DCRP Review: Canon Digital Rebel
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 4, 2003
Last Updated: April 28, 2004

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This review has been completed, using a production model camera. Product shots have been updated where necessary, and all sample photos are from the shipping model.

If there was one camera that really changed the landscape of digital photography in 2003, it's the Canon Digital Rebel. The 6.3 Megapixel Digital Rebel, also known as the Digital Kiss and EOS-300D (depending on where you live), is the first digital SLR with a list price of under $1000. In fact, it's just $899 for the body only kit, or $999 for the body plus an 18 - 55 mm lens. The other camera companies must be nervous.

How did Canon pull it off? Well, they took the popular EOS-10D (see our review), took out a few features, and put everything into a plastic body. Here's a comparison of the two cameras (dimensions and weight are compared later):

Feature Digital Rebel EOS-10D
Price (body only) $899 $1499
Body material Plastic Magnesium alloy
Lens mount EF, EF-S EF
LCD info display Back of camera Top of camera
ISO range 100 - 1600 100 - 3200
Flash sync port No Yes
Custom functions No Yes
White balance can be set by color temperature No Yes
Burst mode Up to 4 shots, 2.5 fps Up to 9 shots, 3 fps
RAW+JPEG Limited to Medium/Fine JPEGs only Can be used with any size/quality JPEG
Default parameters +1 Sharpness*, +1 Contrast, +1 Saturation All at 0
Selectable AF modes No One Shot, AI Servo
Selectable metering modes No** Yes
Shutter lag*** 128 ms 90 ms
PictBridge compatible Yes Requires firmware upgrade
* One sharpness step on the Rebel is equal to two steps on the 10D
** Camera uses evaluative metering by default; in P/A/S/M/A-DEP modes, you can use the AE lock button to use partial metering; center-weighted average metering is used in M mode.
*** Data provided by Canon; times listed are approximate.

So there you have it. Suddenly those $1000 fixed-lens cameras don't sound as appealing as they did last month. Is the Digital Rebel the D-SLR for the rest of us? Is the 10D worth the extra $500? Find out now in our review!

Since the Digital Rebel and EOS-10D are so similar, text from the 10D review will be reused here where appropriate.

What's in the Box?

As I mentioned, there are two configurations of the Digital Rebel: one with a lens, and one without. Here's what you'll find in the box:

  • The 6.3 (effective) Mpixel Canon Digital Rebel camera
  • F3.5 - F5.6, 18 - 55 mm EF-S lens [lens kit only]
  • BP-511 Li-ion rechargeable battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solutions 6.0 and Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0
  • 139 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

Digital SLRs do not include a memory card -- it's up to you to buy them. The Digital Rebel can use Type I or II CompactFlash cards, including the big new 4GB Microdrive. It is compatible with the FAT32 format.

The Digital Rebel uses the same BP-511/512 batteries as the 10D, PowerShot G3/G5, and several other Canon cameras. This 7.4V, 1100 mAh battery has a total power rating of 8.1 Wh. You can expect to take about 600 shots without the flash, and 400 with it, using the battery. One thing to note about proprietary batteries like this -- they're expensive at $50 a pop (third party brands do work, though). Also, if you run out of juice in the field, you can't just pop in some AAs to finish the day.


Included charger, with BP-511 battery inserted

When it's time to recharge, pop the battery into the included CB-5L charger. While it may look like it, this isn't one of those "plug right into the wall" chargers -- you hook a regular power cord into it. It takes 90 minutes to fully charge the battery.

If you want more battery power, try the new BG-E1 battery grip ($140). It holds two BP-511/512 batteries, which doubles the battery life of the camera.

As with all SLRs, there are tons of accessories available. First, there are lenses and flashes, in all shapes and sizes. If you want a remote control, you can get the RC-1 ($24) or RC-5 ($22) wireless remotes, or the RS-60E3 wired remote ($29). If you want a different eyecup or even an "angle-finder", Canon has those as well. In terms of power accessories, you can get the aforementioned battery grip, a dual battery charger ($110), and an AC adapter ($65).

The Canon EOS Digital Solution Disk includes the usual software: ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser (Mac/PC), PhotoStitch, Remote Capture, and the File Viewer Utility. There are also TWAIN and WIA drivers for Windows. All of the main programs are now Mac OS X native. You will need to switch the USB communication mode to "PTP" in the setup menu in order to get Mac OS X to see the camera.


ImageBrowser

ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser is a simple photo for viewing and performing basic editing tasks on your photos. It's one of the better programs of its kind. PhotoStitch is my favorite program for creating panoramic shots. RemoteCapture lets you control your EOS-10D on your computer, via the USB cable.


File Viewer Utility

The File Viewer Utility does just what it sounds like; it lets you view images on your camera and local disks. You can also use it to convert files in RAW format to standard formats like TIFF.


Photoshop Elements 2.0

The final piece of the software bundle is Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0. This is an excellent program for beginners and enthusiasts alike, and I'd recommend it even if you don't buy the 10D. It may just sound like a stripped down version of Photoshop (it is missing some of the advanced features of the full version), but it also has many tools for photo enthusiasts not found in Photoshop. This includes numerous "recipes" for repairing photos, one-touch image enhancement, panorama creation, special effects, and more.

The Digital Rebel's manual is a smaller version of the one included with the 10D. In terms of quality, it's above average. I like how Canon puts the button icons in the table of contents, which helps you find what you're looking for a lot faster.

Look and Feel

The Digital Rebel doesn't really look like the 10D or D60, and it doesn't feel like it either. You'll know as soon as you pick it up that the body is plastic. It's well constructed, though, much like Canon's other consumer cameras. Like with most SLRs, the Digital Rebel is very easy to hold, with a nice right hand grip, and plenty of room on the lens for your left hand.

Here's a look at the Digital Rebel and EOS-10D, side-by-side:

The official dimensions of the camera, sans lens, are 5.6 x 3.9 x 2.9 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs just 560 grams. For the sake of comparison, the numbers for the 10D are 5.9 x 4.2 x 3.0 and 790 g, respectively.

Okay, let's get our tour of the Digital Rebel underway, starting with the front.

The most important difference between the Digital Rebel and the D60 can be found by looking at the lens mount. While both cameras support EF lenses, the Rebel also supports EF-S lenses. The bundled 18-55mm lens uses the EF-S lens mount, since that was the best way to create a high quality and lightweight wide-angle lens. To support the EF-S lens, Canon made a larger mirror chamber, shrank the mirror itself, and had it flip back as well as up. This, along with having the lens extend further toward the sensor (see below) is what made the 18-55 lens a reality.

It's kind of hard to see here, but if you look at the EF-S lens (on the left), you can see how it extends further back, past the contacts. One last thing: you use the red dot on the lens mount for EF lenses, and the white dot for EF-S lenses.

Regardless of what lens mount you use, you still have to deal with the camera's 1.6x focal length conversion factor. So that 18 - 55 mm lens is really 28.8 - 88 mm. And said lens is quite nice -- compact and very lightweight.

With that out of the way, let's continue our tour.

Just to the right of the lens mount is the lens release button.

Straight above the lens mount, you can see the built-in flash. The working range of this flash depends on many things, including the ISO setting and what lens you're using. Using the included lens at ISO 100, the range is 0.7 - 3.7 m at wide-angle, and 0.7 - 2.2 m at telephoto. Being an SLR, you can use any number of external flashes if you need to.

Over to the upper-left of the lens mount is the redeye reduction lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. To the lower-left of that, you'll find the remote control sensor.

The Digital Rebel uses the flash as an AF illuminator in the same way as the EOS-10D. Therefore, you must have the flash popped up to use it, and when you do that, the camera automatically takes a flash picture as well. But unlike the 10D, you cannot disable the flash and still have the AF illuminator working.

The back of the Digital Rebel is quite different from Canon's previous D-SLRs. It has more in common with the PowerShot cameras than the EOS cameras. Gone are the various dials -- there's a four-way controller now -- making menu navigation a whole lot easier.

At the center of it all is the Rebel's 1.8" LCD display. With 118,000 pixels, the resolution is quite good, as is the screen brightness. You can adjust the brightness in the setup menu, if you desire. One thing I hope I don't have to remind you of is that D-SLRs cannot preview shots on the LCD before they are taken -- it's for menus and reviewing shots you have already taken.

Directly above the screen is the LCD info display, which has previously been on the top of the camera on earlier models. The info display shows exposure info, remaining shots, and much more. By pressing the backlight button to the right of it, you can put a nice orange backlight behind the camera.

Continuing upward, we find the large optical viewfinder, which shows 95% of the frame. Looking through the viewfinder, you'll find exposure info and shots remaining settings in green text below the frame. The camera includes an Ef eyecup, and Canon has others available for sale. A diopter correction knob, located above the viewfinder, helps focus things for people without perfect vision.


The info screen in record mode

To the left of the two LCDs are five buttons:

  • Menu
  • Info - shows current settings (record mode, see above) or exposure info (playback mode)
  • Jump - quickly go forward or back 10 images (playback mode)
  • Playback
  • Delete photo

Over on the other side, you'll find two buttons plus the four-way controller. The topmost button adjusts the exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments), and is changes the aperture (in conjunction with the main dial) when in manual mode. The button below that turns on the LCD info display backlight.

The four-way switch is used for menu navigation, and also adjusting the ISO and white balance. You can choose from ISO sensitivities of 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600. Unlike on the 10D/D60, there is no ISO 3200 option available. In terms of white balance, there are plenty of choices. Select from auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, and custom. You cannot select a white balance by color temperature like you can on the 10D.

The final items of note on the back of the Digital Rebel are the two buttons at the top-right of the photo. They are for AE/AF lock and focus point selection in record mode, and thumbnail viewing and zoom & scroll in playback mode. The focus point selection tool lets you choose one of seven areas of the frame in which to focus.

On the top of the camera, you'll find a few more dials and buttons, plus the hot shoe.

Speaking of which, the hot shoe will let you attach most EX-series Canon Speedlites to the Digital Rebel. The camera will most likely work with non-Canon flashes, though you'll have to use both the camera and flash in their manual modes. The fastest flash sync speed on this camera is 1/200 sec.

Moving to the right, we find the mode dial, with the power switch around it. The mode wheel has scene modes, auto modes, and manual shooting modes. Here are the items on the mode dial:

  • A-Dep (auto depth of field) - attempts to put all subjects, even at varying distances, in focus.
  • Full manual mode - choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself. Ranges listed below.
  • 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; a bulb mode is also available, allows exposures as long as 2.5 hours (!)
  • Program mode - automatic but with access to all menu options. Program shift lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the main 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 illuminator

The button to the right of the mode dial controls the "drive" mode, letting you select from single-shot, continuous shooting and self-timer/remote control modes. Continuous shooting mode will take up to 4 photos at 2.5 frames/second -- not nearly as nice as on the 10D.

At the top-right of the photo, you'll see the main dial (used for adjusting manual settings), as well as the shutter release button.

On this side of the camera, there are a couple of things to notice. Just to the right of the lens mount, there are two buttons (three if you count the lens release). The top one will pop-up the flash (it's an electronic, not mechanical release), while the bottom one is used to preview the depth of field.

Over to the right, under a rubber cover, you'll find all the I/O ports on the Digital Rebel. Let's take a closer look:

The ports include digital (USB 1.1), video out, and remote shutter release cable. Note that the Rebel lacks the PC flash sync port that was on the 10D/D60.

Over on the other side, you'll find the CompactFlash slot, which is behind a plastic door. This is a Type II slot, so the Hitachi (formerly IBM) Microdrive is fully supported.

On the bottom of the camera, you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. There's an additional compartment for a CR1016 lithium battery that stores your camera's settings and the date/time.

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

Using the Canon Digital Rebel

Record Mode

It took my Digital Rebel about three seconds to "warm up" before I could start taking pictures. This number may vary a bit, depending on what kind of memory card you are using.

Autofocus speeds were excellent, with a wait time of under 1/2 second. If the camera has to hunt, it may take more like a second. When the flash is used to assist in focusing, the camera still locks focus very quickly -- much faster than with a regular AF illuminator. Even if you're not using the AF-assist flash, the camera still focuses well in low light.

Although the shutter lag is longer on the Rebel than on the 10D, you'll have a hard time noticing. Regardless of what shutter speed you're using, the camera responds almost instantly (Canon says 128 ms) -- and that is why you're considering a D-SLR, right?

The shot-to-shot speed is also impressive, as you'd expect. 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 delete the shot you just took.

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

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 128MB card (not included)
RAW + JPEG
3072 x 2048
RAW + Medium/Fine 7.0 MB 16
Large
3072 x 2048
Fine 3.1 MB 38
Normal 1.8 MB 65
Medium
2048 x 1360
Fine 1.8 MB 66
Normal 1.2 MB 101
Small
1536 x 1024
Fine 1.4 MB 88
Normal 900 KB 132

Two big changes from the EOS-10D to note. First, file sizes are much larger on the Digital Rebel then they were on the 10D, and I'm not sure why. The other change is with the RAW+JPEG mode; On the 10D, you could choose the size and quality of the JPEG that is recorded along with the RAW image. That's not the case anymore, as the camera always uses a Medium/Fine JPEG.

In case you're not familiar with it, the lossless RAW format's big advantage is the file size: it's at least a third of the size of a TIFF. Another advantage is the fact that you can "fool around" with the image in software since it's the raw CCD data. You will need to process it on your computer before you can save it into a more common format, like JPEG or TIFF.

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 Digital Rebel's menu system has more in common with the menus on the PowerShot line than Canon's other D-SLRs. Folks upgrading from PowerShots will feel right at home. The menu choices are:

  • Record menu
    • Quality (see chart)
    • Redeye reduction (on/off)
    • AE bracketing - auto exposure bracketing takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. Exposure can be set in 1/3EV increments.
    • WB bracketing - similar to exposure bracketing, but for white balance; ±3EV in whole-stop increments
    • Beep (on/off)
    • Custom WB - use a white or gray card to set manual white balance
    • Parameters (Parameter 1, 2, Adobe RGB, Set 1, 2, 3, Set up) - store your custom settings here for easy access. For sets 1-3, you can customize the following. More details below.
      • Contrast (-2 to +2)
      • Sharpness (-2 to +2)
      • Saturation (-2 to +2)
      • Color tone (-2 to +2) - lower numbers give reddish tone; higher numbers are yellowish.
  • Playback menu
    • Protect - prevent images from being deleted
    • Rotate - rotates an image
    • Print Order - DPOF print marking
    • Auto playback - slide show
    • Review (on, on w/info, off) - whether picture shown on LCD after it is taken; on w/info option shows exposure info and histogram
    • Review time (2, 4, 8 sec, hold) - how long it's shown for

  • Setup 1
    • 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
    • Card format

  • Setup 2
    • Language (English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Japanese)
    • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
    • Communication (Normal, PTP) - Mac users may need to select PTP
    • Clear settings
    • Sensor clean
    • Firmware version - shows the current firmware version. Mine was 1.0.1

I want to talk briefly about the parameter options in the record menu. The default option that the Digital Rebel uses is parameter 1, which is +1 contrast, +1 saturation, and +1 sharpness. Do note that 1 stop of sharpness on the Rebel is equal to two stop on the EOS-10D. Parameter 2 has all those values at zero. Adobe RGB will use that color space, as opposed to sRGB. There are also three custom sets, in which you can set the contrast, sharpness, saturation, and color tone.

One BIG thing missing on the Rebel are all of those custom functions that the other models have. I think the typical Digital Rebel buyer won't miss them (those upgrading from other D-SLRs may).

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now, all of which were taken with the 18-55mm lens.

As you'd expect, the Digital Rebel produced a near-perfect macro shot of our test subject. Colors are right on, and detail is nice and smooth. The minimum distance to the subject will vary, depending on your lens selection. The 18-55 lens in the kit will only get you as close as 28 cm.

I must apologize for the night test shot above -- turns out that 5 seconds was not long enough of an exposure! I'll try to do this again, weather permitting.

Anyhow, the night shot above is impressive for its very low night and smooth subjects. Purple fringing does appear in many places, as well. Full manual controls make it easy to take shots just like this one (hopefully better!).

One way to bring in more light is to crank up the ISO sensitivity. I took the shot above at all the available ISO ratings. Have a look:


ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image


ISO 800
View Full Size Image


ISO 1600
View Full Size Image

Things get pretty noisy at ISO 1600 -- but if you can't find a tripod, it may be worth trying! The ISO 200 shot was what I was hoping to get at ISO 100 -- the perfect amount of light.

As you'd expect on such a wide-angle lens, the 18-55 shows a fair amount of barrel distortion.

I don't get to say this very much: the camera did a perfect job in the redeye test -- there wasn't any! And I'd expect it, with a flash that is so from the lens.

Since I own a Canon D60, I thought it would be nice to take a few comparison shots. I used the same lens on both cameras (F3.5-4.5, 24 - 85 mm), and set them at their default settings. As I mentioned earlier, the Rebel's default parameters are not the same as those on the D60 -- I took care of that in this first set of photos:


Digital Rebel, Parameter 1 (
+1 contrast, +1 saturation, and +1 sharpness)
View Full Size Image

Digital Rebel, Parameter 2 (all at zero)
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EOS-D60, default parameters (all at zero)
View Full Size Image
 

Digital Rebel (Parameter 1)
View Full Size Image

EOS-D60 (default parameters)
View Full Size Image

Most of the differences between the D60 and the Rebel seem to be in terms of color and exposure. Resolution seems about the same to me, at least in my (very) limited testing. By cranking up the parameters on the D60 (or the EOS-10D for that matter), you can probably get these pictures to match.

Speaking of exposure, I wanted to mention a rather strange thing that happened a few days ago, when I was taking photos for the gallery. I was trying to take this shot:

What I got instead was this:

After staring at the LCD in disbelief, I again framed and took the shot, obtaining the first image you seen above. This problem only happened once, but I thought I'd mention it.

You won't find better photo quality in a $900 camera than on the Digital Rebel. It captures incredible amounts of detail -- down to blades of grass and individual leaves on a tree. Images are smooth, with nonexistent noise. Color and exposure were both accurate, and purple fringing was kept to a minimum, at least on the lenses I used. Have a look at the photo gallery and see if you agree.

Movie Mode

No digital SLRs have movie modes.

Playback Mode

The Digital Rebel has a pretty standard playback mode (as do most D-SLRs). Basic features include image protection, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, and slide shows. There's also an image rotation feature.

The "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. The addition of the two zoom buttons and the four-way controller have made using zoom & scroll a lot easier.

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. I would've liked a way to select a group of photos to delete.

As you'd expect, the camera tells you plenty about the photos you've taken. A histogram is also shown.

Playback mode has gotten faster since I used the pre-production camera. It took about 1.8 seconds to go from record to playback mode. Moving between photos took about half a second.

How Does it Compare?

Based on the pages of text above, you probably don't need to hear my conclusion. But I'll repeat it anyway: the Canon Digital Rebel is a breakthrough product, bringing the digital SLR to the masses. I must confess that my level interest in the Minolta A1 and Sony DSC-F828 dropped immediately after the announcement of the Rebel. Many will ask, "why spend $1199 on a fixed lens camera when I get get a D-SLR and choose from scores of lenses and accessories for $899?" That will be a tough decision for many people over the holiday shopping season!

Back to the camera now: the Digital Rebel has excellent photo quality, in terms of resolution, color, sharpness, and exposure. There was that one exposure mishap, but I was unable to replicate the problem. The 18-55mm lens included in the $999 package is an excellent deal, giving you an effective 28 - 88 mm lens for just $100 more. The Canon EF lens mount means that you can use almost any lens compatible with that mount. I tried my own 24-85, 15-30 (Sigma), and 75-300 lenses, and got superb results from each. If you like manual controls, the Digital Rebel has all the important ones. The camera excels at both low light and fast action photography, with nearly non-existent AF and shutter lag.

I will say that I'm not a huge fan of using the flash as the AF-assist lamp -- sure, it works great, but it always takes a flash picture, which sometimes I don't want to do. The plastic body is well-built, but not nearly as nice as the older (and more expensive) Canon SLRs. The camera is much easier to use than those models, and folks upgrading from PowerShot G3's will feel right at home. As to the question of "should I spend the extra money to get the EOS-10D instead", that's largely a personal decision. Do read through the chart up at the top of this review, and decide if you can live with the tradeoffs that come along with that $899 price.

For those who want top-notch photos, robust performance, and no gimmicks -- and you can part with $900 or more -- the Digital Rebel is the camera to get this holiday season.

What I liked:

  • Excellent image quality
  • Low noise, even at ISO 400
  • Robust performance
  • Much easier to use than previous Canon D-SLRs
  • All the benefits of a D-SLR: lenses, flashes, and full manual controls
  • Zero redeye
  • Incredible value for the money
  • Long battery life
  • Nice software bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • Average burst mode performance (especially compared to EOS-10D)
  • Many limitations compared to 10D (noted in chart at top of review)
  • Not a fan of the flash as AF-assist lamp system

There currently is no other D-SLR is this price range. Some other models (with a higher price tag) to consider include the Canon EOS-10D, Nikon D100, and Pentax *ist D.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Digital Rebel and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

I've got tons of photos in our gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out other opinions about this camera at Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and DP Review.

Buy it now

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.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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