The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (known as the EOS 350D outside the United States) represents a leap forward from its predecessor, the original Digital Rebel, offering more than one might expect from the addition of a couple consonants to the name. The XT is a zippy performer. It offers more creative control than its predecessor and boasts an 8-megapixel CMOS sensor and Canon's Digic II processing engine. Canon touts its smaller, lighter body as well; it's nearly as small as you can get in a digital SLR. But while that might appeal to the small handed and nimble, the XT's compressed, lightweight, and slightly chintzy-feeling frame will be a hindrance to others who prefer a solid grip and a balanced camera body--particularly if they're using a lens any heavier than the mediocre 18mm-to-55mm f/3.5-to-f/5.6 unit included in the kit. In terms of image quality, the Rebel XT is a bargain, delivering wonderfully detailed and colorful images for a competitive price. While the Rebel XT lacks some features found on the more solid and slightly pricier Nikon D70, the XT is the clear winner when it comes to resolution and dynamic range.
The all-plastic Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT is extremely lightweight for an SLR. Without a lens, it weighs only about 17 ounces. It also comes in your choice of a traditional matte-black or brushed-silver finish. The body is quite small, too, about a half-inch narrower than the Digital Rebel's. The only dSLR that's more compact is.
While the camera's size and weight make it wonderfully portable for travel, we found it a little uncomfortable for prolonged shooting. The hard plastic and only slightly textured grip aren't ergonomically designed for average-size hands, and the limited real estate makes it too easy to accidentally trip buttons while shooting. That's particularly true of the autoexposure-lock button on the upper-right side of the camera back, which sits where your thumb needs to be to keep the camera balanced. These quirks become much more noticeable when you're using a Canon EF-mount lens other than the very lightweight zoom included in the kit.
Most controls are laid out well. There isn't enough space on top of the camera to display camera status, but a status readout appears above the rear LCD monitor. The power switch is secure and out of the way alongside the top command dial, which is logically labeled with standard exposure abbreviations and six scene-mode icons (although one of those "scenes" is Flash Off, the only flash adjustment you can make without menu surfing). On the back, there's a pad of four-way directional buttons designed to enable quick adjustments of ISO, autofocus, white balance, and metering mode. While you must make these adjustments within the LCD menu system, pushing the buttons brings you directly to them. The control dial located on top of the grip primarily changes aperture, shutter speed, and when used in tandem with a button on the back, exposure compensation.
The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT loosens a number of the restrictions that bound Digital Rebel shooters. It offers more flexibility with respect to metering mode, with easily selectable evaluative, partial, or center-weighted average metering (but still no spot metering). There are also more options with flash-exposure control and autofocus selection via the One Shot, AI Servo, and AI Focus modes.
The XT can simultaneously record raw and high-quality JPEG files, whereas the original Rebel's raw-plus-JPEG mode could capture only lower-quality JPEGs. You can also override the automatic seven-point AiAF focusing--a good thing, given its occasional unreliability--but doing so requires first pushing a button to initialize the process, then navigating to one of the seven points using either the directional buttons or the main dial. It's a little clunky, but you can actually streamline the process by changing the camera's custom settings to eliminate the first step.
Shooting choices include the four basic exposure modes, a depth-of-field priority mode, a fully automatic mode, and six scene options: Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait, and Flash Off. The XT provides color-space options of either Adobe RGB or the default sRGB. It also allows tinkering with sharpness, contrast, and color through the menu's Parameter settings. A black-and-white mode has trickled down from Canon's EOS 20D as well. This camera also features adjustable white-balance bracketing and exposure bracketing. As with its predecessor and similarly priced "advanced amateur" dSLR models, the Rebel XT offers a maximum ISO of 1,600; it can't capture TIFF files, and it doesn't allow the white balance to be set according to color temperature. Nine custom settings allow you to control such parameters as flash-sync speed (to 1/200 second), exposure-level increments (from 1/3-stop to 1/2-stop), and shutter-curtain sync (first- and second-curtain flash sync).
Along with other software, the Rebel XT comes with Canon's excellent Digital Photo Professional 1.6 program for raw file processing. It also supports Canon's sophisticated E-TTLII external-flash system and is compatible with an optional vertical grip that adds more battery power and a second shutter release. For wireless multiple-flash support, you'll have to purchase an accessory transmitter--one respect in which this camera falls short of Nikon's D70 and D70s.