Canon EOS Rebel T1i review: Canon EOS Rebel T1i

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The Good Fast performance; very nice photo quality; HD video capture.

The Bad Annoying viewfinder; video capture is its only better-than-basic feature.

The Bottom Line A solid, slightly better-than-basic dSLR, the Canon EOS Rebel T1i delivers photo quality and performance that adequately compensates for most of its annoyances.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 8

Slipping neatly into the company's dSLR product line between the XSi and the 40D, the Canon EOS Rebel T1i (aka the 500D elsewhere in the world) pushes the XTi off the edge of the bed into discontinuity. Joined by models like the Nikon D5000 and the Olympus E-620 in that $800-to-$900-with-lens market segment, it's not quite a budget model; more for the entry-level buyer who wants higher resolution and a better AF system, and perhaps video, than you can get for $700.

In addition to the kit with the veteran f3.5-5.6 18-55mm IS lens, Canon is shipping a body-only version for those of you who already have a lens or two lying around.

Since the body is almost identical to the XSi, including the 1.2-pound weight, the shooting experience is unsurprisingly similar. On that camera, I complained that the plastic body felt a bit cheap and I wasn't crazy about the grip, but I suppose I've gotten used to it for this class of camera in the year since that review. Overall, it's comfortable and feels solid enough. It keeps the same large, fixed 3-inch LCD; more models in this class are offering smaller but articulated LCDs, which is starting to make this seem like a competitive disadvantage. Almost all the buttons lie under your right hand, and each feels slightly different so that you can grope them without looking. None requires two-handed operation: when you push the button to change ISO, white balance, metering, and so on, the menu persists while you navigate the options.

Though the T1i has a movie mode you access via the mode dial, it has a dedicated button to stop and start recording; it also turns on Live View when in still-photo modes.

While the modes on the dial remain mostly unchanged, there's now a dedicated movie selection. Having it on the dial makes jumping between stills and movies more awkward than necessary; the dedicated Live View button doubles as a record stop/start when in movie mode. Canon also added the Creative Auto mode that debuted in its higher-end models, but which makes a lot more sense in this one. CA is a semimanual mode with capabilities you can view as an advanced Auto mode or dumbed-down Program mode, depending upon your viewpoint. All functions in CA are automated, with a few exceptions. Notably, it replaces shutter and aperture adjustment options with two sliding scales--Exposure (brighter/darker) and Background (blurred/sharp)--that implicitly adjust shutter speed and aperture. It's an interesting approach for beginners who'd like to take some chances.

I really miss having a at least one custom settings slot on the mode dial.

It also retains My Menu, which lets you build a go-to list of the most frequently accessed menu settings--in my case, for instance, format and metering settings. Canon has finally also adopted the capability to directly change most shooting settings via the information display on the LCD.

My biggest peeves still remain: Canon's Picture Styles, custom contrast, sharpness saturation, and color tone, unfortunately take precedence over the capability to save groups of custom exposure, white balance, metering, drive mode settings, and so on. And I'm beginning to hate the viewfinder. It offers the same 95 percent coverage as its competitors, but at a lower magnification than some, and it uses the same horribly annoying tiny focus points that don't actually tell you if it's in focus; locked or not, it simply blinks. I had to turn on the indicator beep. (Yes, there's a focus lock indicator in the viewfinder, but it's down on the bottom right where it's a bit of a strain on your peripheral vision.)

On some counts, the T1i offers some pretty nice specifications, highlighted by the 15-megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor (for Canon's traditional 1.6x focal-length multiplier) and same nine-point user-selectable autofocus system as the XSi. Aside from new capabilities like movie capture and CA, the camera offers effectively the same feature set as the XSi, with its same strengths and holes. It lacks common perks Sony, Pentax, and Olympus include in their cameras, like in-body mechanical stabilization and a wireless flash controller in the body, a feature I occasionally find quite useful. The inclusion of an image-stabilizing kit lens doesn't quite compensate, since additional optically stabilized lenses tend to cost more in the long run. (For a complete accounting of the T1i's features, download the PDF manual.)

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