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Canon EOS Rebel T2i review: Canon EOS Rebel T2i

Canon EOS Rebel T2i

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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9 min read

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7.8

Canon EOS Rebel T2i

The Good

Fast performance; excellent photo quality; above average video-capture quality.

The Bad

Annoying viewfinder; irritating control layout for video capture.

The Bottom Line

A great follow-up to the T1i, if you want the best photo and video quality in a dSLR for less than $1,000, the Canon EOS Rebel T2i is hard to beat.

Instead of replacing its tired, old XS and XSi models to compete with younger, sprier sub-$700 models from Nikon, Sony, and Pentax in that extremely popular price segment, Canon chose to release an update to its more expensive T1i in the less competitive $800-$1,000 range. Included in the new T2i--dubbed the EOS 550D overseas--are some notable enhancements to its video capabilities, an updated metering scheme inherited from the 7D, an enhanced LCD, and a resolution jump to 18 megapixels. While there are nits to pick with aspects of the camera and areas where even cheaper models outpace it, as an overall package, the T2i narrowly takes the place at the head of the pack of consumer dSLRs.

  Canon EOS Rebel XS Canon EOS Rebel XSi Canon EOS Rebel T1i Canon EOS Rebel T2i Canon EOS 50D
Sensor (effective resolution) 10.1-megapixel CMOS 12.2-megapixel CMOS 15.1-megapixel CMOS 18-megapixel CMOS 15.1-megapixel CMOS
22.2x14.8mm 22.2x14.8mm 22.3x14.9mm 22.3x14.9mm 22.3x14.9mm
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 1,600 ISO 100 - ISO 1,600 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/12,800 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3 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% coverage
0.81x/0.51x
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95% coverage
0.95x/0.59x
Autofocus 7-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 Speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Metering 35 zones 35 zones 35 zones 63-zone iFCL 35 zones
Live View Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Video None None 1080p at 20fps; 720p at 30fps 1080p at 30fps; 720p at 60fps None
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
LCD size 2.5 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 flash No No No No No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 500 shots 500 shots 400 shots 550 shots 640 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.0x3.8x2.4 5.1x3.8x2.4 5.1x3.8x2.4 5.1x3.8x3.0 5.7x4.2x2.9
Body operating weight (ounces) 17.6 18.5 18.6 18.6 29.8
Release date August 2008 April 2008 April 2009 March 2010 October 2008
Mfr. Price (with 18-55mm lens) $569.99 $649.99 $799.99 $899.99 $1,099 (body only)

Although it's about 0.6 inch deeper, the T2i's body weighs the same 18.6 ounces and looks extremely similar to the T1i. The T2i has a very comfortable grip, textured and rubberized in all the places your fingers touch and workable for single-handed shooting. The T2i's control layout is almost identical to the T1i's layout. Canon redesigned many of the buttons--they're flatter, and a tad harder to feel--and now there's a dedicated button for jumping into the Quick Control panel. Other than those changes, the control layout is the same as it's been for many generations, and the layout pretty much works. However, I'd rather have the ISO button in place of the Picture Styles rather than on top of the camera--that's where most point-and-shoot upgraders would expect it to be, and would consolidate all the shooting controls in one spot. Canon did move the button that doubles as movie record and Live View enable. I'll make the same complaints on this that I brought up with the T1i: it doesn't have custom settings and Canon poorly the movie mode on the dial. The latter is cumbersome, in part because the dial doesn't spin 360 degrees, so jumping between movies and still shooting modes is seriously annoying.

As with most of Canon's consumer dSLRs for the past couple of years, Canon also includes Creative Auto mode. Creative Auto 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 increasingly common approach for beginners who'd like to take some chances. The camera 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 also adopts the interactive control panel for directly changing most shooting settings via the information display on the LCD; you access it via the Q button.

I still dislike the viewfinder that Canon carries over several generations from the old XSi. 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, briefly. 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.)

Given Canon's focus on staying ahead of the field for video implementations in dSLRs, unsurprisingly the whizziest 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. Like its higher-end models, you get full manual controls and on-demand autofocus during shooting, which you don't really want to do with most lenses, as they're too noisy.

For photographers, the new high-resolution display--it uses a slightly wider 3:2 aspect ratio instead of the 4:3 ratio in the T1i--and the incorporation of the 7D's metering system is very welcome. The display is really nice, but you do need to crank the brightness to view it in direct sunlight, which can mess with your judgment when shooting video or trying to figure out if you've metering a scene correctly. Canon expanded the exposure compensation range up to five stops in either direction--and up to a whopping 7 stops for bracketing--but you're still limited to a 3-shot bracket and a range of two stops around the center.

  Canon EOS Rebel T2i Nikon D90 Sony Alpha DSLR-A550
Sensor (effective resolution) 18-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel Exmor CMOS
22.3x14.9mm 23.6x15.8mm 23.5x15.6mm
Focal magnification 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 3.7 fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
4.5 fps
7 raw/100 JPEG (medium/fine)
5 fps
6 raw/12 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/effective magnification) 95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
96% coverage
0.94x/0.63x
95% coverage
0.80x/0.53x
Autofocus 9-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
center cross-type
9-pt AF
center cross-type
Shutter Speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 420-pixel 3D Color Matrix II 40 segments
Live View Yes Yes Yes
Video 1080p at 30fps; 720p at 60fps 720p at 24fps None
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches fixed
1.04 megapixels
3 inches fixed
921,000 pixels
3 inches tiltable
921,600 dots
Wireless flash No Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 550 shots 850 shots 1,000 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.1x3.8x3.0 5.2x4.1x3.0 5.4x4.1x3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 18.6 26 24
Release date March 2010 August 2008 September 2009
Mfr. Price $799.99 (body only) $899.95 (body only) $849.99 (body only)
$899.99 (with 18-55mm lens) n/a $949.99 (with 18-55mm lens)

The T2i lacks common perks that Sony, Pentax, and Olympus equip their cameras with, including features such as in-body mechanical stabilization and a wireless flash controller in the body, a feature I occasionally find quite useful, in this camera. The company's inclusion of an image-stabilizing kit lens doesn't quite compensate for the omissions, since additional optically stabilized lenses tend to cost more in the long run. (For a complete accounting of the T2i's features, download the PDF manual.)

In many ways, the T2i is exceptionally fast. It powers on and shoots in just less than 0.3 second, which may not be fastest in its class, but it is still speedy enough. With a time to focus and shoot of 0.25 second in optimal shooting conditions, it bests the 0.3-second plateau where most of its sub-$1,000 competitors have rested. At 0.5 second, it ties for best in class with the Pentax K-x for shooting in dim light. There's about a 0.1-second difference between JPEG and raw shot-to-shot times, with raw slower at 0.6 second compared with 0.5 for JPEG, but both are among the fastest in its class despite the camera's relatively high resolution. The only comparative disappointment is its 3.4fps burst rate. On one hand, both the autofocus system and the image processing are certainly fast enough to handle the action-shooting needs of the typical personal or hobbyist photographer, but there are faster models out there.

Overall, I think the T2i delivers the best image quality in its class, with great color and dynamic range outweighing its marginally weaker noise results. Canon's inexpensive 18-55mm kit lens delivers reasonably sharp images. Keep in mind that other manufacturers tend to dial up the sharpness a bit more than Canon does for their defaults. Unlike Pentax and Sony's competing models, Canon takes a light touch with its default color settings--and, in fact, has more defaults that deliver accurate color than any other. While its Standard Picture Style does boost contrast a touch, it doesn't cause wholesale hue shifts the way others do, or as its Landscape setting does. The T2i renders excellent color, saturated or subtle, with very good accuracy.

For the money, Canon delivers an excellent noise profile in the T2i. Photos taken with the camera look clean up to and including ISO 800; at ISO 1,600 they begin to lose a bit of detail. The camera's usability beyond that ISO depends upon scene content and lighting. As with most of its competitors, the highest ISO sensitivities can be useful for images that will be reproduced at small sizes, but there's too much color noise for decent prints. Canon excels with its noise-reduction algorithms, though it seems to start with a surprisingly low-noise image to begin with, at least at ISO 3,200. By the numbers, the Pentax K-x displays lower noise at almost all ISO sensitivities than the Canon T2i, with the greatest disparities at ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800. Pentax preserves sharpness better and Canon has a lot more color noise, but comparatively I'm not crazy about some of the Pentax's artifacts; sometimes I prefer the smoother albeit softer and more dithered appearance of the Canon to the blotchiness of the Pentax.

The camera also delivers the best video capture quality I've seen in a sub-$1,000 dSLR--subject to the inescapable limitations the technology, like unusable autofocus--with good exposure, sharpness, minimal artifacts, and excellent audio.

Though it isn't perfect--and they never seem to be--I think the Canon EOS Rebel T2i is a crowd-pleasing inexpensive dSLR. I could list individual aspects where competitors surpass it, including burst performance, high ISO sensitivity numbers, control layout, and viewfinder. But overall the camera is fast, with great photo quality and relatively standout video that help put it over the top.

Shooting speeds (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon EOS T2i
0.3 
0.6 
0.5 
0.3 
Pentax K-x
0.7 
0.6 
0.5 
0.3 
Canon EOS T1i
0.2 
0.4 
0.6 
0.3 
Nikon D5000
0.2 
0.5 
0.7 
0.3 
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550
0.4 
0.8 
0.7 
0.3 
Nikon D90
0.2 
0.6 
0.9 
0.4 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon EOS T2i
3.4 

7.8

Canon EOS Rebel T2i

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8