The baby brother to the Rebel XSi, the Canon EOS Rebel XS is the typical, almost-identical, but slightly less-powerful, version of that camera.
As with the XSi, Canon offers two body designs for the XS--an attractive solid black, and a less-attractive, two-tone, silver and black style. Each only comes in a single-lens kit with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. Though it essentially uses the same body as the XSi, it shaves a couple of ounces of the weight; it only weighs 1 pound, 1.6 ounces. Its smooth, plastic body still feels a little on the cheap side, and I'm not crazy about the grip. I can't quite put my finger on the reason; it's not especially shallow, and Canon improved it over the XTi's with a more rubbery-feeling cover. Still, I don't find it as comfortable to hold as most other dSLRs. 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. (For more on the camera design, click through the slide show.)
The biggest operational advantage the XS offers over competitors is My Menu, which, unlike some other features, it inherits from higher-end models. With My Menu you can build a go-to-list of the most frequently accessed menu settings--in my case, for instance, Format and Live View settings. However, like the XSi, the menus can be--irritatingly--a little inconsistent and sometimes dumb. For instance, you can change ISO sensitivity with either the dial or the navigation buttons, but can only navigate metering choices via the navigation buttons. Also, in some cases, when you have two columns to navigate, as with Picture Style settings, it doesn't let you navigate to the right or left; you must navigate all the way down the first column to get to the settings in the second.
But, I consider the AF indicators in the viewfinder the most annoying aspect of operating the XS (this was true in the XSi, as well). The AF indicators are tiny red dots that briefly flash when focus locks. They're neither persistent nor large enough to be easy to spot, so I frequently found myself having to prefocus several times to make sure that the spot was on the correct subject and that it was focused. As you can imagine, it slows shooting a bit. Is it more annoying than the faint focus lines Sony uses? I think so.
For the most part, the XS offers a solid set of entry-level specs: 10-megapixel, APS-C-size, CMOS sensor (for Canon's traditional 1.6x focal-length multiplier) and 7-point user-selectable autofocus system. That falls between the Nikon D60's paltry three-area AF and the 9- and 11-point AF systems in the competing Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 and Pentax K200D, respectively. I also mark the switch from CompactFlash to SDHC in the plus column. Also, like the XSi, the XS includes Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer, which automatically adjusts contrast and brightness in case the image you captured isn't quite perfect. Introduced last year in the 40D, the Auto Lighting Optimizer is now available in all exposure modes and employs face detection to prevent the underexposure of backlit faces I complained about in the XTi (and it works). Remaining specifications are in line with the XSi. For example, shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 1/4000 of a second, with a flash sync speed of 1/200 of a second, and the camera employs a 35-zone TTL-metering system. Canon also offers the BG-E5 battery grip.
On the other hand, the XS 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 that 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. The XS' sensitivity range also tops out at ISO 1600, whereas some others go to ISO 3200 (but those models generally don't have usable photo quality at that level). Though it offers a Live View shooting mode with contrast-detection AF, Live View's usefulness is limited without support from an articulating LCD, and it functions too slowly to be of any use with live subjects. Furthermore, all the manufacturers seem to incorrectly think that the equivalent of Canon's Picture Styles--custom contrast, sharpness saturation and color tone--are more important in this market segment than the capability to save groups of custom exposure, white balance, metering, drive-mode settings, and so on. My biggest peeve, though, is the lack of a spot meter--not even the huge 4-percent spot from the XSi.