Canon EOS Rebel T2i Review

Using the Canon EOS Rebel T2i

Record Mode

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:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 4GB card
5184 x 3456
RAW + Fine JPEG 30.9 MB 110
RAW 24.5 MB 150
Fine 6.4 MB 570
Normal 3.2 MB 1120
3456 x 2304
Fine 3.4 MB 1070
Normal 1.7 MB 2100
2592 x 1728
Fine 2.2 MB 1670
Normal 1.1 MB 3180

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:

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, for JPEGs only (though it's a RAW parameter)
  • 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
  • Auto Lighting Optimizer (Off, low, standard, strong) - see below
  • Metering mode (Evaluative, partial, spot, center-weighted)
  • Custom white balance - use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting conditions
  • WB shift/bracketing - see below
  • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Picture Style (Standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, user 1/2/3) - described earlier

Shooting 3

  • Dust Delete Data - creates a dust map for use with the DPP software
  • ISO Auto (Max 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400) - set the maximum sensitivity the camera will use in Auto ISO mode
Playback 1
  • Protect images
  • Rotate
  • Erase images
  • Print order - tag photos for printing
  • Slide show
Playback 2
  • Histogram (Brightness, RGB)
  • Image jump with control dial (1, 10, 100 images, date, movies, stills)
  • Control over HDMI (Enable/disable) - whether you can control the camera with a compatible HDTV's remote control when connected over HDMI

Setup 1

  • Auto power off (Off, 30 secs, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15 mins)
  • Auto rotate (Camera+PC, PC only, off)
  • Format memory card
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset, manual reset)
  • LCD auto off (Enabled/disabled) - whether the info screen turns off when you put your eye to the viewfinder
  • Screen color (1 - 4) - choose the colors of the info screen shown in record mode
Setup 2
  • LCD brightness (1-7)
  • Date/time
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Sensor cleaning
    • Auto cleaning (Enable/disable)
    • Clean now
    • Clean manually - flips the mirror up so you can use a blower
  • 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 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. AF-assist beam firing (Enable, disable, only external flash emits, IR AF-assist beam only)
    8. Mirror lockup (enable/disable)
    9. 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
    10. Assign Set button (Disabled, image quality, flash exposure comp, LCD on/off, menu, ISO speed)
    11. LCD display when power on (Display on, previous display status)
    12. Add image verification data (on/off) - for use with the optional Original Data Security Kit
  • Copyright information - embed author name and copyright info into EXIF data
    • Display copyright info (Enable/disable)
    • Enter author's name
    • Enter copyright details
    • Delete copyright information
  • Clear settings
  • Firmware version

My Menu settings

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

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:

View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
ALO Standard
View Full Size Image
ALO High
View Full Size Image

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:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

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:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 5.7RC)

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

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 5.7RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

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:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12,800

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.

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 5.7RC)

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

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 5.7RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
ISO 12800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 5.7RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

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.

Movie Mode

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.

Click to view original movie (1920 x 1080, 30 fps, 68.4 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Click to view recompressed movie (1920 x 1080, 30 fps, 11.0 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Click to view original movie (1920 x 1080, 30 fps, 113 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Click to view recompressed movie (1920 x 1080, 30 fps, 19.4 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Click to view original movie (1920 x 1080, 24 fps, 88.2 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Click to view recompressed movie (1920 x 1080, 24 fps, 15.5 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Click to view original movie (1280 x 720, 60 fps, 76 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)
Click to view recompressed movie (1280 x 720, 60 fps, 8.9 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Playback Mode

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.

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