Originally Posted: July 6, 2009
Last Updated: April 15, 2010
The EOS Rebel T1i (also known as the EOS-500D) is the replacement of Canon's very successful Rebel XSi (EOS-450D). It takes everything that made the XSi such a hit and adds these improvements:
- 15.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor (up from 12.2)
- Uses DIGIC 4 image processor (XSi used DIGIC III)
- Higher resolution, 920,000 pixel LCD display (versus 230k on the XSi)
- Wider ISO range
- Records movies in Full HD (the XSi had no movie mode)
- HDMI output
That's not too bad of an upgrade! There are two things that got worse on the new Rebel T1i: battery life is down 20%, and the burst rate is slightly slower, though the latter isn't entirely surprising.
Everything else remains the same. The Rebel T1i is compact, supports both EF and EF-S lenses, and offers both automatic and full manual controls. And, as you'd expect from a digital SLR, it's quite expandable.
Canon's entry-level D-SLRs have always been among the best out there. Does the Rebel T1i continue that tradition? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
Officially, the EOS Rebel T1i is available in two kits. One includes the body only ($799), while the second has the body plus an F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm IS lens ($899). I also spotted a special bundle at my local Costco warehouse that included the body, the 18-55 and 55-200 lenses, and a memory card (I don't recall the price). Here's what you'll find when you crack open the box for the two official kits:
- The 15.1 effective Megapixel Rebel T1i camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm IS lens [lens kit only]
- LP-E5 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- Video cable
- CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solution software and documentation
- 227 page camera manual (printed)
If you bought the lens kit, then you'll find the F3.5.5-6, 18 - 55 mm IS lens in the box. While this lens is better than its predecessors, it does feel a bit "cheap" in your hands. I'm also not a fan of the manual focus ring, either. While it's not a terribly sharp lens, image quality is generally good by kit lens standards. If you want to use another lens, you can choose from over sixty Canon lenses -- both EF and EF-S. There will be a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio to keep in mind, of course.
Like its predecessor, the Rebel T1i uses Secure Digital memory cards for storing photos. Since Canon doesn't provide one with the camera, you're going to need to purchase an SD or SDHC card to go along with the camera. I'd recommend picking up a 4GB card (or larger, if you'll be taking a lot of videos), and it's worth spending the extra dough for a high speed card. Canon recommends using a Class 6 card for HD movie recording.
The Rebel T1i uses the same LP-E5 lithium-ion battery as the Rebel XS and XSi. Considering its relatively small footprint, this battery packs a lot of juice: 8.0 Wh to be exact. Here's how that translates into battery life:
The first thing to point out is that the Rebel T1i's battery life has dropped 20% compared to its predecessor. I'm guessing that the new sensor, image processor, and LCD use a lot more power than what was on the Rebel XSi. In the group as a whole, the T1i's numbers are below average. Those numbers are when shooting with the viewfinder -- for live view shooting, they'll be substantially lower.
Like all of the cameras on the above list, the Rebel T1i's battery is proprietary. That means that it's pricey (a spare will cost at least $39), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when the LP-E5 runs out of juice. You're not completely out of luck, though. The optional battery grip (pictured below) includes an adapter that lets you use six AA batteries to power the camera!
The T1i with the optional battery grip
Image courtesy of Canon USA
Speaking of the battery grip, above you can see the BG-E5 (priced from $113) in action. The grip holds two LP-E5 or six AA batteries, offering double the battery life. There are also additional buttons on the grip for shooting in the portrait orientation.
When it's time to charge the LP-E5 battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around two hours to fully charge the battery. This is my favorite type of charger, too -- it plugs directly into the wall.
Digital SLRs support a ton of accessories, and the table below covers just a selection of those available for the Rebel T1i:
Since Canon's been making digital SLRs for ages, they've built up quite a collection of accessories -- and the list above doesn't even cover everything!
Let's move onto the T1i's software bundle now!
EOS Utility - Main Screen
Canon includes version 20.0 of their EOS Digital Solutions Disk with the Rebel T1i. The first application that you'll probably bump into is EOS Utility, which is sort of a gateway to all the other software programs. Here you can download photos from your camera, use remote capture, or adjust camera settings (that last option doesn't work with this camera).
EOS Utility - Selecting Photos to Download
If you choose to select and download images to your computer, you'll get the screen you see above. Once photos are transferred to your computer, you have two ways of viewing and editing them.
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
The "consumer-friendly" option for image viewing is ImageBrowser (for Mac) and ZoomBrowser (for Windows). On the main screen, you get the usual thumbnail view, with quick access to image e-mailing, printing, editing, and slideshows.
Double-click on a JPEG image and you'll bring up the photo in its own window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment feature, for those who don't mess with all those controls.
There really isn't much in the movie editing department in the Browser software. You can trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of your clip (in 1 second increments, at least on the Mac), and that's about it.
The Browser software can be used to view RAW images, but that's about it. You cannot edit or convert the Rebel T1i's RAW files. For that you'll need...
Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X
...Digital Photo Professional! The main screen isn't too much different from Image/ZoomBrowser, with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail w/shooting data screen. A batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.
RAW editing in DPP
The RAW editing tools in DPP are quite robust. Basic properties you can edit include exposure, white balance, the tone curve, Picture Style, saturation, and sharpness. In addition to adjusting the basics that I described above, DPP also lets you tweak color tone, the tone curve, shadow and highlight detail, luminance and chrominance noise, and lens aberration (such as distortion, vignetting, and purple fringing).
What is RAW, and why should you care about it? RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. Thus, you can adjust settings like white balance and exposure without damaging the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size (compared to JPEG), fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG.
Remote camera control, complete with live view
Jumping back to EOS Utility again, I want to mention a really nice feature -- Remote Capture. This lets you control the camera right from your computer, with access to most camera settings. The live view feature is fully supported, complete with a histogram, composition grid, and the ability to enlarge the frame and manually tweak focus. Photos are saved directly to your computer, though they can be stored on the camera too, if you wish.
While you can record movies using Remote Capture, they are saved to the camera's memory card, and not to your computer. I think that's due to the tremendous amount of data that must be written quickly while you're recording in HD.
Other things you can do with EOS Utility include customizing the My Menu (more on that later) and uploading Picture Styles that you've created with the software described below.
Picture Style Editor in Mac OS X
The last tool in Canon's software suite is the Picture Styles editor. To use this, you must first open up a RAW image. You can then tweak the tone curve, color settings, contrast, and sharpness, and then save a new Picture Style, which can be used both on the camera and in the Digital Photo Professional software.
Canon includes a very detailed manual with the Rebel T1i. About the only part that I'd consider user-friendly is the "contents at a glance" section on pages 10 and 11 -- after that, expect lots of fine print. If you can successfully navigate through that, then you'll be able to find answers to any question you may have about the T1i. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your computer.
Look and Feel
The EOS Rebel T1i is a compact digital SLR made almost entirely of plastic. While the plastic shell gives it a lightweight feel, it does make the T1i feel a bit cheap. The camera has a rather small grip, so those of you with large hands will want to try the camera out in person to see if it's a good fit. The Rebel T1i does suffer a bit from button clutter: they're scattered on three sides of the body, and some of them serve multiple functions.
Unless you look closely, the Rebel T1i looks nearly identical to its predecessor. See for yourself:
|Rebel XSi on the left, T1i on the right (photos not to
Images courtesy of Canon USA
The only real differences here are the addition of the microphone on the front (above the EOS label) and a speaker on the back (near the top-right of the photo). The function of one of the buttons on the back has changed too, but I'll get to that later.
Now, here's a look at how the Rebel T1i compares to other entry-level D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:
The Rebel T1i is the same size as its predecessor, and just 5 grams heavier. Excluding the mirrorless Panasonic GH1, the T1i comes in second in terms of size, just behind the Olympus E-620. While the T1i isn't going to fit into any of your pockets, it does travel comfortably over your shoulder, or in a small camera bag.
Let's begin our tour of the camera now, shall we?
Here's the front of the Rebel T1i, without a lens attached. Like all the Rebel cameras, the T1i supports both EF and EF-S lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio. Thus, a 50 mm lens will have a field-of-view of 80 mm. To release a lens, simply press the button located to the right of the lens mount.
You don't want dust getting onto the T1i's 15 Megapixel CMOS sensor, so Canon equipped the camera with the same EOS Integrated Cleaning System as its predecessor. First, the IR filter (in front of the low-pass filter) has an anti-static coating, which helps to repel dust. If dust manages to stick, the camera can shake it off with ultrasonic vibrations when the camera is powered on or off. If you still have dust after all that, then you can create a "dust map", which you import into the Digital Photography Professional software. The camera can then automatically remove these dust spots from your images.
Straight above the lens mount is the Rebel's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The flash has a guide number of 13 meters at ISO 100, which is unchanged since the Rebel XSi. This is as powerful of a built-in flash as you'll find on an entry-level digital SLR. Should you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that I'll discuss in a moment.
The flash doubles as the camera's AF-assist lamp, firing quick bursts of light to help the camera lock focus. This system is quite effective, though the light can be distracting to your subject. If you don't actually want to take a flash picture, you can simply close the flash after focusing is complete. Do note that the AF-assist lamp is not available in some live view modes.
Over on the grip, you'll find the receiver for the optional wireless remote, the self-timer/redeye reduction lamp, and the shutter release button. Jumping to the opposite side, just above the EOS label, is the T1i's microphone, which records monaural sound.
While you can't tell by looking at it, the Rebel T1i has a much better LCD than its predecessor. This screen packs a whopping 920,000 pixels, so everything is exceptionally sharp (especially the menus). The screen is fairly easy to see in bright outdoor lighting.
|You can display a little shooting info||or way too much info while in live view|
Like the Rebel XSi before it, you can compose photos on the T1i's LCD using the "live view" feature. You get to see 100% of the frame, and a histogram (that blocks way too much of the frame), composition grid, and exposure preview are all available. The T1i can even use the same contrast detect autofocus system as your point-and-shoot camera, though it's not nearly as responsive. Do note that live view is not available in any of the automatic shooting modes: you must be in P/A/S/M/A-Dep mode in order to use it (which I find to be quite telling).
The quality of the live view image is very good. The image is sharp, with fluid motion as you pan the camera around. In low light situations, the image brightens automatically, so you can still see what you're trying to take a picture of.
Live view settings
There are three focus modes to choose from when using live view: live, live w/face detection, and quick. The first two use contrast detect AF, which is very slow -- you'll usually wait for several seconds before the camera locks focus. The face detection system doesn't work in quite the same way as it does on Canon's compact cameras. Instead of showing you all the faces that have been detected, the camera just puts a "box" around one. If there are other faces detected, there will be arrows on the side of the box, which means that you can use the left/right buttons on the four-way controller to select that face instead. As with other D-SLRs I've tested, the face detection system on the T1i isn't nearly as good at locating faces as a compact camera.
The other live view AF mode is called Quick AF. This flips the mirror down (which turns off live view), uses the camera's AF sensor to focus, flips the mirror back up, and returns to the live view. Focusing is much faster, if you don't mind the brief blackout. This mode is the only one that allows you to use the Rebel T1i's AF-assist lamp in live view.
Zoomed in 10X in live view mode
Live view really shines when the camera is in manual focus mode. You can enlarge the frame by 5 or 10 times to make sure everything's properly focused, and then take your picture. I've been using this feature on my EOS-40D for my product photos for several years, and it works great.
|This info screen is displayed when you're shooting with the viewfinder||You can easily change settings by pressing the Set button and using the four-way controller|
When you're using the viewfinder to compose your photos, the LCD turns into an information display. Not only does it display all relevant shooting information -- you can also adjust whatever you see here using the four-way controller. The camera detects when your eye is pressed to the viewfinder, which turns off the info screen.
The viewfinder is unchanged since the Rebel XSi. It has the typical coverage of 95% and a magnification of 0.87X, which makes this one of the larger viewfinders on an entry-level D-SLR. Below the field-of-view is a line of data, showing things like exposure, shutter speed, aperture, focus lock, shots remaining, and more. To adjust the focus on the viewfinder, just use the diopter correction knob, located to its upper-right.
To the left of the viewfinder are buttons for activating the Menu, and toggling the information shown on the LCD display.
Crossing over to the top-right of the photo, we find buttons for AE/AF lock and focus point selection. The AE/AF lock button is what you'll press to activate autofocus in live view mode. If you're shooting with the viewfinder, the focus point button will let you select one of nine focus points in the frame. In live view mode, this button digitally enlarges the frame (discussed earlier).
Under those buttons is the T1i's speaker.
Moving closer to the LCD, we find buttons for adjusting the exposure compensation (with the usual -2EV to +2EV range) or the aperture (when in "M" mode). Below that is a button whose function varies depending on the shooting mode. If you're in the P/A/S/M/A-Dep modes, this button turns on live view. In movie mode, it starts and stops a recording (more on that later). When connected to a printer, the button lights up, and lets you print the currently displayed photo. Finally, if you're hooked up to your Mac or PC, you can press the button to select which photos are transferred over.
The next item of note on the back of the Rebel T1i is the four-way controller. The controller is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:
- Up - White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom) - see below
- Down - Picture Style (Standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, user defined 1-3) - more on this later
- Left - Drive (Single shooting, continuous shooting, self-timer + remote control, 2 sec self-timer, continuous self-timer) - see below
- Right - AF mode (One shot, AI focus, AI servo) - see below
- Center - Set + Adjust settings (on shooting info screen)
The white balance options you see above are just the beginning of what's available on the Rebel T1i. Here you'll find the usual presets, plus a custom option that lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting conditions. Later in the review, you'll see that you can also fine-tune and bracket for white balance. One thing you cannot do here is set the white balance by color temperature.
The continuous shooting mode on the Rebel T1i is actually a little slower than on the XSi, but that's not surprising, as it has 3 million more pixels to deal with on every shot. Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the camera:
The Rebel T1i turns in just average numbers in its continuous shooting mode. The burst rate and number of shots were fairly typical for this class (though slower than I'd like). I especially surprised to see that the camera only took 24 JPEGs at full speed before it slowed down -- by contrast, the Nikon D5000 can take over 100 JPEGs at full speed (4 frames/second). You can shoot continuously in live view mode, but the screen goes black after shooting begins.
The continuous self-timer feature is a unique one -- it lets you select how many shots the camera takes after an initial 10 second delay.
What are those three AF modes all about? One shot AF is what most of you are used to: press the shutter release halfway, and the camera locks the focus. AI servo will track a moving subject, even with the shutter release halfway-pressed. The AI focus option will select from either of those, depending on subject movement.
The last things to see on the back of the camera are the two buttons below the four-way controller. One of them enters playback mode, while the other deletes the current photo.
The first thing to see on the top of the Rebel T1i is the camera's hot shoe. As you'd expect, the camera works best with Canon's EX-series Speedlites, which support the E-TTL II metering system. These flashes also allow you to control their settings right from the camera. If you've got the 580EX II attached, you can use it to control groups of wireless Speedlites. Canon Speedlites also allow you to use the flash at any shutter speeds, while third party flashes are limited to 1/200 sec. You may also need to set the exposure settings on third party flashes manually. Finally, do note that you cannot use the flash with live view when using a third party flash.
Moving to the right, we find the T1i's mode dial, which is packed full of options. They include:
Creative Auto mode
As you can see, the Rebel T1i has plenty of automatic controls, plus a full set of manual controls. One new point-and-shoot option is called Creative Auto mode. This still locks up most of the menu options, but if lets you adjust the brightness, depth-of-field, and color tone in a simpler manner than in the other modes.
Right underneath the mode dial is the camera's power switch. Just above that is a dedicated ISO adjustment button. Continuing upwards, we find the T1i's sole command dial (I prefer having two) and the shutter release button.
On this side of the EOS Rebel T1i you'll find the flash release and depth-of-field preview buttons, plus the I/O ports. You can also catch a glimpse of the AF/MF and image stabilizer switches on the 18 - 55 mm kit lens.
Let's take a closer look at those I/O ports now:
The ports here include (from top to bottom):
- Remote control
- USB + A/V output
- HDMI (cable not included)
The ports are protected by a rubber cover.
On the opposite side you'll find the SD/SDHC memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of average quality.
The last stop on our tour is the bottom of the camera. Here you will find a metal tripod mount (inline with the lens, of course), as well as the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is a bit flimsy. If you're using the AC adapter, you'll feed the power cable through a port that opens up on the side of the compartment.
The included LP-E5 battery can be seen at right.
Using the Canon EOS Rebel T1i
The Rebel T1i is ready to shoot as soon as you flip the power switch. You may want to wait the full second required for the dust reduction system to run, however.
Focus speeds depend on two main factors: what lens you have attached, and whether you're using live view. When shooting with the optical viewfinder and the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, the camera focuses very quickly. It takes between 0.1 - 0.3 seconds to lock focus at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 0.8 seconds at telephoto. In low light, you'll want to pop up the flash so it can be used as an AF-assist lamp. If you do, focus times stay under a second. If you don't, the T1i may struggle.
Live view shooting is a totally different story. When using either of the contrast detect ("live") AF modes, you'll wait anywhere from 1 to 3 seconds for focus lock. In low light, it can be even worse, and keep in mind that you cannot use the AF-assist lamp at this point. For much better performance, stick with the "Quick AF" mode in live view -- the LCD will go black for a moment, but focusing speeds will be just a fraction of a second slower than if you were using the viewfinder.
Shutter lag is also dependent on the live view mode. If you're shooting with the viewfinder or the contrast detect live view feature, expect little-to-no shutter lag. If you're using the "quick" AF live view, expect around a second of lag while the mirror performs its acrobatics.
As with all digital SLRs, there's no delay between shots, regardless of image quality or flash use. You can shoot as fast as you can compose the next shot.
You can delete a picture as it's being saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button.
Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality choices available on the camera:
By digital SLR standards, that's a pretty small table. You can take a RAW image alone, or with a Large/Fine JPEG. I explained the good and bad points of the RAW format earlier in the review.
The Rebel T1i's menu system is essentially a nicer looking version of the one on the Rebel XSi. It's attractive (especially on that sharp LCD display) and easy to navigate. The menu is divided into several tabs, containing shooting, playback, setup, and custom options. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of menus options on the T1i:
My Menu settings
The AE bracketing feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The exposure interval can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV. If you've got a large memory card, this is a good way to ensure properly exposed photos every time.
WB shift and bracketing (at the same time, no less)
The Rebel T1i has the usual white balance presets (sunlight, tungsten, etc.) and you can fine-tune each of those to your liking. You can also bracket for white balance, in the same way that you do for exposure. If you want, you can do both at the same time! One thing you cannot do on this camera is set the white balance by color temperature.
|Picture Style menu||Detail view of a Picture Style|
Picture Styles are predefined sets of camera parameters that you can select. The parameters include sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone. In the monochrome style, there are also filter (yellow, orange, red, green) and toning (sepia, blue, purple, green) filters available. You can adjust the presets, or create up to three custom Styles. You can do this on the camera, or with the software I mentioned earlier in the review.
I want to mention two of the custom functions before we move on to the photo quality discussion. First up is highlight tone priority, which is disabled by default. As its name implies, this feature works on overexposed areas of a photo, reducing clipping. Here you can see it in action:
|Highlight tone priority off||Highlight tone priority on|
Above you can see a crop of a larger photo that shows highlight tone priority doing its job. From a distance you can see that the sky in the photo on the right is much bluer and not clipped. If you view the larger images you'll see more detail in the branches and leaves on the tree. The downside to this feature includes increased shadow noise and a slightly limited ISO range of 200 - 3200.
The Auto Lighting Optimizer needs little explanation -- it brightens the dark areas of your photos. It's set to "standard" by default, and other options include low, strong, and off. Here's the ALO feature in real life:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The first thing you should look at in the above example is the difference between standard ALO, and not using it at all -- it's pretty striking. There's also a big jump from Standard to Strong. I wouldn't use the Strong setting all the time, instead using it on a case-by-case basis, since it can increase noise levels. If you took a photo using the RAW format, you can adjust this setting to your liking using Digital Photo Professional.
Alright, let's move onto photo tests now. I'll tell you which lens I used underneath each test photo. Do remember that different web browsers handle color in different ways. For the most accurate representation of color, you may want to load the sample images into your favorite image editor.
The EOS Rebel T1i did a nice job with our macro test subject. The subject has the "smooth" look that is the trademark of Canon digital SLRs, though some may prefer a little more sharpness (that's easy enough to fix). If you view the image with something that respects the embedded color profile, you'll find that things are pretty accurate, though not overly saturated (the thumbnail above has no color profile and is much more saturated). I don't see any signs of noise or noise reduction here, nor would I expect any.
The minimum focusing distance on the T1i depends on what lens your using. For the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, it's 25 cm. If you want to get closer, you may want to consider buying a dedicated macro lens.
For night shots, I like to use my Canon 70 - 200 mm F4L IS lens. This is a good example of what you can get out of the Rebel T1i with a quality piece of glass attached. In terms of sharpness, the T1i and the 70-200 deliver. I don't know if this qualifies as "tack sharp", but its' close. There's a noticeable brownish color cast here, possibly due to the cloud cover. I see more highlight clipping than I would've liked, and I'll have more on that issue in a moment. Purple fringing levels were higher than I would've expected for this lens, though you can reduce that phenomenon by using a smaller aperture. There's nearly zero noise to be found here.
Let's use the night scene above to see how the Rebel T1i performs as the ISO sensitivity increases. For some reason I don't have the ISO 12,800 shot -- sorry about that.
There's very little difference between the first two shots. At ISO 400 we start to see noise creeping in, and it gets a little worse at ISO 800, but both shots are totally usable for large prints. You don't really start to see noticeable detail loss until ISO 1600 -- notice how the corners of the building start to disappear. Detail continues to go downhill at ISO 3200, and this is as high as I'd go in low light, and for small prints only (unless you shoot RAW). The ISO 6400 image is pretty lousy, and one can imagine that the one at ISO 12,800 is even worse.
So what benefit is there to be had when shooting RAW in low light? Have a look at these examples:
What can you take away from all those crops? At lower ISO sensitivities, the benefit to shooting RAW isn't very noticeable, though you do get some highlight detail back. The sweet spot seemed to be at ISO 3200, where the retouched RAW image has both better highlights and sharpness. Above that, any gains from shooting RAW are minimal.
We'll check the T1i's noise performance in normal lighting in a moment.
I've had trouble with redeye on Canon's Rebel D-SLRs, and the T1i continues that unfortunate tradition. While your results may vary, there's a good chance that you'll have to deal with this annoyance at times. Since there's no redeye removal tool on the camera, you'll need to remove it on your Mac or PC.
Lens used: Canon F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm IS
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. You can see what this does to your real world photos by looking at this photo -- notice how the building on the left appears to curve inward? While you may encounter some occasional corner blurriness on the 18-55 kit lens, generally it was sharp from edge to edge. Vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem.
Lens used: Canon F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm IS
Here's that second ISO test I promised you. This one is taken in the studio, and the results can be compared to those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops give you an idea as to the noise levels at each ISO setting, I highly recommend viewing the full size images to get the most out of this test. And with that, here are the crops of the above scene:
Everything is buttery smooth through ISO 800. You start to see some of that grainy noise pop up at ISO 1600, but that won't keep you from making a large print at that setting. At ISO 3200 things get a little softer, but noise levels are still quite low. I didn't really start to think "uh oh, noise" until ISO 6400, which is probably as high as I'd take the Rebel T1i, at least if I'm shooting JPEGs. The ISO 12,800 image is quite soft and lacking detail, so it's probably a good idea to keep away from it, unless you're really desperate.
Can you improve on those images by shooting RAW? You bet.
The differences between JPEG and RAW is much more pronounced in the studio test than it was with the night shots. Here, if you're willing to put in some work, you'll get much better photos at high sensitivities if you use RAW and post-process. Just switching from JPEG to RAW gives you a boost in sharpness, and once you throw noise reduction software into the mix, you get a much cleaner image. I'm still not sure if you can do much with the ISO 12,800 photo, but it certainly looks a lot better than what comes straight out of the camera.
Overall, the Rebel T1i produces very good quality photos. While exposure was accurate, the T1i seemed to clip highlights more than I would've liked. Colors were pleasing, though both the indoor church shot and the night scene both had noticeable brownish casts. Like its predecessors, images straight out of the camera are on the soft side. While your choice of lens has a lot to do with how sharp an image is, Canon traditionally doesn't apply a lot of in-camera sharpening on their D-SLRs. You can visit the Picture Styles menu on the T1i to bump up the sharpness a notch or two if you'd like sharper images straight out of the camera. As my tests above hopefully illustrated, noise levels are quite low; you can shoot at ISO 1600 in low light and ISO 3200 in normal light without having to worry about noise -- and shooting RAW will let you push things even further. Purple fringing was not a problem in most situations.
By the way, if you want to compare the test scene photos with those from the Nikon D5000 and Olympus E-620, check out this page. As you'll see, the Canon and Nikon are about equal, and both are noticeably better than the Olympus.
Now, it's time for you to have a look at our large Rebel T1i photo gallery. Check out the full size images -- perhaps printing a few if you can -- and then you should be able to decide if the photo quality meets your needs.
One of the most significant changes on the Rebel T1i is its ability to record movies in Full HD. Sort of. The camera is capable of recording video at 1920 x 1080, but at a sluggish 20 frames/second. If you want a Canon D-SLR with a more impressive movie mode, the EOS-5D Mark II is available, for 2.5 times as much money. You can keep recording until you hit the 4GB file size limit, which takes roughly 12 minutes. Monaural sound is recorded along with the video (the camera doesn't support an external microphone). Canon strongly recommends using a Class 6 SDHC card for Full HD video recording.
I should add that editing the T1i's video is a bit of a pain in the behind. Not so much due to the codec (H.264 isn't made for editing), but due to the frame rate. Most editing software is not equipped to handle 20 fps video (that includes Final Cut Pro and iMovie on the Mac side), so you've been warned!
Two lower resolutions are available, as well. You can drop down to 1280 x 720 (720p), which has a much more reasonable 30 frame/second frame rate, and a VGA (640 x 480) setting is also available. The recording limits for those sizes are 18 and 24 minutes, respectively.
While the Rebel T1i cannot focus continuously while you're recording video, you can have it refocus by pressing the AE/AF lock button. The next few seconds of video will look a little funny (and the sound of the lens motor will be picked up by the microphone), but the focus will be adjusted! You can manually focus as well, which isn't as easy as it sounds. You can take a still photo while you're recording a movie -- it'll pick up where it left off as soon as the image is saved.
The T1i doesn't offer any manual controls in movie mode, and there's isn't a wind screen function available, either. There are no video editing functions in playback mode -- not even for trimming.
I originally wanted to make a nice little compilation of video clips for you, but since none of my editing software wants to deal with the Full HD movies, you'll have to download each one individually instead. Be warned, the file sizes are enormous.
And here's a sample video taken at the 1280 x 720 setting:
While some entry-level D-SLRs have playback modes with retouching features and fancy slideshows, the Rebel T1i sticks to the basics. Its playback features include image protection, DPOF print marking, slideshows sans music, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge a photo by as much as 10X and then scroll around the image. This is useful for checking for proper focus, closed eyes, etc. When you're zoomed in you can use the control dial to maintain the position and zoom as you go from photo to photo.
The only editing tool on the camera is image rotation. There's no way to resize or crop photos on the camera. As I mentioned above, there aren't any movie editing features, either.
"Jumping" through photos by date
You can use the command dial to "jump" through photos in groups of 10 or 100, by date, and by file format (movie or still).
By default, the Rebel T1i doesn't tell you much about your photos, but if you press the Display button, you'll see a lot more. Pressing the button again switches the histogram from brightness to RGB. The camera also makes overexposed areas of a photo "blink" on the screen. By the way, those coordinates are from my Sony GPS -- that's not a feature of the Rebel.
The camera moves through photos instantly, as you'd expect on a D-SLR.
How Does it Compare?
Ever since the release of the original Digital Rebel in 2003, you couldn't really go wrong buying any iter of Canon's entry-level digital SLR. Not surprisingly, things haven't changed in 2009: the new EOS Rebel T1i is a very capable digital SLR that not only takes great pictures -- it can record HD videos, as well (with limitations). Other nice features on the T1i include a 3-inch, high resolution LCD, a nice mix of automatic and manual controls, and the expandability that one would expect from a digital SLR. With tough competition, the Rebel T1i isn't leaps and bounds ahead of the competition like previous models once were. However, it remains a solid choice for those looking for a compact, fairly inexpensive digital SLR.
The EOS Rebel T1i doesn't look a whole lot different than the Rebel XSi that came before it. The most noticeable changes are the addition of a microphone and speaker, though the LCD has been improvement significantly, as well. The T1i is compact by D-SLR standards, and those of you with large hands will want to try one out in person before you buy, as the grip is on the small side. The body is on the "plasticky" side, giving the camera a bit of a "cheap" feel, though I don't think it's going to fall apart on you. Like the other Rebel cameras, the T1i supports all EF and EF-S lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio. On the back of the camera you'll find a 3-inch LCD display with a whopping 920,000 pixels. As you'd expect, the screen is very sharp, with the menus looking especially nice. As you'd expect in 2009, you can use the LCD to compose your photos using a feature known as live view. In live view mode you can preview exposure and white balance, superimpose a composition grid, or display a histogram. There are three focus modes to choose from, though two of them use contrast detection, which is very slow (use quick mode for a better experience). You can also enlarge the frame on the LCD, allowing for precise manual focusing. If you want to shoot the more traditional way, you'll find a good-sized optical viewfinder with 95% coverage and a 0.92X magnification. In terms of accessories, the T1i supports an external flash (via hot shoe only), a wired or wireless remote, and a battery grip. Like many D-SLRs, the camera has an HDMI port for connecting to an HDTV.
With the exception of the new movie recording option, the feature set on the Rebel T1i isn't a whole lot different than the Rebel XSi. Point-and-shoot features include a regular auto mode, a Creative Auto mode that has some cleverly disguised manual controls, and a couple of scene modes thrown in for good measure. If you want manual controls, you'll find a good set of them. You've got control over shutter speed and aperture, white balance (including fine-tuning and bracketing), and focus (of course). About the only thing you cannot do is set the white balance by color temperature. The T1i supports the RAW image format, and Canon includes good editing software (Digital Photo Professional) to work with those files. They also include software which lets you control the camera from your computer -- other manufacturers charge $100 or more for this functionality. Some other handy photo-related features include highlight tone priority mode (which reduces highlight clipping) and Auto Lighting Optimizer (which boosts shadow detail).
As you probably know by now, the Rebel T1i can record movies. While the resolution is Full HD (1920 x 1080), the frame rate is not: the camera records at a choppy 20 frames/second. This frame rate also makes editing videos on your computer difficult, at least on the Mac side. The camera doesn't have any onboard video editing tools, either. Anyhow, the camera keeps recording until the file size reaches 4GB, which takes about 12 minutes. For longer movies, you'll have to drop the resolution to either 1280 x 720 or 640 x 480, both of which have 30 fps frame rates. Monaural sound is recorded along with the video, though a wind screen feature would've been nice. Obviously, you can zoom the lens in and out to your heart's content, but since the camera doesn't focus continuously, you'll have to do it yourself, or let the AF system run briefly (which makes your videos look a little funny for a few seconds). Video quality is decent, though I don't think you'll be throwing away your HD camcorder anytime soon.
Camera performance was solid in most respects. The T1i is ready to start shooting as soon as you flip the power switch, though you'll be interrupting the dust reduction system if you don't wait for about a second. Focusing with the viewfinder was quick -- you'll wait for between 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 0.8 seconds at telephoto (with the kit lens). In low light, focus times stay under 1 second if you're using the flash-based AF-assist lamp, though they can be longer if you don't. Live view AF isn't nearly as impressive. For best results, you'll want to use the quick AF mode, which is just a bit slower than the viewfinder. The two live modes (one of which has face detection) are very slow, with focus times in the seconds -- and that's in good light. Shutter lag isn't a problem in most situations, except if you're using the aforementioned live AF mode, which adds a delay of about a second before the photo is taken. Shot-to-shot delays were minimal, regardless of whether you're using the flash. The T1i's continuous shooting mode is good, though there are better cameras out there. The buffer fills a bit quicker than I would've expected, especially when taking JPEGs. The Rebel T1i's battery life is 20% lower than on the Rebel XSi, and below average for its class.
Photo quality has always been a strong point of Canon D-SLRs, and that's generally true with the T1i. The Rebel T1i takes well-exposed photos, though it does clip highlights a bit more than I'd like. Colors were pleasing the majority of the time, except with the night and indoor church shots, which had noticeable brown color casts. As with other Canon D-SLRs, images straight out of the camera are on the soft side. You can bump up the in-camera sharpening by using the Picture Styles feature if you think so too. The camera keeps noise levels very low -- you won't have an issue with it until ISO 1600 in low light and ISO 3200 in normal lighting. Higher sensitivities are quite usable if you don't mind shooting RAW and post-processing a bit. Like with its predecessors, the Rebel T1i has a bit of redeye problem, and there's no way to remove it on the camera. Purple fringing levels were fairly low.
While it's not perfect, the Canon EOS Rebel T1i (also known as the EOS-500D) is a well-designed, compact digital SLR that takes good quality photos and videos. Whether you're just starting out or upgrading from an older Canon D-SLR, it's well worth a look. However, do check out the competition closely, as there are many great cameras in the entry-level category.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
- Excellent high ISO performance
- Compact body by D-SLR standards
- Large, super high resolution 3-inch LCD display
- Live view with contrast detect AF, face detection, composition grids, live histogram, and frame enlargement
- Dust reduction system
- Generally snappy performance
- Plenty of manual controls; customizable "My Menu"
- RAW format supported; good editing software included
- Useful highlight tone priority and Auto Lighting Optimizer features
- Can record movies at 1920 x 1080, with sound for up to 12 minutes (continuously)
- Remote capture software included; supports live view and movie recording
- Optional battery grip (that supports AA batteries, too)
- HDMI port
What I didn't care for:
- Soft JPEGs at default settings; clips highlights more than I'd like
- Plastic, cheap-feeling body; small grip not for everyone
- Redeye a problem
- Live view issues: slow contrast detect AF; AF-assist not always available; can only use in P/A/S/M/A-Dep modes
- Movie mode issues: sluggish frame rate at Full HD setting; not easy to edit; no continuous AF
- Continuous shooting mode could be better
- Below average battery life
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics stores to try out the Rebel T1i and its competitors before you buy!