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DCRP Review: Canon Digital Rebel XT  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 16, 2005
Last Updated: December 29, 2011

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Without a doubt, the Canon Digital Rebel (aka EOS-300D) was one of the biggest advancements in consumer digital photography. For the first time, regular consumers could own a digital SLR for under $1000. The Rebel launched the consumer D-SLR revolution which now has many other camera manufacturers in the mix. Canon didn't just rest on their laurels, though. In early 2005 they launched a new Rebel -- the Digital Rebel XT (aka EOS-350D) -- which adds a higher resolution sensor, more features and better performance, all in a more compact body. Oh, and for the same price, too.

The chart below compares the two Rebel models plus the EOS-20D, the natural "step up" camera in the family:

Feature Digital Rebel Digital Rebel XT EOS-20D
Street price, body only
(at time of posting)
$755 $896 $1391
Resolution 6.3 MP 8.0 MP 8.2 MP
Image processor DIGIC DIGIC II DIGIC II
Continuous shooting 4 shots @ 2.5 fps 14 shots @ 3 fps 23 shots @ 5 fps
Startup time (DCRP tests) ~3 secs Nearly instant Nearly instant
Selectable metering, focus modes No Yes Yes
ISO range 100-1600 100-1600 100-3200
Flash metering system E-TTL E-TTL II E-TTL II
White balance options Preset, custom Preset, custom, shift, bracketing Preset, custom, shift, bracketing
No. of focus points 7 7 9
Custom functions No Yes, 9 Yes, 18
Interface USB 1.1 USB 2.0 High Speed USB 2.0 High Speed
Flash sync port No No Yes
Battery used BP-511 NB-2LH BP-511A
Body material Plastic Plastic Magnesium alloy
Dimensions (W x H x D) 5.6 x 3.9 x 2.9 in. 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.8 in.
Weight 560 g 485 g 685 g
Available colors Silver, black Silver, black Black

That was quite a chart! As we go on I'll be a little more specific about the differences between the three models. And with that in mind, let's begin our review of the Rebel XT!

What's in the Box?

There are two "kits" available for the Digital Rebel XT. One is the body only kit, while the other includes an 18-55 mm lens. Here's what you'll find inside the box in both kits:

  • The 8.0 effective Megapixel Canon Digital Rebel XT camera body
  • 18 - 55 mm, F3.5-5.6 EF-S lens [lens kit only]
  • NP-2LH lithum-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solution Disk and ArcSoft PhotoStudio
  • 171 page camera manual (printed) + software manual (on CD-ROM)

As is the case with all D-SLRs, Canon does not include a memory card with the Rebel XT, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. Thankfully CompactFlash cards are inexpensive these days. With the XT's 8MP resolution, a large card is a necessity, so I'd recommend 512MB at the very minimum (I've been using 1GB cards myself). The camera supports Type II CompactFlash cards which currently come as large as 8GB I believe. The Microdrive is also supported, though I can't recommend them based on past experiences. High speed CompactFlash cards do make a noticeable difference on all D-SLRs, so I recommend skipping the $10 special and getting a decent, fast card.

Unless you buy the Rebel XT lens kit, you'll probably need a lens or two as well. The Rebel XT (along with the old Rebel and the 20D) supports Canon EF and EF-S lens mounts, for which there are lenses for every purpose. The vast majority of Canon's lenses are EF-mount, with only three EF-S lenses available: the 18-55 ($140), 17-85 ($599), and the 10 - 22 mm ($799).


The old and new 18 - 55 mm kit lenses

And speaking of the 18-55, I suppose this is my opportunity to tell you my "tale of two lenses". There are actually three versions of the 18-55 EF-S lens. There's the original from the Digital Rebel and EOS-20D kit (above left), the USM version of that (not sold in the US, apparently), and the "Mark II" version shown above right. When Canon sent me the Rebel XT in March, they sent the body only kit. Thinking the lenses were optically identical, I moved the "old" 18-55 over from the EOS-20D that I had just purchased. As I was finishing up the review, I ran across this note in the review at dpreview.com. As it turns out, the original and Mk II lenses really are different optically. So I had to trash all my test photos and start over, which is why this review was so delayed. More on this subject later.

The Rebel XT uses a different battery than the original Rebel. Instead of using the high capacity BP-511A battery like the 20D, the Rebel XT uses the same NB-2LH battery as the PowerShot S70 and some Canon camcorders. Despite using a battery with less power than the BP-511 battery used by the original Rebel, you can expect to take just as many photos on the Rebel XT as you could on the original Rebel (around 600 shots without the flash). The EOS-20D with it's BP-511A battery will do quite a bit better in the battery life department -- 67% better to be exact.

The usual caveats about proprietary batteries like the NB-2LH apply here. For one, they're expensive -- $50 a pop. Also, if you run out of juice "in the field", you can't just pop in some AAs to finish the day. Unfortunately almost all D-SLRs use them, except for those from Pentax.

When it's time to recharge the NB-2LH battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes approximately 90 minutes to fully charge the battery. The charger is one of my favorite types -- it plugs right into the wall (though note that in some countries this may not be the case).


The Rebel XT with optional battery grip / Image courtesy of Canon

For those in need of more power, you'll want the BG-E3 battery grip ($150). This holds two NB-2LH or six AA batteries for double the battery life. There is also an extra shutter release, command dial, and AE lock, focus point, and exposure compensation buttons on the grip.

As far as accessories go, if you can name any one accessory, it exists. Want a different eyecup? Done. Flashes? Take your pick. Filters, angle finders, remote controls, carrying cases, and more are all available. That's the beauty of digital SLRs.

Canon includes a bunch of software along with the Rebel XT. On the EOS Digital Solution Disk (v10.0) you'll find ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser (Mac/PC), Digital Photo Professional 1.6, EOS Capture 1.3, and PhotoStitch 3.1. Windows users will also get PhotoRecord 2.2 and WIA/TWAIN drivers.


ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

ImageBrowser and ZoomBrowser are pretty nice photo downloading and organizing products, for Mac and Windows respectively. You can grab the photos off of the camera and view them, edit them, print them, or share them online.


RAW Image Task (Mac OS X)

While you can't really edit your photos in ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser, you can convert RAW images into other formats via the RAW Image Task sub-program that's part of the Browser application. Here you can adjust the white balance, parameter settings (described later), color space, sharpness, and exposure compensation.

The beauty of the RAW format is that you can adjust all of these things without damaging the original image. Ever taken a bunch of pictures with the wrong white balance setting? I certainly have. Well, if you shot those photos in RAW mode, you could adjust the white balance to the correct setting, and it's like you never screwed up at all! RAW files do take up more space than JPEGs (but less than TIFFs, which the camera doesn't support anyway), so a large memory card is a necessity for lots of RAW shooting. Another downside of RAW images is that you must process each of them on your computer before you can get them into a more common file format like JPEG or TIFF.

Another part of the software package is EOS Capture. This lets you control the camera over the USB connection. You can't get a "live preview" of the shot before you take it -- you only see it afterwards -- such is the nature of D-SLRs. You can adjust all those settings you see above, including the white balance shift feature (which I will discuss later) at the bottom of the window.

Yet another product that comes with the Rebel XT is Canon's Digital Photo Professional. While it looks pretty fancy, I wasn't a huge fan of the user interface, and the Mac implementation left something to be desired (having to load one program before you can use the batch feature in another? Come on!).

You can view your thumbnails in two ways, either as thumbnails alone (look up two images), or thumbnails with shooting data (above).

The RAW adjustments are more advanced in DPP than they are in ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser. You can still change brightness and white balance, and DPP adds support for dynamic range and tone curve adjustments. The color adjustment option lets you choose from the "shot" settings and something like "faithful" color, which adjusts colors using a white balance setting of 5200K.

Digital Photo Professional doesn't just do RAW images -- you can adjust JPEGs as well with the tools you can see above.

As an added bonus, Digital Photo Professional lets you do batch image processing of both JPEG and RAW images.


ArcSoft PhotoStudio 4.3 for Mac OS X

The final software piece included is ArcSoft PhotoStudio, version 5.5 for Windows and 4.3 for Mac. While it's no Photoshop, it's still pretty good. Useful features like redeye removal, automatic enhancements, and special effects are included. Do note, however, that PhotoStudio cannot read RAW files.

The manual included with the Rebel XT is good but not great. The information you're looking for is there and the manual is well organized -- there's just more small print than I'd like to see.

Look and Feel

The Digital Rebel XT is essentially a smaller and lighter version of the original Rebel. See for yourself:


The old Rebel and the new Rebel XT / Image courtesy of Canon USA

Aside from the size differences and a few button changes, owners of the old Rebel will have no trouble picking up and using the new one.


The Rebel XT in silver and black / Silver Rebel image courtesy of Canon USA

The Rebel XT is available in silver and black-colored bodies, as you can see.

Wondering how much smaller the XT is compared to the EOS-20D? See below.


The 20D next to the Rebel XT

The 20D towers over the XT, and it feels a heck of a lot nicer in your hand too. My biggest beef with the Rebel XT is the build quality: it feels cheap, and the "rough" plastic shows fingernail scratches very easily (I assume that the silver-colored XT will be better in this regard). I'm sure the body is durable -- it just doesn't feel like it when you pick up and use the camera. On a related subject, I found the handgrip on the Rebel XT to be a little too small, especially compared to beefier cameras like the 20D. Wow, I just used the word "beef" twice in one paragraph!

Once comfortably in your hand, you'll find the important controls to be within easy reach of your fingers.

Now let's see how the Rebel XT compares in terms of size and weight versus the competition:

Camera Dimensions (WxHxD, body only) Volume (bulk) Mass
(body only)
Canon Digital Rebel 5.6 x 3.9 x 2.9 in. 63.4 cu in. 560 g
Canon Digital Rebel XT 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 46.3 cu in. 485 g
Canon EOS-20D 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.8 in. 67.0 cu in. 685 g
Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D 5.1 x 4.2 x 3.1 in. 66.4 cu in. 760 g
Nikon D70 5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1 in. 75.0 cu in. 595 g
Olympus EVOLT E-300 5.7 x 3.4 x 2.5 in. 48.5 cu in. 580 g
Pentax *ist DS 4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in. 45.9 cu in,. 505 g

As you can see, the Rebel XT is the lightest -- and almost the smallest -- digital SLR on the market.

Okay, enough numbers, let's start our tour of this camera now!

Here's the Rebel XT without a lens on. Like the original Rebel (and the 20D as well), the Rebel XT supports both EF and EF-S lenses. As I mentioned in the first section, there are only three EF-S lenses available now. EF-S lenses are smaller, lighter, and cheaper than an equivalent EF lens, as they're designed for the smaller sensor size of a digital SLR.

Speaking of which, something important to remember about digital SLRs is that due to their smaller sensor size (compared with 35mm film) and therefore narrower angle-of-view, the effective focal range of the lens is 1.6 times what it says on the lens. That means that the 18-55 included in the lens kit is equivalent to a 28.8 - 88 mm if used on a 35mm camera. This is great if you like telephoto shots, but for wide-angle you may have to invest some money into some wide-angle lenses.

Just to the right of the lens mount is the lens release button. On the opposite side of the mount is the self-timer and redeye reduction lamp. To the left of that (on the handgrip) is the receiver for an optional remote control.

Above the Canon logo is the pop-up flash. The working range of this flash depends on many things, including the ISO setting and what lens you're using. At ISO 100 on the 18 - 55 mm EF-S lens, the range is 1.0 - 3.7 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 2.3 m at telephoto. Boosting the ISO sensitivity a notch or two will dramatically increase the flash range without adding any real noise to the image. If that's still not good enough, the camera has a hot shoe for attaching an external flash.

The flash is also used as an AF-assist lamp. The camera fires the flash quickly to lock focus, which works very well. Unfortunately the resulting picture will also be taken with the flash, and there's no way to get around that (unlike on the 20D). If you have a Canon external flash attached via the hot shoe, the AF-assist beam on that will be used.

The back of the Rebel XT has changed a bit since the original Rebel (click here to see it), though the changes are mostly cosmetic.

The main thing to see here is the Rebel XT's 1.8" LCD display -- the same size as on the original Rebel. The LCD has 115,000 pixels, which is a little less than the 118,000 pixels on the original Rebel. For those who are unfamiliar with digital SLRs, do note that the LCD is only used for menus and viewing photos after they were taken. You cannot use it for taking pictures!

Directly above the LCD is the camera's LCD info display. This shows all kinds of things, like the current shutter speed and aperture, shots remaining, white balance and image quality settings, and much more. Pressing the little button to the right with the light bulb on it will turn on an orange backlight.

Above the LCD info display is the large optical viewfinder, which covers 95% of the frame. There is an information line at the bottom, which shows exposure info and current camera settings. Also, there are seven boxes in the viewfinder that show the points that the camera is focusing on. You can manually choose one of these points if you'd like -- I'll show you how in a bit. A diopter correction wheel (on the top-right corner of the viewfinder) will help sharpen things for those with less than perfect vision.


This is what you'll see if you press the Info button while in record mode

There are five buttons to the left of the LCD:

  • Menu - enters the menu system
  • Info - Shows current settings in record mode (see above), and histogram/exposure data in playback mode (shown later)
  • Jump - quickly move through photos in playback mode
  • Playback mode
  • Delete photo

On the opposite side you'll find three more buttons plus the four-way controller. The buttons are for:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) + aperture adjustment (in manual mode)
  • Drive (Single-shot, continuous shooting, self-timer/remote control)
  • LCD info display backlight + Direct Print

One area in which the Digital Rebel XT really improves over its predecessor is in its continuous shooting performance. I was able to take 14 shots in a row at around 2.8 frames/second at the Large/Fine JPEG setting. Switching to RAW mode resulted in six shots in a row at the same frame rate. The EOS-20D really blows away the Rebel XT in this area: back when I tested that camera, I was able to take 55 shots in a row at 5 frames/second using the same memory card that I used in the XT.

The four-way controller is used for menu navigation and also for:

  • Up - ISO (100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • Down - White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom) - more on this later
  • Left - Metering (Evaluative, partial, center-weighted average) - what? no spot metering?
  • Right - AF mode (One Shot, AI Focus, AI Servo) - see below

I suppose I should first point out that metering and AF mode were not something you could select on the original Digital Rebel. I should also mention that the ISO, metering, and AF mode options are actually shortcuts to the record menu. That means you've got to switch to the four-way controller to make your selection, making sure to hit the "set" (center) button to save your choice. This is quite unlike the method used to adjust the same settings on the 20D.

So what are those three AF modes? One shot is the usual "halfway press the shutter release to lock focus" mode that most of you are used to. AI Servo will always be focusing, even while the shutter release is halfway pressed. This is great for tracking a moving subject. The AI Focus will start in One Shot mode and will automatically switch to AI Servo if the camera thinks the subject is moving.

To the lower-left of the four-way controller is the CompactFlash access light.

There are two last buttons to mention on the back of the camera, and they're located at the top-right of the photo. The button on the left (with the asterisk) is used for AE/FE lock. Button number two is used along with the command dial to manually select a focus point. In playback mode both buttons are used for the "zoom and scroll" feature that we all know and love.

There are just a few things to point out on the top of the Rebel XT. The first thing is the hot shoe, which you should have no trouble finding. Attaching an EX-series Canon Speedlite is the best way to go, as you'll be able to take advantage of many useful features such as E-TTL flash metering, high speed flash sync, and wireless flash support. The AF-assist beam on the flash will also be utilized. You can also use a third party flash, but you'll lose all of those features and the flash settings will have to be set manually. The Rebel XT can sync as fast as 1/200 sec with non-Canon flashes, and even faster with a Canon EX Speedlite.

The next item over is the mode dial, which has the power switch beneath it. The items on the mode dial include:

Option Function
A-Dep (auto depth of field) mode Attempts to put all subjects, even at varying distances, in focus.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself. Ranges listed below. A bulb mode is also available, allowing for ultra-long exposures (no time limit that I can find). A remote shutter release is recommended for this.
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens; on the 18 - 55 mm, it's F3.5 - F36.
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/4000 sec
Program mode Automatic shooting, but with access to all menu options. Program Shift lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the command dial.
Auto mode Fully automatic, most camera settings locked up
Portrait mode These are all scene modes
Landscape mode
Close-up mode
Sports mode
Night portrait mode
Flash off Also disables the AF-assist lamp

To the upper-right of the mode dial you'll find the command dial as well as the shutter release button. You'll use that dial for choosing manual settings, selecting a focus point, and more.

On this side of the Rebel XT you'll find just a few things of note. The flash release button is right in the center of the photo. It electronically releases the flash, meaning that the camera must be turned on before you can pop up the flash.

The button at the bottom of the photo (under the lens release) is for depth-of-field preview.

Over to the right you'll find the camera's I/O ports, which are kept under a rubber cover. Let's take a closer look now:

The ports here include video out, remote control, and USB. One of the nice improvements on the Rebel XT over the original camera is the support for the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol. Stepping up to the EOS-20D will add a flash sync port to the mix.

Over on the other side, you'll find the CompactFlash slot, which is behind a reinforced plastic door. This is a Type II slot, so the Microdrive and other high capacity cards are fully supported.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. Inside the compartment you'll also find a watch battery which allows the camera to store things like the date and time.

The tripod mount is inline with the lens, as you'd expect.

Using the Canon Digital Rebel XT

Record Mode

Startup speeds on the Rebel XT have been dramatically improved over the original Rebel. Where the old model made you wait for around three seconds before you can start taking pictures, the Rebel XT is ready go almost instantly.

While the autofocus speeds will depend on the lens being used, overall they were excellent. The camera focuses almost as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release button in most cases. Even if the camera has to "hunt" for focus a bit, it's still fast. In low light situations, the flash-based AF-assist feature results in locked focus much faster than a traditional AF-assist lamp. I'm also a 20D owner and was hard pressed to see any performance differences between the two cameras in this area.

As for shutter lag, there really isn't any. That's why you're interested in a digital SLR, right?

As expected, shot-to-shot speed is excellent. This is one of those cameras where you can really shoot as fast as you can compose (or at least until the buffer fills up).

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.

Now, let's take a look at the many image size and quality choices on the Rebel XT:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 512MB card
(optional)
RAW
3456 x 2304
RAW 8.3 MB 58
Large
3456 x 2304
Fine 3.3 MB 145
Normal 1.7 MB 279
Medium
2496 x 1664
Fine 2.0 MB 245
Normal 1.0 MB 466
Small
1728 x 1152
Fine 1.2 MB 419
Normal 600 KB 790

The Rebel XT can shoot RAW images, either by themselves or along with a Large/Fine JPEG. If you've got the space on your memory card, shooting in RAW+JPEG mode isn't a bad idea. If your image looks good, just use the JPEG... but if you want to tweak it, the RAW image is available. The XT doesn't support the TIFF format.

Images are named using the following convention: IMG_####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.

Enough of that, let's move onto menus now.

The menu system on the Rebel XT has more in common with Canon's Powershot cameras than their other digital SLRs. The menu is divided into five tabs: two for recording, one for playback, and two for setup. The items in the menu include:

  • Record menu
    • Quality (see chart above)
    • Redeye reduction (on/off)
    • Beep (on/off)
    • AF mode (One shot, AI focus, AI servo) - described earlier
    • Metering mode (Evaluative, partial, center-weighted)
    • ISO speed (100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
    • AE bracketing - see below
    • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom)
    • WB shift/bracketing - see below
    • Custom WB - use a white or gray card to set manual white balance
    • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
    • Parameters (Parameter 1,2, Set 1, 2, 3, B&W) - Parameters 1 and 2 are preset; Parameter 1 has higher contrast, saturation, and sharpness, while parameter 2 has everything zeroed out; B&W is the black and white mode which also allows for filter and toning effects; For sets 1-3 you can set the following options:
      • Contrast (-2 to +2)
      • Sharpness (-2 to +2)
      • Saturation (-2 to +2)
      • Color tone (-2 to +2)
      • Filter effects (None, yellow, orange, red, green) - digital color effects; must be in B&W mode to access
      • Toning effect (None, sepia, purple, blue, green) - gives a B&W image a tint

  • Playback menu
    • Protect - prevent images from being deleted
    • Rotate - rotates an image
    • Print Order - DPOF print marking
    • Auto playback - slide show
    • Review time (2, 4, 8 sec, hold, off) - post-shot review

  • Setup
    • Auto power off (1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30 mins, off)
    • Auto rotate (on/off) - automatically rotates images for proper viewing
    • LCD brightness (1-5)
    • Date/time (set)
    • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset) - whether the camera maintains the file numbering described earlier
    • Format - format memory card
    • Shoot without card (on/off)
    • Language (English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Russian, Traditional Chinese, Korean, Japanese)
    • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
    • Communication (Print/PTP, PC)
    • Custom functions (see below)
    • Clear settings (All, custom only)
    • Sensor clean
    • Firmware version

Before I talk about the custom functions I want to mention some of the items in the record menu above.


WB Bracketing

WB shift

The Rebel XT has the same advanced white balance controls as the EOS-20D, except for the ability to set the WB by color temperature. These features go beyond the usual "custom white balance" feature that most cameras offer. White balance bracketing will take 3 shots in a row, each with a different WB setting. You can choose the bracket on the blue/amber or green/magenta axis. White balance shift lets you use the four-way controller to choose the exact color shift you desire. You'll have to work really hard to screw up the white balance on this camera.

The parameter menu has also changed since the original Rebel, with a black & white mode plus filter/toning effects. Filter effects are just like the filters you screw onto your film camera. The digital filter will brighten colors similar to the filter and will darken their complements. You can filter for yellow, orange, red, or green. Toning effects give black and white images a sepia, blue, purple, or green tint.

Canon has also added a few custom functions to the Rebel XT. Though there aren't as many options as on the 20D, don't forget that the original Rebel had a grand total of zero custom functions. And here they are:

01. SET button/four-way controller function when shooting (Normal, set: quality, set: parameter, set: playback, Four-way: AF frame selection)

02. Long exposure noise reduction (on/off) - for exposures longer than 1 second

03. Flash sync speed in Av mode (Auto, 1/200 sec) - fixes the shutter speed for flash shots in aperture priority mode

04. Shutter button/AE lock button (AF/AE lock, AE lock/AF, AF/AF lock + no AE lock, AE/AF + no AE lock) - define what these two buttons do

05. AF-assist beam (Emits, Does not emit, Only ext. flash emits)

06. Exposure level increments (1/3, 1/2-stop) - the setting increment for shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation

07. Mirror lockup (on/off) - enable it when the vibration of the mirror can blur your photos

08. E-TTL II (Evaluative, average) - flash metering

09. Shutter curtain sync (1st, 2nd-curtain)

Some of those are pretty confusing, so be sure to consult the camera manual before you change any of the custom functions.

Before we begin the photo test, I want to talk about lenses. I can only use lenses that I already own, or those which are sent to me by Canon. What that means is that I probably cannot show you the "very best" this camera can do since I don't have the "very best" lens (I can't afford it). Remember that the quality of the lens matters a lot when judging image quality -- unfortunately it's hard for me to show that sometimes.

Now, on with the show!

The Rebel XT turned in a fine performance on macro test using the "new" 18-55 kit lens. The image has a very "smooth" look to it, which is something that digital SLRs are famous for. Colors are nicely saturated.

The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. Canon makes lenses specifically for macro shooting if you're into such things.

I have not one but two night shots for you in this review.

I took probably 100 shots of the above scene, first with the old kit lens, and then twice with the new one. I was never thrilled with the results (which were taken near the wide end of the lens) so I just set the lens to full telephoto and took a 20 second exposure. Finally I got something I was happy with! The camera took in plenty of light (as you'd expect) and there's no purple fringing to be found. The image is a little on the soft side (which was the biggest problem with the 99 other shots I took) but it will sharpen nicely in Photoshop. Noise levels are amazingly low for a 20 second exposure -- taken without long exposure noise reduction!

Want to see what the camera can do with a nice piece of glass? I took the second shot on another night with my brand new Canon 70-200 F4.0L lens (woohoo!) and it looks a lot better. The amount of detail captured is pretty impressive -- you can practically see what the people in the Hyatt are watching on television. Purple fringing was again not a major problem, nor was noise (noise reduction was on for these).

Using that second image, let's see how the noise levels change as we increase the ISO sensitivity:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

You know what I just love about digital SLRs? You can still get 100% usable images even at ISO 1600. The ISO 1600 image you see above is what most fixed-lens cameras look like at ISO 200. With good noise reduction software you can really clean that up nicely, too.

That great high ISO performance doesn't just help in night shot situations like I've shown. You can use it anytime -- day or night. Shooting indoors and getting a blur-inducing slow shutter speed? Just crank up the ISO and you'll still get a great looking photo.

Redeye is not a problem on the Rebel XT with the built-in flash, nor would I expect it to be.

Now let's look at some comparison shots.

Digital Rebel XT

ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600

EOS-20D

ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600

It's time once again to break out the test scene. I apologize in advance for the power cord in the photo -- my studio lights have to be plugged in somewhere. Using the "new" kit lens I took this shot on both the Rebel XT and the EOS-20D at all available ISOs (except for ISO 3200 on the 20D, which the XT doesn't support). Photos were taken at the same settings: white balance, focus point, aperture, etc were the same on both cameras.

You can click on the links above to compare the various test shots, or have a look at some selected crops below:


Rebel XT at ISO 100

EOS-20D at ISO 100
 

Rebel XT at ISO 1600

EOS-20D at ISO 1600 (remember it can continue up to ISO 3200)

You'd be hard-pressed to find any noticeable differences between the two cameras. That's great news for Rebel XT buyers!

This next section illustrates an important issue about the new Mk II kit lens, and it also shows you "what a difference a lens makes". This is the usual house shot taken using four lenses: the new kit lens, the old one, the Sigma 15-30, and the Canon 16-35 L. I took the new kit lens shot at different apertures. You'll find out why shortly.

The camera wanted to use F10 so that's what I used for all the shots, except for the F4 shot which as marked as such.


18-55 Mk II kit lens, F10
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18-55 Mk II kit lens, F4 (see the difference?)
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18-55 Mk I kit lens (from the original Rebel and the 20D), F10
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Sigma EX 15-30 F3.5-4.5 lens, F10
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Canon 16-35 F2.8L lens, F10
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What can you conclude from this, besides the fact that the expensive 16-35 lens is the sharpest one? The new kit lens goes "soft" at smaller apertures (the old one wasn't much better). If this sounds familiar, it's because I wrote this same thing back when I reviewed the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3. My suggestion now is the same as it was then: when shooting with the lens, watch the aperture -- you'll get sharper photos by keeping the F-number small. For another real world example of this, have a look at this photo, which borders on disastrous. For a more scientific look at this whole issue, I again refer you to page 20 of the Digital Photography Review Rebel XT review.

Overall the photo quality on the Digital Rebel is excellent, though many will consider the images to be soft -- especially if you're using that kit lens at smaller apertures. I'm one of those "digital SLR images are too soft" people, but you'll find this to be a common trait of all digital SLRs. Canon and other manufacturers figure that people who buy D-SLRs want to sharpen the images themselves instead of letting the camera do it for them. You have two options if you think the images could be sharper: turn up the in-camera sharpening using the Parameters submenu (the easy option) or apply sharpening in something like Photoshop. To see the effect of running the unsharp mask function on one of my gallery images, click here: before, after. Your choice of lens also makes a big difference, as I hope I've shown you in the various examples in this review and in the gallery.

Everything else is good news (assuming you think the soft images are bad). Colors are accurate and saturated. Noise levels are incredibly low, even at high ISOs. Purple fringing will depend a bit on your choice of lenses, but I never saw anything to be concerned about.

Ultimately the decision about photo quality comes down to you. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the Rebel XT's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

No digital SLR has a movie mode.

Playback Mode

As with all D-SLRs, the Rebel XT's playback mode is pretty basic. I've already listed the basic playback features back in the menu section, but here they are again: image protection, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, image rotation, and slide shows. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to compatible photo printers.

The 20D's zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom in as much as 10X into your photo, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. This is a great way to check the focus on a photo.

You can use the jump button to quickly move ahead 10 images (or 9 in thumbnail mode), which is handy when you've got lots of pictures on the memory card.

Deleting photos is easy, as there's a button right on the camera for that purpose. You can delete one or all of the photos on the card.

As you'd expect, the camera tells you plenty about the photos you've taken. A histogram is also shown, and overexposed areas of the photo blink. The camera moves through images quickly, with maybe a half-second delay between each photo.

How Does it Compare?

All things considered I'd say that the Canon Digital Rebel XT is the entry-level digital SLR to beat at this point in time. It offers nearly all of the features of the more expensive EOS-20D but for hundreds less. My biggest complaints are the soft images, especially using the kit lens at smaller apertures, and some build quality gripes that I'll get into later. But for those ready to move up to something bigger and better, the Rebel XT is where it's at.

The Rebel XT is quite a bit smaller than both its predecessor and the EOS-20D. While some will like the portability, I prefer the added bulk and more substantial handgrip on a larger camera. While the Rebel XT is probably built very well, I don't get that feel when I hold in my hand. Maybe it's the rough plastic, maybe it's the weight, who knows -- it feels more like a cheaper camera than a D-SLR. Then again, I'm biased: I own a 20D. Something else that bothers me about the black Rebel XT is particular is just how easy it is to get fingernail scratches all over it. I found myself constantly wiping them off.

Camera performance is just you'd expect from a camera equipped with Canon's latest DIGIC II image processor: excellent. There's no more startup wait, focusing speeds are great (even in low light), and shot-to-shot and shutter lag times are nonexistent. The Rebel XT can take about fourteen shots in a row at just under 3 frames/second, which is the best you'll find in this class (save for the more expensive 20D). Photo quality is excellent for the most part, though images are on the soft side, as is the case with all D-SLRs. Something else that factors into this is your choice of lens: the kit lens is especially soft at small apertures, so you need to keep an eye on things when using it to ensure the best photo quality. As you'd expect from a camera like this, high ISO performance is top-notch: shooting at ISO 1600 results in totally usable pictures. The Rebel XT offers shutter speeds as slow as 30 seconds or longer if you use the bulb mode, making it great for long exposures. While there's a noise reduction feature, you might as well keep it off -- noise levels are that low.

The Rebel XT has plenty of features, too, though gimmick lovers should look elsewhere. Probably the nicest new feature is the expanded white balance controls -- you really have to work hard to botch the white balance on this camera. One thing I don't like about the XT is how you adjust the ISO, AF mode, white balance, and metering mode: you have to use the four-way controller and then hit "set" to save your choice -- I prefer how the EOS-20D does this instead. Low light shooters will love how well the camera focuses in low light. Since the camera uses the pop-up flash as an AF-assist lamp, you'll get nicely focused images even in totally dark rooms. The only downside is that you must take a flash picture when you use the AF-assist lamp. On top of all that you get all the other benefits of a digital SLR: tons of lenses and flashes to choose from, an optional power battery grip, remote shutter release support, and much more.

Overall I give the Rebel XT the thumbs up -- it's a great choice for those ready to move up to a digital SLR. Just be sure to buy a decent lens for it! Trying to decide between the XT and the 20D? Image quality is comparable so I'd look at the chart at the beginning of the review to see if the 20D's "step up" features are worth your money. For those looking at other entry-level D-SLRs, I'd say the Rebel XT easily beats the Nikon D70 (though that camera feels a lot better in your hands) and the Olympus E-300 (though it has many nice features like that famous dust remover). I haven't tried the Pentax *ist DS (since they won't send one to me), so I can't say how that camera does against the Rebel XT. Any digital SLR is going to be a great choice and a step-up from a fixed-lens camera, so my advice is to try them all and see which you prefer!

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality, even at high ISOs (assuming you watch the aperture on the kit lens or use another lens altogether)
  • Great value: 8 Megapixel D-SLR for under $900 (body only)
  • Full manual controls, no more "feature lockdown" like old Rebel
  • Robust performance, much faster than the original Rebel
  • Great low light focusing thanks to flash-based AF-assist
  • Advanced white balance controls (though no ability to set WB by color temp.)
  • RAW image format supported
  • No redeye
  • Very small and light for a D-SLR, if you're into such things
  • Optional power battery grip and remote shutter release cable
  • USB 2.0 High Speed interface
  • All the expandability you'd expect from a D-SLR

What I didn't care for:

  • Images aren't overly sharp at default settings
  • Kit lens is disappointing at smaller apertures (workaround: don't use smaller apertures)
  • If you want to use the AF-assist lamp your picture must use the flash too
  • Body feels cheap in the hand (though in reality it's probably sturdy), shows fingernail scratches easily, handgrip is too small (those are all subjective, of course)
  • Clumsy user experience for changing white balance, ISO, AF mode, metering
  • No spot metering

Some other entry-level D-SLRs worth considering include the Nikon D70, Olympus EVOLT E-300, and Pentax *ist DS. If you don't mind spending a little more, also consider the Canon EOS-20D and Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D.

As always, I strongly recommend trying the Rebel XT and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a camera!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read more reviews at Digital Photography Review, dcviews, Steve's Digicams, and Imaging Resource.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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