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Canon EOS Rebel T4i

In this update to its EOS Rebel flagship model, Canon touts an improved video-shooting experience thanks to a newly developed sensor and lens line.

Lori Grunin/CNET
The phase detection AF areas vs. the contrast AF areas on Canon's new hybrid CMOS. Canon USA

Canon updates its Rebel series with a new more video-friendly model, the EOS Rebel T4i. Friendlier, that is, as long as you also spring for the new STM line of lenses designed to work with the updated autofocus (AF) system. Together, the camera and the lenses do promise smoother, more accurate AF performance during video shooting than we see from typical dSLR systems. The T4i is slated to hit stores later in June in several configurations: $849 (body only), $949 (with 18-55mm lens), and $1,199 (with the new 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM lens). That latter lens will also be available standalone for $549.99; a 40mm f2.8 STM pancake lens will retail for $199.99.

Its new hybrid CMOS sensor includes two sets of AF sensors: a contrast autofocus array, the type of autofocus used in camcorders and other video AF systems, as well as the traditional phase-detection array you find in dSLRs. Those, plus a switch to a touch-screen LCD, make the T4i more suited to shooting video than previous models. It looks like the only bones tossed to photographers are a faster continuous-shooting rate of 5 frames per second and a phase-detection autofocus system updated to nine cross-type points, which really just brings the T4i into parity with the other new cameras in its class.

The T4i's introduction naturally impacts the price of sibling dSLRs. It's likely the EOS Rebel T3i will slowly become more affordable and the EOS 60D will become an even less compelling purchase. Right now, the only advantages the 60D has over the T4i are better burst performance -- meaning a slightly faster rate plus a deeper buffer -- a better-constructed body, and better battery life. (Interestingly, on Canon's site it only lists the most expensive package of the T4i.)

The lenses incorporate a stepper motor for quicker, quieter AF during video capture than standard lenses. Canon claims the optics on the 18-135mm lens are actually a bit sharper than those on the non-STM version of the lens, which is about $50 cheaper. I find the 40mm lens (64mm equivalent) an odd choice. Why a pancake? The body's large enough that you're not saving much with a smaller lens, and it hardly makes the camera look "discreet" as the press release claims. And in order to make it smaller, and probably cheaper, Canon left out the image stabilization, which I think is a mistake.

While I welcome the potential improvements to the aspects of the camera that use the contrast-detection AF, I suspect there will be some confusion among buyers. Notably, only users of the STM lenses will see any benefits, and then only in Live View and movie capture. Those who opt for the sub-$1,000 18-55mm kit will essentially be paying at least an extra $150 for a touch screen.

Now playing: Watch this: Canon T4i touch screen in action

It's a nice touch screen, though, responsive and with an updated user interface and the usual capabilities like touch focus that streamline Live View shooting. That said, I don't think the camera supports peaking (edge detection), which I think is an essential feature for LCD-based shooting.

Upgrading to the Digic 5 image processor from the Digic 4 also brings with it some new capabilities, including Sony staples like multishot noise-reduction and night scene and HDR backlight modes (it combines 4 shots), plus the Video Snapshot mode carried over from the camcorders and PowerShots for shooting quick clips. Like everyone else, Canon's also improved its auto mode to invoke scene analysis.

Here's how it specs out compared with similarly priced competitors:

  Canon EOS Rebel T3i Canon EOS Rebel T4i Canon EOS 60D Nikon D5100 Pentax K-30 Sony Alpha SLT-A65V
Sensor (effective resolution) 18mp CMOS 18mp hybrid CMOS 18mp CMOS 16.2mp CMOS 16.3mp CMOS 24.3mp Exmor HD CMOS
22.3x14.9mm 22.3x14.9mm 22.3x14.9mm 23.6x15.6mm 23.7x15.7mm 23.5x15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.6x 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400 / 12800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800 / 25600 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6400 / 12800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6400 / 25600 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12800 / 25600 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 16000
Continuous shooting 3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
6 raw/22 JPEG
16 raw/58 JPEG
n/a raw/100 JPEG
8 raw/30 JPEG
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/17 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification / effective magnification) 95% coverage
0.85x/ 0.53x
95% coverage
96% coverage
95% coverage
0.78x/ 0.63x
100% coverage
Electronic OLED
0.5 inch / 2.36 million dots
100% coverage
Autofocus 9-pt AF
center cross-type to f2.8
9-pt AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8 9-pt AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8 11-pt AF
center cross-type to f5.6
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
AF sensitivity -0.5 to 18 EV n/a 0 to 20 EV -1 to 19 EV -1 to 18 EV -1 to 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync n/a 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 63-zone iFCL 63-zone iFCL 420-pixel 3D color matrix metering II 77 segment 1,200-zone
Metering sensitivity 1 to 20 EV n/a 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 22 EV -2 to 17 EV
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/ 50p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p 1080/30p/ 24p; 720/30p/ 25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/ 50p/60p AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps
Audio Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input Mono; mic input Mono; mic input Mono Stereo; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes n/a Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/11 min 4GB/12 min 4GB/12 min 20 min 4GB/25 minutes 2GB/29 min
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated touch screen
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash Yes n/a Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 470 shots 440 shots 1,100 shots 660 shots 480 (lithium ion); 1,600 (lithium) 510 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.1x3.8x3 5.2x3.9x3.1 5.7x4.1x3.1 5x3.8x3.1 5.1x3.8x2.8 5.3x3.9x3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 20 18.3 (est) 27 19.6 22.9 (est) 22 (est)
Mfr. price n/a $849 (body only) $999 (body only) $799.95 (body only) $849.95 (body only) $899.99 (body only)
$799.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $949 (with 18-55mm lens) $899.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $899.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $999.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$1,199 (with 18-135mm STM lens)
Release date March 2011 June 2012 November 2010 April 2011 July 2012 October 2011

It's interesting how manufacturers are pursuing their various strengths with their prosumer models: Canon's emphasizing video, Pentax is going rugged, and Sony's pumping up the displays with an OLED viewfinder. What Nikon will do with the ripe-for-replacement D5100 is anyone's guess.

Canon's biggest hurdle for the T4i is the A65V; it's got competitive video and faster burst shooting. Plus I'm becoming a fan of sensor-shift image stabilization, especially for people buying into a new system, because you're not at the whim of the manufacturer as to whether or not to add it (for extra cost) to a new lens.

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