Canon SL1 Review Conclusion

Pro: Cons:
  • Smallest and lightest DSLR we've ever reviewed
  • Delivers very good image quality, almost exactly the same as the Canon T4i/T5i, but in a tiny package
  • Very accomplished at shooting videos, able to record Full HD 1080p video at 30fps and provide good image stabilization and decent autofocus
  • Better-than-average kit lens that's a great value (just a US$100 premium over the body-only price)
  • 3-inch touchscreen LCD with excellent 1,040K dots of resolution
  • Improved Hybrid CMOS II AF for both Live View still shooting and Movie recording uses 80% of the width and height of LCD display, for total coverage of 64%, a lot larger than the hybrid AF area on the Canon T4i/T5i
  • Generally good autofocus speeds
  • Nice macro performance (using kit lens)
  • Highlight Tone Priority and Auto Lighting Optimization help in high contrast scenes
  • Fast pre-focused shutter lag for its class
  • Very good shot-to-shot times
  • Ample buffer depths, though RAW+JPEG drops to four frames before slowing
  • External mic jack
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • Better-than average flash performance, both in recycling and range
  • Excellent hue accuracy
  • Lots of special setting modes and creative filters, including Handheld Night Scene, HDR Backlight control and more
  • Produces good prints up to 24 x 36 inches at ISO 100/200
  • Despite its reduced size, body not as small as most compact system cameras because it still has to accommodate the DSLR mirror
  • LCD is not articulating (like it is on the T4i/T5i)
  • Dynamic range and high ISO performance not as good as some competing models
  • Built-in microphone is monaural (the T4i has stereo microphones)
  • High chromatic aberration at wide angle from kit lens (but optional CA correction works well)
  • Higher than average barrel distortion at wide angle
  • Auto and Incandescent very warm in tungsten lighting
  • Autofocus can sometimes struggle in low light
  • Poor battery life

In many ways, the Canon SL1 provides the best of both worlds, pairing the compact, lightweight body of a mirrorless camera and the performance and image quality of a DSLR. You could almost call it a miniaturized version of Canon's Rebel T4i/T5i DSLRs. And that's a good thing; both standard-size interchangeable lens cameras are solid, full-featured consumer models. It's somewhat amazing that Canon can pack so much DSLR into a tiny body.

However, the SL1 does have one important advantage over its bigger siblings -- its new Hybrid CMOS II AF system for shooting in Live View and Movie modes. The previous version of the technology proved to be fairly sluggish in the T4i, but we were relatively impressed with the improved AF speed of Rebel SL1. What's more, the Hybrid CMOS II AF of the SL1 uses a whopping 80% of both the width and height of the LCD monitor, offering a lot more framing and shooting flexibility than the T4i/T5i.

The image quality of the Canon SL1 is almost identical to that of the T4i/T5i; if you look at the comparison crops against the T5i (the replacement for the T4i that was introduced at the same time as the SL1), it's outright uncanny. Photos taken with the SL1 at low ISOs in particular are excellent, but there is noticeable drop-off as ISO rises above 1600 -- the Canon Rebels could still stand some IQ and processing improvements to make high-ISO results more competitive. The SL1 also doesn't exhibit the dynamic range we've seen recently from other consumer DSLRs in its class.

One last nitpick with the SL1: Though its by far the smallest and lightest DSLR we've ever reviewed, it's still bulkier than most mirrorless compact system cameras. That's certainly not a deal-breaker, unless you're a photographer looking for the ultimate in ILC portability.

Add in the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens -- which is relatively sharp and very smooth and silent when recording movies -- and some serious video recording skills, and the Canon SL1 is much more than a cute, tiny Rebel. It's a camera that needs to be taken seriously, and should appeal to a wide range of photographers, beginners and enthusiasts, who want a small body but the benefits of a DSLR. It's a bona fide Dave's Pick.

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