Canon EOS Rebel SL1 review: A dSLR for dainty hands

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The Good Sized for small-to-medium hands, the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 delivers the expected photo and video quality in a comfortable and well-executed design.

The Bad It's pretty slim on features.

The Bottom Line While the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 is a perfectly reasonable entry-level dSLR, you can get the same photo and video quality in a smaller body for the same money (or less) by opting for a mirrorless interchangeable-lens model.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 8

About six-and-a-half years ago, Olympus announced the E-Volt E-410, which at that point became the smallest dSLR ever. In the years since, I don't remember anybody attempting to match it for size. But given that it used a Four Thirds-size sensor -- smaller than the traditional APS-C size sensor that's used by consumer dSLRs -- that was pretty unsurprising. Now Canon's EOS Rebel SL1 manages to outdo the E-410 for lightness and compactness, at least in two dimensions (the E-410 was thinner), becoming the smallest dSLR available.

The result is a nice, fast, though somewhat feature-light, dSLR that I find very comfortable to grip one-handed. Then again, I have relatively diminutive hands compared with the more masculinely proportioned Josh Goldman (CNET's other digital imaging editor), who finds the grip exceptionally cramped. However, it's still significantly bigger than competing interchangeable-lens compacts like the Sony Alpha NEX-6, which makes the more compact design dubiously advantageous.

Essentially a shrunken version of the T5i that's targeted at folks with smaller hands -- the SL stands for "super lightweight," though Canon might as well as have gone with WF for "womenfolk" -- there are a few notable differences between the SL1 and its big brother. For one, it incorporates an updated version of the company's hybrid CMOS, which Canon claims offers a larger area dedicated to the contrast AF system for better autofocus outside the center area during Live View shooting and movie capture. (And it makes me wonder why they didn't use this sensor in the T5i.) Other differences include a fixed, rather than articulated, version of the touch-screen LCD, a slightly slower continuous-shooting capability, and mono audio. The battery life is also weaker, as it uses the same battery pack as the EOS M.

Image quality
For the most part, the photo and video look about the same as those from the T5i. Still-photo colors aren't bad with the default Picture Style settings, though there are some hue shifts. JPEGs look clean up through ISO 800, which is typical for this class, and usable at full scale to about ISO 1600 and ISO 6400 at smaller magnifications. While a 13x19 print of an ISO 1600 photo wasn't quite as clean or sharp as I would have liked, it doesn't look that bad, but that's still not as good as the T5i.

There also seems to be a little more blooming and fringing on edges than I'm used to, as well as high-contrast edges that the in-camera image processing isn't dealing with.

Click to download ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 3200

Video looks good, but not significantly better than you get from similarly priced competitors. While I didn't see any rolling shutter, there's quite a bit of aliasing and moire. I do like the tonality of low-light video, despite the appearance of some color noise on blacks.

The SL1's performance is close enough to the T5i's to be identical with the exception of continuous shooting; that is, overall it's very good and certainly as good as you'd expect when stepping up to a dSLR. It takes about 0.6 second to power on, focus, and shoot -- the Canon tends to be a little slower than the Nikon D3200, but it's still faster in this aspect than the Sony NEX-6. Time to focus, expose, and shoot in bright light runs about 0.3 second and 0.8 second in dim light. The latter isn't spectacular but pretty average. It typically takes about 0.2 second (JPEG) to 0.3 second (raw) for two sequential shots; JPEG and raw times really differ because of rounding beyond the margin of error, so they're effectively the same. Flash increases shot-to-shot time to a respectable 0.7 second.

While testing using a 95MBps SD card, the JPEG burst buffer didn't slow at as high as 30 shots, sustaining a rate of 4.1 frames per second, while raw burst a little faster at 4.4fps, but slowed significantly (and erratically) after 10 shots.

Overall, the camera's performance is up to its intended tasks -- photographing kids, pets, and vacations -- albeit with some caveats. The autofocus works relatively quickly and accurately in both still and Live View/Video, as long as you don't rely on the camera to choose the AF points (no camera chooses the correct subject). Using the touch focus in Live View is a big help. Like the rest of the Rebels, though, the viewfinder has tiny little focus points that are almost impossible to center over your subject while shooting burst. You pretty much have to rely on happy accidents to get sharp, correctly framed action shots.

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