Technology is a great thing. Whether deflation is here is a subject of debate among economists. If properly defined as a contraction of money supply and credit, then it is. But regardless of this, digital cameras definitely provide ever increasing amounts of features and performance for the constant unit of money. Technological deflation has been happening every since technology existed.
Let's turn our attention to the new digital SLR camera from Canon, the 15-Megapixel Canon EOS 500D Rebel T1i. An HD-recording, 15-Megapixel digital SLR with an optically-stabilized lens for less than $900? Deflation or not, this is pretty sweet.
What is Canon EOS 500D Rebel T1i Kit?
The Canon 500D Rebel T1i is a digital SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera with 15.1-Megapixel resolution, HD video recording and a host of other cool features. This model supports interchangeable lenses of Canon EOS series. The kit also includes the 18-55 mm EF-S f/3.5-5.6 IS image-stabilized lens, which is 29-88 mm equivalent (the APS-C Size CMOS sensor warrants 1.6x conversion factor).
The camera has a 3:2 aspect ratio APS-C size CMOS sensor, which is perfect for 6x4 prints and very close to other formats people usually choose for printing. The sensor in the new model is self-cleaning and uses ultrasonic vibrations to remove dust from its low-pass filter (EOS Integrated Cleaning System).
The camera stores the images on inexpensive SD or SDHC memory cards and is powered by a rechargeable proprietary battery pack (LP-E5, same battery as the previous model). The T1i features fast Digic 4 processor and in addition to JPEG can record images in RAW format.
The camera has a built-in flash as well as the hot shoe for external flashes. It features automatic modes as well as manual ones. The camera has a large 3-inch high-resolution LCD screen with 920,000 pixels and an optical through-the-lens viewfinder. The camera uses a CMOS sensor instead of a CCD that most compact consumer-level cameras use.
The camera accepts EF and EF-S lenses. The included kit lens features manual and automatic focusing and a solid construction as well as optical image stabilization. The camera supports ISO 100-12,800 (and the latter is not a typo) and features USB 2.0 connectivity.
Improvements Over Predecessors
The improvements over its predecessors include higher resolution, higher resolution of the LCD screen, faster processing with new Digic 4, movie mode of up to 720p of 30 fps or 1080p at 20 fps.
I did not bother even opening the manual, but was able to attach the lens to the camera, charge and insert the battery and the SD memory card that I have and was ready to shoot.
If you plan to use the camera's advanced features or haven't used a digital SLR before. Make sure there is no excessive dust present where you are attaching the lens, because the dust is a big problem and a headache if it gets on the sensor (CMOS), even though the camera has dust-reduction technology.
In the Box
The camera comes with its lens (if purchased as a kit), battery pack, battery charger, strap, video and USB cables, manuals and software.
The camera and the lens are very well constructed. The camera is pretty light for a digital SLR and relatively compact. The lens has the zooming and focusing rings that require just enough effort to rotate to have a solid feel.
The memory compartment lid is solid as is the door of the battery compartment. The camera came pre-set to its automatic mode and I was able to take pretty good pictures in that mode by switching the lens into automatic focus mode (the switch is on the lens itself) and just pointing and shooting. The camera even pops its flash up when there is not enough light. This mode is obviously designed to let even people who are not familiar with photography take good pictures. Point and shoot is something this camera does well without any knowledge.
If you have used a compact digital camera before, you might be surprised that you cannot use the LCD when composing the shot, at least in its regular mode. The screen stays blank until you take the picture. Aside from this kind of review, the screen is also used for menus and control functions. You use the viewfinder to compose the shot, confirm the focus in manual focus mode or the focus points in the automatic focus mode. The IR sensor turns the LCD screen off when you are composing the shot so that the light from it does not interfere with you looking into the viewfinder, especially at night.
The Live View mode lets you use the camera similar to a compact digicam: view the subject and compose the shot using the LCD screen. This mode is accessed by pressing Print/Share button and is also used when using the camera to record videos.
The camera uses its 3-inch LCD screen for displaying its shooting parameters (basic shooting information like shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation). The shooting parameters are also shown in the viewfinder, under the frame. The camera lets you adjust the shooting parameters (aperture on aperture priority mode or shutter speed in the shutter priority mode) by rotating the thumb-wheel on the top of the hand grip. Overall, the controls are mostly carried over from the previous model, which is a good thing since the ergonomics are excellent and time-tested.
Ergonomics and Ease of Use
The camera is convenient to hold. The handgrip has good surface texture and configuration and the lens lends itself to being held by your left hand, SLR-style (duh). The viewfinder is slightly dim with the supplied lens (the lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at wide angle or f/5.6 at telephoto) but adequate for most situations.
As expected, the major controls are within easy reach. As with any SLR camera, you have to remember that you zoom using the ring around the lens and manually focus (should you decide to forgo autofocus) by rotating the outer barrel of the lens as well. No button operation a-la compact digicam.
The camera shows you where it focused in the automatic mode by briefly illuminating the selected focus points within the viewfinder, which is convenient. The tripod mount is located well and the camera is stable when mounted on a tripod.
The menu system is easy to use and some functions are called directly by a push of a designated button (e.g. White Balance).
The kit lens has an outer barrel that rotates when focusing, which may make using a polarizer difficult, but not impossible. The zooming ring has clearly marked focal lengths, but the focusing ring has no distance markings. It is difficult to expect a non-rotating barrel on a cheap kit lens though and pre-focusing, then adjusting the polarizing filter works well.
The camera lets you adjust a wide range of parameters. The resolution goes up to 15 MP. There are also different modes of RAW shooting: RAW and RAW JPEG. The 14-bit RAW files that I got were huge! But they have a lot of information comparing to 8-bit JPEGs.
You can also adjust the ISO (100-12,800), white balance, sharpness, contrast and other shooting parameters using the menus. The menus are quite easy to use, appear fast and look good.
The camera powers on or off instantaneously, but the sensor cleaning takes time. The focusing is very fast at under a second, even in the dim environments (the camera has an autofocus-assist light.
The shutter lag is virtually absent when pre-focused or when using the camera's manual focus. The camera can take pictures at about 3-4 frames per second. In RAW mode it does it for 9 consecutive frames, then slows down to 1-2 seconds per shot. In JPEG mode, takes pictures at 3.5 fps.
I mostly used the camera in its RAW mode, adjusting white balance, contrast and other parameters in Adobe Photoshop. But the JPEG pictures were also very pleasing in color, had good white balance and color saturation. All images had very low noise levels, excellent detail level and dynamic range.
The kit lens produces generally sharp results with very slightly soft corners at full wide angle and full telephoto ends. There is very little purple fringing (chromatic aberrations) at wide angle, but nothing visible at telephoto. The lens makes corners softer at widest aperture settings, but behaves better stopped down, in the middle of its aperture range.
The colors were pleasing and WB worked well in full auto mode. The noise levels are very low. There is no noise visible at ISO 100-800. At ISO 1,600, there is some noise, but it has fairly fine pattern. And there is progressively more noise at higher ISO settings, but not as much as what consumer-level compact digital cameras produce at ISO 400 (except perhaps for Fuji SuperCCD cameras, now defunct).
The lens's optical image stabilization works well and lets you shoot at about 2 stops slower than normal. Result: sharper photos in low light and/or at telephoto.
The camera produces 15-Megapixel images that can be printed sharp as large as 16x20 at pretty much any ISO up to 800 and higher ISO photos will look great at smaller sizes. Heavy cropping with smaller-size prints is an option as well.
The battery that comes with the camera should be able to produce up to 500 shots. But if you use Live View and/or flash a lot, the number of photos will be lower. I took about 140 photos with no signs of battery depletion.
About the Kit Lens
The supplied image-stabilized lent is solidly built and works well enough for an inexpensive kit lens. For general photography it will be sufficient. But if you are going to crop extensively and print resultant crops rather large, you might need a better lens (e.g. prime lens or a more expensive zoom).
The IS (image stabilization) works well, lets you shoot at about 2 stops slower shutter speed and results in sharper photos in dim light or at telephoto when shooting handheld.
The camera records HD videos in either 720p at 30 fps or 1080p at 20 fps. There is even an HDMI out.
Pros: Excellent-looking photos, build quality, compact and light for SLR, resolution, HD movie mode, IS lens
Cons: Price, 1080p at only 20 fps
I am very pleased with the new Canon Rebel T1i (a.k.a. EOS 500D) and its IS kit lens. Not only the camera and the lens are solidly built and feature-rich, they perform very well too. The excellent image quality, high resolution, low noise levels and great battery life make it an excellent choice. I highly recommend it.