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Canon Rebel XSi / 450D
Overview

by Shawn Barnett
Review Date: 07/23/08

Canon's new EOS Rebel XSi digital SLR includes quite a few features new to the EOS camera system, and once again exceeds some of the abilities of the company's intermediate digital SLR camera, the EOS 40D.

With an updated look and a slightly taller profile, the Canon XSi has a 12.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, a 3.0-inch LCD, an improved nine-point autofocus sensor, a DIGIC III processor, and is capable of 3.5 frames per second. Its new Live View mode is improved over the Canon EOS models introduced in 2007, offering both contrast-detect and the more traditional phase detect modes. Like its XTi predecessor, the Canon XSi offers the EOS Integrated Cleaning System for dust removal both pre- and post-capture. Picture Styles are also included as before, with a slightly updated interface. A few buttons have been moved around to make room for the larger LCD, and the body is slightly taller, yet with a lower overall weight. A new battery and the switch to SD/SDHC for storage may be part of the lighter weight. The Canon XSi is still compatible with all EF-S and EF lenses.

Body-only the Canon Rebel XSi lists for $799, and the IS lens kit sells for an MSRP of $899. Check above right and at the bottom of the review pages for links to better pricing.

 

Canon Rebel XSi
User Report

by Shawn Barnett

Canon's original Digital Rebel debuted in 2003, breaking new ground and bringing digital SLR technology within the grasp of consumers. Though the word "Digital" has been dropped, the Canon Rebel XSi continues the tradition of bringing advanced digital camera technology within the range of the casual photographer, with a price that leaves room in the budget for an extra lens or two.

While the step from the Rebel XT to the Rebel XTi brought more internal than external changes, the Rebel XSi is a more complete overhaul. Many of the external changes are welcome, including the slightly taller grip and bigger LCD, but the real story, as is usually the case with Canon SLRs, is the improved sensor. It's not just an improvement in number of pixels, but the improvement in their performance that makes the new 12.2-megapixel sensor extraordinary. Yes, Live View with contrast-detect autofocus, an image-stabilized lens, and several new automated features are welcome enhancements, but image quality is usually what gets our attention here, and the Canon XSi's is impressive.

Canon Rebel XSi Look and feel

My favorite part about my Rebel XTi is its small size. I shoot other Canon or other brands of SLRs when I need more advanced features, like a faster frame rate, but sometimes the only thing that will do is a small SLR, and the last three Rebels are among the smallest. The Canon Rebel XSi is only a little larger than its predecessor, but it looks bigger, and a little more professional like its big brother, the Canon 40D. The XSi is about two millimeters wider and four millimeters taller than the XTi, and weighs about 29 grams less, despite the larger LCD and heavier image-stabilized lens. So while it's a little bigger, the Canon Rebel XSi is less of a burden when walking around.

Canon has improved the grip again, adding a slightly taller grip area. My four fingers fit almost entirely, with only about three millimeters of overhang. It may be a little fatter too; but the greatest change is the more rubbery, leather-textured grip. The thumbpad on the back also offers a better grip, and greater surface area.

The diopter wheel is a little larger than the XTi's for easier access, and the Canon XSi's lens release button is a little larger too.

XTi Shutter release XSi Shutter release
Niceties. The Rebel XSi's shutter release button (right) is canted more aggressively like Canon's semi-pro SLRs, with a nice wide pad for the finger to rest in.
Shutter release. It takes a real camera geek to notice, but the shutter button is set at a more aggressive angle than any Digital Rebels past; it now matches the angle of the semi-pro Canon 40D camera and pro 1D. It's not a big deal, but it does make it easier to gently squeeze that important button when its activation angle matches the natural bend of the finger.

Contours and accents. Muscular curves are the main design theme on the Canon XSi, with a look designed to evoke the Canon 1D Mark III and the Canon 5D. The pop-up flash that was a distinct element of the XTi is flush with the rest of the XSi's flow. While the XTi's metal parts, the hot shoe and strap loops, are painted black, those of the XSi are metal. I prefer the black, but paint wears off, and the XSi's silver won't show the wear quite as clearly as the painted parts. The new design also eliminates at least one unnecessary accent part under the Mode dial, and the rear panel is less intricate to mold, likely lowering the cost of the Canon Rebel XSi's outer parts.

Button displacement. The 3-inch LCD on the rear pushed the buttons off the left side, necessitating quite a shuffle of buttons and their assignments. The result actually looks a lot cleaner, though, and your eye has to search fewer places for the various controls. The downside is that the button for one of the most-changed functions, ISO, has moved to the Canon XSi's top deck, right behind the Command dial. When I first saw this move, I liked the idea; in use, though, it's a pain. ISO buttons only belong on the top deck when there's a separate Status LCD up there, like on the Canon 40D or Nikon D300. But because the Status display is on the back, the ISO button should be there too, since you're less likely to even think of looking at the top deck.

The four navigation buttons, which Canon calls Cross Keys, behave better than they once did in Record mode. Specifically the White Balance button, which was the down button on the XTi, used to require pressing the left and right arrow keys to make changes. That button has been reassigned to the Picture Styles menu, but now the icons are oriented in a vertical column, and pressing the same button repeatedly scrolls through the various styles. The AF button, for its part, activates with the right button, and repeatedly pressing the right button also scrolls through the horizontally oriented options. Naturally, using the left arrow scrolls in the other direction, but the menu wraps, so you can just stick to one button. White Balance has been given its own button, so you still have to go to the left and right arrows to make changes, but at least all the arrow keys work logically.

Canon Rebel XSi Viewfinder

One key complaint about past Rebels was the extremely tight viewfinder. Even for a small SLR, the viewfinder image was indeed too small, but the Rebel XSi does remedy that somewhat, with a 0.87x viewfinder magnification. Coverage accuracy according to our tests is between 95 and 96 percent, about what Canon claims. The viewfinder is also supposed to be brighter, thanks to a more efficient coating on the pentamirrors. I wouldn't call it dramatic, but it's noticeable if you have both cameras to compare.

The viewfinder's status display now shows the ISO setting all the time, which is a plus. Just press the ISO button on the top deck, and turn the Main dial to scroll through the options, pressing it again to lock it in. So it appears there is some advantage to having the ISO button on the top after all.

Canon Rebel XSi Live View

Though I still advocate using the optical viewfinder most of the time when shooting with an SLR, I've used the Live View mode often enough now that I know there are times when nothing else will do.

There are two modes to the XSi's Live View system, selectable via Custom Function 8. Live View is disabled by default, by the way, so you'll need to find this menu item in Settings Menu 2 to turn it on. The two options are called Quick and Live modes. Quick mode works as most Live View modes do, dropping the mirror when you press the AE-Lock button (marked with an asterisk) to use the conventional phase-detect autofocus system. This temporarily blacks out the Live View image, which makes it impossible to know that you're still framing the subject and holding your AF point in the proper place.

That's why they added the second mode, which they call Live, but is better described as contrast-detect autofocus. This works just like a digicam, reading the image from the imaging sensor while adjusting the lens for the setting that produces the most contrast in the image. A small square appears in the center of the image area, and you can move it around with the cross keys. Just like Quick mode, unfortunately, you have to press the AE-Lock button first until you hear the focus confirmation beep, then press the shutter button to fire. It's a little slower at times than phase-detect mode, but it gets the job done. Live mode is really better for tripod work, where you can place the AF area right where you want it and confirm focus onscreen.

Both modes offer the ability to zoom in on your live view, excellent for confirming focus before capture. Using the Magnify button just right of the AE-Lock button, you can zoom in 5x or 10x, then press the AE-Lock button to focus if you like; but of course you can't confirm framing in that mode.

Another "digicam" benefit that comes thanks to Live View mode is Exposure Simulation, where the image you see onscreen in non-flash shots will appear approximately how your final image will look. If you're about to underexpose the image, for example, the Live View image will appear dark; or too bright if your settings will overexpose. It's great for fine-tuning in Manual mode. Exposure Simulation isn't always desirable, but it's something many digicam owners are spoiled by without even knowing it's unique.

A grid can be displayed on the display in Live View, as well as a histogram, though like the Canon 40D, the histogram isn't translucent, instead blocking almost 1/4 of the screen.

Like all other Canon Live View cameras, you can connect the Canon XSi to your computer via a USB 2.0 cable and see a live image on the computer, as well as remote control the camera from the computer.

Imperfection. It's frustrating when they get so very close to excellence, yet leave out something important. Though I think it's great that the main Quick mode includes an image of the nine autofocus points overlaid on the image, the chosen AF points don't light up red after you've pressed the AE-L button (marked with an asterisk above the button) to focus, making them almost useless. What it does show you if you see all nine AF points is that you are in Auto Select mode; and if you have selected an AF point, only that point shows. So it's not a total loss, but it would be a lot better if the Live View display behaved like the optical viewfinder.

My other beef is left over from the Canon 40D's Live View mode: I love that it has a histogram display option, but I can't understand why you'd make something that takes up almost one-quarter of the screen completely opaque. Other companies have managed translucent histograms for years, Canon needs to get this coded up and loaded up, and quick.

Big LCD. The new 3-inch LCD is bigger and brighter than the XTi. I wouldn't have believed it was as big a difference if I didn't see it. More of an aesthetic issue is a slight improvement to the Canon XSi's rear Status display, with improved graphics and four color palates to choose from.

Canon Rebel XSi Lens

One of the greatest improvements to the Canon Rebel XSi kit is its new image-stabilized 18-55mm lens. Canon improved the lens characteristics dramatically. It offers better corner sharpness, better chromatic aberration control, and sharper images overall. Its 18-55mm zoom range is equivalent to a 29-88mm lens on a full-frame 35mm camera, a good mid-range zoom lens. Optical image stabilization technology sweetens the deal, offering 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 tell them to hold very still or shoot with a faster shutter speed at a higher ISO.

One unusual aspect to the new EF-S 18-55mm lens is its tendency to ring audibly while the image stabilization motor is running. My old EF 28-135mm IS lens makes some noise while it's operating, but not like this high-pitched whine. It's annoying, unfortunately. I'd still buy one of these lenses for myself, but if you're sensitive to high pitched sounds, the ringing might cut through your head after awhile.

Canon Rebel XSi Menus

The XSi has inherited the more versatile menu system from the Canon 40D. With the XTi, you always have to scroll to the top of the list and highlight the tab to move to the next tab, but it's easier with the XSi: just use the up and down arrows to move up and down in the menu, and use the left and right arrows to switch between tabs, regardless of your position in the list. Your previous menu selection is retained when you return to that tab, another benefit when changing the same setting often.

Though certain functions are buried in sub-menus, like the Flash Exposure Compensation (mentioned below), there's a new MyMenu tab which you can program with six of your most-used menu items for quick access.

Canon Rebel XSi Flash

There's not much new about the flash performance, but a few items have changed, including the release hook and retention rails in the pop-up flash, which are now plastic instead of metal. Adjusting the flash exposure compensation isn't as easy as before, however. Whereas you used to find it just below AE bracketing on the second Record menu, now it's buried on the second Settings menu, at the bottom of the list, under Flash Control. Then you have to scroll to the Built-in flash func. setting, and go into yet another menu where you can scroll down to Flash exp. comp. That's four steps where you used to make only two to adjust flash exposure compensation.

Otherwise, the built-in flash performs well, capable of good exposures out to 16 feet at wide angle. Coverage at this distance isn't very even, but it serves better at closer distances anyway.

For better flash photography indoors or out, I recommend an external flash like the Canon 430EX Speedlite, or the 430EX II (available in August 2008). Though I usually used a 580EX, the 430EX is smaller and lighter, better suited to the Rebel XSi. Canon's E-TTL II flash control system delivers excellent exposures with these units, whether bounced or direct.

Canon XSi storage and battery

Some Canon digital SLR fans might not like the Canon XSi's switch to SD/SDHC cards from the CompactFlash card standard still in use in professional digital SLR cameras. The advantage to SD is that the simpler connector interface is less likely to be damaged by incorrect card insertion, whereas the CompactFlash header's many pins are often damaged when beginners try to insert the cards sideways. SD cards cannot be put in sideways, have a sturdier, simpler contact design, and the cards are also now quite affordable and common, so the time was ripe for a switch. Pros who carry a Rebel as a backup might be a little annoyed to have to carry two types of card, but one 8GB SDHC card goes a long way.

There's also a new battery for the Canon XSi, the LP-E5. This new 1080 mAh lithium-ion battery offers 50% more capacity (~500 shots total with 50% flash usage) at about the same weight. Whereas the power pads on the NB-2LH battery used in the XTi could easily cause a fire if exposed to metal in a bag or pocket, the new LP-E5 battery's contacts are concealed inside a small protrusion out the side of the battery, making a pants fire less likely.

The battery door's hinge is no longer as robust as the fine metal hinge that locked into a metal bracket with a springloaded pin. The new design is quite similar to the Nikon D60's door hinge, a plastic arrangement that allows removal with a quick pull on the door at a 45 degree angle.

There are many other little changes that are worthy of note, including a new Continuous Self-timer mode that allows capture of many shots in succession; and a new 4% Spot metering mode joins Evaluative, Partial (9%), and Center-weighted modes.

Canon XSi Processor and Features

Canon uses the DIGIC III processor in the XSi, which allows 14-bit analog-to-digital image processing, as well as capture of 14-bit RAW files. This promises smoother, more flexible tone curves. We also confirmed that the DIGIC processors are the same chip across the product line, from PowerShot to Canon's Mark III professional cameras: when it says DIGIC III, it's the same processor, just used for different purposes depending on the camera; that's not necessarily true of other manufacturers' processors.

Enabled by DIGIC III, Auto Lighting Optimizer mode works to maintain highlight and shadow detail, likely working similarly to Sony's DRO and Nikon's Active D-Lighting. Canon's literature says that the Auto Lighting Optimizer mode uses Canon's Face Detection technology to make sure faces are exposed properly in backlit situations. Unlike Nikon's D-Lighting, however, it cannot be applied after capture. It's designed to enhance photographs for direct printing, camera to printer, via PictBridge. We didn't notice much of an effect in our tests, though.

Other changes in the Canon EOS XSi include 3.5 frames per second burst shooting for up to 53 JPEG or six RAW frames.

Updated PictBridge printing functionality with the ability to straighten horizons and add picture effects.

ISO. The Canon XSi's highest ISO setting remains low compared with other recent offerings from other companies, ranging from 100 to 1,600. Image quality across the range is truly excellent, however, with ISO 100 shots producing good 16x20-inch prints, and ISO 1,600 shots looking quite good at 11x14-inches, a new high water mark for a consumer digital SLR at any resolution.

Size comparisons: Canon Rebel XSi vs Canon Rebel XTi

Just a little bigger: The XSi grew just a little, and got smoother contours. Still, it's good and small, and the grip serves a bit better.

Canon Rebel XSi vs Canon 40D

A lot smaller: Though it's bigger than the XTi, the Rebel XSi is still a lot smaller than the next step up to the semi-pro Canon 40D. Note also that while the XSi has the convenience of an infrared remote sensor on the grip, the Canon 40D has no equivalent. Purchase a $25 Canon RC-1 remote control unit and you can get yourself in family portraits without all the extra running. Set the two-second delay and you'll even have time to hide the little remote from view. It costs a lot more to do that with the Canon 40D.

Canon Rebel XSi Shooting

Shooting with the Rebel XSi is a pleasant experience. The grip is great, making the camera feel a little less tiny, and the curves make handling the camera comfortable all around. Save for the new ISO button's position, controls are very good, improved when the larger LCD eliminated the left-side buttons. Checking exposure and focus is a lot easier with the larger LCD, and thanks to Live View, you can quickly check focus before you capture.

The new image-stabilized lens included with the Canon XSi is excellent, quite an improvement over the last model. Its zoom ring works more smoothly and the knurled grip is easier to hold. Image stabilization works very well, serving up more high quality shots in very low light. The lens isn't USM, which means it doesn't have an ultrasonic motor for fast, nearly silent focusing, but the motor isn't disagreeably loud at all, and it's fast enough.

Because it's an EOS camera, it's compatible with all my other EOS gear. The lens mount is about 1.2mm higher than the one on the XTi, which makes fatter lenses like the 28-135mm seem a little less gigantic when mounted on the XSi.



Subtle, but noticeable: This is what the difference between 3.0 fps and 3.5 fps looks and sounds like.

Frame rate. The Canon XSi's faster frame rate is a minor improvement, but certainly welcome, making it more likely that you'll get a just the right moment from a sequence. The shutter sound is different, but still includes a lot of whirring and stomping, instead of a nice, simple click-click. Some might prefer the winding sound, but to me it draws too much attention. I doubt most people think about it as much as I do, but for those of you who do, here's a small video.

The new lens release button makes it a little easier to change lenses, and while it's hard to get used to a Canon SLR with a small SD card door, it does fit the small body of the Rebel XSi. It has thrown me on occasion when my standard complement of CF cards was no help after I'd filled an SD card. Now I carry both.

Shooting in Live View mode is pretty easy once you get used to it; though focusing by pressing the AE-Lock button is a little cumbersome when shooting from odd angles. I suppose they separated the buttons to avoid the confusion of the mirror going up when you half-press the shutter button. Surely that would make many users think they'd taken a picture. And in "Live" AF mode, it's a lot slower than some digicams, especially in low light with camera movement, so I'm sure that's why they left AF activation on the AE-Lock button.

As well as it works, I recommend against using the Live View mode as a default shooting method. Use it for fine focusing while shooting from a tripod where you can afford the time to confirm or specify which focus point or area is in use, or when shooting from odd angles, but you get better camera stability when shooting with the camera held to your face than you do holding it out in front of you. Battery life also drops from 500 to 190 shots when shooting in Live View, so invest in a spare battery if Live View is your thing.

There's so much about the XSi that's similar to the XTi that there's not much new to say about the camera shooting experience. It works extremely well, is fun to shoot with, and captures some amazing images. Live View is just a bonus.

Canon Rebel XSi Performance

While the XTi was fast, the Canon Rebel XSi bests it in most measures. Shutter lag with full autofocus is 0.16 compared to the XTi's 0.20 second (fast in its own right). Prefocus shutter lag is 0.089 compared to 0.105. And Live View modes, we were unable to test shutter lag inclusive of the autofocus process, because our method depends on pressing one button--the shutter release--to activate the test. But once focus is achieved, both contrast-detect and phase-detect are fast: Full AF contrast detect is 0.250 and phase-detect is 0.232 second. It's a shame they're not as fast as the optical viewfinder mode, but the shutter does have to close before it opens for the exposure to work with a CMOS sensor, so that's likely the cause for the delay.

In Continuous mode, the Canon Rebel XSi literally and perfectly delivers exactly 3.50 frames per second. We almost never see such a precise match to the number claimed. With our hard-to-compress torture target, we managed 13 frames before the buffer filled, and it only took five seconds to clear. In RAW mode, we calculated 3.51 frames per second, capturing five frames total, taking six seconds to clear. In RAW+JPEG mode, it slowed to 3 frames per second, capturing only four frames, taking seven seconds to clear. That's all pretty good for a Rebel moving 12.2 million pixels around and storing it on an SD card.

If you're shooting portraits, a wedding, or a sporting event with RAW, you'll run into the ceiling more often than you'd like; but most users won't notice the frame rate or buffer limitations.

Speaking of high pixel counts, be sure to get a few big SD cards if you plan to shoot RAW a lot. 4 to 8GB should be fine. A 1GB card holds about 220 large/fine JPEG files, but only 58 RAW shots.

Canon XSi Image Quality

I think the most astonishing thing about the Canon Rebel XSi is its capabilities at ISO 1,600. Most users would be able to set the camera to ISO 1,600 and shoot in all settings, especially if the largest they intend to print is an 8x10-inch photo. As such, here is my usual ISO 1,600 comparison table. The twist is that it's comparing the $900 XSi to the $1,800 Nikon D300, the only other 12-megapixel digital SLR camera in our databank with a comparable sensor size.

Canon XSi vs Nikon D300

Canon Rebel XSi at ISO 1,600 Nikon D300 at ISO 1,600

Look at both images carefully and consider the relative costs before coming to a conclusion. While the XSi looks more grainy, with more chroma noise, that's due to Canon's strategy to maintain more detail in its noise suppression efforts, while Nikon has gotten very good at creating a very smooth image, but they're still losing some detail in the process. Note the crisp letters on the Mas Portel bottle in the XSi shot, compared to the softer letters from the Nikon D300. The mosaic image shows a more complex subject, with some tiles doing better with the Canon, others with the Nikon. Our best test of how much noise suppression is doing to mush out detail in an image is the red cloth with the leaf pattern on it. Though it's a little darker, the XSi's image is truer to the actual pattern than the artistic but incorrect rendering with the Nikon D300. Lighting and contrast are slightly different in each camera, so there's a lot to consider in these crops. But it's significant that an inexpensive camera like the Rebel XSi can stand up well against a high quality camera costing twice as much; and the D300 doesn't come with a lens, let alone an image-stabilized one.



Canon XSi vs XTi

Canon Rebel XSi at ISO 1,600 Canon Rebel XTi at ISO 1,600

I think it's also worth comparing the XSi to the 10-megapixel XTi to see what you might be getting in terms of extra detail. Both cameras by default have their sharpening turned down, so you can actually get a sharper image pixel-for-pixel onscreen, but these are both quite good performers. Again, the XSi has a bit more chroma noise, partially due to the changes in the background shadow, but overall detail is higher than the XTi, hence the larger size when shown here at 100%.



Canon XSi vs 5D, Nikon D700, D300, and Canon XTi

Canon XSi Canon 5D Nikon D700 Nikon D300 Canon XTi

One more comparison. This time the $900 XTi with its APS-C sensor goes up against two $3,000 full-frame digital SLRs, an $1,800 APS-C model -- all 12-megapixel sensors -- and its 10-megapixel predecessor. The lines inside these letters usually do not show up on cameras with resolutions lower than 12 megapixels, as you can see in the XTi shot top right. The top row shows ISO 100 shots, and the bottom row has ISO 1,600 shots from each camera, and all are remarkably similar. Interestingly, the Rebel XTi's ISO 100 shot shows more sharpening artifacts than the ISO 1,600 shot, yet there's more detail in the ISO 1,600 shot. The Canon 5D looks better than most, but also shows more evidence of sharpening at both settings. The two Nikons do well with the larger letters, but reveal very few lines in the smaller letters, like the L and G in Lager. Ultimately, again the Canon XSi really does well against these larger, more expensive cameras, so you can expect plenty of detail in your images.

Note: We have many more shots for you to peruse on this review's other tabs, including the Optics and Exposure tabs.

Good set. Add the new EF-S 55-250mm image-stabilized lens and something like the 580EX (pictured) or 430EX II, and you have a pretty comprehensive family photo kit..

Analysis. The Canon Rebel XSi is indeed a worthy successor to the Rebel throne. A camera with the Rebel name has never carried such sophistication, nor so rich a feature-set. It has all that makes the Rebel XTi great, but with more resolution, live view, a faster frame rate, a new look, and an image-stabilized lens. It's the image quality that makes the Rebel XSi stand out, with great performance across the ISO range.

It's easy to use as a snapshot camera, yet offers plenty to delve into for more creative uses. Its compatibility with all that the Canon EOS line has to offer strengthens its utility: external flashes, battery grips, and a wide range of lenses can be brought to bear on just about any photographic challenge. Existing EOS owners will have to invest in a few SD cards and perhaps a couple of new batteries to make the switch, as well as a new battery grip if they already have one, but lenses and flashes are compatible and ready to go.

Adding a flash is my first recommendation for better indoor shots, and the Canon 430EX II will ship in August to meet the need for a light, high-quality bounce flash (the 430EX is just fine too). Yes, you can get some great shots indoors with the XSi's kit lens and either the pop-up flash or high ISO, but when you add a telephoto lens, or your subject starts moving, you're going to need some extra light. If you want to keep your kit small, check out the EF-S 55-250mm IS zoom lens. Combined, you'll have a 13x zoom range with a pretty high quality sensor to back it up.

Of course, the Canon Rebel XSi will deliver great photos with just the contents of the kit. I've spent a long time with it, and find the XSi to serve as well as the Rebel XTi, only better. That's high praise all by itself.

As I said of the XTi, the Canon Rebel XSi is an excellent, take-anywhere, all-purpose digital SLR camera that's great as a second camera for pros, or as a primary camera for anyone else. It will more than serve, it will make its owner very happy.

 

Canon Rebel XSi Basic Features

 

Canon Rebel XSi Special Features

 

In the Box

The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi Kit comes with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories



 

Canon Rebel XSi Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Excellent 12.2 megapixel sensor with impressively low noise and superb detail
  • Live View mode works very well
  • Live View mode offers a choice between phase-detect and contrast-detect modes
  • Zoom in five or ten times with Live View
  • Image-stabilized kit lens is excellent optically
  • Small size is great for travel and all-day carry
  • Dust removal technology largely eliminates sensor cleaning chores
  • 3.0-inch LCD with a wide viewing angle for better image sharing and focus check
  • Taller grip makes for a more comfortable hold
  • New viewfinder offers greater magnification
  • Integrated status display conveys a lot of information
  • IR detection turns off LCD to reduce glare and battery drain
  • Print/Share button enables quick and easy printing and image transfer
  • Fast image transfer eliminates the need for a card reader
  • AF system works well in low light
  • Picture Styles makes choosing and customizing color modes fast and easy
  • Compatible with over 50 lenses and accessories
  • SD cards are inexpensive and easy to find
  • Selectable auto-rotation feature rotates on the camera or only in the computer
  • Fast autofocus
  • Viewfinder magnification is very good at 97% accurate
  • Shutter button design allows followup shots without refocusing
  • Good macro performance
  • Excellent detail from the sensor
  • Images are sharp, but not oversharpened, and noise suppression is kept well under control
  • Color is very accurate, with only red being a little high, which consumers generally like
  • Auto white balance handles most situations very well
  • Print quality is excellent, making sharp 16x20-inch prints
  • High ISO shots are surprisingly good, easily useable at 11x14
  • Great shot-to-shot, shutter lag, and cycle time numbers
  • Suitable for the inexperienced amateur, perfectly usable by the seasoned pro
  • AF-assist adjustment and Flash Exposure compensation are buried in the Flash Settings menu.
  • In Live View Quick AF mode, camera does not tell you which AF points are in focus
  • Kit lens produces somewhat high barrel distortion at wide angle
  • Flash coverage is uneven, falling off in the corners
  • Indoor white balance is a quite orange
  • Battery capacity is reduced with significant use of Live View mode, the larger screen, and dust off system
  • Switch from CF to SD may bother experienced EOS users
  • ISO range is not as broad as higher-end offerings
  • Front lens barrel rotates, making polarizer lens use difficult
  • Live View shutter lag is a little longer than with the optical viewfinder

 

Canon has another hit. The Rebel XSi has just about everything you want from a semi-pro camera in a smaller package. It's small, lighter than its predecessor, and has all the good stuff the competitors have, plus that legendary Canon image quality. Canon made minor but important improvements to the grip and controls, and kept all that was great about its predecessor. Adding Live View and image stabilization addressed a few elements that other companies, namely Olympus and Pentax, have had in their favor at the low-price end of the market. If anyone knows how to address the image stabilization problem, it's Canon, with years of experience and a proven track record.

As we noted in the Rebel XTi review, the older kit lens needed another upgrade to do justice to that camera's 10-megapixel sensor; Canon clearly thought so too, because the new 18-55mm IS lens is significantly improved, as our SLRgear.com tests show. There is still some corner softness and chromatic aberration, but surprisingly little. The lens's build is better than past models, as well, and it delivers such a good focal length range with so little weight that I recommend most people buy the kit to get this fine little lens for those days they just want a light, high-quality camera along.

Though autofocus is said to have been improved in the Rebel XSi, I don't see much of a difference. It's still as excellent as its predecessor. We do see some improvement in the lab tests, however, with faster shutter lag numbers overall. Shutter lag lengthens in Live View mode thanks to the need to close the shutter before the actual exposure, but that's to be expected. It's still darn fast. The requirement to use the AE-Lock button to focus in Live View mode will cause many to think there's something wrong with the camera, and I haven't really gotten used to it despite my long use of the camera. Learn to shoot with the optical viewfinder by default, leaving Live View for special situations and tripod use, and you'll be happier with the experience. Most of the benefit of an SLR can be found in that optical viewfinder, with a truly real-time view of your subject. And now it's improved over its predecessor with a larger view.

All of the Canon Rebel XSi's new features help you get better images in more situations, but the real question was whether Canon could take this small sensor size to 12-megapixels without significantly affecting image quality. I think there's a little more aggressive noise suppression at low ISO settings, but detail remains very strong; and at ISO 1,600 quality is so strong that you can safely print images up to 11x14-inches, while the XTi's ISO 1,600 images would only withstand enlargement to 8x10.

Canon has done it again. The Rebel XSi is a strong upgrade to an already excellent and rightfully popular digital SLR. Image quality, performance, and utility have only improved, which makes the Canon Rebel XSi an easy Dave's Pick, and a great value for anyone looking to get better pictures.

 

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