Hands-on with the Canon EOS Rebel T1i

Canon's newest consumer dSLR does HD video capture.


Eventually, it'll become old hat, but for now, the addition of video capture to dSLRs still merits some oohing and aahing. Especially as it comes down to the less expensive models--you know, the ones within reach of the rest of us. So let us buzz eagerly about Canon's latest consumer dSLR, the EOS Rebel T1i, which becomes the cheapest dSLR thus far to support video capture.

Slipping neatly into the company's dSLR product line between the XSi and 40D, the T1i pushes the XTi off the edge of the bed into discontinuity. When it ships in May, it will occupy the popular $800 price segment: $799.99 for the body and $899.99 for the kit with the veteran f3.5-5.6 18-55mm IS lens.

First, a brief specification comparison of the XSi and the T1i, along with its most recently announced competitor, the Olympus E-620.

Canon EOS Rebel XSi
(with 18-55mm IS lens)
Olympus E-620
(with 14-42mm lens)
Canon EOS Rebel T1i
(with 18-55mm IS lens)
Sensor12.2-megapixel CMOS12.3-megapixel Live MOS15.1-megapixel CMOS
Color depth14 bits12 bits14 bits
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 800/1,600 (expanded)ISO 200 - ISO 3,200ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/12,800 (expanded)
Focal-length multiplier1.6x2x1.6x
Continuous shooting3.5 fps
53 JPEG/6 raw
4 fps
n/a JPEG/5 raw
3.4 fps
170 JPEG/9 raw
Viewfinder95% coverage
0.87x magnification
95% coverage
0.96x magnification
Autofocus9-pt AF
center cross-type
7-pt AF
all twin; 5 cross-type
9-pt AF
center cross-type
Live ViewYesYesYes
VideoNoNo720p at 30fps, 1080p at 20fps
LCD size3 inches fixed2.7 inches articulated3 inches fixed
Mfr. price$799.99$799.99$899.99

Though not quite as robust as on the EOS 5D Mark II, which supports 30fps for its 1080p capture, the T1i's video capture still surpasses that of the more expensive but limited to 24fps 720p Nikon D90. I had some time to shoot with a preproduction model of the T1i, under the watchful eye of Canon representatives, and the capture experience feels very much like that of the 5D's. In an interesting turn, Canon enables on-demand AF during capture. Initiating focus creates some jerkiness, but at least you don't have to stop, focus, and restart; I definitely prefer having the option. The videos I shot at a dog run look okay, but it was a colorless late winter day and I can't tell whether the video is washed out from the weather or the camera. The implementation is nice, however, with a dedicated record button.

Since the body is almost identical to the XSi, the shooting experience is unsurprisingly similar. That includes the annoying tiny focus points in the viewfinder, unfortunately. Though it's higher resolution, it doesn't feel particularly slower, probably because of the jump from Digic III to Digic 4 for image processing. The pixels are, as you'd expect, smaller than those of the XSi: 4.7 microns versus 5.2 microns. Though we didn't shoot our official ISO test photos, the ISO 800, 1,600 and 3,200 shots I took looked pretty good. (I forgot to try the extended ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800 settings. Grrr.)

As for other notable features in the T1i, it inherits Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer, Lens Illumination Correction, copyright information embedding, and Creative Auto mode from its higher-end siblings. Creative Auto, which is a simplified Program exposure mode that lets you change parameters like exposure on a 5-step scale, rather than third or half stops, fits nicely this class of camera.

Canon also announced a new entry-level Speedlight, the 270EX, which replaces the 220EX at a currently unspecified price. It's small and runs off two AA batteries, with bounce angles of 60, 75, and 90 degrees. It's very cute.

Since the T1i is only the second of this year's consumer dSLR models to be announced, it's not clear yet how the T1i will stack up against imminent competitors. And, of course, we have to see how well it really tests over more than just a couple of hours. Stay tuned.

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