Canon T2i Review

 
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Canon T2i Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good saturation and excellent hue accuracy.

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 T2i produces images with saturation very similar to the T1i. Like the T1i (and most cameras), the Canon T2i pushes reds, oranges, blues, greens, dark browns and some purples a bit. The camera also undersaturates aqua a cyan a bit. The overall saturation of 111% (11% oversaturated) is quite typical for a consumer oriented SLR. 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 T2i appeared quite natural, with appropriate saturation levels and accurate color, though slightly on the cool side. When white-balance was adjusted to match the lighting, skin-tones were warmer, with a "healthy looking glow". 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 T2i's hue accuracy is very good, just a hair less accurate than the T1i, but still much better than average. There were the usual shifts in cyan toward blue, red toward orange, and orange toward green, but they are pretty minor. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) Excellent hue accuracy overall. Hue is "what color" the color is.

Saturation Adjustment
The Canon T2i 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. As it should, the Canon T2i's saturation adjustment affects only the saturation, leaving the contrast of the image more or less unaltered. (In some cameras, saturation tends to affect contrast, and vice versa.) 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 -2 0 +2 +4

The table above shows alternate settings including 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 with household incandescent lighting, though Manual white balance setting produced a much more neutral image. Average exposure compensation required.

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

Indoors, under incandescent lighting, the Canon T2i'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. The Canon T2i's Incandescent setting did a little better, but the resulting image was still too 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 was by far the most accurate. The Canon T2i required a positive exposure compensation of 0.3 EV for this shot, which is average among the cameras we've tested for this shot. (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 very good, though a tendency towards slightly cool color balance and slightly high contrast under harsh lighting. About average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

Outdoors, the Canon T2i tended toward a slightly cool color balance, as you can see by the skin tones in the above left shot, though overall color was generally excellent. The Canon T2i performed about average in terms of exposure, requiring the typical amount of positive compensation we're accustomed to seeing among digital cameras. The Canon T2i'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. The Far-field House shot (above right) was also a touch cool, though exposure was quite accurate, with very few blown highlights or lost shadows.

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

Resolution
Very high resolution, 2,000 ~ 2,100 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
2,100 lines horizontal
In-Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
2,000 lines vertical
In-Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
2,100 lines horizontal
ACR Converted RAW
Strong detail to
2,000 lines vertical
ACR Converted RAW

Our laboratory resolution chart showed the Canon T2i's images with sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,100 lines per picture height horizontally and 2,000 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at about 3,200 lines horizontally, and 3,100 lines vertically. We weren't able to do much better with Adobe Camera Raw converted .CR2 files. 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 with a sharp lens. Some detail loss to noise reduction processing even at low ISOs, but surprisingly good for an 18-megapixel subframe sensor.

With default sharpening settings, the
Canon T2i's JPEG files show
some minor sharpening artifacts.
With its 18-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 T2i's 18-megapixel sensor captures loads of image detail. Some minor edge-enhancement artifacts are visible around high-contrast edges, as shown in the crop above left. (The above crop of our Far-field House shot was taken with Canon's very sharp 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at f/8, as our 18-55mm kit lens was somewhat soft.) 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. Very impressive for an 18-megapixel APS-C sensor. (The crop above of the hair taken with our very sharp Sigma 70mm f/2.8 reference lens.) 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 mentioned above, the Canon T2i does an excellent job of capturing sharp, detailed JPEGs when coupled with a sharp lens, but as is usually the case, slightly more detail can be preserved by carefully processing its RAW files.

In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above, and clicking on the link will load the full resolution file. Examples include in-camera Fine JPEG, RAW file processed through Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software using default settings, another DPP processed RAW file with additional sharpening in DPP, and finally, a RAW file processed through Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) version 5.6, then sharpened in Photoshop.

For the Canon EOS T2i's images, I found best results with sharpening set to 5 in the DPP converted file (default sharpening was softer than the camera JPEG, but shows excellent detail), while the ACR converted file was sharpened using 300% unsharp masking with an 0.3 pixel radius.

Manufacturer software often doesn't find as much detail as does Adobe Camera RAW, but Canon's DPP does better than most. The image processed through ACR does however show a little more detail, as well as more noise. The Canon T2i is clearly a camera that carries a lot of data in its RAW files when coupled with a sharp lens.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise and excellent detail at the lowest ISO settings; ISO 1,600 is very usable for average print sizes. Noise vs detail performance very good for the resolution.

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 T2i's images are quite clean at ISOs 100 and 200, with just a bit luminance noise seen in the shadows. We start to see a very fine, tight "grain" pattern at ISO 400, but detail is hardly affected, with no signs of chroma noise. The grain is slightly more evident at ISO 800, but detail remains very strong despite some minor blurring due to noise reduction. At ISO 1,600 we begin to see some moderate detail loss as noise reduction blurs subtly contrasting detail, as well as touch of chroma noise in darker areas, but results are still quite good. At ISO 3,200 noise grain becomes coarser and the blurring stronger, resulting in a noticeable drop in detail. Noise and the effects of noise reduction really become apparent at ISO 6,400 and especially at ISO 12,800, with strong blurring, bright noise pixels and chroma blotching. Overall, an excellent performance, particularly for a camera with an 18-megapixel APS-C size sensor.

We're of course pixel-peeping to an extraordinary extent here, since 1:1 images on an LCD screen have little to do with how those same images will appear when printed. See the Print Quality section below for our evaluation of maximum print sizes at each ISO setting.

A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. If you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us about it; we already know it. :-) The focus target position will simply have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
Very high resolution with strong overall detail, but slightly high default contrast. Highlight Tone Priority and contrast adjustment options do a great job of dealing with tough lighting, though, and highlight and shadow detail are very good even without them. Very good low-light performance, though metering and autofocus struggled a bit at the lowest light levels.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

The Canon EOS T2i produced slightly high contrast with some washed-out highlights and deep shadows under the deliberately harsh lighting of the test above. However, highlight and shadow detail are actually pretty good. The model's face was a little dim at the +0.3 EV setting, so we preferred the image with +0.7 EV of exposure compensation, which resulted in some clipped highlights in the shirt and flowers, mostly in the blue and red channels, but not as much as we're used to seeing without some sort of dynamic range optimization setting (see below). Exposure compensation of +1.0 EV resulted in a too many clipped highlights for our tastes, though some shooters may prefer the later image for its brighter skin tones.

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. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)

Highlight Tone Priority Example
Off (default)
On
Highlight Retention
Shadow Detail, R.H.S. Brightened in Photoshop
(Levels control, highlight slider down to 50)

Highlight Tone Priority
The Canon T2i's Highlight Tone Priority (HTP) option did an excellent job of preserving highlight detail, as shown above. Both shots above were captured at the same 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 clearly show the superior highlight preservation when HTP is enabled, while shadow detail is left relatively untouched. The right side of the Shadow Detail crops above have had their histogram 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. Except in the very deepest shadows, though, overall noise is so low at ISO 200 that this is really a negligible trade-off for all but the most critical applications.

Contrast Adjustment Examples
-4 -2 0 +2 +4

The Canon T2i'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. (As noted earlier regarding saturation adjustment, something that not all cameras manage to do.)


Automatic Lighting Optimization Examples
Low Standard High
Off

Automatic Lighting Optimization
Like the T1i, the Canon T2i offers three selectable levels of ALO, plus Off. In fully automatic and Creative Auto exposure modes, ALO is automatically enabled. All four shots above were taken with the 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 T2i 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 work well, as the image with face detection enabled is much 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 T2ILL001003.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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12.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL001007.JPG
32 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL001007XNR.JPG
32 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see T2ILL002003.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL002004.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL002005.JPG
3.1 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL002006.JPG
6.2 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL002007.JPG
16 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL002007XNR.JPG
16 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see T2ILL004003.JPG
0.5 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL004006.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL004007.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL004007XNR.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
ISO
800
Click to see T2ILL008003.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL008004.JPG
0.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL008005.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL008006.JPG
1.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL008007.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL008007XNR.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see T2ILL016003.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL016004.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL016005.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL016006.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL016007.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL016007XNR.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see T2ILL032003.JPG
1/16 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL032004.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL032005.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL032006.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL032007.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL032007XNR.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
ISO
6400
Click to see T2ILL064003.JPG
1/32 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL064004.JPG
1/16 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL064005.JPG
1/10 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL064006.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL064007.JPG
0.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL064007XNR.JPG
0.5 sec
f2.8
ISO
12800
Click to see T2ILL128003.JPG
1/64 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL128004.JPG
1/32 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL128005.JPG
1/21 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL128006.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL128007.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
Click to see T2ILL128007XNR.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8

Low light. The Canon T2i performed reasonably 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). The camera's exposure metering system worked better than average at lower light levels, so Aperture priority mode was used, though exposure compensation of +0.3 EV was required down to 1/8 fc, and +0.7 EV for lowest light level. As expected, noise increases as ISO goes up and light levels go down, but noise remains surprisingly low up to ISO 1,600. At ISO 3,200 and above, noise is higher and a few bright pixels appear, but there is very little horizontal banding that we could detect. Color balance was pretty neutral with Canon T2i's Auto white balance setting (just a touch cool), even at high ISOs and lower light levels.

The Canon T2i's phase-detect autofocus system was able to focus on the subject to the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, and in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled. That's not quite as good as many SLRs. (A lot of SLRs can focus unassisted to less than 1/16 foot-candle.) In Live View mode, the T2i's contrast-detect autofocus was able to focus down just below the 1/4 foot-candle level without assistance. That's fairly typical for contrast-detection AF.

As always, 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 T2i do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Sharp 20x30-inch images from ISO 100 to 400, ISO 800 shots make slightly softer 20x30s. ISO 1,600 shots are good at 16x24, ISO 6,400 shots are usable at 8x10, and ISO 12,800 images print well at 5x7.

Printed results from the 18-megapixel Canon T2i are impressive, better than we expected from the high pixel density found on this relatively new sensor. Bear in mind that all test shots were printed from JPEG images taken straight from the camera, with the T2i's default noise reduction settings. You can get even more detail from the Canon T2i's RAW images when processed through Adobe Camera RAW or the included Digital Photo Professional software.

Starting at ISO 100, we were able to print excellent, very sharp 20x30-inch images. We're sure we could have gone larger, but that's the largest we'll print for the near future. Images were extremely clean and very sharp.

ISO 200 shots also looked great printed at 20x30, displaying essentially no difference from the ISO 100 image.

ISO 400 prints look astonishingly good, still at 20x30 inches, really very little different from the others. There's the slightest softening of detail in very fine subjects, but you have to squint to see it.

ISO 800 prints at 20x30 inches are only the slightest bit softer in places than ISO 400, a truly remarkable performance.

ISO 1,600 finally starts to show some trouble at 20x30, but only in our troublesome red swatch, which stumbles many a noise suppression system. Most other detail is pretty good, with only a slight hint of anti-noise processing here and there. This also marks the first hints of luminance noise in the shadows. Color also gets a slight bit dimmer, down from the relatively high default saturation in the Canon T2i's images. The red swatch remains a problem at 16x24, but gets less noticeable printed at 13x19 inches.

ISO 3,200 shots are usable at 13x19 inches, but really look better at 11x14 inches. The red swatch, for reference, gets a little worse at 3,200, but that usually happens at much lower ISOs.

ISO 6,400 images are usable if a bit grainy in the shadows at 11x14 inches. The red swatch has gone quite blurry at this point, not likely to be usable at any size. Reducing to an 8x10-inch size brings everything else into usability.

ISO 12,800 shots look quite good at 5x7 inches.

Overall, it's a mind-blowing performance from the Canon T2i. This is one fine image maker.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for 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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