Canon revs up Rebel video

Beefed-up 1080p video and a better metering system are the highlights of the relatively expensive new Canon EOS Rebel T2i.

Canon USA

Canon traditionally avoids lower-margin market segments--nice work if you can get it--and its announcement of the new EOS Rebel T2i continues that trend. Instead of replacing its tired, old XS and XSi models to compete with younger, spryer sub-$700 models from Nikon, Sony, and Pentax in that extremely popular price segment, Canon instead chose to release an update to its more expensive T1i, in the less competitive $800-$1000 range. Included in the new T2i are some notable enhancements to the video capabilities and the updated metering scheme from the 7D, but the T2i also seems to retain the old autofocus system from the T1i and a possibly unwelcome jump to 18-megapixel resolution.

Given Canon's focus on staying ahead of the field for video implementations in dSLRs, unsurprisingly the most whizzy new feature of the T2i is support for 1080p video at 30 frames per second (as well as 24p and PAL-friendly 25p) and 720p at 60/50fps. Those video files may make the camera's SDXC card support a necessity. There's also a jack for an external microphone. Canon also claims full manual controls and on-demand autofocus during shooting (which you don't really want to do with most lenses, since they're too noisy) as well as the usual set of manual exposure controls. In addition, in VGA quality (which the company mistakenly refers to as standard definition) the T2i camera supports a form of digital zoom where it optically crops to a smaller area on the sensor in order to produce a greater telephoto effect.

For photographers, the new high-resolution display--it uses a slightly wider 3:2 aspect ratio instead of the 4:3 ration in the T1i--and the incorporation of the 7D's metering system should also be very welcome. Canon also says that it has an expanded exposure compensation range up to five stops, which sounds really nice for HDR work, although it's not clear whether it can handle more than the typical three-shot bracket.

Here's Canon's current consumer dSLR lineup:

 Canon EOS Rebel XSCanon EOS Rebel XSiCanon EOS Rebel T1iCanon EOS Rebel T2iCanon EOS 50D
Sensor (effective resolution)10.1-megapixel CMOS12.2-megapixel CMOS15.1-megapixel CMOS18-megapixel CMOS15.1-megapixel CMOS
22.2 x 14.8mm22.2 x 14.8mm22.3 x 14.9mm22.3 x 14.9mm22.3 x 14.9mm
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 1,600 ISO 100 - ISO 1600ISO 100 - ISO 3200/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 3200/12,800 (expanded)
Continuous shooting3 fps
5 raw/unlimited JPEG
3.5 fps
6 raw/53 JPEG
3.5 fps
6 raw/53 JPEG
3.7 fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
6.3 fps
16 raw/90 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/ effective magnification)95 percent coverage
0.81x/0.51x
95 percent coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95 percent coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95 percent coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95 percent coverage
0.95x/0.59x
Autofocus7-pt AF
n/a
9-pt AF
center cross-type
9-pt AF
center cross-type
9-pt AF
center cross-type
9-pt AF
all cross-type
Shutter Speed1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Metering35 zones35 zones35 zones63-zone iFCL35 zones
Live ViewYesYesYesYesYes
VideoNoneNone1080p at 20fps; 720p at 30fps 1080p at 30fps; 720p at 60fpsNone
Image stabilizationOpticalOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
LCD size2.5 inches fixed
230,000 pixels
2 inches fixed
230,000 pixels
3 inches fixed
920,000 pixels
3 inches fixed
1.04 megapixels
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
Wireless flashNoNoNoNoNo
Battery life (CIPA rating)500 shots500 shots400 shots470 shots640 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)5.0 x 3.8 x 2.45.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.45.1 x 3.8 x 3.05.7 x 4.2 x 2.9
Body operating weight (ounces)17.618.518.618.729.8
Release dateAugust 2008April 2008April 2009March 2010October 2008
Mfr. Price (with 18-55mm lens)$569.99$649.99$799.99$899.99$1,099 (body only)

I'm remaining agnostic about certain aspects of the T2i. I think the jump to 18 megapixels is unnecessary, especially at this level, unless the sensor can produce significantly better images than before. Based on the specs, the viewfinder sounds like the same small, cramped model on the current lineup, and at this price wireless flash would have been nice; Canon did break that ground for itself in the 7D.

Key specs compared with similarly priced models:

 Sony Alpha DSLR-A500Nikon D90Canon EOS Rebel T2i
Sensor (effective resolution)12.3-megapixel Exmor CMOS12.3-megapixel CMOS18-megapixel CMOS
23.5 x 15.6mm23.6 x 15.8mm22.3 x 14.9mm
Focal magnification1.5x1.5x1.6x
Sensitivity rangeISO 200 - ISO 12,800ISO 200 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)
Continuous shooting5 fps
6 raw/12 JPEG
4.5 fps
7 raw/100 JPEG (medium/fine)
3.7 fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/effective magnification)95% coverage
0.80x/0.53x
96 percent coverage
0.94x/0.63x
95 percent coverage
0.87x/0.54x
Autofocus9-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
center cross-type
9-pt AF
center cross-type
Shutter Speed1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering40 segments420-pixel 3D Color Matrix II63-zone iFCL
Live ViewYesYesYes
VideoNone720p at 24fps 1080p at 30fps; 720p at 60fps
Image stabilizationSensor shiftOpticalOptical
LCD size3 inches tiltable
230,400 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 pixels
3 inches fixed
1.04 megapixels
Wireless flashYesYesNo
Battery life (CIPA rating)1000 shots850 shots470 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)5.4 x 4.1 x 3.3 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.05.1 x 3.8 x 3.0
Body operating weight (ounces)20.42618.7
Release dateSeptember 2009August 2008March 2010
Mfr. Price$749.99 (body only)$899.95 (body only)$799.99 (body only)
$849.99 (with 18-55mm lens)n/a$899.99 (with 18-55mm lens)

Perhaps Canon is smart to stick to this price segment; there's practically no real competition. The Nikon D90 remains a great camera; it still offers a faster burst mode and better viewfinder than the T2i, but it is getting old and its video support has always been only novelty-good. And unless the Alpha DSLR-A500 displays the very good noise profile of the A550 (I haven't seen the test images yet) but without the color problems that plague all Sony dSLRs (fat chance), the only advantage it offers is a class-leading burst mode.

Did Canon make the right choices? Is the T2i the camera you want or do cheaper models offer all you need? Tell us in the comments.

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