Canon T1i Review

 
Camera Reviews / Canon Cameras / Canon EOS i Full Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon EOS T1i (Rebel T1i, Canon 500D)
Resolution: 15.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
Kit Lens: 3.00x zoom
18-55mm
(29-88mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
ISO: 100-12800
Shutter: 30-1/4000
Max Aperture: 3.5
Dimensions: 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in.
(129 x 98 x 62 mm)
Weight: 18.6 oz (526 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $900
Availability: 05/2009
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon T1i specifications
15.10
Megapixels
Canon EF / EF-S mount APS-C
size sensor
image of Canon EOS T1i (Rebel T1i, Canon 500D)
Front side of Canon EOS T1i (Rebel T1i, Canon 500D) digital camera Back side of Canon EOS T1i (Rebel T1i, Canon 500D) digital camera Top side of Canon EOS T1i (Rebel T1i, Canon 500D) digital camera Left side of Canon EOS T1i (Rebel T1i, Canon 500D) digital camera Right side of Canon EOS T1i (Rebel T1i, Canon 500D) digital camera
Imaging Resource rating

5.0 out of 5.0

Canon EOS Rebel T1i
EOS 500D
Overview

by Shawn Barnett, Dave Etchells, and Zig Weidelich
Hands-On Preview: 03/25/09
Updated to final production-level review: 10/05/09

Canon's consumer SLR line has a new flagship: the 15.1-megapixel Canon EOS Rebel T1i. Once again, we see a new SLR from Canon in less than 18 months from the last in a given line. It's actually only eight months since the XS was announced, and about 14 since the XSi; either way you look at it, competition has shortened product cycles in the digital SLR space.

Now at the top of the Rebel line, the Canon T1i takes on the Nikon D90, with its video mode, while the XS and XSi are left to challenge the Nikon D3000 and D5000. With the Rebel T1i, Canon is answering the pincer move that Nikon's put on it in the past few years, now matching them model-to-model at the low end, because the XS and XSi will remain in the lineup.

Canon Rebel T1i Features

While the new HD movie mode is the gee-whiz feature on the Canon Rebel T1i, the important feature for most photographers is the still image quality at 15.1 megapixels. According to our tests, its only rival even near this price point is the Canon EOS 50D or the more recently-announced Pentax K-7, both of which are considerably more expensive at retail. (But both of which are also more ruggedly constructed, particularly the Pentax, which has a die-cast body and significant environmental sealing.)

Controls and body styling are nearly identical (differences are broken down in the User Report below); the main changes are internal. The Canon T1i's new sensor is ever slightly larger at 22.3 x 14.9mm compared to the 22.2 x 14.8mm measurement of the XSi's sensor, but the bigger change is the new sensor's high ISO capabilities, running from 100 to 3,200, with two expanded settings: 6,400 and 12,800.

Canon's new DIGIC 4 processor handles the larger 4,752 x 3,168 at a slightly reduced speed of 3.4 frames per second (at 1/500 second or greater -- down from the XSi's 3.5 fps), with a maximum JPEG burst of 170 frames or 9 RAW frames. You can also now capture RAW images in all of the Canon T1i's modes, whether Basic or Creative Zone.

The Canon T1i's 3-inch LCD is a 640x480 design with 920,000 dots, making for a noticeably sharper onscreen image, great for focusing and confirming sharpness after capture. The Canon T1i is the first Rebel to have such a high-res screen.

Other features come to the Canon T1i from the 50D, including the Peripheral Illumination Correction and multiple noise reduction settings. Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone Priority were already brought over with the XSi, but Creative Auto is now included, a unique mode that endeavors to bring creative control to the amateur shooter.

Movie mode comes to the Rebel T1i with quite similar capabilities to the Canon 5D Mark II, though it's highest complete HD resolution is 720p at 30fps. It can capture 1080p videos, but only at 20fps, which isn't technically fully up to spec. Standard 640x480 movies are also available at 30fps. You can manually focus or autofocus via contrast detect by pressing the Canon T1i's rear AE/AF-Lock button.

The Canon Rebel T1i accepts EF and EF-S lenses, and uses SD/SDHC cards, including Eye-Fi wireless cards. The battery is the same as the XSi, and it uses the same battery grip.

Also introduced at the same time is the very small Speedlite 270EX, a new flash that is easy to pocket and gives cameras like the Rebel T1i and the PowerShot G10 an accessory flash that won't threaten to flip these lightweight cameras over. The flash head zooms manually from 28mm to 50mm coverage, and flips up to 90 degrees. Like other EX Speedlites, the 270EX transmits color temperature information to the camera. Power comes from two AA batteries.

Canon EOS Rebel T1i Pricing and Availability

Body-only, the Canon EOS Rebel T1i lists for $800, and the kit with the 18-55mm IS lens carries an estimated retail price of $900; both started shipping in May 2009. The Canon Speedlite 270EX has a retail price of $219.99, but is selling for around $149 online.

 

Canon EOS Rebel T1i
EOS 500D User Report

by Shawn Barnett

Canon's new flagship consumer SLR, the Rebel T1i, gathers the best from its more expensive brethren into a more affordable, compact package. The Rebel T1i now sports a 15.1-megapixel sensor like the EOS 50D, and records HD video like the 5D Mark II. Naturally, a few features are also missing from the Canon Rebel T1i, most of which consumers will not know to want at all, but that enthusiasts should consider when deciding from among these three cameras.

The prospect of capturing video with a wide array of lenses, from super-wide-angle to long telephoto is what makes capturing video with Canon Rebel T1i interesting. Before now, you'd have to save a pile of cash and join the long waiting-lists at camera retailers to get a Canon 5D Mark II to explore these new video features, but the availability of the Rebel T1i should shorten those lines for many aspiring videographers. There are a few shortcomings, however, which we'll get to soon.

Look and feel. Physically, the Canon T1i is very similar to the Canon XSi, with a few minor cosmetic changes as well as the addition of holes for a microphone on the front and a speaker on the back. Heft is good, not much heavier than the XSi's 25.4 ounces (720.3g) with lens, battery, and card: just 25.6 ounces (725.9g). Without the lens, the Canon Rebel T1i plus battery and card weighs 18.5 ounces (526g).

From the front you can see that the grip improvements continue. The textured rubber surface of the Canon Rebel T1i's grip feels more tacky than the more worn-in surface on our copy of the XSi, and our fingertips get to enjoy a little more of the grip, since it now extends further toward the lens of the camera; while on the XSi, it stops just right of the grip and your fingertips touch more of the painted surface of the camera than the grippy area. There's a slightly larger bump in front of the Canon T1i's knurled Command dial, and off the right shoulder we find holes for the new microphone, and below that there's a new raised pad for the EOS logo (on the XSi, this logo is pad-printed directly on the surface). From here you can also see that the knurl on the Canon T1i's Mode dial is cut both horizontally and vertically, rather than the coarse vertical lines found on the XSi.

The only major difference on the top of the Canon Rebel T1i is on the Mode dial. As was the case with the 50D vs the 40D, the silver bezel is the main cosmetic feature to set the Canon T1i apart from the XSi, with its black Mode dial. On the mode dial you'll find two new icons, one for Creative Auto and one for Movie mode. On the Canon 5D Mark II, you access the Movie mode via Live View mode, but setting the Mode dial is the only way you can enter Movie mode on the Canon T1i, which dedicates all functions to movie capture, something that will be more familiar to digicam users, and which is more straightforward. You can capture stills in Movie mode, though, which is nice.

The Rebel T1i's ISO button is in the same place here on the top deck, but it sticks up from the surface more, making for easier activation, especially when changing ISO while looking through the optical viewfinder.

What stands out the most from the rear of the Canon T1i is the 920,000-pixel LCD (to better appreciate the increase in resolution, click on the above image to see a very large version). The layout of the Status display has changed a bit thanks to the greater resolution, but the only addition to the available display is the D+ icon that appears right of the ISO number when Highlight Tone Priority is enabled via the Custom functions (you can't actually turn this on or off via the Quick menu, however). The Quick menu that was new to the Canon 50D has made its way over to the Rebel T1i as well, activated with the SET button. On the XSi, the SET button takes you in the Live View mode if it's active, but pressing the Print/Share button now activates Live View on the Rebel T1i. This is also a different location than is found on the 50D, where the DISP/Print/Share button turns on Live View. It's unfortunate that there are so many ways to enter this relatively new mode depending on which EOS you're using, but it's not uncommon to Canon cameras to change a bit with each generation. Other remappings on the Canon T1i include putting White Balance on the up arrow, replacing the Metering mode option (which can now be changed with the Quick menu or the Main menu).

Upper right on the thumb grip you can see the holes for the Canon T1i's speaker. The textured thumb pad is identical to the XSi, offering an attractive, leather-like surface that's comfortable to the touch.

(I've mostly focused on differences here in the overview section; for more on the Canon T1i's controls, see the Design section, where you can hover over each control for a more detailed explanation.)

Size comparison: Canon Rebel T1i vs Canon Rebel XSi

Few differences: The Rebel T1i is almost identical to the XSi, with only a few cosmetic changes. The main distinguishing feature is the silver Mode dial. (Note: these shots were made with the pre-production camera, but nothing has changed cosmetically from that camera, save the addition of the Rebel T1i logo.)

DIGIC 4. Canon uses the new DIGIC 4 image processor in the Rebel T1i. The new processor is said to offer improvements in processing speed necessary to handle the 15.1-megapixel files with reasonable speed. The Canon T1i's DIGIC 4 processor also keeps the noise down when compared to the Canon XSi, according to our tests, despite the smaller pixels. DIGIC 4's greater power is the reason the T1i can incorporate many of the following improvements, from menu animations to expanded ISO.

Menu changes. Flash control has been moved from the Rebel T1i's second Settings menu to the first Record menu, a sensible change, and a second Playback menu has been added to allow for the Jump settings menu item. Flash Exposure compensation is now buried in the Flash control menu, as it is on the 50D and 5D Mark II, unfortunately. And Peripheral illumination correction is now on the Rebel T1i's first Record menu. As with all recent Canon digital SLRs, pressing the right or left arrows navigates among the menu screens without requiring you to scroll to the tab at the top of the screen, a much faster way to work. The last item highlighted in each of the Rebel T1i's screens also remains highlighted, which is great when you're consistently changing two specific items. Moving between items and screens is also animated with a quick fade out and in with each press of the navigation buttons.

Peripheral illumination correction. Brought over from the 50D, the Rebel T1i's Peripheral illumination correction compensates for vignetting in the corners of a lens. Correction changes depending on which lens is mounted; selecting this menu item brings up a screen where you can see which lens the camera has detected and either enable or disable this function.

ISO Expansion. For the first time, a Rebel-series camera has ISO expansion available, and in this case the amount of expansion is significant. Not only is the Canon T1i the first Rebel to offer ISO 3,200, but the two expansion settings enable ISOs 6,400 and 12,800, offering the consumer Canon enthusiast greater opportunities in low light than ever before. Also included in the series at left is a screenshot that shows the D+ indicator for Highlight Tone Priority mode. When activated, the Canon T1i is limited to a range from ISO 200 to 3,200, with no High ISO options.

Creative Auto mode. First introduced on the Canon 50D, Canon's Creative Auto mode has come to the Rebel T1i. 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 50D 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 Quick Control dial. The more complex exposure decisions remain under the Canon T1i's control in CA mode. The exposure slider is the more useful, standing in as a more comprehensible EV adjustment. Sometimes the blur or depth-of-field slider isn't available, as when shooting indoors, because the Rebel T1i's flash is deployed automatically. Turning on the flash brings this control back, though, so it's handy that you can actually disable the Rebel T1i's flash in a full-auto mode.

Click to view movie. MPEG4 player required.

Live view sample. Click on the image above for a sample video that will give you an idea of how long it takes to autofocus, as well as how navigation works in Live View mode. Video size: 41.1MB.

Live View mode. The Canon T1i's Live view mode works pretty much the same as Live View on the Canon 50D, with Quick mode, Live mode, and Live Face Detect mode. The latter mode was not included on the XSi. Live View mode is only available, surprisingly, in the Rebel T1i's Creative zone modes, namely Program, Shutter, Aperture, Manual, and A-DEP. The order of these modes has been inverted on the Rebel T1i, starting with Live Mode, then Live Face Detect, and finally Quick mode.

Before anyone complains, I'll point out that none of the Rebel T1i's live view autofocus modes is particularly fast. If you're used to using a digicam, however, you'll be most accustomed to the two Live modes, which are contrast-detect. You can see the camera focusing onscreen, and the Canon T1i will tell you where it's decided to focus; or if you've selected a focus area with the floating box, that area will turn green once focus is achieved. Thanks to the new high-resolution LCD, you'll be able to tell roughly whether the area is indeed in focus. If it's important enough, you can even check by pressing the Canon T1i's Magnify button on the upper right of the camera back and zoom in by five or 10 times.

Select Live Face Detect mode, and the Canon T1i can find and set both exposure and focus based on the faces in finds, up to 35 faces.

If you'd like to more precisely select an autofocus point, you can switch to Quick mode and use one of the Canon T1i's nine phase-detect autofocus points (phase-detect vs face-detect: there's a near homophone that linguistic historians will have to explain). Phase-detect is the same method that the Canon T1i uses when you're looking through the optical viewfinder, so it's arguable that it will be more familiar to most experienced digital SLR users. It's also historically faster and more accurate than contrast-detect systems; but that's not true here in Live View mode. To use phase-detect autofocus, SLRs have to leave Live-view mode because their autofocus sensors are dependent on having the mirror down for the light to reach them. So when you press the star button on the back of the Canon T1i, you're going to lose Live view for a moment while the camera does it's phase-detect operation. Live view will come back, and the selected autofocus points will light up to tell you which areas are in sharp focus.

Of course, exposure simulation is also part of the Canon T1i's Live View capabilities. The camera will show you onscreen what the image will look like when you press the shutter release, at least for non-flash shots. This is a great feature, especially when you're shooting in Shutter, Aperture, or Manual modes, because you can see what each setting adjustment will give you in terms of exposure.

The Canon T1i's Live view mode also offers a choice of two grids: one that divides the screen into 3x3 blocks, and another that divides the screen into 4x6 blocks. Grids are great for lining up horizon lines and buildings to keep things looking straight.

Movie mode. Capturing movies with the Canon Rebel T1i is not as easy as using a camcorder. It's still really for "artist" videographers, rather than casual users. The primary reason is that the Canon T1i can't autofocus as quickly as we're used to our camcorders doing, and it won't autofocus continuously; you have to press the AE-Lock/AF-Lock button (marked with an asterisk or star) on the back to activate it. When you do, the Canon T1i's exposure will gain up a bit to let in more and less light, perhaps to help the processor find the best contrast, and the focus will move around until it locks on something. You can do this while recording, but both the exposure and focus changes will be recorded in the movie.

Click to view movie. MPEG4 player required.

AF in Movie mode. Autofocus behaves somewhat differently in the Canon T1i's Movie mode, which can be a bit confusing. Click on the image above for a video that explains the interface. Video size: 28.5MB. MPEG4 player required.

If you can wrap your mind around the concept of setting up and capturing video snapshots, however, you can begin to use the Canon T1i's Movie mode the way it was intended. I was trained early on by Canon camcorders that have a 10 second timer in the viewfinder. I recall the manual suggesting that I use the snapshot method, recording only 10 seconds of a scene and moving on, to avoid making a boring video. I also edit my videos on the computer, so it doesn't bother me too much if I have to refocus a scene while recording, because I'll just cut it out of the video on the computer. Following action while focusing is out of the question, though, which isn't ideal.

The enthusiast videographer will enjoy the Canon T1i's Movie mode, but there are some shortcomings for them as well. One is that they can't control shutter speed, aperture, or ISO, nor can they know what the camera is setting. Most camcorder users don't expect to be able to select fast or slow shutter speeds, except perhaps a sports mode, but from a camera where you can set both aperture and shutter speed for stills you can be forgiven for expecting a little more control in Movie mode. Many 5D Mark II users have learned to trick the camera by locking the exposure, but it's unclear how to achieve this with the Rebel T1i (the 5D Mark II has since been updated, but not the Rebel T1i).

Shutter speed for movies in Movie mode is limited to 1/30 to 1/125 second, and from there the Canon T1i varies the aperture and ISO to adjust exposure.

Not having an external microphone jack on the Canon T1i is another real downer for the enthusiast videographer, because capturing direct audio is essential in many situations, especially outdoors. The Rebel T1i also has no wind filter, another common feature of the average camcorder.

Click to view movie. MPEG4 player required.

Pulling focus. This video illustrates a common video technique made easier on the Rebel T1i. Click the image above to launch the video. This video, shot on the Rebel T1i, is also a good test of whether your computer can handle HD playback; if it doesn't play smoothly, you might need to upgrade your computer before investing in a Rebel T1i. Video size: 31.7MB. MPEG4 player required.

There's a lot of beauty still to be had in the Canon T1i's Movie mode, including the use of all of Canon's EF and EF-S lenses, from super-wide-angle to long telephoto, which allow you to see the world in a way that few camcorders will let you. And though you can't control aperture with the Canon T1i, you can still take advantage of the bokeh available with prime lenses so long as you can control the light and movement of your subject for the duration of each video snapshot. (Bokeh is the out-of-focus area in front of or in back of the in-focus area, which many photographers use to set their subjects apart from the background; usually more blurring occurs with the lens wide open, and decreases as you stop down.)

Just like the Canon long zoom PowerShot S-series cameras, you can capture a full-resolution still image in the midst of recording a movie on the Rebel T1i. The video stream is interrupted with a still image while the full-res image is saved to the card, taking a little over two seconds. That's regardless whether you capture a low-res JPEG or a RAW+JPEG (at least in the pre-release camera). Incidentally, the artificial shutter sound recorded into the video, consisting of a light clicking sound, is much quieter than the Canon T1i's actual shutter sound, which is still fraught with a stamping and winding noise. At least you don't hear that in the video.

Sensor technology. The Canon T1i's 15.1-megapixel CMOS design is apparently not identical to the Canon 50D's sensor, though it does raise the resolution from the XSi's 12.1 megapixels. The sensor and processor combination in the Canon T1i seems to be a little better overall, producing sharper images with greater detail. Judging from our test images, Canon has indeed managed to improve image quality while raising ISO and increasing resolution at the same time.

Where the Canon T1i's sensor differs is in the data path and the microlens array: whereas the 50D's sensor has a four-channel readout, the Rebel T1i's sensor uses a 2-channel readout, which means that the image data will come off the T1i's sensor more slowly. Since the Canon T1i has a slower framerate, the four-channel readout may have been deemed unnecessary. As for the microlens array, we initially assumed that is was the same as the 50D's gapless microlenses, as we were told that the only difference between the two sensors was the data path; now it seems that the microlenses in the Canon T1i's sensor do indeed have "gaps," which should mean that the sensor will let in less light overall. The Rebel T1i's sensor still looks remarkably close to the 50D's.

14-bit A/D conversion. Just like the Rebel XSi, the Canon Rebel T1i 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 than was available to the Canon XTi, which was only able to generate 4,096 colors per channel. The Canon Rebel T1i 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.

Auto Lighting Optimizer. The Auto Lighting Optimizer introduced on the Rebel XSi allows the photographer to expose for the highlights, and then the camera adjusts the image to open up the shadows during image capture. On the Canon T1i, ALO now has four settings, including Off, Low, Medium, and Strong.

AE Bracketing. HDR (High Dynamic Range) shooters have a new tool in the Canon T1i's enhanced AE Bracketing feature. The feature allows you to bracket images starting from four stops darker or ending four stops brighter than the meter's selected exposure value, over a two-stop range, when combining exposure compensation with AE Bracketing. A new display makes it easier to understand the feature (see animation at left).

HDMI output. The Canon T1i includes an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) port, for displaying images and movies on a high-definition television.

Missing. One of the key reasons I'd buy a Canon 50D is its AF Microadjustment feature, which allows me to adjust the autofocus system for various lenses in my collection. That's missing on the Rebel T1i, unfortunately. This omission locks Canon enthusiasts into either the Canon 50D or 5D Mark II, which both have the AF Microadjustment feature. Canon Rebel T1i owners will need to turn to a Canon service center if they think a lens has a back or front-focus problem that needs to be addressed. It's such a no-brainer to include this function, likely requiring no extra hardware, that it's tough to understand why they'd leave it out -- except, of course, to avoid cannibalizing sales of the EOS 50D.

Silent shutter mode is also unavailable on the Canon T1i. Though it's useful in certain wildlife situations, it would not deter me from buying the Canon Rebel T1i, despite its loud shutter mechanism, mostly because I don't shoot much wildlife; if you shoot wildlife often, though, the 50D wins again.

The Rebel T1i also doesn't have multiple RAW formats, nor the dozens of permutations when saving RAW+JPEG files. This really isn't a terrible loss either, since so many options are likely to confuse the average consumer photographer into making a critical error. The only RAW options are RAW or RAW plus Large Fine JPEG. You can still choose all the standard JPEG resolution and compression options when not shooting RAW with the Canon T1i.

Lens. The Rebel T1i comes with the same kit lens that shipped with the XSi: 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 tell your subject to hold very still or shoot with a faster shutter speed at a higher ISO.

Storage and battery. Like its predecessor, the Canon Rebel T1i uses SD and SDHC memory cards. It's a shame that they're not compatible with Canon's higher-end digital SLRs, which use CompactFlash cards (except the very expensive professional 1D-series cameras, which use both). The simpler design of the SD card means there should be no problems with bent pins on the Canon T1i, as occasionally happened on the XTi and older models when users accidentally inserted the CF card sideways.

The Canon T1i also uses the same battery as the XSi, the LP-E5, a 1080 mAh lithium-ion battery with concealed electrical contacts. The XSi's battery grip, the BG-E5, also works with the Canon T1i, and 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 shoot vertical frequently will enjoy the vertical shutter release, which allows you to shoot with less strain.

New flash. A new small flash was announced with the Canon T1i, the Speedlite 270EX. We're betting it's going to be quite popular thanks to its easy pocketability, light weight (5 ounces), and reasonable range. Though it's powered by only two AA batteries, the 270EX has the same range as the older Speedlite 220EX that requires four AAs (charging time is increased, however, taking 4.5 seconds instead of 3). It also has a manual zoom from 28mm wide-angle coverage to 50mm coverage, and a guide number of 22 meters / 72 feet wide-angle, and 27 meters / 89 feet telephoto, both at ISO 100. Even better, its head can tilt up and lock in three positions: 60, 75, and 90 degrees.

Unfortunately, it doesn't tilt down for macro shots, and it doesn't go back beyond 90 degrees for more face-filling bounce shots. It also doesn't work to control other flashes, nor can it be controlled. However, the Canon Rebel T1i's menu can control the flash for manual exposure adjustments; indeed, it's the only way you can control the 270EX (it's unclear which other cameras will be able to control the flash at this time). Otherwise, the camera controls the flash's exposure via E-TTL II, Canon's excellent through-the-lens exposure system. If you want to bounce flash off the ceiling when shooting in vertical mode, you'll still require at least the 430EX, but for basic snapshots, the Speedlite 270EX looks like a handy accessory.

 

Shooting with the Canon Rebel T1i

Otters. These guys were nearly inseparable and seldom stopped moving, but this was one rare moment where they stayed relatively still. What's interesting is that I made this shot while capturing this movie. Note that the movie is compressed, and takes up about 20.9MB; the compression process darkens the color and increases contrast. You'll see both what the Canon T1i's autofocus operation and photo capture look like in this video. (Note: shots in this section were made with the prototype T1i, but we found so little difference between the two in our lab shots that we're fine displaying these samples.)

Since it is so similar to the XSi, I found the Canon Rebel T1i easy and fun to shoot with. Though I am weary of Canon moving the Live View activation button around, I do like its current location on the Print/Share button. It's more natural to transition with this button than having to hit the Display button on the left side as on the Canon 50D.

Other controls are well-placed and easy to access. The Canon T1i's ISO button sticks up more from the top deck, making it easier to activate. The optical viewfinder is still quite small, making the Live View mode on the 640x480 screen that much more useful, especially with the camera mounted on a tripod.

Though the Canon T1i's 18-55mm IS kit lens is of good quality and light, I chose to take the far more expensive and heavy 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens to the zoo for our test shots. I also tried the Canon T1i with the 18-200mm f/4.5 IS lens. It was easy to see which I was using, of course, especially once I got back to the computer. The Rebel T1i didn't feel too tiny behind the large pro lens, and I managed to squeeze off a few good shots. Zoo Atlanta features a lot of glass to protect the visitors, which made shooting a little more difficult, so some of the shots you see in the Gallery would need to be post-processed to compensate for the glare and focus before printing.

Misjudging exposure. This shot looked properly exposed on the LCD after I tweaked the exposure a bit to -0.7EV, but on the computer it's clear that the background is still too bright and the shadow portions could be darker. It was easy to rescue in Photoshop, however.

I was mostly impressed with the Canon Rebel T1i's handling of the scenes. What threw me at times was trying to judge the exposure based on what I saw on the Canon T1i's LCD. Though the coating does cut the glare significantly, the blue cast can sometimes hide the overall contrast captured in an image. I had shots where the default exposure looked quite dim, often due to backlighting, so I made an exposure adjustment to compensate. The results on the LCD looked fine, but when I got them back to the computer, the ones that looked dark to me were actually properly exposed, and the ones I'd tweaked were over-exposed. (I should have believed the histograms.)

Another problem I ran into with the Canon T1i was not unexpected, but nonetheless a limitation for shooters like me. Whether shooting animals or people, I take many shots in rapid succession as my subject moves, in hopes of catching that perfect pose or expression. Not just holding down the shutter, mind you, but grabbing each shot as a new pose presents itself. I quickly ran into the Rebel T1i's buffer limitation when shooting in RAW + JPEG, and had to wait way too long for it to clear, even with a Class 6 SDHC card, as my subject often continued to present interesting poses I wasn't happy to miss.

Part of the problem is that SDHC isn't as fast as a fast CompactFlash card, but the bigger problem is just moving the Canon T1i's 15 megapixels of RAW data. Switching to Large Fine JPEG eliminated the problem, but I lost the post-processing flexibility that RAW gives me, which was a shame. Casual consumer snapshooters won't likely come up against this limitation, with the ability to hold up to nine RAW + JPEG images in the buffer, but anyone shooting models, kids, or animals for work will not enjoy this limitation.

Of course, put a consumer camera in the hands of a more aggressive shooter and he's likely to find the limits pretty quickly. But since I know that quite a few of my readers are similarly aggressive, I have to mention the boundaries I met with the Canon T1i. I also have to remember that more amateur shooters will be surprised by these limitations if I don't mention them, and hold me accountable for not educating them, which is precisely why I mentioned many of the potential pitfalls of the Rebel T1i's Movie mode. Like Live View, Movie mode in digital SLRs is an evolving feature, and the next model is likely to have a more advanced version.

So my advice with the Canon T1i's cutting-edge features like Live View and Movie mode is to learn to use them as they are, and don't expect too much. Know that though the Canon Rebel T1i has some digicam-like features, it's still a digital SLR, and it should be judged primarily on how it performs as such.

In that arena, I have some very good news. The Rebel T1i's images look as good as the Canon 50D's images, and in some cases better.

 

Canon T1i Image Quality

Overall, the Canon T1i's image quality is among the best on the market: That was our conclusion based on what we saw in the prototype unit, and it was confirmed by our testing of a full production sample as well.

Canon T1i vs Canon 50D at ISO 1,600

Canon Rebel T1i at ISO 1,600

Canon 50D at ISO 1,600
I've been doing this ISO 1,600 test for some time, so there's no reason to stop now. With either the 50D or Canon T1i, you can see that ISO 1,600 is a good safe place to run when shooting in low light. Default settings will yield good results that will take to unsharp masking quite well. It's clear that Canon has more fully transitioned into the Nikon way of thinking when it comes to noise suppression, however, as chroma noise is completely expunged in both images. The Canon T1i has slightly more sharpening as well, which accounts for the random grain in the shadow behind the bottle in the image at top. Slightly more sharpness and greater contrast shows in the Rebel T1i, just right for consumers. But the noise suppression's zeal really badly distorted the red leaves in what has turned out to be one of our ultimate low-contrast noise suppression torture tests. See below for how the Rebel T1i compares to the XSi.

 

Canon T1i vs XSi at ISO 1,600

Canon Rebel T1i at ISO 1,600

Canon Rebel XSi at ISO 1,600

It's clear from the top two images that the Canon T1i has made a few leaps in terms of detail and noise suppression, but the cost is also evident, again in the red leaf fabric. The image from the XSi is much closer to the true look of the fabric than you get from the Canon T1i at left. This result is partly due to the higher resolution, which means that smaller pixels are producing the overall image. With less light on each pixel, the processor has more noise to deal with, which results in a loss of detail in low-contrast areas. This is actually a worse performance than even the Nikon D300 turned in on this fabric. I should also note, however, that this quality degradation doesn't start until ISO 1,600. From ISO 800 on down this fabric swatch looks quite good.

 

Canon T1i vs Canon 50D, Nikon D700, Nikon D90, and Canon XSi

Canon T1i
ISO 100
ISO 3,200

Canon 50D
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Nikon D700
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Nikon D90
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Canon XSi
ISO 100
ISO 1,600

Detail comparison. This comparison pits the $900 Canon T1i against the $1,500 Canon 50D, the $2,700 Nikon D700, the $1,200 Nikon D90, and the $700-900 Canon XSi. This detail-only shot tells quite a bit about the Canon T1i's image quality. On top are ISO 100 images, below ISO 3,200 images, with the exception of the XSi whose ISO only goes to 1,600. Both the Canon T1i and 50D are pretty similar, with the T1i a little more contrasty. There are also sharpening artifacts, or halos around especially the ISO 100 images on all three Canon cameras. Still, of the three cameras, the Canon T1i seems to offer the greatest detail from a consumer perspective, and its images print very well, even at ISO 3,200. Once could easily argue that the $2,500, 12.1-megapixel Nikon D700 does quite well at 3,200, which is true, but the story really is that the far less expensive Canon T1i does so well with an APS-C sensor against this full-frame camera with larger pixels.

 

Analysis. So it's pretty clear that the Canon Rebel T1i's image quality is at least as good as the Canon 50D, delivering more detail than most of the 12-megapixel cameras on the market for less money. Noise suppression is a bigger factor, but you can also turn that noise reduction down or off completely, or shoot 14-bit RAW. (See below for conclusion.)

 

Canon T1i Basic Features

  • 15.5-megapixel, 22.3 x 14.9mm, 14-bit RGB Canon CMOS sensor delivering 4,768 x 3,174-pixel images. Effective pixel count is 15.1 megapixels with a 3:2 aspect ratio
  • DIGIC 4 processor
  • 14-bit analog-to-digital conversion
  • Kit lens: EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens
  • 1.6x focal length multiplier
  • 3-inch LCD with 920,000 dots (or 640 x 480)
  • Variable ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200, plus two optional high ISO modes: 6,400 and 12,800
  • 35-zone evaluative metering system
  • 3.4 frames per second
  • Adjustable exposure compensation from -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments in all exposure modes
  • Auto exposure bracketing (AEB) from -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments in all autoexposure modes
  • Shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to 30 seconds, and a Bulb setting for longer exposures
  • Electronic self-timer with a fixed duration of 10 or two seconds
  • Image storage on SD or SDHC memory cards

 

Canon T1i Special Features

  • Live View mode includes three focusing modes: Live, Live Face-detect, and Quick
  • Dust reduction and automatic sensor cleaning
  • HTP Highlight Tone Priority
  • ALO Automatic Lighting Optimizer
  • Creative Auto mode
  • Movie mode captures 1080p at 20 fps, 720p at 30 fps, and 640x480 at 30 fps
  • Mini-HDMI out port for connection to HD televisions
  • High ISO noise reduction
  • Peripheral illumination correction corrects for vignetting on a per-lens basis
  • Picture Style menu offers six presets plus three user-defined settings for contrast, saturation, sharpness, and tone
  • Continuous Shooting mode capturing as many as 170 images as fast as 3.4 frames per second (with shutter speeds of 1/500 second or faster)
  • TTL autofocus with nine focusing points, manually or automatically selectable; One-shot AF, Predictive AI Servo AF, AI Focus AF, and manual focus with AF assist strobe, depending on exposure mode selected; working range of EV -0.5 to 18 at ISO 100
  • Built-in E-TTL II retractable-type flash with red-eye reduction; guide number is 13/43 at ISO 100, m/ft, flash angle said to cover the field of a 17mm lens (27mm in 135 format); topside hot shoe for external flash connection of EX Speedlite flashes
  • E3 remote control socket and IR remote control window
  • Red-eye Reduction via pulse flash
  • Optional external hand grip/battery pack adds secondary shutter release and control wheel, as well as AE lock and focus point buttons for vertical-format shooting
  • NTSC/PAL selectable video out connectivity
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and DCF (Design Rule for Camera File System) compliant
  • PictBridge; Direct Print capability to selected Canon photo printers
  • USB 2.0 connectivity with TWAIN driver for PC and Adobe Photoshop plug-in for Macintosh

 

In the Box

The Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i Kit comes with the following items in the box:

  • Canon Rebel T1i 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-E5 battery pack and charger
  • Video cable
  • USB cable
  • Software CD
  • Instruction manuals and registration information

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Canon Rebel T1i Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Excellent 15.1 megapixel sensor with impressively low noise and superb detail
  • Live View mode works very well
  • Live View mode offers a choice between phase-detect, contrast-detect modes, plus Face detect mode
  • Zoom in five or ten times with Live View
  • Image-stabilized kit lens is excellent optically
  • HD Movie mode allows capture of up to 29 minutes of video
  • HDMI output for direct playback on HDTVs
  • Small size is great for travel and all-day carry
  • Dust removal technology largely eliminates sensor cleaning chores
  • 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD with a wide viewing angle for better image sharing and focus check
  • Expanded ISO offering raises options in low-light situations
  • Integrated status display conveys a lot of information
  • Fine steps in saturation adjustment control
  • Very high resolution
  • 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
  • Peripheral Illumination correction feature fixes vignetting problems
  • Selectable auto-rotation feature rotates on the camera or only in the computer
  • Fast autofocus
  • Shutter button design allows followup shots without refocusing
  • Good macro performance
  • Auto white balance handles most situations very well
  • Print quality is excellent, making sharp 13x19-inch prints
  • Great shot-to-shot, shutter lag, and cycle time numbers
  • Enhanced AE Bracketing feature
  • 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
  • Kit lens produces somewhat high barrel distortion at wide angle
  • Flash coverage is uneven, falling off in the corners
  • Battery capacity is reduced with significant use of Live View mode, the larger screen, and dust off system
  • Front lens barrel rotates on kit lens, making polarizer lens use difficult
  • Live View shutter lag is a little longer than with the optical viewfinder
  • No continuous autofocus in Movie mode
  • No manual control for exposure in Movie mode
  • Color is more saturated than XSi
  • Auto white balance leaves tungsten lighting too warm
  • High ISO noise suppression has trouble with low-contrast areas, especially in the red channel
  • Buffer seems to fill quickly when shooting in RAW mode
  • No AF Microadjustment feature
  • Shutter is noisy


Our experience with the Canon T1i was excellent, and shows that Canon is taking its digital SLR challengers quite seriously. Indeed, our test results show that the Canon T1i is one of the best values on the market, offering Canon 50D quality in a significantly less expensive package. Though the Canon T1i doesn't challenge the Nikon D90 on all fronts, it does take it on in the still resolution and movie mode department, and beats them in the price war, coming in $100 to $200 cheaper (depending on how soon and where you buy) in the body-only category.

More than ever, the Rebel T1i will serve as a consumer's first camera, or a pro's secondary body in a pinch. And again, if you can learn to shoot video snapshots of 10-20 seconds, remember to focus first, and learn how to cut your snapshots together with a good video editing program, you can use the Canon T1i's Movie mode to good effect (you might need to upgrade your computer, too, to handle the HD video).

The Canon Rebel T1i is well built, smartly designed, and easy to use. Its Live View modes offer more than previous Canon designs, and include face detection for better-exposed portraits. Its included 18-55mm IS lens performs well with the new camera, and the new sensor really impresses, with greater -- and cleaner -- detail than we've seen at this price point. Shooting at higher ISOs has never been safer, with ISO 1,600 looking more like ISO 400 from two years ago, and the astonishing ISO 12,800 producing a decent 5x7, here exceeding the abilities of the EOS 50D.

Enthusiasts will be pleased with most aspects of the Canon T1i, but there are a few items missing that are worth noting, including the lack of an AF microadjustment feature, a smaller buffer when shooting in RAW mode, and the slightly louder shutter, which should only bother those shooting in quiet settings. But beyond those items, the Canon Rebel T1i offers quite a lot, and it has an attractive, smart interface that we think most will find quite easy to learn and use. We've come to expect Canon's top Rebel to be quite good, but the Canon T1i really pulls out all the stops, serving up a great user experience and excellent image quality, making it an easy five-star Dave's Pick.

See our other tabs that go into greater detail about the Design, Operation, Optics, Exposure, Image Quality, and Performance of the Canon EOS Rebel T1i.

 

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Canon T1i

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