figure 11. This is one of the first Rebel cameras that uses an SD card rather than the older compact flash card. In our tests, the camera performed well with all SD cards, even mini-SD cards used with an SD adapter. However, we recommend using high-performance SD cards, especially for taking movies.
Canon Rebel T1i (EOS 500D) digital camera main features are:
The Canon Rebel T1i is an excellent choice for a mid-range digital SLR. With its picture settings and the auto settings, the Rebel is suitable for a first-time SLR user. Given an adequate time investment, a beginner could use this camera on his first day and gradually add to his knowledge while learning the cameras ins-and-outs. However, the sheer number of functions, menu options, and buttons may be intimidating to some new users.
The T1i stands out as an SLR that is easy-to-use while also offers powerful options and functionality and taking good pictures and videos.