Canon T5i Field Test

by Mike Tomkins | Posted: 09/03/2013

Some reviewers have slammed the Canon T5i simply for not being different enough from the T4i, but that does a camera with pretty good handling and image quality a grave injustice, in my opinion.

Dissecting the controversy. As should be clear by now, the Canon T5i is very similar to its predecessor, the T4i. I didn't get to spend much time with that camera, though, so in that respect the T5i is actually new to me. (Our reviewer at the time liked the T4i though, and that gelled with my own limited experience with the model.)

Since the T5i was announced, I've heard more than a few complaints about the fact that it's a very minimal upgrade over its predecessor. I've also seen it slammed in reviews elsewhere around the web, for much the same reason. While I can understand the frustration from those who hoped for a big step forward, I think it's a bit of a storm in a teacup, and it does the T5i -- and readers -- a disservice to say it's not good simply because it's not a major update.

Yes, very little has changed in the new camera, but there's a reason for that: the T5i seems to have been created largely as a way to dissociate the model from the well-documented handgrip problems faced by the T4i. It's understandable that Canon would wish to distance itself from the problem, and important to note that the company moved quickly to fix the problem for T4i owners, for which it deserves kudos. At the same time the company had an opportunity to bundle a lens more appropriate to its target market, which it happily took.

New doesn't have to mean different. Seen in that light, the T5i makes more sense. It is, in essence, more of a new name for an existing model, rather than a new camera. To me, the angst over the minimal upgrade isn't well-founded: T4i owners lost little of significance in the process, and the T5i is no better or worse for potential Canon customers than would the T4i have been, had it remained in the lineup for longer. What it's called is of little importance, and I see no reason to slate the camera just because it's not radically changed.

I had quite a bit of fun shooting with the Canon T5i, and its articulated LCD made interesting framing -- such as this low-to-the-ground car shot -- very easy indeed.

Canon typically retains SLR cameras in its lineup for longer than a year anyway, simply moving them down towards entry-level pricing as they get older. The company has effectively done that with the T5i, shipping it at US$100 below pricing for the T4i at launch. (And here, I'd note that it's not really fair to compare the T5i's street price against the closeout pricing for the T4i. The earlier camera's price was simply dropped by retailers looking to clear their shelves for the newer model.)

Images from the T5i showed lots of fine detail, and pretty realistic color that rendered scenes much as I'd remembered them.

What changes there are between the T4i and the newer T5i exist either in firmware, or in the product bundle, and they're very minor. I would like to see Canon provide the firmware changes -- which simply provide the ability to preview the effect of filters on the live view stream -- to T4i owners as well, though, as a small gesture that would make up for the early retirement of their model.

T5i impressions. But enough of my thoughts on the reasoning behind the T5i's existence, how did it handle?

The answer, not surprisingly, is very much like our T4i. The ergonomics are much as I've come to expect from Canon's Rebel series. The camera body is fairly comfortable in-hand, although the grip is a little shallower than I'd like. It's clearly of plastic construction, but doesn't feel flimsy. There's not even a hint of panel flex or creak to be found, and the result is that it feels like a high-quality device, plastic or not.

Controls. Of course, I'd prefer a twin-dial control system, but a single-dial system is more typical at this price point. (Only Pentax bucks the trend with twin dials in a similarly-priced SLR.) Controls are well-placed, and have a firm-enough detent to prevent accidental changes. The Movie mode being accessed from the Power lever is a nice touch that makes it very painless to quickly shoot a movie.

Articulated LCD. Perhaps my favorite feature of the design is the side-swiveling LCD monitor. It's great for shooting from difficult angles, such as overhead to clear a crowd, from the waist so as not to tip off your subject, or low to the ground for an interesting macro shot. These tricky angles are a much more satisfying experience than with a fixed-screen SLR, and it's a lot easier to get accurate framing. (With my own camera, shooting overhead especially is a matter of point-and-pray.)

A shot like this backstage image, with the camera held as high above my head as I could reach, would've been near-impossible without the articulated LCD. By turning it to face downwards though, I could easily get my horizon level, and place my subjects exactly where I wanted them.

And honestly, the articulation mechanism feels just as solid as the T5i body. It doesn't feel like a weak point, which would be my main concern, and the only reason I'd favor a fixed panel.

If anything, the T5i feels more rugged than does a fixed LCD, because you can rotate it to face inwards, preventing the screen from being scratched or smudged when not in use.

Touch interface. I'm a big fan of the touch-screen interface on the Canon T5i. For one thing, it makes it very quick and easy to select a specific subject for focus when in live view mode. It's also great for menu control -- and not just in the Quick menu. I often found it quicker to make settings adjustments in the main menu system by touch than with the camera controls, as well. (It's surprisingly accurate -- I seldom hit the wrong menu item.)

The menus are fairly well thought-out, and intelligent hints are shown that explain the main Quick menu functions, or tell you why certain features are greyed-out (and what must be done to access the feature.) It makes for a very approachable camera, and one that's well-suited to beginners.

Screen visibility. The screen is fairly visible outdoors with the brightness set to its maximum, although color and contrast suffer somewhat. (But better that, than a monitor you can't see.) It's fairly glossy, though, and that meant I sometimes had to shield it with my hand to be able to make out what was on the screen. On the plus side, it is amazingly resistant to fingerprints. In fact, it's one of the best I've seen in this respect. Even when intentionally trying to smudge it, there was reasonably little ill effect. It matches up to the best smartphones I own, in this respect. (And any smudges I did make were removed very easily with a wipe of a lens cloth.)

Even with the sun at my back, the monitor remained visible with the brightness turned up. (And impressively smudge-free, in spite of the touch screen, too.) That was good news for this shot, because with a tall wall in front of me, I had no choice but to hold the camera high above my head.

Preview your filters. As I mentioned, the main firmware change in the Canon T5i is the ability to preview Creative Filters in live view mode. I must admit, I'm not typically the kind of photographer who uses in-camera filter effects very much. I prefer to shoot the scene as-is, then fiddle around in Lightroom, Photoshop, or some other app to tune the effects to my heart's content, safe in the knowledge that I can always roll back to the original.

With that said, I certainly understand the attraction of being able to tweak your image immediately that it's captured, if you're planning on printing or sharing straight away. Hence, I did give the pre-capture Creative Filters a spin, and I definitely appreciated the ability to preview their effect. Frankly, without that ability, I'd see little point in using pre-capture filters; I could always apply them later, after all. But if you can see it at capture time, you can take the filter into account when adjusting your composition. That's valuable, and it's a very positive change if you are the type to use in-camera filtering.

Unfiltered image
Grainy B/W
Soft Focus
Fish-eye Effect
Art Bold Effect
Water Painting Effect
Toy Camera Effect
Miniature Effect

Underused live-view. However, much as I liked the ability to adjust the monitor for viewing from any angle, and the opportunity to play with filters in live view mode, honestly I found myself using live view rather less than I expected. I'm a bit of a traditionalist who still loves his optical viewfinder, but with many mirrorless cameras crossing my desk -- all of which use live view, be it through a viewfinder or on the LCD -- I've rather grown accustomed to shooting at arm's length, in spite of myself.

But that's in part because many recent mirrorless cameras have leveled the playing field in terms of autofocus speed versus affordable SLRs. That's not true of the Canon T5i, sadly. Live View autofocus -- despite Canon's Hybrid CMOS AF system -- is still much slower than is focusing using the dedicated phase detection sensor. How much slower? Well, our lab testing says it all, really: It's actually faster for the Canon T5i to drop its mirror (interrupting the live view feed in the process), focus with the dedicated sensor, then raise the mirror again and resume the live view feed before capturing your shot than it is to use Hybrid CMOS AF.

For static subjects like this, live view autofocus was just fine, and its more accurate framing versus the optical viewfinder better let me get the shot I wanted. Throw in a moving subject, though, and it just wasn't fast enough. Even with static subjects, it occasionally indicated a focus lock when far from it.

Hybrid isn't always better. In the field, I found that Hybrid CMOS AF simply wasn't useful unless my subject was relatively static. It invariably drove the lens well past the point of focus, then racked it back again, passed focus for a second time, and then finally did a quick "bobble" before settling -- and that's even for subjects at the center of the frame. More than a few times, it repeatedly locked focus in completely the wrong position, with my subject visibly and heavily blurred on the LCD monitor, even without any zoom.

And it's not that it locked on the wrong subject -- although it sometimes did this too -- more than once it indicated a focus lock when nothing in the entire frame was anywhere near to being focused. And this wasn't limited to terribly dark conditions, either: I noticed it happening in the daytime, too. Near sunset, sure, but still with a reasonable amount of light.

The issues with contrast detection autofocus speed -- and the fact that dropping the mirror to use phase-detect autofocus makes it tricky to retain framing -- meant that I used live view when I had to, rather than when I wanted to. If there wasn't another option, I'd use live view. If I could work around it for a given shot, I'd stand on tippy-tow or contort myself, and shoot through the viewfinder instead.

I probably wouldn't have had so much concern about it, were it not branded as Hybrid CMOS AF, and listed as a selling point. My concern is more that I didn't see a significant improvement in speed or accuracy over the older contrast-detect system of the T3i. Were it a contrast-detect only system, I wouldn't be surprised by the performance and accuracy issues I found. It surprises me, though, that a camera with on-sensor phase-detect pixels will routinely run well past the point of focus before returning.

Shoot through the viewfinder. It's only really an issue for live view shooting, though. Restrain yourself to standard shooting, let the camera choose the focus point, and phase-detect autofocus is very fast for a consumer-level camera. I also found it reliable.

Pleasing performance. And likewise, burst shooting performance isn't bad for a consumer camera. Certainly enough for the typical casual photographer or enthusiastic amateur. If you're shooting sports, you'll probably want to look elsewhere due to the limited burst depth, but for typical family-and-pets shooting it'll be plenty, especially if you routinely shoot JPEG-only.

I don't; I've become a raw-only shooter, and when reviewing a camera will always shoot raw+JPEG. With that combination, the burst depth is very shallow indeed, unfortunately. Further increasing the challenge for the camera, I also shoot with bracketed exposures for our galleries. On the plus side, buffer clearing times were good, and so although I did hit the buffer depth limit occasionally -- a single set of bracketed exposures in raw+JPEG being enough to fill the buffer -- the camera was always ready for another burst of shots within a few seconds. I didn't feel like I was having to wait an unreasonable length of time, by any means, even if I'd liked to have seen a larger buffer.

Just how fast is the Canon T5i? Find out by clicking here to see our full battery
of rigorous, objective speed and operation tests conducted in the IR Lab.

Bye bye, bracketing. One minor frustration to be aware of, although for a consumer-oriented camera it does somewhat make sense: Every time the Canon T5i is powered off, it will disable exposure bracketing. If you routinely bracket shots as I do, that means you'll need to reenable the function every time you power the camera on, and you'll likely find yourself just leaving the camera powered on at all times. Of course, the behavior might be desirable from a consumer point of view, avoiding accidentally over- or under-exposed shots. My problem is that there's no way to override it, if you know what you're doing.

Not the full picture. Another thing that I found slightly unusual is that the in-camera HDR and Handheld Night Scene modes both induce a focal-length crop, as you can see with the HDR sample in the gallery. I can only presume that this is to give some leeway for correcting camera motion caused by shooting handheld. If so, though, I'd rather Canon handle this in the manner taken by some competitors, simply retaining the original image size, and allowing a lesser dynamic range or higher noise levels in areas not covered by all shots in the burst.

The HDR and Handheld Night Scene modes both crop your images, making wide-angle photography more challenging. This HDR shot was captured immediately after the Creative Filter shots in the table above, from the same position, and with the same focal length, but the framing is quite a bit tighter.

The reason I prefer this approach is that I find my HDR shots in particularly are typically taken at wide angle, and so I dislike the function encroaching on my wide angle possibilities. Of course, there's nothing to stop me manually shooting and merging my own HDR shot, so it's only a minor quibble.

The new kit lens is above average for its ilk, although it does show some barrel distortion -- as you can see here -- along with moderately high chromatic aberration if left uncorrected.

Attractive images. And it's pretty easy to overlook, given the Canon T5i's solid build, affordable price tag, and most of all its image quality. Images were attractive, with good color and great sharpness. While noise levels and dynamic range weren't the best I've seen, they were certainly reasonable for a consumer camera. And I found exposure metering to be fairly accurate, for the most part. The shots where I needed to use exposure compensation were typically those where I'd expect to do so with almost any camera.

You can view the IR Lab's in-depth Canon T5i image quality test results by clicking here,
but be sure to read further on for side-by-side comparisons against the T5i's top competitors.

Good kit lens. The new 18-55mm STM kit lens is also pretty good, by kit lens standards. It's very quiet, focuses smoothly, and yields pretty good image quality. And the lens-based image stabilization does a good job of helping get the shot in low-light conditions. It does show some barrel distortion at wide angle, but it's pretty easily fixed in apps like Lightroom, Photoshop, or DxO Optics Pro once you're back in the digital darkroom.

Want to learn more about the Canon T5i's EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens?
Click here to see our optical test results.

Good video, but focus manually. Video quality, too, was pretty good in my opinion, and the feature set is pretty generous for a camera aimed at consumer use, with options like a selection of frame rates, manual exposure control, external microphone connectivity, and fine-grained audio levels control. Just as for live view mode, though, autofocus is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's good that it's available, and the new kit lens makes it essentially silent. On the other, it's rather slow and has a tendency to hunt, and in that respect doesn't match up to what's available from many other compact system cameras and SLRs these days. And at the highest resolution, you don't have access to the highest 50/60p frame rates available for 720p video. (You do have a film-like 24p option, however.)

The Canon T5i has a fairly rich video feature set, including support for manual exposure, an external microphone, audio levels control, and full-time or on-demand autofocus. It also offers a choice of three frame rates at full resolution, or two at lower resolutions. Video quality is pretty good, with lots of fine detail recorded. Autofocus performance is quite modest, however, and there's a tendency to hunt despite the Hybrid CMOS AF system, which includes phase detection.
YouTube clips have been recompressed by Google; for original video quality, click to download originals of either the static video or panning video.

Better than you've been led to believe. All things considered, though, I don't believe the Canon T5i deserves the bad rap it's gotten due to its minimal upgrade. Are there some quibbles? Yes, predominantly to do with its live view autofocus performance. At the end of the day, though, it's a pretty decent consumer-grade SLR at an attractive price, and one I rather enjoyed shooting with.

 



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