Originally Posted: April 16, 2010
Last Updated: April 24, 2011
The Canon EOS Rebel T2i ($899 with lens) is an entry-level digital SLR that doesn't skimp on features or performance. This camera, which is the follow-up to the popular Rebel T1i (which continues to be sold), borrows a lot of from the $1699 EOS-7D, and shrinks it down (literally and figuratively) into a consumer-friendly $899 camera plus lens kit. Some of the features "borrowed" from the 7D included a nearly identical 18 Megapixel CMOS sensor, a new 63-zone metering system, a wide ISO range, Full HD movie recording with manual controls, a new Quick Control button, and more.
Just how much of a step up is the Rebel T2i over the T1i that came before it? Have a look at this:
It isn't easy to top the Rebel T1i, which was one of the best entry-level digital SLRs, but Canon has managed to do it -- at least on paper. Ready to see how it performs in the real world? Keep reading, as our review starts right now!
Since the two cameras have a lot in common, portions of the Rebel T1i review have been reused here. The EOS Rebel T2i is also known as the EOS-550D and Kiss X4 Digital in some countries.
What's in the Box?
There are officially two kits for the Rebel T2i: one with the body only ($799), and another with the Canon F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm kit lens ($899). If history is any indication, you'll probably see a two lens kit at warehouse stores like Costco at some point this year. Here's what you'll find in the box for the two official kits:
- The 18.0 effective Megapixel EOS Rebel T2i camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm EF-S IS lens [lens kit only]
- LP-E8 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solution software and documentation
- 258 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. This lens is decent by kit lens standards, though certainly not spectacular. It produces fairly sharp images, though you will find some occasional corner blurring. It's quite light (being nearly all plastic) and I'm not a huge fan of the manual focus ring at the end of the lens. Should 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.
As is always the case with digital SLRs, there's no built-in memory on the Rebel T2i, nor is there a memory card included. That means that, unless you already have one, you'll want to pick up an SD, SDHC, or SDXC card right away. I'd suggest a 4GB card at the very minimum, and movie enthusiasts should go at least twice as large. Buying a high speed card (Class 6 or higher) is strongly recommended.
The Rebel T2i uses the new LP-E8 lithium-ion battery, which contains 8.1 Wh of energy. This battery provides about 18% higher battery life than then LP-E5 that was used by the Rebel T1i. Here's how the T2i compares to other entry-level D-SLRs in the battery life department:
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 really throws things off, due to its exceptional battery life. In the group as a whole, the T2i's numbers are about 10% below average. Those numbers are with live view turned off (except for the Panasonic and Samsung, of course) -- if you use live view exclusively on the Rebel T2i, you can expect to get around 180 shots per charge, which isn't great.
With the exception of the AA-based Pentax K-x, all of the cameras in that table use proprietary lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are usually expensive (a spare LP-E8 will set you back around $60), and you can't use off-the-shelf batteries when your rechargeable runs out of juice. Well, that's not completely true...
The optional BG-E8 battery grip. Image courtesy of Canon USA
... because if you have the T2i's optional battery grip -- the BG-E8 -- you have your choice of proprietary or AA batteries. The grip can hold two LP-E8 or six AA batteries, giving you double the battery life of the camera alone. And, as with all grips, you get additional buttons for shooting in the portrait orientation.
When it's time to charge the LP-E8, just pop it into the included charger. This is a pretty fast charger, taking about two hours to perform a full charge in most situations. My charger came with a power cord, though yours may plug 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 T2i:
Those are just the items that I found the most interesting. There are also plenty of viewfinder accessories, various specialty flashes, and an Original Data Security Kit (for law enforcement).
EOS Utility - Main Screen
Canon includes version 22.0 of their EOS Digital Solutions Disk with the Rebel T2i. The first application that you'll probably run 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 (described later), adjust camera settings, or monitor a folder (used with the optional Wireless File Transmitter).
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
Once photos have been transferred to your Mac or PC, you'll have two options for organizing and editing them.
The "consumer-friendly" option for viewing images 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.
The Browser software can be used to view RAW images, but that's about it. You cannot edit or convert the camera's RAW files to other formats. 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 & shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.
RAW editing in Digital Photo Professional
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, saturation, the tone curve, both luminance and chrominance noise, and lens aberration (such as distortion, vignetting, and purple fringing).
If you're a Photoshop user, then you'll want to have version 5.7 or greater of the Camera Raw plug-in in order to edit the T2i's RAW files.
So what's the deal with RAW, anyway? 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
Back when I mentioned EOS Utility, I said that it supports remote capture, so here's some more detail on this handy feature (which, might I add, doesn't cost extra). This software 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.
You can also take movies using Remote Capture, though the files are initially stored on the camera. When you're done recording, the software will allow you to copy the video files over to your PC.
Remote Capture also lets you set up the My Menu feature (more on that later), and it can also be used to send Picture Styles that you've created to the camera. The Picture Style editor (another piece of software) lets you open up a RAW image, adjust color, the tone curve, contrast, and sharpness, and then save the results as a new Style.
Though it's an entry-level camera, the EOS Rebel T2i is still a complex product, which means that you'll need a good manual to go along with it. Canon includes a printed manual that is very detailed -- certain to answer any question you may have -- though it's not what I'd call user-friendly. The only exception is the Quick Reference section, which is strangely located at the back of the book. Documentation for the bundled software is installed onto your Mac or PC.
Look and Feel
The Rebel T2i is a compact digital SLR made of a mix of plastic and metal. The frame is stainless steel, while the outer shell is polycarbonate. For the most part, the camera is very well put together, with no really flimsy parts. The biggest issue I've always had with the Rebel series is that they have very small right hand grips, which makes it challenging for those of us with large hands to hold onto. The grip is rubberized, which helps somewhat, but still, I recommend checking one out in person before you buy.
The Rebel has its share of buttons, though though they are large and generally well-labeled. Most of them perform two functions, so you may need to consult the manual to figure out what does what. The most important controls are easy to reach, and Canon has designed the camera in such a way that you won't accidentally bump anything.
From most angles, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Rebel T2i and its predecessor. The biggest differences can be found on the back:
|Rebel T1i on the left, Rebel T2i on the right (photos
not to scale)
Images courtesy of Canon USA
The first change, though not super-obvious, is that the Rebel T2i now sports an LCD with a 3:2 aspect ratio, instead of the usual 4:3. Since the camera takes photos at a 3:2 ratio, this is a good thing. The button layout hasn't really changed, but they're now a bit larger and square, instead of round. There's also a new, dedicated live view / movie recording button located just to the right of the viewfinder. The T2i is also about 0.6 inches thicker than the T1i.
Now, here's a look at how the Rebel T2i compares to other entry-level D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:
I threw the mirrorless (and smaller) Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 and Samsung NX10 in the table since folks may be considering them, but it's not really fair to compare those with traditional SLRs when it comes to size. Of the "real" D-SLRs, the Rebel T2i is one of the larger ones, though both the Nikon D5000 and Sony A550 have it beat in that department. I carried the T2i around with me in Death Valley National Park for three days, and never found it to be burdensome.
Alright, let's start a tour of the camera now, beginning (as always) with the front view:
The first thing to talk about is the lens mount, which supports both EF and EF-S lenses. The red dot at the 12 o'clock position is where you line up the EF lenses, while the smaller EF-S lenses are at around 1 o'clock. Whichever type of lens you se, the 1.6X focal length conversion ratio is the same. Thus, that 18 - 55 mm kit lens has a field of view of 28.8 - 88 mm. Since the camera doesn't have built-in image stabilization like some of its peers, you'll need to buy a lens with that useful feature. Thankfully, Canon makes a lot of them. To release an attached lens, simply press the button located to the right of the lens mount.
The Rebel T2i has 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 will 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 T1i. 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 T2i doesn't support wireless flash control out of the box, though you can accomplish that with the ST-E2 Speedlite transmitter or the 580EX II flash.
The flash is also used 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, with the shutter release button above it. Next to the shutter release button is the redeye reduction / self-timer lamp.
That brings us to the back of the Rebel T2i, and its spectacular LCD display. This is, by far, the finest LCD I've ever seen on a digital camera, at least in terms of resolution. The screen packs an incredible 1.04 million pixels, and comparing images on it to cameras just two generations old is like comparing standard definition to high definition television. Another thing that's different with this screen is the aspect ratio: it's now 3:2 -- the same as the photos being taken -- instead of 4:3 like on most D-SLRs. Two things I don't like about the screen are that it doesn't automatically adjust the brightness like some other models, and outdoor visibility wasn't as good as I'd hoped.
|The live view can be pretty crowded, if you want||The Quick Menu can be used to adjust certain settings in live view|
As you'd expect, the LCD isn't just for reviewing photos you've taken and navigating menus -- you can also use it for composing your photos. This "live view" feature lets you preview exposure (complete with histogram), white balance, color, and focus -- just like on your point-and-shoot camera. Things can get a little crowded, especially if you have the histogram turned on, but you can hit the Display button to reduce how much is shown. An overlay-style menu is needed to adjust certain settings, as the four-way controller is now used for setting the focus point. Press the Quick Menu button and you can adjust the white balance, Picture Style, Auto Lighting Optimizer, image size, drive setting, and AF mode.
As you'd expect, the view on the LCD is super sharp, which comes in especially handy when you're zoomed in for manual focus. As I just mentioned, outdoor visibility is just okay. Low light visibility is very good.
There are three focus modes to choose from when using live view: live, live w/face detection, and quick. The first two use the camera's CMOS sensor for contrast detect autofocus, which is very slow -- you'll usually wait for one or more seconds before the camera locks focus. If you've chosen the face detection option, the camera will highlight a face that it finds, and if there are more than one, there will be little arrows on the side of the box. You can then use the four-way controller to move between each of the selected faces.
The other live view AF mode -- and my personal favorite -- is called Quick AF. This flips the mirror down (which turns off live view for a moment), 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 T2i's AF-assist lamp in live view.
Whichever AF mode you choose, focusing is as simple as halfway-pressing the shutter release button. Unlike previous Rebels, you don't need to hit the AE/AF lock button to do that, which wasn't very familiar to those moving up from compact cameras.
Zoomed-in 10X in live view
Live view is especially handy when you're manually focusing. 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 to take my products shots for several years now.
The shooting info screen -- and how you can change settings by using the Quick Control button
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 by pressing the new Quick Control button and using the four-way controller.
Let's get back to the tour now, shall we? The Rebel T2i has the same optical viewfinder as its predecessor. That means that it has a magnification of 0.87x (slightly above average for its class) and 95% coverage. The nine focus points on the screen are illuminated with red dots, and are easy to see outdoors. Below the field-of-view is a line of green data that shows AE/AF lock, shutter speed and aperture, shots remaining, ISO speed, and more. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction dial that's on the top-right of the viewfinder.
Right under the viewfinder is an eye sensor. Its function is simple: to turn off whatever's on the LCD when you place your eye against the viewfinder.
To the left of the viewfinder are buttons for entering the Menu and toggling the information displayed on the LCD. Jumping to the opposite side, we find the new dedicated live view / movie recording button. In all of the shooting modes except for movie mode, pressing this button will activate live view. In movie mode, you'll press this button once to start recording, and again to stop.
Continuing to the right, we find buttons for AE/AF lock and focus point selection. On previous Rebels, you'd use the AE/AF lock button to autofocus in live view mode, but that duty has now been relegated to the shutter release button. The focus point selection button lets you choose which of the nine focus points in the frame on which to focus. These two buttons are also used for zooming in and out in both live view and playback mode. Just under those buttons is the Rebel T2i's speaker.
Moving closer to the LCD now, the first button of note is for adjusting the aperture (Av) or exposure compensation. Since the T2i has just one control dial (on the top), you'll have to hold down this button to adjust the aperture when you're in manual mode. Underneath that is the Quick Control button, which opens that shortcut menu that I showed you earlier. When you're connected to a printer, this button handles Direct Printing duties, which was its sole function on the Rebel T1i.
Next up is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:
- Up - White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom)
- Down - Picture Style (Standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, custom 1/2/3)
- Left - Drive (Single, continuous, 10 sec self-timer/remote, 2 sec self-timer, continuous self-timer)
- Right - AF (One shot, AI focus, AI servo)
- Center - Set
Lots to talk about before we can continue. At first glance, the Rebel T2i has some pretty standard-looking white balance controls, but there's more to see later when we get to the menus. The usual presets are here, plus a custom spot that lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting. There's no way to set the color temperature, though.
|The six preset Picture Styles||Adjusting the sharpness of the landscape Picture Style|
Picture Styles are sets of image parameters such as sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone. In monochrome mode, you can also select filter (yellow, orange, red, green) and toning (sepia, blue, purple, green) effects. There are several preset Picture Styles -- each of which can be tweaked -- and there are three custom slots, as well. Picture Styles can also be created on your computer and then uploaded to the camera.
That brings us to the Rebel T2i's continuous shooting mode. It's supposed to be a bit faster than it was on the Rebel T1i (3.7 fps versus 3.4 fps), but was that the case in reality? Here's what I was able to get out of the camera:
I was unable to get the Rebel T2i to hit the advertised speed of 3.7 frames per second. In fact, it had almost the same numbers as the Rebel T1i. Other cameras in this class are both faster and have more buffer memory, so the T2i definitely isn't a speed champ. I should add that the camera doesn't stop shooting after it hits the numbers listed in the table above -- it just slows down considerably.
The only other option I want to mention in the Drive menu is continuous self-timer. This unique feature lets you select how many photos 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 T2i is its hot shoe. As you'd expect, the camera works best with Canon's EX-series Speedlites, which take advantage of its E-TTL II metering system. These flashes also allow you to control their settings right from the camera, and you can use any shutter speed that you'd like. If you've got the 580EX II or ST-E2 wireless transmitter attached, you can use it to control two groups of wireless Speedlites. If you're not using a Canon flash, you'll probably have to set its exposure manually. You're also limited to a maximum sync speed of 1/200 sec, and you cannot use it with live view.
To the right of the hot shoe is the camera's mode dial, which looks a bit different than the one on the Rebel T1i. The power switch is located on the right side of the dial. The options on the mode dial include:
Before I talk about anything else, let me point out one big difference between the Rebel T1i and the T2i. On the T1i, you could only use live view in the P/A/S/M modes -- why, I do not know. On this camera, you can use live view in all shooting modes.
Adjusting the "background" (AKA aperture) in Creative Auto mode
Point-and-shoot modes include your standard auto mode and a small selection of scene modes. If you want a mix of auto and manual controls, try out the Creative Auto mode, which lets you adjust the aperture and exposure compensation without knowing what either of those things are (they're simply named "background" and "exposure").
As for manual exposure controls, the Rebel T2i offers the usual options. You can set the aperture, shutter speed, or both. There's also a bulb mode for long exposures, though do yourself a favor and get the shutter release cable, unless you have incredible finger dexterity.
Above the mode dial and power switch is the dedicated ISO button. I'll tell you about the available ISO options later in this review.
The last thing to see on the top of the camera is the T2i's sole control dial, which you'll use for adjusting the exposure, selecting a focus point, navigating the menus, or jumping through photos you've taken.
The first thing to point out here are the AF/MF and image stabilizer switches on the 18 - 55 mm kit lens.
Moving to the right, you'll find the flash release and depth-of-field preview buttons (a lot of entry-level cameras lack the latter).
At the far right, under a rubber cover, are the Rebel T2i's I/O ports. Let's take a closer look:
The ports here, from top to bottom, include:
- External microphone
- Remote control
- USB + A/V output
That external mic port is new to the Rebel T2i.
On the opposite side you'll find the SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of average quality. The kit lens is at the full telephoto position here (it's at wide-angle in the previous photo).
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the Rebel T2i. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount -- in line with the lens, of course -- and the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is also of average quality, and there's a little flap through which you feed the power cable for the optional AC adapter.
The included LP-E8 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.
Using the Canon EOS Rebel T2i
Flip the power switch and the Rebel T2i is ready to take photos immediately. The dust reduction system silently runs for about two or three seconds, though you can interrupt it at any time by pressing the shutter release button.
Autofocus speeds depend on a number of factors, most importantly which lens is attached, and whether you're using live view (and what AF mode you're using). When shooting with the kit lens and optical viewfinder, expect snappy focus times that range from 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle to 0.3 - 0.6 seconds at telephoto (in good light, of course). In low light situations you'll want to pop up the flash for best results (since it's used as an AF-assist lamp). The camera will be able to lock focus in under a second in most situations if you do that.
In live view mode, things are a different story. As I mentioned earlier, the fastest focus times are obtained by using the aptly named Quick AF mode. Since the camera uses the same AF sensor as it would when shooting with the viewfinder, you'll get focus speeds that are about a second longer than I listed above, with the added delay caused by the need to flip the mirror down and then back up. The two contrast detect "live AF" modes are a lot slower, with focus times taking a second at the very least, and sometimes two or three. You definitely want to switch to Quick AF in low light situations, as it's the only live view mode in which the AF-assist flash is used. Otherwise, the T2i will struggle.
There isn't any shutter lag when shooting with the viewfinder, though there is tiny delay when using any of the live view modes.
Shot-to-shot delays are minimal, as you'd expect. You can just keep firing away, at least until the buffer fills up (which happens fairly quickly in RAW+JPEG mode). Adding the flash into the mix did not noticeable increase the shot-to-shot times.
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:
That's a pretty short list, mainly because the Rebel T2i can't shoot at multiple aspect ratios. As you already know, the camera supports the RAW image format, and you can take a RAW image alone, or with a Large/Fine JPEG.
The Rebel T2i's menu system is roughly the same as the one on the T1i, except now it's amazingly sharp courtesy of that 1.04 million pixel LCD. The menus are broken in several tabs, covering recording, playback, setup, custom, and My Menu options. One thing that's missing here (that's now found on Canon's PowerShot cameras) are descriptions of the various menu items, which would be helpful for beginners.
Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of options in the Rebel's menu system:
My Menu settings
The first feature I want to briefly mention is Peripheral Illumination Correction. This feature, on by default, attempts to reduce vignetting (dark corners) in your photos automatically. The camera has data for 25 lenses built in, and you can add more by using EOS Utility. Since this is a RAW property, you can fool around with the amount of correction applied in the Digital Photo Professional software that comes with the Rebel T2i. I did a little test with the distortion chart and did indeed see a reduction in vignetting when this feature is turned on.
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. You'll see in a moment that the Rebel T2i can also bracket for white balance.
The Auto Lighting Optimizer feature brightens the dark areas of your photos. It's set to "standard" by default, and other options include low, strong, and off. Here's what this feature can do in the real world:
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The first thing you might want to do is to compare the "Off" and the default "Standard" settings -- you can see that the Rebel is brightening things up straight out of the box. The high setting brightens things a bit more, though it's not over the top. As with Peripheral Illumination Correction, the Auto Lighting Optimizer setting is also something that can be adjusted in RAW files.
WB shift and bracketing (at the same time, no less)
I already told you that the Rebel T2i has a custom white balance option that lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting. You can fine-tune that or any of the white balance presets, as you can see in the screenshot above. 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.
The last menu item I want to tell you about is highlight tone priority, which is buried in the custom settings menu. As its name implies, this feature (which is off by default) improves highlight detail. Have a look for yourself:
|Highlight tone priority off||Highlight tone priority on|
It's pretty clear that you get back some detail in the brighter parts of the Campanile with the highlight tone priority feature turned on. The overall image does get darker, though, which may be an unwanted side effect for some.
Alright, that does it for menus -- let's move on to photo tests now. With the exception of the night shots, which were taken with the F4.0L, 70 - 200 mm IS lens, all of these photos were taken with the 18 - 55 mm IS kit lens.
The EOS Rebel T2i did a pretty nice job with our macro test subject. The figurine (which, as you can see, has had its arm broken off more than once) has the "smooth" appearance that has long been a trademark of Canon digital SLRs. Colors look good, especially the punchy reds. I don't see any sign of noise or noise reduction here, nor would I expect to.
The minimum focusing distance on the T2i 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.
Whenever I have a Canon SLR to review, I always bust out my own 70-200, F4L lens for the night test. I don't know how many Rebel T2i owners are willing to drop $1200 for this lens, but at least this serves as an example of what you can get with some nice glass attached. As for the quality of the photo, there's not much to complain about, save for a bit of a brownish color cast. I was fairly conservative with my shutter speeds here, so the image may not be as bright as it could be. While there is some highlight clipping here and there, it's not as bad as I would've expected from an 18 Megapixel APS-C camera. For the most part, the buildings are tack sharp, though the right side is a bit soft. I don't see anything resembling noise here, and purple fringing is minimal.
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the Rebel T2i performs at higher sensitivities:
Everything is nice and clean through ISO 400. At ISO 800 you can spot some noise, but it's not nearly enough to concern me. While the noise becomes a little more pronounced at ISO 1600, there's still more than enough detail left for large prints. Details being to slip away at ISO 3200, though small prints are definitely a possibility here, and you can go larger if you shoot RAW (more on that below). At ISO 6400 the image is getting pretty noisy, so I'd pass on that setting and especially the ISO 12,800 option above it (which has a bit of banding, in addition to all the noise).
So what benefit is there to be had when shooting RAW in low light? Let's use the ISO 3200 and 6400 samples from above and find out:
You definitely get some detail back by shooting RAW and post-processing at ISO 6400. You can see how much noise is being suppressed by the camera just by looking at the straight RAW conversion. Thankfully, after a trip through some noise reduction software, the staticky noise is greatly reduced. While there's also an improvement at ISO 6400, I'm still not sure how much you'll be able to do with the resulting photo.
We'll check the T2i's noise performance in normal lighting in a moment.
For whatever reason, Canon's Rebel D-SLRs have always had redeye problems, and that hasn't changed here. The camera uses the relatively anemic self-timer lamp to reduce redeye, which doesn't do the job. To make matters worse, there's no digital redeye removal tool to be found on the T2i, so you'll have to fix this on your computer.
You'll find moderate levels of barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. You can see what this means in the real world by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. Vignetting wasn't a problem here (though you'll see a little bit of it if you turn Peripheral Illumination Correction off), nor was it an issue in the real world. You may encounter some mild corner blurring in your photos, though.
Here's our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare the results of this test with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Since this is such a high resolution camera, only a small part of the image is shown in the crops below, so be sure to click on them to see the whole thing! And with that, let's take a look at the T2i's high ISO performance in good light:
Everything looks great all the way through ISO 1600, with just a tiny bit of noise visible at that last setting. ISO 3200 is very usable (though the exposure has gotten a bit darker, so you may need to compensate for that), as is ISO 6400 -- at least for small or midsize prints. ISO 12,800 is best left unused, unless you're doing some post-processing, and even then, it's really only for small prints. Like its sibling (the EOS-7D), the Rebel T2i's high ISO performance is most impressive.
Alright, now let's do some RAW conversions, noise reduction, and sharpening to see if we can improve on that JPEG quality.
Adobe Camera Raw definitely brings up the color saturation in these images, in addition to restoring some lost detail. There's improvement at all three of the sensitivities I chose, including ISO 12,800. While you can't make a poster size print of that ISO 12,800 image, it's probably being printed at 4 x 6 and put on the refrigerator door.
I spent a lot more time with the Rebel T2i than I normally do with a camera I review, having taken it on a 4 day mini-vacation to Death Valley National Park. I wasn't using the greatest lenses on this trip -- it was either the kit lens or the new 18 - 135 mm IS lens -- but the results were definitely very pleasing. Exposure was spot-on most of the time (with my Stanford photos being the only exception), though the camera clipped highlights at times (though I've seen much worse). Colors were accurate, though not terribly vivid at default settings, which is why I switched to the landscape Picture Style during my trip. Like most digital SLRs, photos straight out of the camera are on the soft side, though the lens has a lot to do with this too (neither the 18-55 or 18-135 would qualify as "tack sharp"). There looks to be a tiny bit of detail loss due to noise reduction in JPEGs, as well. One way around that is to shoot RAW, or just increase the in-camera sharpening via the Picture Styles feature. If you're looking for noise, you're going to have to look hard. As I've hopefully illustrated, the Rebel T2i produces photos with very low noise through ISO 1600 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light. The higher sensitivities are usable, especially if you shoot RAW and do some simple post-processing. I didn't find purple fringing to be much of a problem, though this too depends on lot on what lens is attached.
|This paragraph originally mentioned that I tested the 15 - 85 mm lens with the Rebel T2i. That is incorrect. The lens used was the F3.5-5.6, 18 - 135 mm IS. Apologies for the error.|
Now I invite you to have a look at the extensive photo gallery that I put together for the Rebel T2i. View the full size images, maybe printing a few if you can, and then you should be able to decide if the T2i's image quality meets your expectations.
The EOS Rebel T2i has one of the best movie modes that you'll find on any digital camera -- SLR or not. It's capable of recording Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames/second, with sound. Sound is recorded in mono, so you'll need to take advantage of that external mic input if you want stereo. You can keep recording for up to 30 minutes or 4GB, whichever comes first. As you might imagine, at the Full HD setting, you'll hit the file size limit in a lot less time than 30 minutes -- 12 minutes, to be exact.
There are many other resolutions available. If you want something more cinematic, there's a 1920 x 1080 / 24 fps (1080p24) option available. There are also 1280 x 720 (60 fps) and two 640 x 480 (also 60 fps) options. The second 640 x 480 option is called "crop mode", which uses the center of the CMOS sensor to give you an instant 7X digital zoom. I think the crop feature would be a lot more useful if you could set the amount of digital zoom, instead of being stuck with a fixed value.
Given the fact that all the T2i's lenses are operated manually, you can zoom in and out to your heart's content in movie mode. The camera cannot focus continuously, though you can press the shutter release button to have the AF system kick in (which you will both see and hear in your movie). The image stabilizer can be used, as well.
Like the more expensive EOS-7D and EOS-5D Mark II, the Rebel T2i offers full manual controls in movie mode. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. You can take a still photo while recording a movie, though the video will freeze for a moment while this occurs. One thing I wish the camera had was a wind filter, similar to what's found on Panasonic's Lumix G-series cameras.
Canon uses the H.264 codec for the Rebel T2i's videos. While this is an efficient codec, it still takes up 330MB worth of your memory card for every minute of HD video. Thus, you'll want a large and fast (Class 6 or higher) memory card for serious movie recording!
I've got a number of sample videos for you. Let's start with two Full HD movies, followed by a rather pedestrian 1080p24 clip (pun intended), and finally a 720p movie. You can download the original movies -- which are gigantic -- or get the recompressed versions that I've created to make your life a little easier.
The EOS Rebel T2i has a bare bones playback mode. There are no editing features to be found (save for the movie trim tool) and no special effects, both of which can be found on other entry-level D-SLRs. What you will find is a slideshow feature, image protection and DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom (what I call zoom & scroll).
In addition to moving through photos one at a time, 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).
Images can be rotated on the camera, but not cropped or resized. A video clip can have unwanted footage trimmed off its beginning or end, which is always a nice feature to have.
By default, the Rebel T2i 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 moves through photos instantly, as you'd expect on a D-SLR.
How Does it Compare?
Canon's Digital Rebel models have always been the leaders in the entry-level D-SLR category, and that tradition continues with the EOS Rebel T2i. This 18 Megapixel camera features excellent photo quality (even at high ISOs), a compact, well-designed body, a gorgeous 3-inch LCD display, snappy performance, and a Full HD movie mode. There aren't many downsides: Images are on the soft side, especially if you're using an inexpensive lens. Redeye is a problem, and there's no tool to remove it in playback mode (in fact, there really aren't any editing tools in playback mode). The continuous shooting mode could be better and, like other D-SLRs, contrast detect autofocus in live view mode is sluggish. Despite a few flaws -- many of which were also on the Rebel T1i -- the EOS Rebel T2i is an entry-level digital SLR that should not be ignored.
The Rebel T2i looks a lot like its predecessor from most angles, with the biggest differences found on the back. It's a compact D-SLR with a stainless steel frame covered with a composite shell. Build quality is good in most respects. One beef I've had with the Rebel series for a long time are their small right hand grips. That hasn't changed here, so if you have large hands, you may want to try the camera out in person before you buy it. The T2i features a whopping 18 Megapixel CMOS sensor that is quite similar to the one found on the EOS-7D, which costs nearly twice as much. As with all D-SLRs in 2010, there's a dust reduction system to keep spots from appearing on your photos. The T2i supports all Canon EF and EF-S mount lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio. Since the camera does not have built-in image stabilization, you'll need to buy lenses that come with it (though don't worry, Canon makes plenty). On the back of the camera you'll find the biggest change since the T1i (aside from the sensor), and that's the T2i's stunning 3-inch LCD display. This LCD packs 1.04 million pixels, and it's the sharpest screen I've ever seen. It also has a 3:2 ratio -- the same as the photos the camera is taking -- instead of the usual 4:3 ratio found on other D-SLRs. The Rebel T2i is quite expandable, with support for wired or wireless remotes, an external stereo microphone, and a battery grip.
This latest Rebel has the usual mix of point-and-shoot and enthusiast features. If you want to "set it and forget it", just use the Auto mode. There are several popular scene modes to choose from, as well (though Canon didn't go overboard like a lot of other manufacturers). If you want to dabble in manual controls, you can use the Creative Auto mode to set the aperture and exposure, without having to know what either of those things are. Manual controls include the usual shutter and aperture controls, plus focus and white balance. The latter can be fine-tuned or bracketed, but not set via color temperature. Naturally, the Rebel T2i supports the RAW image format, and Canon includes some very capable software to work with those files. Another nice part of the software package is Remote Capture, which lets you control the T2i from your Mac or PC. The camera's playback mode is very basic, with hardly any editing options -- just image rotation and movie trimming.
Speaking of movies, let's talk about the Rebel's awesome movie mode for a minute. You can record video at Full HD -- that's 1920 x 1080 at either 25 or 30 frames/second -- for up to 12 continuous minutes, with monaural sound. Should you want stereo sound, you need only attach an external mic to the appropriate port on the side of the camera. You can use the optical zoom while you're recording, though autofocus is not continuous (you can press the shutter release to refocus at any time). Lower resolutions are also available, including 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, and a rather strange 640 x 480 crop mode, which applies 7X digital zoom (and nothing in-between). The camera can record movies with automatic exposure, or you can take matters into your own hands and adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
Camera performance is very good in most areas. The Rebel T2i is ready to start taking photos as soon as you hit the power switch, though you may want to wait for it to finish running its dust removal cycle first. When shooting with the optical viewfinder, you'll get very good autofocus speeds. In live view mode, focus speeds will increase. With the Quick AF mode, they're a bit longer than they would be with the viewfinder. The two live AF modes are quite sluggish, and can result in focus times of 1 - 3 seconds. The camera focusing fairly well in low light situations, provided that you've popped up the flash, which is used as an AF-assist lamp. Shutter lag is not an issue, except in live view mode where it's barely noticeable. Shot-to-shot speeds are very quick, regardless of the image quality setting or whether you're using live view. The T2i's continuous shooting mode is average, with the ability to take six RAW or twenty-four JPEG photos in a row at 3.3 frames/second. Battery life is also right in the middle, though you can double it by picking up the optional battery grip. This grip supports both the proprietary lithium-ion batteries normally used by the T2i, as well as easy-to-find AAs.
Photo quality was very good, though you'll want to use a good quality lens to get the most out of the Rebel T2i. While the kit lens and things like the new 18-135 are fine for "regular folks", enthusiasts will want to buy some higher quality glass for sharper photos. The T2i's exposures are generally very accurate though, like most D-SLRs these days, it will clip highlights at times. Color saturation is average at default settings, though you can mae things a lot more "punchy" by fooling with the Picture Styles feature. Images are on the soft side straight out of the camera, which is a combination of Canon's conservation in-camera sharpening (which is adjustable) and the aforementioned fact that you need good glass with this high resolution D-SLR. The Rebel T2i performs very well at high ISOs, especially when you consider its 18 Megapixel resolution. You can safely shoot at ISO 1600 in low light and ISO 3200 in good light, without having to worry about noise or detail loss. The higher sensitivities do have both of those, but shooting in RAW will get back some detail and make those sensitivities more usable. One unfortunate tradition the Rebel series has is a problem with redeye, and that continues on the T2i (and there's no way to remove it in playback mode).
In case you haven't noticed, I'm a fan of the EOS Rebel T2i. I brought it with me on vacation and it produced some fantastic photos that will soon be hanging on my wall. Sure, there's some room for improvement, but the Rebel T2i does what it does very well. I can highly recommend the Rebel T2i to just about everyone, though you may want to save that tax refund for some nice lenses, as they'll allow you to get the most out of the camera!
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- Excellent high ISO performance, especially considering the 18 Megapixel resolution of the camera
- Compact, well-designed body
- Ultra-high resolution 3-inch LCD with 3:2 aspect ratio
- Fast startup, focus, shot-to-shot times
- Full manual controls, with support for RAW image format
- Full HD movie recording with full manual controls and several resolutions/frame rates to choose from
- Auto Lighting Optimizer brightens shadows; highlight tone priority improves highlight detail
- Remote capture software included; supports live view and movie recording
- Optional battery grip (that supports AA batteries, too)
- HDMI and external microphone ports
What I didn't care for:
- JPEGs are soft at default settings; good lenses needed for best results
- Redeye a problem; no way to remove it in playback mode
- Small right hand grip not for everyone
- Outdoor LCD visibility could be better
- Sluggish contrast detect autofocus in live view
- Continuous shooting mode could be better
- Very basic playback mode
- Wireless flash control would've been nice
Some other D-SLRs worth considering include the Nikon D5000, Olympus E-620, Pentax K-x, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A550. You may also be interested in the even more compact, mirrorless Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 and Samsung NX10.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Rebel T2i and its competitors before you buy!