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Canon EOS Rebel XTi review: Canon EOS Rebel XTi

Canon EOS Rebel XTi

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
5 min read
What's true for doctors applies equally to consumer electronics manufacturers: first, do no harm. Canon is usually pretty good at adhering to that philosophy, making only minor changes to successful products and saving the daring moves for the models that need it. Now, changing sensors isn't normally considered terribly daring when it comes to digital cameras. But when its predecessor--in this case, the EOS Rebel XT--was renowned for producing excellent, low-noise photos at a more-than-adequate 8-megapixel resolution, it's risky to replace it with a higher-resolution but potentially lower-sensitivity chip as Canon did with the EOS Rebel XTi. Perhaps the Nikon D80 upped the stakes; perhaps Canon felt it was an inevitable necessity. Whatever the reason, it yields mixed results. Sticking with similar sensor dimensions allowed Canon to keep the same moderately compact design for the EOS Rebel XTi, though it weighs 4 ounces more than its 17.1-ounce predecessor. With the small, exceptionally light kit lens, the camera felt well balanced in my hands. Attached to the substantially larger and heavier 16mm-to-35mm (25.6mm-to-56mm equivalent) lens or the Speedlite 580EX flash, however, makes the XTi feel a bit lopsided.

Although much of the design remains the same as the XT's--it comes in either black or metallic-silver plastic--there are a couple of key changes. The LCD display grew from 1.8 to 2.5 inches, which essentially squeezed the status/info LCD into the ether. On one hand, using the main LCD allows for an exceptionally readable, in-your-face method of monitoring the settings. However, the paper-white background gets distracting, and the automatic sensor--which blanks it when you put your eye to the viewfinder--makes it even more so. You can turn it off altogether, but the info in the viewfinder doesn't include ISO speed, white balance, battery level, and other useful settings that generally display on a status LCD.


Canon EOS Rebel XTi

The Good

Compact and lightweight; fast and responsive; intelligently designed with shooting-friendly layout.

The Bad

Second status LCD has been eliminated; slow kit lens; no spot metering; poor exposure of backlit subjects.

The Bottom Line

The Canon EOS Rebel XTi remains a very good first dSLR, but ultimately a disappointing followup to the XT, which cedes its lead to the Nikon D80.

Canon EOS Rebel XTi
The Canon EOS Rebel XTi's LCD's status display is extremely useful and easy to read, and it provides a single place to change all the relevant settings.

Canon EOS Rebel XTi
My only nitpick with the controls is the large power switch, which is very easy to flip while stowing the XTi in a camera bag.

In most other respects, the control layout on the XTi mimics that of the XT, which is pretty much how it's been on Canon dSLRs since the beginning. That's an unfoolish consistency I can get behind. It can also accept all the same accessories as the XT does.

Canon EOS Rebel XTi
On the XTi, hitting the Set button while shooting brings up the new Picture Style selections.

Canon EOS Rebel XTi
Canon has tweaked a few aspects of the design to improve shooting ergonomics, including a thumb rest, something we complained about on the XT (inset).

For better--or sometimes worse--the feature set of the Canon EOS Rebel XTi remains roughly the same as the XT's. The kit version comes with the f/3.5-to-f/5.6, 18mm-to-55mm EF-S lens (28.8mm-to-88mm equivalent, thanks to the XTi's 1.6X conversion factor), which is a trifle too slow for frequent indoor shooters like me.

Most amateurs will find all the essentials: a handful of manual, semimanual, and automatic exposure modes; user-selectable nine-point autofocus, and AI Servo autofocus for moving subjects; and simultaneous raw-plus-JPEG capture.

To keep up with the camera Joneses, the CMOS chip in the XTi is now self-cleaning. Similarly to many other dSLRs, the low-pass filter layer vibrates when the camera powers off or on in order to shake dust away from the sensor; plus, there's an antistatic coating on the filter that repels dust. Furthermore, a bit of adhesive surrounding the sensor is designed to grab the dust, keeping it from flying around inside the camera chassis. In addition to dust control, Canon has split the low-pass filter into two parts, effectively placing whatever dust does settle beyond the range of focus.

Unfortunately, like the Rebel XT, the XTi lacks a spot meter; it supplies only evaluative, center-weighted average, and partial center-weighted metering. There is simply no substitute for a spot in tricky lighting situations. In fact, I couldn't avoid severe underexposures of a backlit subject with the available metering tools, which is inexcusable for a camera of this class.

Canon EOS Rebel XTi  Canon EOS Rebel XTi
Simply metering on the subject's face should have solved this shot's exposure problem, but the partial metering didn't work (left). A spot meter probably would have been able to handle it. Instead, I had to boost the exposure value of the entire scene by jumping to ISO 400 (right).

Though the CMOS imager used by the XTi is the same physical size as the version in the XT, Canon crammed more pixels into the space to bump up the resolution and improved the design of the microlenses that sit atop each photosite--the microlenses gather indirect light and focus it back on the sensor--as well as increases the size of the photosites themselves. While still relatively low for its class, the XTi's measured and visible image noise was significantly worse than that of the CCD-based Nikon D80 for any given ISO speed.

In general, the XTi's measured speed fell short of the D80's as well. My experience bears that out: though it felt as if it were fast and responsive, I frequently found the shot was captured just a fraction of a second too late. Keep in mind that it takes a while to adjust to the pace of a camera and get a feel for its shooting rhythm--and I've been shooting with faster pro models such as the Canon 30D and Olympus E-1--and it's fast enough so that, in time, the number of missed shots would have dropped.

Continuous-shooting performance has been tweaked a bit. Though the speed remains the same as in the XT, Canon rates the XTi to shoot as many as 27 frames of JPEG or 10 frames of raw before the camera hits a bottleneck and slows. It fared slightly better in our testing, though the 7-second lag before you can continue shooting can be a bit frustrating. The XTi uses Canon's Digic II chipset rather than the newer Digic III, and I wonder if the company might have been able to eke out better performance and noise suppression with the latter.

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon EOS 30D
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi
"="" rel="follow" target="_self">Sony Alpha DSLR-A100K
Nikon D80
Olympus Evolt E-330

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi

I did most of my testing with the kit lens. I love how small and lightweight it is but still find it too slow--the maximum aperture of f/3.5 simply doesn't let in enough light and doesn't allow for a shallow enough depth of field for my purposes. Furthermore, there's far more chromatic aberration--in this case, purple fringing--than I'm used to seeing in a dSLR. Even catchlights in eyes from the add-on flash had fringing. If you have the dough, I'd recommend the EF-S 17mm-to-55mm f/2.8 IS USM instead. I didn't get a chance to try it with the XTi, but it should be lightweight enough to not overpower the body and fast enough to provide more exposure latitude. Plus, it has the advantage of optical image stabilization and a quieter motor.

Despite my few complaints, the Canon EOS Rebel XTi still shoots some very nice photos, with good color rendition, broad dynamic range (when there's sufficient illumination), and accurate automatic white balance. Shots taken at ISO 100 and ISO 200 were very clean, but beyond that, the photos couldn't take much retouching without drawing attention to the noise.

Canon EOS Rebel XTi
Though many of my shots weren't quite as sharply focused as I expected from the XTi's AF system, a few, such as this one, stood up well to 11x16 printing on an Epson Stylus Photo R2400.

Canon is not planning to do away with the Rebel XT, and the presence of a new model doesn't make that great model obsolete. If you don't change lenses that often, don't mind the smaller LCD, don't need the slight bump in continuous-shooting speed, and don't need the higher resolution, then you don't really need to pay extra for the Canon EOS Rebel XTi. Furthermore, if you don't yet have an investment in any particular manufacturer's lens system and want this year's best model for less than $1,000, you might consider the Nikon D80.


Canon EOS Rebel XTi

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Image quality 8