Canon EOS Rebel T4i Review
Design & Features
The EOS Rebel T4i is a fairly compact digital SLR, with a composite outer shell covering what is likely a stainless steel chassis. Despite the plastic shell, the T4i does not feel cheap in the hand. Speaking of hands, the latest Rebel still has a fairly small grip, though the rubberized texture helps compensate for that a bit. The camera has quite a few buttons scattered over three sides of the body. Thankfully, they're easy to reach, and most handle just one function.
So what's changed since the Rebel T3i (AKA the EOS-600D)? Let's have a look:
|The Rebel T3i (left) vs. the new Rebel T4i (right), fairly close to scale
Images courtesy of Canon USA
Not a whole lot has changed on the front of the T4i, aside for the disappearance of the microphone. That microphone has resurfaced on the top of the camera, just above the hot shoe (and now in stereo form). Other changes of note on the top include the removal of the display button and the addition of movie mode to the power switch (it was on the mode dial previously). The T3i and T4i are more-or-less identical on their back sides.
Alright, let's take the same group of cameras from the battery life comparison and see how they line up in terms of size and weight:
The Rebel T4i is the second largest/heaviest D-SLR in the group. It towers over mirrorless cameras, as you'd expect, seeing how the T4i has to make room for its mirror box and optical viewfinder.
It's tour time! Use the tabs below to move through various views of the Rebel T4i:
Here's the front of the Rebel T4i, without a lens attached. Like its predecessors, the T4i supports all EF and EF-S lenses with a 1.6X crop factor. Since image stabilization isn't built into the camera body, you'll want to look for that feature on the lens itself. To release an attached lens, simply press the button located to the right of the mount.
I want to talk a little bit about the 18 Megapixel CMOS sensor before we continue. This sensor supports Canon's new Hybrid CMOS AF system, which combines both phase and contrast detection systems, and promises better focusing performance when using live view or recording movies. Canon has placed phase detection sites toward the center of the sensor, and the camera will use those when the subject is in the center of the frame. When the subject moves out of the center, the camera will switch to the contrast detect system that Canon D-SLRs have been using for some time. This new AF system works best with the two STM lenses that Canon has released (the 18-135 that I used, as well as a 40mm pancake lens). I'll have more on performance later in the review.
Like all D-SLRs, the Rebel T4i has a system in place to keep dust from settling on the sensor. In this case, it'll use ultrasonic waves that literally shake dust away dust. You can have this system run when the camera is powered on and off, or whenever you want (via the menu system).
Getting back to the tour: straight above the lens mount is the T4i's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. This flash has a guide number of 13 meters at ISO 100 -- par for the course on a D-SLR. If you want something more powerful, there's a hot shoe at your disposal on the top of the camera. You can also cut the cord entirely and go wireless, with the built-in flash acting as the master.
The only other things to note can be found on and around the grip. They include the self-timer / redeye reduction lamp and the remote control receiver. The Rebel doesn't have a dedicated AF-assist lamp, instead using the flash for that function.
One of the nicest features on the Rebel T4i is its flip-out, rotating 3-inch LCD display. This allows you to take photos and movies over the heads of people in front of you, and I also find it handy for tripod shooting. The LCD can also be placed in the traditional position (see next tab), or closed entirely.
The LCD on the Rebel T4i may have the same size and resolution of its predecessor (3-inches and 1.04 million pixels, respectively), but now it's touch-enabled. I'll tell you more about the touchscreen features after the tour. The screen is extremely sharp and offers average outdoor visibility.
Just above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which has 95% frame coverage and a magnification of 0.85x (about average for this class). As you'd expect, the eleven focus points are illuminated, and there's a green-colored line of shooting data below the field-of-view. You can adjust the focus on the viewfinder by using the diopter correction knob on its upper-right.
Now let's quickly go through all of the buttons on the back of the Rebel T4i. To the left of the viewfinder are buttons for entering the menu system and toggling what's shown on the LCD. On the opposite side is a button for entering live view, follow bed a pair of buttons for zooming in and out in live view and playback mode.
To the right of the LCD we have the four-way controller, which has four buttons surrounding it. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, adjusting manual settings, and replaying photos. It also has direct controls for white balance, Picture Style, plus the drive and AF mode.
The buttons above the four-way controller are for adjusting the exposure compensation or aperture (depends on the shooting mode), an entering the Quick Menu (more on that in a bit). Below the controller are a final pair of buttons, used for entering playback mode and deleting a photo.
The first thing to see on the top of the Rebel T4i is its hot shoe. Canon-branded flashes will work best -- they'll sync with the camera's metering system, and you'll be able to control many of them right from the menu system. A Canon Speedlite also allows you to take advantage of high speed flash sync. If you're using a third party flash, you'll be limited to 1/200 sec and cannot use the flash in live view. You may also have to set the flash exposure manually. As I mentioned earlier, the Rebel's built-in flash can also be used to control external flashes wirelessly, if you wish.
Right above the hot shoe is the T4i's stereo microphone -- an improvement upon the monaural mic on the T3i.
Moving to the right, you'll spot a fully-loaded mode dial, with the power / movie mode switch next door.
Above that is a button for adjusting the ISO sensitivity, the camera's sole control dial, and the shutter release button.
Just to the right of the lens mount is the release for the built-in flash. Below that is the lens release button, followed by a DOF preview button.
The camera's I/O ports can be found under a pair of rubber covers. They include remote control in, stereo mic in, USB + A/V output, and mini-HDMI.
The available 18 - 135 mm kit lens is at its wide-angle position here.
The only thing to see on the right side of the Rebel T4i is its SD card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of average quality.
The 18-135 kit lens is at full telephoto here. That's quite a snout!
On the bottom of the Rebel T4i you'll find a metal tripod mount -- in-line with the lens, of course -- and the battery compartment. The plastic door over this compartment is on the flimsy side.
The included LP-E8 li-ion battery can be seen at the lower right.
A histogram is available when using live view, though it blocks a large portion of the frame
I'm going to kick off my discussion of the Rebel T4i's features by talking about live view, which is activated by a button on the back of the camera. The live view feature works quite well for a digital SLR, though it's not as responsive as what you'll find on a modern mirrorless camera. Features here include a live histogram, grid lines, continuous autofocus with subject tracking, face detection, and frame enlargement (handy for manual focusing). As I mentioned in the tour, outdoor visibility is about average, while in low light the live view brightens up nicely.
There are several focus modes to choose from, including face detection+tracking, multi-area (31-point), and single-point -- all of which use the Hybrid AF system. In multi-area mode you can let the camera pick the focus points, or you can do so manually, with the ability to break things down into zones containing nine focus points.
The T4i's Hybrid AF system allows for continuous autofocus when shooting movies or composing photos in live view mode. It'll work with most Canon lenses, but is really designed for use with the two new STM (stepping motor) lenses that came out earlier in the year. Below is a silly, unscientific test that I put together to compare continuous AF performance between the 18 - 135 mm STM lens and my own 15 - 85 mm USM lens. I point the lens first at my knee (probably 10 inches away), and then to my printer desk (about 8 feet away). Watch how quickly each lenses refocuses as I do that:
As you can see, the STM lens is a lot more responsive. That said, it's certainly not as fast as a mirrorless camera, and focus speeds can be inconsistent. Sometimes it's really snappy, while other times it'll be obvious that the camera has switched to the contrast detect system. Focusing times can be glacial when contrast detection is used, especially in low light. Still, the Hybrid AF system is a step in the right direction -- too bad you need a new lens to take full advantage of it.
Canon also provides a Quick AF mode on the Rebel T4i. This will pause live view for about a second while the camera flips the mirror down and uses the regular AF sensor to focus. Unless you're using one of the STM lenses in good light, using Quick AF will be faster nine times out of ten.
The touch-enabled Quick Menu
When using live view you can take advantage of the Rebel T4i's 3-inch capacitative touchscreen LCD. You can touch to focus alone, or to focus and take a picture. Want to enlarge the frame? Just tap the magnifying glass. Touching the "Q" opens a touch-enabled shortcut menu, which even my big fingers could operate. In playback mode there are a bunch of other things you can do with your finger that I'll "touch on" later.
This info screen -- shown when shooting with the OVF -- can be a shortcut menu, too
If you're shooting with the optical viewfinder, then you'll see the info screen above. By pressing the "Q" button, you can adjust any of the settings, using buttons or fingers. The camera has a sensor which detects when you place your eye against the optical viewfinder, which turns off whatever is being displayed on the LCD.
Let's move on to the mode dial, which is jam-packed with options they include:
For those of you familiar with the Rebel T3i, you'll notice some additions (HDR, Handheld Night Scene) as well as some deletions (A-Dep) from the mode dial. Some of these deserve an explanation, and I'll start with Scene Intelligent Auto mode. In this mode, the camera will analyze the scene, and select the appropriate white balance, Picture Style, focus mode, and Auto Lighting optimizer setting for you.
Creative Auto mode
If you want something sort of in-between automatic and manual, then give the Creative Auto mode a try. This mode lets you adjust both color and depth-of-field without having to know what Picture Styles or aperture are. Instead, the camera calls these things "ambiance" and "background", which should make a lot more sense to beginners.
The T4i has seven scene modes you can choose from yourself, including two new ones: HDR backlight control and Handheld Night Scene. I probably don't have to explain HDR anymore, but just in case you don't know, the camera takes three shots in a row, each at a different exposure (you cannot set the interval). It then combines these exposures in a single image, allowing for greatly improved contrast. Here's an example:
|HDR off||HDR on|
Above is one of my favorite HDR test scenes (though Starbucks does not permit photography in stores, so shoot at your own risk). You don't need to be a camera reviewer to see that the HDR feature made a huge difference in this heavily back-lit scene. That said, there are two things that I don't like about the T4i's implementation of this feature. First, a smaller area of the frame is captured when using HDR (why, I do not know). Second, it takes the camera about ten seconds to process each image, which is a bit surprising considering that it has a DIGIC 5 processor.
The other features, Handheld Night Scene, can be found on many other (non-Canon) cameras under various names. This takes four shots in rapid succession, and combines them into a single image, which is (hopefully) sharp and not too noisy. The photo above was taken at ISO 12800 and looks pretty good, all things considered. That said, Handheld Night Scene is best suited for small prints or web viewing. As with the HDR feature, it takes about ten seconds for the camera to process and save these images to the memory card.
Fine-tuning and bracketing white balance at the same time
If you're worried that Canon skimped on manual controls, you need not. The Rebel T4i offers manual control over shutter speed, aperture, and white balance, plus support for the RAW image format (14-bit, no less). For white balance, you'll find the usual presets, a custom spot (for use with a white or gray card), and the ability to fine-tune and bracket. In addition to bracketing for white balance, you can also do so for exposure. The T4i also has a small set of custom functions, some of which I'll highlight below.
Now I'd like to talk about the items found in the Rebel T4i's extensive menu system. Canon's menu system hasn't changed much over the years, and that's fine -- it's responsive and easy to navigate. About the only thing missing are help screens. For those wondering: yes, you can use your finger to operate the main menu, too. Here are some of the still-shooting related highlights from the menu:
- Image quality: choose from a number of JPEG sizes and qualities, RAW, or RAW+JPEG; a RAW image will be about 23.5MB in size, while a Large/Fine JPEG weighs in at 6.4MB
- Lens aberration correction: reduces vignetting and purple fringing on modern Canon lenses; the former is on by default, while the latter is not
- Redeye reduction: uses the redeye reduction lamp to shrink your subjects' pupils, possibly reducing this annoyance
- Flash control: select the flash metering system, exposure compensation, x-sync speed, slow sync, and wireless setup for the built-in flash here; if you've got a Canon external flash attached, you can adjust its settings here, as well
- Auto Lighting Optimizer: improves brightness and contrast in a photo, with three levels to choose from; by default, this feature is disabled when using the manual exposure modes
- Picture Style: a Picture Style contains settings for sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone, plus filter/toning effects for monochrome modes; you can adjust the settings for the six preset or three custom Styles to your heart's content; an Auto Style mode will select one of the Styles automatically, depending on the scene
- ISO Auto: choose the highest sensitivity that the camera will use with Auto ISO selection
- High ISO speed noise reduction: choose from off, low, standard, and high, or try the new Multi Shot NR option, which I'll demo later in the review
- Live View AF method: choose from face detection+tracking, FlexiZone multi-point, FlexiZone single-point, or Quick Mode; I described this earlier in the review
- Continuous AF: whether the camera keeps subjects in-focus while in live view mode
- Touch shutter: whether you can touch an object on the screen and have the camera focus and take a picture on that area
- Aspect ratio: choose from 3:2, 4:3, 16:9, 1:1
- Feature guide: turn the help screens that display when you change modes or use the Quick Menu on or off
- Touch control: the master switch for all touch features on the T4i
Like most modern Canon D-SLRs, the Rebel T4i corrects for vignetting automatically (on most lenses). Something the T4i can also do is digitally reduce the amount of purple fringing in your photos. As with the peripheral illumination (vignetting) correction, this won't work for every lens, but if it does, I'd turn it on. Here's why:
|Chromatic aberration correction off (default)||Chromatic aberration correction on|
The cropped photo above has been enlarged to show detail. The CA correction tool definitely works, and if you're using a lens that's prone to this issue (I'm looking at you, 18-135), then I'd highly recommend turning it on. I have to wonder why it's not on by default on this consumer-level camera.
The Auto Lighting Optimizer aims to improve brightness and contrast in your photos., It's set to the "standard" setting in most shooting modes, and is off (by default) in "M" mode. Using one of our standard test scenes, here's the effect of the various ALO settings:
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The good news is that the Auto Lighting Optimizer brightens shadows, though it's fairly subtle. The bad news is that it doesn't do anything for highlight detail. Thankfully, Canon has something for that too, that I'll tell you about in just a moment.
One of the eight custom functions on the Rebel T4i
The Rebel T4i also has eight custom functions available that let you further customize camera operation. The only two that I want to mention are ISO expansion (opens up ISO 12800 for movies, and ISO 25600 for stills) and highlight tone priority. Highlight tone priority expands dynamic range and reduces highlight clipping, and is off by default. In order for it to work its magic, the minimum ISO is increased from 100 to 200. Let's use the same hallway from the Auto Lighting Optimizer test to show off highlight tone priority:
|Highlight tone priority off
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You'll want to be looking at the archway on the far left side of the photo to see the effects of the highlight tone priority feature. While it's not super-obvious, the sky is bluer and fewer highlights are clipped with the HTP feature turned on. If you're shooting in a situation where highlight clipping is an issue, by all means, turn on this feature.
Moving onto movies now: the EOS Rebel T4i can record full HD video at 1920 x 1080 at your choice of 24p or 30p (25p is available in PAL countries, as well). Sound is recorded in stereo using the built-in microphone, and you can add an external one if you want better audio quality. The maximum recording time is just under 30 minutes, and the T4i will automatically create a new file when the previous clip reaches 4GB. If you want a faster frame rate, a 720/60p resolution is available. A VGA option is also available for those not looking for HD quality video.
One of the big features on the Rebel T4i is support for continuous autofocus (what Canon calls movie servo) while recording a movie. You can do this with any lens, though it'll be much quicker and smoother with an STM, like the one I used for this review. Naturally, if your lens has image stabilization built-in, then you'll be able to take full advantage of that.
|Sound of the available settings for movie recording||Sound recording options|
As you'd expect, the T4i has a full set of manual controls available when recording movies. You can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to your liking, or let the camera figure it out by itself. Audio control options include manual mic level adjustment, plus a wind filter and attenuator.
The Rebel T4i also has a feature called video snapshot, which lets you take short 2, 4, or 8 second-long video clips, and later compile them into a single movie. You can arrange the clips in this "album" and add your own background music, if you're so inclined.
Below is a combination of two movies that I recorded at the 1080/30p setting, using the 18 - 135 mm lens. You will see that I zoom out a bit during the clip, and it's not terribly smooth -- sorry about that! And now, some cable cars:
The video quality looks pretty good to me!
The Rebel T4i's playback mode is pretty nice. You can select options via traditional or touchscreen menus (pictured above), with these being the most interesting features available:
- Photobook: lets you organize your photos on the camera, which are then transferred to your PC in their own folder (assuming that you're using EOS Utility)
- Creative Filters: apply special effects to your photos; effects include grainy B&W, soft focus, fisheye, art bold (pop color), water painting, toy camera, and miniature
- Ratings: photos and videos can be rated from one to five stars; this information is sent over to your computer when you use Canon's software
- Image jump: use the front controller to jump by 10 or 100 images, or by date, folder, file type, or image rating
- Movie editing: you can remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a video clip
The big thing missing here is redeye removal. Thus, you'll have to fix this annoyance on your Mac or PC.
Playback mode is really where the touchscreen LCD struts its stuff. The T4i performs just like a smartphone (well, one with a small screen), as you can pinch-to-zoom, pan around with your finger, and swipe between photos. It's responsive and smooth, and a pleasure to use, rather than a distraction.
The EOS Rebel T4i shows just basic information about your photo by default. Pressing the info button reveals more, including a histogram, while an additional press provides an RGB histogram and a look at clipped highlights.
Moving between photos is instantaneous, regardless of it you use your finger or the four-way controller.