Canon Rebel T2i 550D
Reviewed by Mike Tomkins, Shawn Barnett and Zig Weidelich
Hands-on Preview: 02/08/2010
Updated to Full Review: 07/02/2010
The Canon EOS Rebel T2i takes the reins from the company's existing T1i model as the flagship of its consumer-oriented EOS Rebel camera series. Externally, the Canon T2i looks very much like its predecessor, being almost identical in overall size but with softer, more gently rounded shoulders. Under the skin, the Canon T2i brings a few features from Canon's prosumer EOS 7D model into a Rebel-class body, creating a baby brother to the 7D.
Sporting an 18-megapixel sensor similar to that of the 7D, the Canon Rebel T2i doesn't shoot quite as fast as its big brother, but its frame rate is slightly increased over the T1i, from 3.4 to 3.7 frames per second, despite the resolution increase. The most obvious external changes include a new 3:2 ratio LCD with 1.04 million dots of resolution, a dedicated live view / movie button, and a restyling of several other buttons to make them easy to locate and identify by touch.
Card compatibility on the Canon T2i includes SD, SDHC, and SDXC, and a new Eye-Fi status screen improves user awareness of these special wireless SD cards.
The Canon T2i's ISO ranges from 100 to 6,400, with a special high ISO option of 12,800. Movie mode also has expanded ability, covering 1080p recording at 24, 25, and 30 fps, rather than the T1i's more limited 20 fps. Manual video exposure is also available, as is an external mic input jack. The Canon T2i is also particularly unusual in also allowing single autofocus operations during movie recording.
The Canon EOS Rebel T2i shipped from February 2010, with kit pricing set at US$899, including the same EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens that previously shipped with the T1i. The Canon EOS Rebel XSi has officially been discontinued, leaving the flagship T2i with two Rebel-class siblings -- the entry-level Rebel XS, and the mid-level T1i.
Canon Rebel T2i 550D
by Shawn Barnett and Mike Tomkins
Calling it a "Mini 7D," Canon introduced the Rebel T2i, the highest resolution consumer SLR, and the highest resolution SLR under $900, period. The 7D association comes primarily from Canon's use of an 18-megapixel sensor that Canon say is essentially the same spec as the sensor in the 7D, the only difference being that the readout speed has been cut in half. From there, the Canon T2i shares more with the Rebel T1i than with the 7D. The major exception to that is the movie mode, which now offers full manual exposure, and supports 1080p at 24, 25, and 30 frames per second, while the T1i only did 1080p at 20 fps.
Walkaround. From the front the silhouette of the Canon T2i is very similar to the T1i, but there are a few unusual differences. Weight is 18.5 ounces (1.2 pounds; 525g) with the battery and a memory card, but without the lens. With the lens, battery, and card the Rebel T2i weighs 26 ounces (1.6 pounds; 736g). The Canon T2i's dimensions are 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 inches (130 x 97 x 76mm), perhaps a little shorter and a little thicker than the T1i.
Immediate differences from the front include a new knurl on the Canon T2i's Mode dial, even more rubber grip area, slight nudges of the IR remote window and Self-timer lamp, and the combining of the nameplates into one, rather than two separate badges on the right side. New is the strangely contoured panel on the lower right in the above image, perhaps to reinforce and soften the area where your palm rests when you're controlling the Canon T2i's lens. Nikon has for several years deliberately cut out this area to provide palm relief, so perhaps Canon is doing the same.
Very few differences appear on the top of the Canon T2i, except for a few contour changes to the body shell. The mode dial has a black background rather than a silver one, and as previously mentioned, now has fairly deep vertical grooves around its outside edge, rather than the shallower knurling of the T1i's dial. The order of the scene modes on the dial has also been changed, promoting the Flash Off mode to the top of the list, rather than the Portrait mode. The Canon T2i's 18-55mm IS lens is unchanged. It performs well for an inexpensive kit lens, but the Rebel T2i's 18-megapixel sensor demands superior optics to show its true potential.
Most of the retooling and rethinking can be found on the back of the Canon T2i. Though it's subtle, Canon's switch from a 4:3 screen to a 3:2 screen has a dramatic effect on where some of the controls land, and may contribute to the one millimeter reduction in the Canon T2i's height.
Button design has changed quite a bit on the Canon T2i, moving from primarily circular buttons with nothing printed on them to larger shaped buttons, some with words and icons printed on them. It does make the labels clearer, especially with reduced real estate for labels next to buttons because of the wide-aspect LCD. The variation in button shapes also makes them easier to identify without removing your eye from the viewfinder. Live View / Movie Recording has a new button in prime position for easy thumb activation, just right of the optical viewfinder. In its old place is the new Quick Menu button, an innovation borrowed from the Canon 7D. This allows easy adjustment to the Canon T2i's settings via the Status display, which transforms into a Quick Menu screen with a press of this button. (In Movie and Live View shooting, the same button calls up an abbreviated Quick Menu display that forms a column at the left of the LCD, rather than occupying the whole screen.) All other buttons are in the same positions relative to the T1i. The speaker holes on the rear, though, go from four holes to nine holes, presumably for better sound transmission.
Sensor and processor. The Canon EOS T2i's design is based around a DIGIC 4 image processor and a newly developed CMOS image sensor that's very closely related to the chip previously seen in the EOS 7D. As with that camera, effective resolution is 18.0 megapixels -- a modest upgrade from the 15-megapixel imager of the T1i. Maximum image size in pixels is 5,184 x 3,456. Pixel pitch is 4.3µm, and gapless microlenses help boost light gathering capability.
Where the two imagers differ is in their readout method, and hence their speed. The EOS 7D's sensor has eight channel readout, key to that camera's eight frames per second burst shooting. The Canon Rebel T2i's sensor has four channel readout, which means a more modest 3.7 frames per second burst shooting -- but it's still a slight upgrade in speed from the 3.4 frames per second of the T1i. Unfortunately, the increased throughput caused by the faster burst speed and higher sensor resolution together conspire to greatly reduce the burst shooting depth as compared to the T1i. According to Canon, the Rebel T2i can capture six RAW or 34 large/fine JPEG frames in a burst, where the T1i was capable of nine RAW or 170 large/fine JPEG frames before shooting slowed.
14-bit A/D conversion. Just like the XSi and T1i, the Canon T2i uses 14-bit Analog-to-Digital conversion when creating JPEGs, for smoother color transitions, and RAW files are saved as 14-bit files. Converting from 14-bits worth of data means that the saved images are theoretically formed from four times the color information that was available to the Canon XTi, which was only able to generate 4,096 colors per channel. The Canon Rebel T2i can recognize 16,384 colors per channel, which should mean smoother tones and more accurate color overall. Though JPEGs will still be saved as 8-bit color, RAW images will benefit more fully from the 14-bit depth, making for more accurate 16-bit images in programs like Photoshop.
Peripheral illumination correction. Brought over from the 50D, the Canon T2i's Peripheral illumination correction compensates for vignetting in the corners of a lens. The amount of correction changes depending on which lens is mounted; selecting the Peripheral Illumination Correction item from Record Menu 1 brings up a screen where you can see which lens the camera has detected, and whether correction data is available. You can also either enable or disable the function from the same screen.
Autofocus and metering. Another feature inherited from the EOS 7D is the Canon T2i's new metering sensor. Where the T1i used a 35-zone metering sensor, the Canon T2i now includes a 63-zone iFCL sensor, which stands for Intelligent Focus, Color, and Luminance metering. The name hints at how the sensor works: the iFCL chip has a dual-layer design with each layer sensitive to different wavelengths of light, allowing subject color to be taken into account when determining exposure. Information on focusing points is also taken into account in metering calculations, and it is in this area that the Canon T2i's iFCL chip differs from that of the EOS 7D, accounting for fewer focus points in the consumer Rebel camera than its prosumer sibling. Like the T1i before it, the Canon T2i offers nine-point focusing with a central cross-type f/2.8 focus point, rather than the 19-point AF of the 7D. The focusing screen, likewise, is of the etched variety, and not the fancy LCD overlay on the Canon 7D.
ISO Expansion. The Canon T2i has the same expanded sensitivity range as that of the T1i and 7D, from a minimum of ISO 100 to a maximum of ISO 12,800. A very useful change inherited from the EOS 7D - particularly for fans of HDR shooting -- is the T2i's expanded exposure compensation range. Where the T1i offered compensation from -2.0 to +2.0 EV, the T2i has a much wider +/-5.0EV exposure compensation range.
Creative Auto mode. First introduced on the Canon 50D, Canon's Creative Auto mode is also included in the Rebel T2i. Marked with a "CA" on the Mode dial, this mode is a cross between the Auto and Program modes. When set to CA mode, the Canon T2i allows the user to adjust the Flash, resolution, drive mode, and Picture Style. Setting aperture and exposure are converted to easier concepts of background blur (blurred or sharp), and exposure level (darker or brighter) with a slider that's adjusted with the Main dial. The more complex exposure decisions remain under the Canon T2i's control in CA mode. The exposure slider is the more useful, standing in as a more comprehensible EV adjustment.
Copyright info. Like the Canon 7D, you can input Copyright information right on the Canon T2i, as well as delete it at will. It was a first in that camera for Canon's prosumer line, and now it's on the consumer Rebel line as well.
LCD. The Canon T2i also features a new LCD panel, which now offers a 3:2 aspect ratio, matching that of the image sensor, rather than the 4:3 aspect ratio panel which was used on the T1i. The new panel still has a 3.0-inch diagonal, but increases the total pixel count slightly from somewhere in the region of 640 x 480 pixels to a ~720 x 480 pixel array. Each pixel still consists of three separate colored dots (red, green and blue), for a total count of just under 1.04 million dots. The Canon T2i's 160-degree LCD viewing angle isn't quite as wide as that of the 170 angle possible on the T1i, and the total display area is just slightly smaller, although neither reduction is terribly noticeable in use.
Improved Movie mode. Another area where the Canon EOS Rebel T2i has inherited significant upgrades from the 7D is in its high definition video capabilities. The previous T1i model offered a maximum resolution of 1080p (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), but with a non-standard (and rather low) rate of 20 frames per second, making this mode perhaps of limited use. Lower-resolution options of 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels) and VGA (640 x 480) pixels had a more useful 30 frames per second rate, but all video modes were also hindered somewhat by offering only automatic exposure, and monaural audio from a built-in microphone. The Canon T2i corrects every one of these issues, with a new stereo microphone input jack, manual control of video exposure available, and a wide range of standard video frame rates on offer. At 1080p resolution, the user can select between 24, 25, and 30 frames per second. For 720p and VGA shooting, both 50 and 60 fields per second modes are available. Users can also edit movies in camera, including the ability to chop off beginning or ends of movies, but only in one-second increments.
Two features of the Canon T2i's video mode aren't available in the 7D, or for that matter any other Canon digital SLR to date. The first, dubbed "Movie Crop" mode, is available only when shooting at standard-definition VGA resolution. It works by simply cropping and recording the center-most 640 x 480 pixels from the sensor. This yields an effective 7x fixed zoom without interpolating the video. Of course, simply cropping the center of the image means that everything (including image noise) will be recorded at 1:1, so video has noticeably higher quality with the crop disabled. Still, for consumers who may well not be able to afford expensive telephoto lenses and only need standard-def output, it's an interesting feature.
The second movie feature specific to the T2i -- and rare among its DSLR brethren from any manufacturer -- is the ability to use autofocus during moving recording. Continuous autofocus isn't available, so you have to manually trigger single AF operations as needed with a half-press of the shutter button. The feature is something of a tradeoff, because the AF operation is clearly visible in the video, even if Canon's contrast detection AF implementation doesn't hunt around the point of focus as much as some we've seen. AF noise is also very clearly captured on the movie's audio track, at least when using the internal microphone and 18-55mm kit lens -- using quieter USM lenses can mitigate this somewhat, and AF noise can be avoided altogether by using a good directional mic on a shock mount. Pros will certainly want to stick with focusing manually (and can choose to disable AF during movie capture to prevent accidental operation), but in the consumer market at which Canon's Rebel cameras are aimed, it makes sense to give customers the choice as to whether they feel the convenience of AF is worth putting up with the drawbacks.
HDMI output. The Canon T2i also upgrades the HDMI high-definition video output connectivity of the T1i, adding Consumer Electronics Control (HDMI-CEC) compatibility. In layman's terms, this allows you to use your compatible high-def display's remote control to operate certain camera functions via the same cable through which the video signal is passed. Functions that can be controlled from the TV remote include single image playback, index display, shooting info display, image rotation, slide show, and movie playback.
Lens. The Canon T2i comes with the same kit lens that shipped with the XSi and T1i: the image-stabilized 18-55mm EF-S lens that so impressed us at its debut. Equivalent to a 29-88mm lens on a full-frame 35mm camera, this is a good mid-range zoom lens that is quite light. Optical image stabilization technology delivers sharper shots even in low light. Canon claims you can shoot at up to four stops slower than normal and still get a stable shot. That means that if you can normally get a stable shot at 1/60 second, you should be able to squeeze off a 1/4 second shot and have it come out sharp. If you're a fairly steady shooter, it seems to be true. Your results may vary, and remember that image stabilization compensates for camera movement, not for subject movement, so when shooting in low light tell your subject to hold very still, or shoot with a faster shutter speed at a higher ISO.
Direct support for Eye-Fi wireless cards has found its way into the Canon T2i, complete with a dedicated status display that only appears if the card is installed. The new display shows when a card is connecting, has connected, is transmitting, and when a card has a problem connecting.
The Canon T2i uses a new battery, the LP-E8 -- a 7.2V, 1120 mAh lithium-ion battery with concealed electrical contacts. Expected battery life is 440 shots at 72F, and 400 shots at 32F, based on CIPA testing standards which dictate 50% flash usage. That's about a ten percent improvement over the T1i's battery life, but still below average for an SLR. The Canon T2i's new battery also means that the camera requires a new grip, the BG-E8. It duplicates the shutter release and control wheel, as well as AE lock and focus point buttons for vertical-format shooting. Those who have trouble with the smaller grip on the Canon Rebel series will find that the battery grip makes the camera more satisfying to use; and those who frequently shoot in portrait orientation will enjoy the vertical shutter release, which allows you to shoot with less strain. A new optional infrared remote, the RC-6 is also available for the Canon Rebel T2i, said to combine the features of the older RC-1 and RC-5 wireless remotes.
Shooting with the Canon Rebel T2i
Thanks to a control layout that's very similar to that of the T1i, I found myself immediately at home shooting with the Canon Rebel T2i and its EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens. Among the Canon T2i's external changes, I particularly appreciated the new 3:2 aspect ratio LCD. Viewing full images, there are no longer any black borders at the edges of the screen. This means a slightly larger review than was previously the case, even though the actual screen area has fallen just slightly. I understand that the viewing angle has also been reduced slightly, but this wasn't really noticeable -- the Canon T2i's display is still easily visible from a wide range of angles, perfect for everybody to huddle around and review group portraits.
The Canon T2i only has one new button, but the profiles of several other buttons have also been changed as part of accommodating the wider LCD display. I found the variation in button size and shape helpful, making it significantly easier to identify buttons by touch alone, and saving me removing my eye from the viewfinder so frequently. The new dedicated Live View / Movie Record button is perfectly situated, easily within reach when needed, but far enough from the thumb rest that I never accidentally bumped it. The place of the previous shared LV / Movie button has been taken by a Quick Menu function adopted from the previous EOS 7D design, and this proved extremely convenient for making quick settings changes without needing to dip into the T2i's menu system.
The only control element on the T2i that I felt could use some improvement was the Main dial, situated right behind the Shutter button. I found its resistance significantly too high, and as a result, had to press my fingertip against its knurled surface to make settings changes. When making a lot of adjustments with the dial -- shooting in Priority or Manual modes, for example -- my hand quickly tired, and my fingertip started to feel a little sore.
In terms of image quality, the Canon T2i performed as well as I'd expected -- not surprisingly given the close relationship between its image sensor, and that of the prosumer EOS 7D. It was perhaps straining the optical limits of its 18-55mm kit lens, and I'd have loved the opportunity to shoot using some of Canon's higher-end glass, but unless viewed at 1:1 resolution I found its images to offer plenty of detail, and with relatively low noise. I did note a tendency to overexpose a little to my own tastes, though, with many shots needing somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3 EV of negative exposure compensation.
I found Canon's menu design on the T2i was among the clearest and easiest to understand compared to current digital SLRs, but I did find a few elements somewhat confusing. Several functions related to Live View are adjusted from a dedicated Live View function settings page, but it's not accessed from the Record menus, where I'd expect to find it. Instead, it's rather confusingly located in Setup Menu 2. Several of its options are also shared with the Canon T2i's Movie mode, whose controls appear in two menus that only appear when the camera's Mode dial is set to Movie mode. If these settings are adjusted in the Live View function settings page, they also change in the Movie menus (and vice versa), which could cause photographers a little confusion. I also thought the placement of the Histogram option in Playback Menu 2 was a little curious, given that it also affects the Live View mode's Histogram function. I believe the option might be better situated in the Setup menus. These quirks aside, though, I found the Canon T2i's menus easy to navigate, and the My Menu group was particularly useful for quickly recalling frequently changed settings.
Perhaps the big story of the Canon T2i is its Movie mode, which brings the feature set of Canon's prosumer EOS 7D model down to a much more affordable price point -- and even adds a couple of functions that aren't available in the 7D. I must confess that I'm not much of a movie shooter myself, but nonetheless was rather impressed with the range of control on offer. The ability to shoot video with completely manual exposure is still rather rare among DSLRs at any price point, and will likely prove very appealing to advanced amateur and pro videographers on a budget, affording them with complete control over the look of their movies. Likewise, the option to use an external microphone is desirable for advanced amateurs, although the T2i doesn't offer control over recording levels, and so pros will likely still need to rely on an external device for audio capture in more challenging environments. The ability to crop pixels from the center of the image sensor in standard-definition movie shooting helps consumers who can't afford expensive telephoto lenses to get closer to their subject.
The ability to perform single autofocus operations during movie capture is becoming more common, but I found my enthusiasm for the ability rather tempered by just how obtrusive AF noise was when using the Canon T2i's 18-55mm kit lens, at least if anything more than minor adjustments were needed. I wasn't able to try the feature with a current Canon USM lens, but did try using an aged film-era Canon USM lens which I had on hand, and while it was still clearly audible, I felt it at least produced a less high-pitched and objectionable noise. Perhaps current USM lenses would fare even better, and even the kit lens is fairly quiet if only a very small AF adjustment is needed. I still applaud Canon for offering the capability to focus, if for no other reason than that it allows amateur photographers to choose whether they're willing to put up with the drawbacks, rather than having the decision made for them. With modern video editing software it's relatively simple to crop out the AF operations after the fact, or simply overlay a different soundtrack on the video.
Equally useful for consumer videographers is the Canon T2i's movie crop function, available only when shooting in standard definition mode. Of course since this uses 1:1 resolution data from the image sensor, it will more prominently show off image noise and lens defects, but the result is still likely to prove more satisfactory than the powerful digital zooms to be found on most dedicated camcorders. Given that powerful telephoto lenses are priced out of the reach of most amateurs, I think the crop mode is a genuinely useful feature for the Rebel T2i's target market.
One minor issue I encountered in my movie shooting with the Canon T2i related to its microphone placement, and my own grip on the camera. I generally shoot two-handed for stability, but tend to change my grip slightly when shooting video with a DSLR. Ordinarily, my left hand grips the lens barrel, but given that I lack the smoothness to adjust focus or zoom to my satisfaction during video shooting, I've grown accustomed to moving my left hand away from the lens during video capture. Instead, I hold the left end of the camera body. My issue was that in doing so, I occasionally brushed my middle finger across the microphone, or even accidentally covered it altogether, disrupting my movie audio. Once I was aware of this, it was easy enough to consciously make myself grip the body in a more traditional style, but a different microphone placement could resolve the issue altogether. (It seems to me that beneath the pentamirror prism would be an ideal location which wouldn't likely be bumped or covered).
Another feature of the Canon T2i that I welcomed was its modest increase in burst shooting rate. The difference between the T1i's 3.4 frames per second, and the 3.7 fps of the T2i is certainly not night and day, but I thought it both noticeable and worthwhile. My reflexes are perhaps not the best, and so when shooting unpredictable subjects such as children and pets, I frequently take advantage of a camera's burst capabilities, quickly firing several shots when I think the moment right. Every little bit helps with this approach, and the only real downside of the increased burst speed is that it is accompanied by a significant reduction in burst depth. All but the most extreme JPEG shooters will likely still be fine, with roughly 34 large/fine shots possible before the camera slows down.
Raw shooters such as myself are likely to find the six-shot buffer rather limiting, however. I occasionally found myself wishing for the T1i's somewhat more useful nine-shot capability as I waited for their buffer to empty. (I should note that the burst depth in both Raw and JPEG modes does vary with subject detail, and so in some scenes you may find more or less shots are available. I also noticed that disabling the Auto Lighting Optimizer and Peripheral Illumination Correction functions gave a modest increase in JPEG burst depth.)
All things considered, the Canon T2i is a very enjoyable camera to use, with impressive image quality and a generous range of features for a consumer DSLR. As noted, I'm largely a stills shooter who just occasionally dips into video to document family outings, but were I more of a videographer, the Canon T2i's depth of control over video shooting would likely have me beside myself with excitement.
Canon T2i versus Canon T1i at ISO 1,600
Canon T1i at ISO 1,600
Canon T2i versus Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600
Canon T2i versus Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600
Pentax K7 at ISO 1,600
Canon T2i versus Nikon D700 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D700 at ISO 1,600
Detail: Canon T2i vs. T1i, Nikon D5000, Pentax K7, and Nikon D700
See below for our conclusion.
In the Box
- Canon Rebel T2i digital SLR camera body
- EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens
- Body cap
- Lens caps (front and back)
- Neck strap
- Eye cup
- LP-E8 battery pack and charger (International charger shown at right)
- Video cable
- USB cable
- Software CDs
- Instruction manuals and registration information
Canon Rebel T2i Conclusion
Once again, Canon has raised the bar at the consumer level, providing even more still-image resolution, and a high-def video mode with full control over exposure, resolution and frame rate, plus the ability to use autofocus during videos. Though it comes at a noticeably lower price, the Canon T2i handily trumps the competition from Nikon and others, and offers some timely features worth noticing.
The Eye-Fi status display stands out as a great idea that seems rather obvious in hindsight, but technical achievements like the iFCL metering, which helps autofocus accuracy by detecting the type of light, are where the Canon T2i really impresses.
With its sensor derived from that of the prosumer EOS 7D, the Canon T2i shares excellent image quality, with plenty of detail, true-to-life color, and very good high ISO performance, especially when considering its high resolution. Photographers interested solely in stills will find the Canon T2i to be a very capable camera, but it's those looking for a video-capable DSLR who'll find it almost unrivaled for the price point.
Image quality is impressive, though we did find the Canon T2i's 18-megapixel sensor revealing more flaws in the 18-55mm IS kit lens, especially in terms of chromatic aberration, but corners were still sharper than we normally see from most kit lenses, so it's not all bad. Resolution was incredible, and detail is clean. Even as ISO goes up, more detail is retained than we're used to seeing. Indeed, the Canon T2i's entire ISO range produced a usable image size, with ISO 100 shots easily making sharp 20x30-inch prints, ISO 3,200 shots making sharp 11x14-inch prints, and even ISO 12,800 shots producing a good quality 5x7-inch print. That's impressive.
As with most digital SLRs on the market, shooting video with the Canon T2i isn't as easy as using a commercial camcorder, but with some effort the dedicated hobbyist can make some impressive videos.
Overall, it's pretty tough to go wrong with the Canon T2i, which makes it a sure Dave's Pick.