Canon T1i Review

 
Camera Reviews > Canon Cameras > Canon EOS i Full Review

Canon T1i Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good hue accuracy, reds through oranges oversaturated somewhat.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.
Saturation. The Canon T1i produces somewhat more saturated images than did the XSi before it. This is most noticeable in the reds through oranges, with most of the cooler-hued colors very close to technically accurate saturation levels. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Flesh tones shot with the Canon T1i appeared quite natural, with appropriate saturation levels and accurate color. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Canon T1i's hue accuracy is among the best on the market: Differences between its hue accuracy and other top SLR models amounts to hair-splitting; they're all very good. Hue is "what color" the color is.

Saturation Adjustment
The Canon T1i offers a total of nine saturation settings, four above and four below the default saturation. This covers a very wide range of saturation levels, about as wide a range as you're likely to find photographically useful, apart from special effects that are arguably better achieved in software. The fine steps between settings mean you can program the camera to just the level of saturation you prefer. Well done.

Saturation Adjustment Examples
-4 0 +4

The table above shows results with the default as well as the two extreme saturation settings. Click on any thumbnail above, then click again to see the full-sized image.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Auto and Incandescent settings both struggle somewhat with household incandescent lighting. Manual white balance produces almost completely neutral images.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV

Indoors, under incandescent lighting, the Canon T1i's Auto white balance setting really struggled to produce a decent-looking image. Unfortunately, this is quite common among cameras we've tested, but disappointing nonetheless, particularly in a premium-grade enthusiast SLR. The Canon T1i's Incandescent setting did a little better, but the resulting image was still a little warm for our tastes. (Some may feel that it successfully conveys the warmth of the original lighting, but we'd personally like a slightly more neutral treatment.) The Manual white balance option completely neutralized the very warm-hued lighting of this shot, resulting in an almost cool-looking image. The good news here is that the Canon T1i's very flexible white balance adjustment controls would let you tweak the color balance in (for instance) the Incandescent white balance option to exactly suit your personal preferences, without disturbing the operation of the other white balance options.

The Canon T1i required a positive exposure compensation of 0.3 EV for this shot, a fairly typical response to this scene among cameras we've tested. Color in the Manual white balance case is surprisingly accurate, given the strong warm cast of the set lighting. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

Outdoors, daylight
Color and saturation are right on, though a tendency towards slightly high contrast under harsh lighting. About average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance,
+0.3 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Canon T1i tended toward a cooler color balance, though overall color was generally excellent. The Canon T1i performed about average in terms of exposure, requiring the typical amount of positive compensation we're accustomed to seeing among digital cameras. The Rebel T1i's default contrast is a little high, producing some washed-out highlights and dark shadows under the deliberately harsh lighting of our "Sunlit" portrait test shown above left, though the camera's contrast and highlight tone priority settings do help tame the highlights quite a bit. See below for examples of this.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,900 ~ 2,000 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
2,000 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
1,900 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
2,000 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
Strong detail to
1,900 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW

Our laboratory resolution chart showed the Canon T1i's images with distinct line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height horizontally and 1,900 lines vertically. Extinction occurred at about 2,800 lines. We got about the same resolution from an Adobe Camera Raw processed .CR2 RAW file. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Good sharpness and loads of detail. Some detail loss to noise reduction processing even at low ISOs, but better than most in this regard.

With default sharpening settings, the
Canon T1i's JPEG files show only minor sharpening artifacts. With its 15 megapixel
resolution, this yields crisp-
looking prints to quite large sizes.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
the model's hair here.

Sharpness. The Canon T1i's 15-megapixel sensor captures loads of image detail. Only very minor edge-enhancement artifacts are visible around high-contrast edges in the shot of the house gable above, but we did still find the evidence of moderate over-sharpening in portions of our Still Life shot where a larger light/dark areas abut each other. This is a very interesting and generally favorable development: Canon seems to have improved their in-camera sharpening algorithms to provide the desired contrast boost in larger areas of already-strong contrast, but it's more restrained in areas of fine detail, so doesn't coarsen delicate elements like the twigs and pine needles against the sky in the image above. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows some detail loss due to noise suppression, but less than we're accustomed to seeing, and perhaps even less than the Canon 50D, which the Canon T1i's sensor is derived from. Very impressive. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Canon T1i produces fairly sharp in-camera JPEGs using the kit lens. As is almost always the case, a bit more detail can be obtained from carefully processing RAW files than can be seen in the in-camera JPEGs. Take a look below, to see what we mean:

In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above. Examples include in-camera Fine JPEG, RAW file processed through Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software, and RAW file processed through Adobe Camera Raw version 5.4, then sharpened in Photoshop using USM=300%, radius=0.3.

Not surprisingly, Canon's Digital Photo Professional (which comes bundled with the T1i), produced results very similar to the in-camera JPEG using the default settings. The Adobe Camera Raw conversion shows a bit more detail, but also shows more noise. You can however adjust noise reduction in ACR, Photoshop or use third-party software such as Neat Image, Noise Ninja or Noiseware for more sophisticated noise reduction, preferably before sharpening.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise and excellent detail at the lowest ISO settings, ISO 1,600 is very usable. Noise vs detail performance is essentially on-par with that of the Canon EOS-50D, except for ISO 12,800, where the T1i actually appears better.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1,600 ISO 3,200
 
 ISO 6,400 ISO 12,800

The Canon T1i's high-ISO performance seems very similar to that of the EOS 50D, which is no surprise, as the two cameras' sensors apparently are close to identical. We did find some difference at the very highest ISO setting, though, actually favoring the T1i.

The Canon T1i's images are very clean at ISOs 100 and 200. We start to see a very fine, tight "grain" pattern at ISO 400, but detail is still excellent, with no signs of chroma noise. The grain is slightly more evident at ISO 800, but detail remains strong. At ISO 1,600, we begin to see some minor detail loss as noise reduction blurs subtly contrasting detail, however results are still quite good. At ISO 3,200, noise grain becomes coarser and blurring stronger, resulting in a noticeable drop in detail. Noise and the effects of noise reduction really become a problem at ISO 6,400 and especially at ISO 12,800, although the Canon T1i's ISO 12,800 doesn't show the very bright noise pixels we saw in the 50D's shots. Overall, an excellent performance, particularly for a camera with a 15-megapixel APS-C size sensor. As always, see the Print Quality section below to learn what we recommend for maximum print sizes at each ISO setting.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
Very high resolution with strong overall detail, but slightly high default contrast. Excellent low-light performance, great exposure to the lowest limits of our test, and the autofocus worked that low, even without the AF-assist light.

Default +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

The Canon T1i did an OK job here with its default exposure settings, but did lose quite a bit of highlight detail at any setting that produced acceptable midtones. The default exposure holds good detail, but the shadows on the model's face are too dark. +0.3EV of exposure compensation gives good midtone values and more open shadows. +0.7EV had too many highlights are blown out. This shot is taken under our Daylight Simulator, duplicating the harsh contrast of mid-day sunshine. As such, it's a very tough test of a camera's ability to hold highlight detail. You'd never want to shoot like this if you could avoid it: At the very least, you'd want to use a fill flash to open the shadows, and then dial down the overall exposure a good bit. That isn't always possible, though, so this subject is a good test of how a camera would handle mid-day sunlight.

Highlight Tone Priority Examples
Off (default)
On
Highlight Retention
Shadow Detail, Noise

Highlight Tone Priority
Fortunately, The Canon T1i's Highlight Tone Priority (HTP) option did an excellent job of preserving highlight detail, as shown above. Both shots above were captured at the default exposure, the only difference being that HTP was enabled for the shot on the right. (Which necessarily increases the ISO to 200, part of how HTP works.) The result is evident even in the histograms and thumbnails above; the full-size images show very clearly the superior highlight preservation when HTP is enabled, while shadow detail is left relatively untouched. The right side of the Shadow Detail crops have had levels adjusted equally in Photoshop to reveal the increase noise in the HTP-On case. The increase in noise is because the ISO is boosted from 100 to 200. Overall noise is so low at ISO 200, though, that this is really a negligible trade-off for all but the most critical applications.

Contrast Adjustment Examples
-4 0 +4

The Canon T1i's contrast-adjustment control also does an excellent job with very difficult lighting like this. It offers a very broad range of control in usefully fine gradations, and does a good job of adjusting contrast without affecting color saturation in the process. (Something that not all cameras manage to do.) For those interested, here are some additional links showing this same shot taken with intermediate settings of Contrast -2 and Contrast +2.


Automatic Lighting Optimization Examples
Click to see T1IOUTB_ALO_LOW.JPG Click to see T1IOUTB_ALO_STD.JPG Click to see T1IOUTB_ALO_HI.JPG
Low Standard High
Click to see T1IOUTB_ALO_OFFJPG
Off

Automatic Lighting Optimization
Like the Canon 50D, the Canon Rebel T1i offers three levels of ALO, plus "Off" All four shots above were taken with same exposure settings. As you can see, ALO has the effect of shifting shadows and mid-tones in the histograms to the right, lightening the overall image without clipping too many additional highlights.


Face Detection
Off at 0 EV On at 0 EV

Face Detection
Just like most Point & Shoot cameras these days, the Canon T1i has the ability to detect faces in Live View mode, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, it really works, as the image with face detection enabled is better exposed for the face, even though both images were shot without any exposure compensation.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)


  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
100
Click to see T1ILL001003.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
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4 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
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16 sec
f2.8
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24.7 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL001007XNR.JPG
24.7 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see T1ILL002003.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
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2 sec
f2.8
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4 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
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12.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL002007XNR.JPG
12.3 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see T1ILL004003.JPG
0.5 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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2 sec
f2.8
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4 sec
f2.8
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6.2 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL004007XNR.JPG
6.2 sec
f2.8
ISO
800
Click to see T1ILL008003.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
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0.5 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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2 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL008007.JPG
3.1 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL008007XNR.JPG
3.1 sec
f2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see T1ILL016003.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
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1/4 sec
f2.8
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0.5 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL016007.JPG
1.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL016007XNR.JPG
1.5 sec
f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see T1ILL032003.JPG
1/16 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL032004.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL032005.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL032006.JPG
0.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL032007.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL032007XNR.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
ISO
6400
Click to see T1ILL064003.JPG
1/32 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL064004.JPG
1/16 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL064005.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL064006.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL064007.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL064007XNR.JPG
0.3 sec
f2.8
ISO
12800
Click to see T1ILL128003.JPG
1/64 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL128004.JPG
1/32 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL128005.JPG
1/16 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL128006.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL128007.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see T1ILL128007XNR.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8

Low light. The Canon T1i performed very well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle), even with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). As expected, noise increases as ISO goes up and light levels go down, but remains quite low up to ISO 1,600, though there are a few bright pixels at ISO 1,600 at the lowest light level. At ISO 3,200 and above, bright pixels appear more frequently, but there is very little of the horizontal banding that we saw from the EOS 50D at high ISOs. Color balance looked a bit warm with the Canon T1i's Auto white balance setting, resulting in a reddish cast at the lowest light level.

The Canon T1i's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject at less than the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted, and in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled. Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Canon T1i do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Great print quality, good color, sharp 13x19 inch prints from in-camera JPEGs very sharp ones from RAW files. Even 20x30 prints would be usable for wall display (especially those from RAW files), where they wouldn't be viewed closely.

The production-level Canon T1i confirmed the strongly favorable impression we developed from our testing of the prototype unit, and processing images from RAW files produced the expected increase in detail and acuity in the final output. Overall, the Canon T1i's images appear to be just slightly sharper than those from the EOS-50D, even though the two cameras use nearly identical sensors. The slightly improved resolution in the Canon T1i's images could result from different in-camera image processing (sharpening), a slightly less aggressive low-pass filter, or a combination of both. The difference isn't great, but it's discernible when closely examining areas of fine detail. Overall, the 50D and T1i show Canon as having noticeably stepped up their game in the area of image detail and acuity, as well as high-ISO noise handling.

We found that default JPEG images straight from the Canon T1i at minimum ISO made very crisp-looking prints at 13 x 19 inches, and felt that even 20 x 30 inch prints would be considered usable for wall display by most photographers. Prints at that size were soft when viewed closely, but people generally don't squint at 20 x 30s from a distance of a few inches: At a normal, arms-length viewing distance, 20 x 30 inch prints were plenty sharp-looking. When we converted images from RAW files and sharpened them carefully in Photoshop, the resulting prints held up quite well to even fairly close inspection.

At higher ISOs, the Canon T1i's images held together quite well, and looked pretty similar to what we saw from the 50D before it. While pretty messy-looking on-screen, even maximum-ISO (12,800) images made prints as large as 5 x 7 inches that would be quite usable for non-critical applications.

It's important to note, though, the effect of the Canon T1i's high-ISO noise processing on its images: At ISOs above 1,600, the Standard noise processing does an admirable job of limiting image noise, but at some cost to sharpness and the rendering of subtle image details, particularly in reds and other warm hues. Dropping to the Low setting for high-ISO noise reduction resulted in somewhat more noise in shadow areas, but also a considerable gain in sharpness and acuity, particularly for the problematic warm tones. The ultimate choice of either setting will depend a good bit on your personal preferences, and also on the subject matter you're shooting. We felt that the Standard setting produced a softer, more natural and filmlike feeling in the images, but images shot with the Low setting were considerably more crisp. Bottom line, we highly recommend that T1i owners experiment with the high-ISO NR settings on the camera, to see which best suits their personal preferences and typical subject matter: The differences are significant enough to warrant some time spent exploring the NR settings and their impact. (As always, we also encourage our readers to download samples from the huge library of unaltered straight-from-the-camera images we've posted, and output them on your own printer (for your personal, non-commercial evaluation only): As we've so often noted, the only way to evaluate print quality is by looking at prints, especially when it comes to high-ISO images.)

As usual for our SLR reviews, we printed a large number of images from the Canon T1i, covering a wide range of ISOs and print sizes. Looking at the results we felt that most photographers would be satisfied with 13 x 19 inch prints (technically, 13 x 19.5 inches without cropping) shot at ISOs as high as 1,600. Our test prints at that size were slightly soft, but still quite good looking when shot with the Standard noise reduction setting. With the Low setting, there was more noise in shadow areas, but the prints were noticeably sharper. At a print size of 11 x 14 inches (11 x 16.5 without cropping), the limit seemed to be about ISO 3,200, rising to 6,400 at 8 x 10 inches (8 x 12 uncropped). At these very high ISO levels, chroma noise became much more of an issue, particularly in shadow areas, and there's definitely a personal-preference trade-off to be made between chroma noise and acceptable print size. We had some difference of opinion in our own evaluations, with Shawn finding the chroma noise at 8 x 12 inches acceptable, but Dave feeling that 5 x 7 was a more appropriate limit for ISO 6,400 shots. (Both of us felt that the sharpness and acuity was surprisingly good at ISO 6,400 and 8 x 12 inch output size, though.) At ISO 12,800, 5 x 7 inch prints would be acceptable to many users for non-critical applications, although chroma noise was visible in shadow areas even at 4 x 6 inches.

Color-wise, the Canon T1i's output was very pleasing: Color was on the bright side (as most consumers prefer it), but still believable, and the T1i's excellent hue accuracy was quite apparent in the printed output. Those preferring less-saturated color can easily dial down the saturation via the Picture Style menu option, while still maintaining the cameras excellent tonality and hue accuracy.

All in all, the Canon T1i delivered excellent quality throughout our extensive test printing, providing exceptional detail rendering (especially in carefully processed RAW images), with very good color and noise characteristics. Year by year, camera manufacturers are raising the bar on image quality, and the T1i (together with its higher-priced sibling the EOS-50D) marks a new level of achievement for Canon at the APS-C sensor size.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that there's often surprisingly little correlation between image quality when viewed on-screen and that seen in printed output. This is particularly the case when it comes to the effect of image noise in high-ISO prints. Ultimately, there's no substitute for actually printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)

 

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