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DCRP Review: Canon EOS Rebel XSi
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 27, 2008
Last Updated: June 29, 2008

Front of the Canon EOS Rebel XSi

The EOS Rebel XSi ($799) is one of two entry-level cameras in Canon's lineup (the other being the recently announced Rebel XS -- a stripped down version of the XSi). The Rebel XSi (also known as the EOS-450D) is the replacement to the extremely popular Rebel XTi, offering these new features:

So what hasn't changed? The Rebel XSi retains the compact design, dust reduction system, EF/EF-S lens support, and snappy performance of its predecessor. Is the photo quality just as good? Find out now -- our review starts right now!

What's in the Box?

The Rebel XSi is available in two "kits". One includes the body only ($799), while the second the body plus an F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm IS lens ($849). Here's what you'll find in the box for both of those:

The lens kit features Canon's brand new stabilized 18 - 55 mm lens. If I'm not mistaken, this is the fourth iteration of the 18 - 55 EF-S lens, and it's arguably the best one yet. It has better corner-to-corner sharpness, less purple fringing, and of course, image stabilization.

One of the big changes on the Rebel XSi is the switch from CompactFlash to Secure Digital flash memory. The only surprise here is that it took so long to happen. Canon doesn't include a card with the camera, so it's up to you to supply one. The camera supports both SD and SDHC cards, and I'd suggest a 2GB card to start with. It's definitely worth spending the extra bucks for a "high speed" card.

The XSi uses an all-new battery known as the LP-E5. With 8.0 Wh of energy inside its plastic shell, this battery is 50% more powerful than the one on the Rebel XTi. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon Digital Rebel XTi 360 shots NB-2LH
Canon EOS Rebel XS 500 shots LP-E5
Canon EOS Rebel XSi 500 shots LP-E5
Nikon D60 500 shots EN-EL9
Olympus E-420 500 shots BLS-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 450 shots DMW-BLA13
Pentax K200D 550 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 730 shots NP-FM500H

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

As you can see, there's a dramatic improvement in battery life from the Rebel XTi to the Rebel XSi. In the group as a whole, the XSi's numbers are a bit below average, due to the extraordinary battery life on the Sony A300.

Like most of the cameras on the above list, the Rebel XSi's battery is proprietary. That means that it's pricey (a spare will cost at least $54), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when the proprietary one runs out of juice. You're not completely out of luck, though. The optional battery grip (pictured below) includes an adapter that lets you use six AA batteries to power the camera!


The XSi with the optional battery grip
Image courtesy of Canon USA

Speaking of the battery grip, above you can see the BG-E5 (priced from $135) in action. The grip holds two LP-E5 or six AA batteries, offering double the battery life. There are also addition buttons on the grip for shooting in the portrait orientation.

When it's time to charge the LP-E5 battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around two hours to fully charge the battery. This is my favorite type of charger, too -- it plugs directly into the wall.

Digital SLRs support a ton of accessories, and the table below covers just a selection of those available for the Rebel XSi:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The XSi supports all EF and EF-S mount lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion
External flash

220EX
430EX
580EX II

From $125
From $230
From $380
You'll get more flash power and less chance of redeye with an external flash. Note that the 430EX is soon to be replaced by the 430EX II.
Macro ring lite MR-14EX From $449 Light up your macro shots
Macro twin lite MT-24EX From $670 For taking close-up flash photos
Right angle finder Angle finder C From $176 For looking into the optical viewfinder from above
Wired remote control RS-60E3 From $23 Basically a shutter release button on a 2 foot long cable.
Wireless remote control RC-1
RC-5
$26
From $18
Another way to take photos remotely
Battery grip BG-E5 From $135 Get double the battery life and a comfortable vertical grip
AC adapter ACK-E5 $69 Power your camera without draining your batteries
Car battery charger CBC-E5 $90 You never know when you may need to charge your battery in the car...
Semi-hard case EH-19L From $50 Protect your camera from the elements
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

As long as that list may be, that's not the full list of accessories for the Rebel XSi. The manual has a system map showing all of the optional extras you spend your cash on.

Let's move onto the XSi's software bundle now!

Canon includes version 17.1 of their EOS Digital Solutions Disk with the Rebel XSi. The first application that you'll probably bump into is EOS Utility, which is sort of a gateway to all the other software programs.


EOS Utility in Mac OS X

If you choose to select and download images to your computer, you'll get the screen you see above. Once photos are transferred to your computer, you have two ways of viewing and editing them.


ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

The "consumer-friendly" option for image viewing is ImageBrowser (for Mac) and ZoomBrowser (for Windows). On the main screen, you get the usual thumbnail view, with quick access to image e-mailing, printing, editing, and slideshows.


The JPEG viewing/editing window in ImageBrowser

Double-click on a JPEG image and you'll bring up the edit window you see above. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve.


RAW editing in ImageBrowser

The Browser software also includes a nice RAW editor, which is reminiscent of the DPP software that I'll describe in a moment. Here you can adjust exposure compensation, white balance, picture style, sharpness, and contrast.


Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X

For slightly more powerful RAW editing, plus a batch image conversion tool, you'll want to fire up Digital Photo Professional. The main screen isn't too different from Image/ZoomBrowser, with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail w/shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.


RAW editing in DPP

The RAW editing tools in DPP are a little more robust than those in the Browser "twins". 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 and purple fringing).

I've been talking about RAW for several paragraphs without explaining what it is. 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 shooting in EOS Utility, complete with live view

Jumping back to EOS Utility again, I want to mention a really nice feature -- Remote Capture. This lets you control the camera right from your computer, with access to most camera settings. The live view feature is fully supported, complete with a histogram, composition grid, and the ability to enlarge the frame. Photos are saved directly to your computer, though they can be stored on the camera too, if you wish.


Customizing the My Menu settings in EOS Utility

The Remote Capture tool also lets you set up the My Menu feature on the camera (click on the "star" icon in the remote shooting window). You can select up to six items to be in your custom menu. I'll have more on this feature later in the review.


Picture Style Editor in Mac OS X

The last tool in Canon's software suite is the Picture Styles editor. To use this, you must first open up a RAW image. You can then tweak the tone curve, color settings, contrast, and sharpness, and then save a new Picture Style, which can be used both on the camera and in the Digital Photo Professional software.

Canon includes a thick, detailed manual with the Rebel XSi. It's not what I'd consider "user friendly", but any question you may have about the camera will be answered by flipping open the book.

Look and Feel

The EOS Rebel XSi looks more-or-less like its predecessor. The most notable change is the larger LCD on the XSi, though the right hand grip and a few buttons have been tweaked as well. And, of course, the memory card slot takes up a lot less real estate than it did before!

The XSi remains one of the smallest D-SLRs money can buy. It has a very small right hand grip, which some folks (myself included) may not find comfortable, so be sure to try one out before you buy. Canon has added a "stickier" rubberized coating to the grip, so you'll have more confidence when holding the camera. While the most important controls are easy to reach, the XSi does have a few more buttons that I would've liked.

Images courtesy of Canon USA

While the Rebel XSi is a pretty "plasticky" camera, overall the build quality is good. Like past Rebels, the XSi is available in silver and black.

Now, here's a look at how the Rebel XSi compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon Digital Rebel XTi 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in. 48.1 cu in. 510 g
Canon EOS Rebel XS 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4 in. 45.6 cu in. 450 g
Canon EOS Rebel XSi 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in. 46.5 cu in. 475 g
Nikon D60 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 46.3 cu in. 495 g
Olympus E-420 5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 in. 38.6 cu in. 380 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 5.3 x 3.8 x 3.1 in. 62.4 cu in. 480 g
Pentax K200D 5.2 x 3.7 x 2.9 in. 55.8 cu in. 630 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 5.1 x 3.9 x 2.9 in. 57.7 cu in. 582 g

The first thing to point out is that the Rebel XSi is a bit smaller and lighter than the XTi that came before it. In the group as a whole, it's right in the middle.

Alright, enough numbers -- let's tour the XSi now, shall we?

Front of the Canon EOS Rebel XSi

Here's the front of the Rebel XSi, without a lens attached. Like all the Rebel cameras, the XSi supports both EF and EF-S lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio. Thus, a 50 mm lens will have a field-of-view of 80 mm. To release a lens, simply press the button located to the right of the lens mount. Behind the mirror is a brand new 12.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor, making this the highest resolution Rebel to date.

The XSi uses the same EOS Integrated Cleaning System as its predecessor, which helps keep dust off the sensor, and thus out of your photos. First, the IR filter (in front of the low-pass filter) has an anti-static coating, which helps to repel dust. If dust manages to stick, the camera can shake it off with ultrasonic vibrations when the camera is powered on or off. If you still have dust after all that, then you can create a "dust map", which you import into the Digital Photography Professional software. The camera can then automatically remove these dust spots from your images.

Straight above the lens mount is the Rebel's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The flash has a guide number of 13 meters at ISO 100, which is the same as it was on the Rebel XTi. Checking the flash range on the competition, the Pentax K200D also has a guide number of 13. The Nikon D60, Olympus E-420, and Sony Alpha DSLR-A300 have guide numbers of 12, with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 holding up the rear with a GN of 11. If you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that I'll discuss in a moment.

The flash doubles as the camera's AF-assist lamp, firing quick bursts of light to help the camera lock focus. This system is quite effective, though the light can be distracting to your subject. If you don't actually want to take a flash picture, you can simply close the flash after focusing is complete.

Over on the grip, you'll find the receiver for the optional wireless remote, the self-timer/redeye reduction lamp, and the shutter release button.

Back of the Canon EOS Rebel XSi

The most significant changes to the Rebel XSi can be found on its back side. The one that jumps right out at you is the 3-inch LCD, up from 2.5" on the Rebel XTi. While the screen is larger, the resolution remains the same: 230,000 pixels. Outdoor visibility is good, but not spectacular.


The very busy live view screen

Along with the larger LCD comes support for "live view". This allows you to compose photos on the LCD, just like you can on a compact camera. You get to see 100% of the frame, and a histogram (that blocks way too much of the frame), composition grid, and exposure preview are all available. The XSi can even use the same contrast detect autofocus system as your point-and-shoot camera, though it's not nearly as responsive. Do note that live view is not available in any of the automatic shooting modes: you must be in P/A/S/M/A-Dep mode in order to use it!

The quality of the live view image is very good. The image is sharp, with fluid motion as you pan the camera around. In low light situations, the image brightens automatically, so you can still see what you're trying to take a picture of.

The first thing to mention about autofocus in live view mode is that it's turned off by default (is that a hint?). Once you turn it on, you'll have two modes to choose mode: quick mode, and live mode. Quick mode requires the mirror to flip down, allowing the camera's AF sensor to do its thing. When focus is locked, the mirror flips back up, and the live view returns. This whole process takes around a second in most situations. Live mode uses the same contrast detect system as a compact camera, only it's much slower. You'll wait 1-2 seconds at the minimum for the camera to lock focus using this method. I don't know why Canon even bothered with this feature, frankly (my guess: marketing).

The large box is the area I want to enlarge Here is that area, blown up five times

Live view really shines when the camera is on a tripod, and you need to make precise adjustments to the focus. You can throw the camera into manual focus mode, pick an area on the frame that you want to check, and then blow it up by 5X or 10X. I've been using this feature on my EOS-40D for quite some time, and I love it.


This info screen is shown on the LCD when you're shooting with the viewfinder

When you're using the viewfinder to compose your photos, the LCD turns into an information display. It shows virtually all relevant camera settings, and when you adjust a setting via a button on the camera, the available options will be displayed (see above). An sensor below the viewfinder disables the info screen when you put your eye to it.

Speaking of viewfinders, the one on the Rebel XSi is quite a bit larger than the one on the XTi. The viewfinder has a magnification of 0.87X, up from 0.80X on the Rebel XTi. The frame coverage remains the same, at 95%. Below the field-of-view is a line of data, showing things like exposure, shutter speed, aperture, focus lock, shots remaining, and more.

To the left of the viewfinder are buttons for activating the Menu, and toggling the information shown on the LCD display.

Crossing over to the top-right of the photo, we find buttons for AE/AF lock and focus point selection. The AE/AF lock button is what you'll press to activate autofocus in live view mode. If you're shooting with the viewfinder, the focus point button will let you select one of nine focus points in the frame. In live view mode, this button digitally enlarges the frame (discussed earlier).


This menu is displayed when you connect to a Mac or PC

Moving closer to the LCD, we find buttons for adjusting the exposure compensation (with the usual -2EV to +2EV range) or the aperture (when in "M" mode). Below that is a direct button for selecting the white balance (choose from auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, and custom). This same button lights up when the camera is attached to a computer or printer. If you're attached to a PC, you can transfer photos using the camera's interface. If it's a printer you're using, you'll be able to select which photos to print, and what settings to use.

The next item of note on the back of the Rebel XSi is the four-way controller. You'll use this mostly for menu navigation and reviewing photos you've taken. The controller also offers more shortcut buttons, letting you adjust the following:

One of the new-and-improved features on the Rebel XSi is its continuous shooting mode. Canon advertises a 3.5 fps frame rate, up from 3 fps on the XTi. Here's how it performed in our tests:

Quality setting Burst rate, LV off Burst rate, LV on
RAW+ Large/Fine JPEG 4 shots @ 3.4 fps, 2 shots @ 2.1 fps, then 0.5 fps 4 shots @ 3.3 fps, 2 shots @ 2.1 fps, then 4 shots @ 0.4 fps
RAW 6 shots @ 3.5 fps, then 0.7 fps 6 shots @ 3.3 fps, then 0.6 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) 50+ shots @ 3.5 fps 50+ shots @ 3.3 fps

With live view off, the Rebel XSi performs as advertised. When you turn live view on, however, the frame rate drops just a bit. In addition, you only get the live preview for the first shot -- the screen goes black after that.

The continuous self-timer feature is a handy one -- it lets you select how many shots the camera takes after an initial 10 second delay.

What are those three AF modes all about? One shot AF is what most of you are used to: press the shutter release halfway, and the camera locks the focus. AI servo will track a moving subject, even with the shutter release halfway-pressed. The AI focus option will select from either of those, depending on subject movement.

The last two buttons on the back of the XSi are self-explanatory: Playback and Delete Photo.

Top of the Canon EOS Rebel XSi

The first thing to see on the top of the Rebel XSi is the camera's hot shoe. As you'd expect, the camera works best with Canon's EX-series Speedlites, which support the E-TTL II metering system. If you're using a non-Canon flash, you'll most likely have to adjust its settings manually. I should also point out that live view is disabled when using a non-Canon external flash. The XSi can sync as fast as 1/200 sec with an external flash.

The camera does not support wireless flashes straight out of the box, unlike some of the competition.

Moving to the right, we find the XSi's mode dial, which has the following options:

Option Function
Flash off Disables the flash (including for AF-assist); live view not available
Night portrait These are all scene modes; note that live view is not available in these modes
Sports
Close-up
Landscape
Portrait
Full auto mode Point-and-shoot, with many menu options locked up; live view is not available
Program mode Point-and-shoot but with access to all camera options; a Program Shift feature lets you use the command dial to move through various shutter speed/aperture combinations
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You set the shutter speed and the camera selects the appropriate aperture; shutter speed range is 30 - 1/4000 sec
Aperture priority (Av) mode You set the aperture, and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed; aperture range will vary depending on your choice of lens; for the kit lens, the range is F3.5 - F36
Full manual (M) mode You select both the shutter speed and aperture, with the same ranges as above; a bulb mode is also available, allowing you to take exposures for as long as the shutter release button is held down
Auto depth-of-field (A-Dep) mode All subjects detected by the AF system will be in focus

As you can see, the Rebel XSi has both automatic and manual controls. Strangely enough, live view is disabled in the automatic modes, which makes me scratch my head a bit -- isn't this a feature for consumers moving up from point-and-shoot cameras?

Right underneath the mode dial is the camera's power switch. Just above that is a dedicated ISO adjustment button. Continuing upwards, we find the XSi's sole command dial (I prefer having two) and the shutter release button.

Side of the Canon EOS Rebel XSi

On this side of the EOS Rebel XSi you'll find the flash release and depth-of-field preview buttons, plus the I/O ports. The ports, which are under a plastic cover, are for video output, a wired remote control, and USB. As you'd expect, the XSi supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

Side of the Canon EOS Rebel XSi

On the opposite side you'll find the SD/SDHC memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of average quality.

Bottom of the Canon EOS Rebel XSi

The last stop on our tour is the bottom of the camera. Here you will find a metal tripod mount, as well as the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is also of average quality. There's a port on the side of the compartment through which you'll find the power cable of the optional AC adapter.

The new LP-E5 battery can be seen at right.

Using the Canon EOS Rebel XSi

Record Mode

Flip the power switch, and the Rebel XSi activates its dust reduction system. While this takes about two seconds to run, you can interrupt it by pressing the shutter release button at any time, so you can actually take a picture as soon as the camera is powered on.

Focus speeds have a rather wide range on the XSi. Not only do they depend on what lens you're using, but live view and the AF mode you've chosen come into play, as well. As one would expect, you'll get best focusing performance shooting with the optical viewfinder. Focus speeds are nearly instant in most situations: wide-angle, telephoto, low light. If you're using live view the "quick" AF option, the camera focuses just as quickly, but there's about a half-second of lag before and after that takes place, while the mirror is flipped. Live view with contrast detect ("live") AF is the slowest of them all. Focus times are measured in seconds -- usually two, but sometimes even longer. This mode is definitely not suited to action shots!

I should also point out that I had some generalized focusing problems with the camera. The first camera I tested produced an unusual number of out-of-focus shots, with multiple lenses. I received a replacement camera and while it performed better, I still saw the occasional out-of-focus photos. I could never really nail down the cause of the problem, and it wasn't something I could replicate. If you end up with a XSi that seems a bit "off" in the focusing department, it may be worth swapping it for another one.

Shutter lag is also dependent on the live view mode. If you're shooting with the viewfinder or the contrast detect live view feature, expect little-to-no shutter lag. If you're using the "quick" AF live view, expect around a second of lag while the mirror does its thing.

As with all digital SLRs, there's no delay between shots, regardless of image quality or flash use. You can shoot as fast as you can compose the next shot.

You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button.

Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB card (optional)
Large
4272 x 2848
RAW + Fine JPEG 19.6 MB 99
RAW 15.3 MB 120
Fine 4.3 MB 460
Normal 2.2 MB 880
Medium
3088 x 2056
Fine 2.5 MB 770
Normal 1.3 MB 1470
Small
2256 x 1504
Fine 1.6 MB 1190
Normal 800 KB 2290

A fairly simple list, by D-SLR standards. You can take RAW images alone, or with a JPEG of the size of your choosing. I explained the benefits of the RAW format earlier in the review.

Images are named IMG_XXXX.JPG (or .RAW), where X = 0001-9999. File numbering is maintained as you swap or erase memory cards.

The Rebel XSi's menu system has received a slight facelift since the XTi. This easy-to-use menu is divided into several tabs: shooting, playback, setup, and My Menu. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in the auto shooting modes, here's the full list of menu options:

Shooting 1
  • Quality (See chart)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Beep (on/off)
  • Shoot w/o card (on/off)
  • Review time (Off, 2, 4, 8 sec, hold) - post-shot review
Shooting 2
  • AE bracketing - see below
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Custom white balance - see below
  • WB shift/bracketing - see below
  • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Picture Style (Standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, user 1/2/3) - see below
  • Dust Delete Data - creates a dust map for use with the DPP software
Playback
  • Protect images
  • Rotate
  • Erase images
  • Print order - tag photos for printing
  • Transfer order - tag photos for auto transfer to your computer
  • Histogram (Brightness, RGB)
  • Auto play - slideshow

Setup 1

  • Auto power off (Off, 30 secs, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15 mins)
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset, manual reset)
  • Auto rotate (Camera+PC, PC only, off)
  • Format memory card
  • LCD auto off (Enabled/disabled) - whether the info screen turns off when you put your eye to the viewfinder
  • Screen color (1-4) - select the foreground and background colors for the record mode info screen
Setup 2
  • LCD brightness (1-7)
  • Date/time
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Sensor cleaning (Auto, clean now, clean manually) - this last one flips up the mirror so you can use a blower to remove dust from the sensor
  • Live view function settings
    • Live view shooting (enable/disable)
    • Grid display (on/off)
    • Metering timer (4, 16, 30 secs, 1, 10, 30 mins)
  • Flash control
    • Flash firing (enable/disable)
    • Built-in flash func. setting
      • Shutter sync (1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain)
      • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV)
      • E-TTL II (Evaluative, average)
    • External flash func. setting - these options will depend on what flash you're using
    • External flash custom functions - these too
    • Clear external flash custom settings

Setup 3

  • Custom functions
    1. Exposure level increments (1/3, 1/2 stop)
    2. Flash sync speed in Av mode (Auto, 1/200 sec)
    3. Long exposure noise reduction (Off, auto, on)
    4. High ISO noise reduction (on/off)
    5. Highlight tone priority (on/off) - see below
    6. Auto lighting optimizer (enable/disable) - see below
    7. AF-assist beam firing (Enable, disable, only external flash emits)
    8. AF during live view (Disable, quick, live) - I discussed these earlier
    9. Mirror lockup (enable/disable)
    10. Shutter/AE lock button (AF/AE lock, AE lock/AF, AF/AF lock + no AE lock, AE/AF + no AE lock) - define what these buttons do
    11. Set button when shooting (Disabled, quality, flash exposure comp, display, menu) - only matters when live view is off
    12. LCD display when power on (Display, off)
    13. Add original decision data (on/off) - for use with the optional Original Data Security Kit
  • Clear settings
  • Firmware version

My Menu settings

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

The AE bracketing feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The exposure interval can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV. If you've got a large memory card, this is a good way to ensure properly exposed photos every time.

White balance presets WB shift and bracketing (at the same time, no less)

Earlier in the review I mentioned the preset white balance options on the Rebel XSi. You can also use a white or gray card with the Custom WB, to get accurate color under mixed or unusual lighting conditions. If that's still not enough, you can fine-tune and/or bracket for white balance, using the interface you see above. Do note that the XSi doesn't let you select the white balance by color temperature -- you'll need to step up to the 40D for that.

Picture Style menu The parameters you can adjust for a style

Picture Styles are predefined sets of camera parameters that you can select. The parameters include sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone. In the monochrome style, there are also filter (yellow, orange, red, green) and toning (sepia, blue, purple, green) filters available. You can adjust the presets, or create up to three custom Styles. You can do this on the camera, or with the software I mentioned earlier in the review.

I want to mention two of the custom functions before we move on to the photo quality discussion. First up is highlight tone priority, which is disabled by default. As its name implies, this feature expands the dynamic range, giving priority to the highlights in an image, like so:


Highlight tone priority off


Highlight tone priority on

You can see this feature in action in the example above. With highlight tone priority turned off, the sky in the photo is mostly blown out. However, turn on the feature, and the sky turns out blue, instead of bright white. The catch? The ISO range is limited to 200 - 1600, and there may be more shadow noise.


Auto Lighting Optimizer off


Auto Lighting Optimizer on

The Auto Lighting Optimizer needs little explanation -- it brightens the dark areas of your photos. While not terribly dramatic, this feature (which is on by default) seems to work at least a little bit, as illustrated in the photos above.

Alright! Let's move onto the photo tests now.

The Rebel XSi and its kit lens did a fairly good job with our macro test subject. Colors are accurate, though not terribly saturated. The figurine is on the soft side, though shooting in RAW mode gets you a lot more detail (more about this later). There's no sign of noise or artifacting in the photo, nor would I expect any.

The minimum focusing distance on the XSi 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.

I used my new toy for the night test shot -- the Canon 70-200 F4L IS lens. This lens produces a much sharper photo than the 55-200 IS lens I tried previously, and it should -- it costs a lot more. The XSi took in plenty of light, thanks to its manual control over shutter speed. Again, the photo is a bit soft, but this is easily corrected (more below, I promise). If you're looking for noise, forget about it -- there isn't any. Purple fringing isn't a problem either, though the L-series glass has a lot to do with that.

I have two ISO tests for you in this review, and the first one uses the night scene you see above. The long exposure noise reduction option was set to "auto". Here we go:


ISO 100

ISO 100, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

I threw two bonus photos into the mix up there, which illustrate the benefit of shooting RAW. It should be pretty obvious. As far as noise goes, you'll start to see small amounts of it at ISO 400, but there's not nearly enough to keep you from making a large-sized print at that setting. Noise becomes more visible at ISO 800, reducing your print size to small or midsize (and perhaps larger if you shoot RAW). There's a fair amount of noise at the highest sensitivity (ISO 1600), though I think there's enough detail (especially in the RAW photo) to make a small print, especially if you use noise reduction software.

We'll check the XSi's noise performance in good lighting in a moment.

Like the last Canon D-SLR I reviewed (the 40D), the Rebel XSi has a bit of redeye problem. That's surprising, considering how far up the flash "pops", but I think it's more a factor of the relatively anemic redeye reduction lamp. While your results may vary, don't be caught off guard if this annoyance ends up in some of your people pictures. Unlike most of the competition, there's no redeye removal tool on the XSi.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. To see what this means in real life, look at the building on the right side of this photo. While it's not completely devoid of corner blurriness, this new kit lens is definitely an improvement over its predecessors. I didn't find vignetting (dark corners) to be an issue with the kit lens.

Here's that second ISO test I promised you. This one is taken in the studio, and the results can be compared to those from other cameras I've reviewed. While the crops give you a hint about the noise levels at each ISO setting, I highly recommend viewing the full size images to get the most out of this test. And with that, here are the crops of the above scene:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The XSi really shined in this test, producing noise-free images all the way through ISO 800. There's a bit of noise at ISO 1600, but there's still plenty of detail left for a large print. Easily a best-in-class performance here.

I've been dropping little hints in the previous tests about the soft JPEGs the Rebel XSi produces. The difference really becomes glaring when you compare a photo taken in RAW and JPEG mode -- the camera really isn't doing its best straight out of the box. Thankfully, there are two ways to get the best photo quality out of the camera: one easy, one a little more challenging. You can either increase the in-camera sharpening, or shoot in RAW mode. Take a look at this comparison to see the results of both of those:


JPEG, default sharpness (3)

JPEG, sharpness 4

JPEG, sharpness 5

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR), default sharpness

When you look at the photo taken at the default sharpness, it almost looks like I ran it through a blur filter in Photoshop -- nope, that's straight out of the camera. The RAW image, on the other hand, is sharp as a tack. If you don't want to deal with RAW, the easiest thing to do is just to switch to the landscape Picture Style, which uses a sharpness of 4 (you can use one of the custom styles, as well). I still think the RAW image looks better, but for most folks, using a sharpness of 4 or 5 will be close enough.

Aside from that issue, the XSi's photo quality was very good. Pictures were well-exposed, and colors were accurate (though they could be a bit more saturated). Noise levels are extraordinarily low in good light, and better than the competition in low light. Purple fringing is somewhat lens-dependant, but in most cases, it was minimal.

Now, I invite you to have a look at our photo gallery. Take a look at the photos, maybe printing a few if you can, and then decide if the XSi's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

Digital SLRs do not have movie modes.

Playback Mode

While some entry-level D-SLRs have playback modes with retouching features and fancy slideshows, the Rebel XSi sticks to the basics. Its playback features include image protection, DPOF print marking, simple slideshows, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge a photo by as much as 10X and then scroll around the image. This is useful for checking for proper focus, closed eyes, etc.

The only editing tool on the camera is image rotation. There's no way to resize or crop photos on the camera.


"Jumping" through photos by date

The "jump" feature uses the command dial to move through photos 10 or 100 at a time, or by date.

A feature I always appreciate is the ability to delete a selected group of photos (instead of just one or all), and the Rebel XSi can do it.

By default, the Rebel XSi 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?

The Canon EOS Rebel XSi is a very good entry-level digital SLR. It offers very good photo quality (with the appropriate tweaks), lighting fast performance, live view, and a large LCD display. The camera has its share of flaws, though, including soft JPEGs at default settings, redeye, sluggish contrast detect autofocus, and a rather high price. Still, the Rebel XSi is a solid choice for those looking for their first SLR, and thus, it earns my recommendation.

The Rebel XSi is a fairly compact digital SLR. While it has a metal frame on the inside, the plastic outer shell always felt a bit cheap to me. Like its predecessors, the XSi has a very small grip for your right hand. Despite the addition of a more "sticky" rubber material to the grip, I still don't find it comfortable. Bottom line: try before you buy. The Rebel supports EF and EF-S lenses (with a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio), and the new 18 - 55 IS kit lens is a nice improvement over previous models. The XSi retains the same dust reduction system as its predecessor.

The biggest additions to the Rebel XSi are its 3-inch LCD and live view system. The LCD is large, sharp, and fairly easy-to-see outdoors. Canon's live view system is one of the better ones out there, though it's far from perfect. You can compose photos on the LCD with autofocus, a composition grid, and a live histogram. The view is bright and sharp, even in low light situations, and you can enlarge the view to verify proper focus. There are actually two autofocus modes to choose from in live view, though one is much better than the other. The first one relies on the camera's AF sensor to do the dirty work, though this requires the camera to flip the mirror down for a second. The other method uses contrast detect AF, just like your compact camera. Unfortunately, it's very slow, with focus times of two seconds or more. Strangely enough, live view is unavailable in the automatic and scene modes, which may be a hint as to how useful it is for everyday point-and-shoot users. For those of you shooting with the optical viewfinder, you'll be pleased to hear that its considerably larger than it was on the Rebel XTi.

You'll find full sets of automatic and manual controls on the Rebel XSi. If you're just starting out, there are five scene modes, plus a general auto mode available. The playback mode is definitely no-frills compared to the competition -- it would be nice to have redeye reduction, at the very least. Camera enthusiasts will enjoy the XSi's manual exposure controls, white balance fine-tuning and bracketing, and numerous custom functions. The XSi offers a custom "My Menu", which can hold up to six of your favorite menu options. As you'd expect, there's full RAW support on the Rebel XSi, and Canon includes good editing software in the box. Also included with the XSi is remote capture software, which costs extra on other cameras in this class.

Camera performance is top-notch. The Rebel XSi is ready to go as soon as you hit the power switch, though you may want to wait the two seconds for its dust reduction cycle to finish. If you're shooting with the viewfinder, expect focus speeds that are darn close to instantaneous. If you're using live view with the "quick AF" option, focus speeds are just as fast, though there's about a second of shutter lag due to the movement of the mirror. As I mentioned above, live view with contrast detect AF is quite slow, with focus times of two seconds or more (but no shutter lag). My first XSi had a lot of trouble producing properly focused shots, and while my second one was better, it still had a higher number of out-of-focus shots than it should've. The XSi's continuous shooting mode is very good, allowing you to take 4 RAW+JPEG, 6 RAW, or 50+ JPEGs at 3.5 frames per second. Battery life is a bit below average (though way better than it was on the XTi), but the optional battery grip will give you the ability to take 1000 shots per charge (using two batteries).

Straight out of the box, the Rebel XSi's photo quality is a mixed bag. The biggest problem I have with the photo quality is that JPEGs are way too soft at default settings, especially if you've seen how they look in RAW mode. The good news is that you can increase the sharpness with the Picture Styles feature, and get much better results. Exposure was very good and colors were accurate. The XSi is a superstar when it comes to noise performance: there's minimal noise, even at ISO 1600. In low light, noise is more present, though photos are usable through ISO 800 without any retouching. While purple fringing wasn't an issue, the XSi does have a bit of redeye problem, and there's no removal tool on the camera.

While the Rebel XSi isn't as far ahead of the competition as previous models were, it remains a very good choice for those stepping into the world of digital SLRs. It's definitely the leader in high ISO performance and, with the proper settings, can produce excellent quality photos. The competition is fierce in the entry-level D-SLR market, so it is well worth checking out the competition before you buy anything.

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

Some other entry-level D-SLRs to consider include the Canon EOS Rebel XS (a "lite" version of the XSi), Nikon D60, Olympus E-420, Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, Pentax K200D, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A300.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Rebel XSi and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.

Want another opinion?

You'll find other reviews of the Rebel XSi / EOS-450D at Digital Photography Review, CNET, and Steves Digicams.

 

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