DCRP

Canon EOS Rebel T1i Review

Using the Canon EOS Rebel T1i

Record Mode

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:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB card (optional)
Large
4752 x 3168
RAW + Fine JPEG 25.2 MB 72
RAW 20.2 MB 90
Fine 5.0 MB 370
Normal 2.5 MB 740
Medium
3456 x 2304
Fine 3.0 MB 610
Normal 1.6 MB 1190
Small
2352 x 1568
Fine 1.7 MB 1080
Normal 900 KB 2030

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:

Shooting 1
  • Quality (See above chart)
  • Beep (on/off)
  • Release shutter without card (enable/disable) - whether you can take photos without a memory card installed
  • Review time (Off, 2, 4, 8 sec, hold) - post-shot review
  • Peripheral illumination correction (enable/disable) - reduces vignetting; affects JPEGs only
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Flash control
    • Flash firing (enable/disable)
    • Built-in flash function setting
      • Flash mode (E-TTL II)
      • Shutter sync (1st curtain, 2nd curtain)
      • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
      • E-TTL II metering (Evaluative, average)
    • External flash function setting - the next three options let you control your Speedlite right from the camera; options depend on which flash you're using
    • External flash custom settings
    • Clear external flash custom settings
Shooting 2
  • Exposure compensation / AE bracketing - see below
  • Metering mode (Evaluative, partial, spot, center-weighted)
  • Custom white balance - see below
  • WB shift/bracketing - see below
  • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Picture Style (Standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, user 1/2/3) - see below
  • Dust Delete Data - creates a dust map for use with the DPP software
Playback 1
  • Protect images
  • Rotate
  • Erase images
  • Print order - tag photos for printing
  • Transfer order - tag photos for auto transfer to your computer
Playback 2
  • Histogram (Brightness, RGB)
  • Slide show
  • Image jump with control dial (1, 10, 100 images, date, movies, stills)

Setup 1

  • Auto power off (Off, 30 secs, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15 mins)
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset, manual reset)
  • Auto rotate (Camera+PC, PC only, off)
  • Format memory card
  • LCD auto off (Enabled/disabled) - whether the info screen turns off when you put your eye to the viewfinder
  • Screen color (1 - 4) - select the foreground and background colors for the record mode info screen
Setup 2
  • LCD brightness (1-7)
  • Date/time
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Sensor cleaning (Auto, clean now, clean manually) - this last one flips up the mirror so you can use a blower to remove dust from the sensor
  • Live view function settings
    • Live view shooting (enable/disable)
    • Grid display (Off, grid 1, grid 2)
    • Metering timer (4, 16, 30 secs, 1, 10, 30 mins)
    • AF mode (Live, live w/face detection, quick) - described earlier

Setup 3

  • Custom functions
    1. Exposure level increments (1/3, 1/2 stop)
    2. ISO expansion (on/off) - opens up ISO 6400 and 12,800
    3. Flash sync speed in Av mode (Auto, 1/200 - 1/60 sec auto, 1/200 sec fixed)
    4. Long exposure noise reduction (Off, auto, on)
    5. High ISO speed noise reduction (Standard, low, strong, disable)
    6. Highlight tone priority (on/off) - see below
    7. Auto lighting optimizer (Standard, low, strong, disable) - see below
    8. AF-assist beam firing (Enable, disable, only external flash emits)
    9. Mirror lockup (enable/disable)
    10. Shutter/AE lock button (AF/AE lock, AE lock/AF, AF/AF lock + no AE lock, AE/AF + no AE lock) - define what these buttons do
    11. Assign Set button (Quick Control screen, image quality, flash exposure comp, LCD on/off, menu, disabled)
    12. LCD display when power on (Display, off)
    13. Add original decision data (on/off) - for use with the optional Original Data Security Kit
  • Clear settings
  • Firmware version

My Menu settings

  • Up to six of your favorite menu items can go here

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:

ALO Standard
View Full Size Image
ALO Low
View Full Size Image
ALO Strong
View Full Size Image
ALO Off
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.


Lens used: Canon F2.8, 60 mm macro

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.


Lens used: Canon F4L, 70 - 200 mm IS

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.


ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

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:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

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:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12,800

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.

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 12,800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

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.

Movie Mode

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.


View original movie (1920 x 1080, 20 fps, 48.8 MB)
View downsized movie (1280 x 720, 20 fps, 14.6 MB)

View original movie (1920 x 1080, 20 fps, 42.2 MB)
View downsized movie (1280 x 720, 20 fps, 13.8 MB)

View original movie (1920 x 1080, 20 fps, 116.7 MB)
View downsized movie (1280 x 720, 20 fps, 25 MB)

View original movie (1920 x 1080, 20 fps, 75.8 MB)
View downsized movie (1280 x 720, 20 fps, 21.8 MB)


View original movie (1920 x 1080, 20 fps, 63.3 MB)
View downsized movie (1280 x 720, 20 fps, 22.3 MB)

And here's a sample video taken at the 1280 x 720 setting:


View original movie (1280 x 720, 30 fps, 41.4 MB)

Playback Mode

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.

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