Canon EOS Rebel T1i Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: July 6, 2009

Last Updated: April 15, 2010

The EOS Rebel T1i (also known as the EOS-500D) is the replacement of Canon's very successful Rebel XSi (EOS-450D). It takes everything that made the XSi such a hit and adds these improvements:

  • 15.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor (up from 12.2)
  • Uses DIGIC 4 image processor (XSi used DIGIC III)
  • Higher resolution, 920,000 pixel LCD display (versus 230k on the XSi)
  • Wider ISO range
  • Records movies in Full HD (the XSi had no movie mode)
  • HDMI output

That's not too bad of an upgrade! There are two things that got worse on the new Rebel T1i: battery life is down 20%, and the burst rate is slightly slower, though the latter isn't entirely surprising.

Everything else remains the same. The Rebel T1i is compact, supports both EF and EF-S lenses, and offers both automatic and full manual controls. And, as you'd expect from a digital SLR, it's quite expandable.

Canon's entry-level D-SLRs have always been among the best out there. Does the Rebel T1i continue that tradition? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

Officially, the EOS Rebel T1i is available in two kits. One includes the body only ($799), while the second has the body plus an F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm IS lens ($899). I also spotted a special bundle at my local Costco warehouse that included the body, the 18-55 and 55-200 lenses, and a memory card (I don't recall the price). Here's what you'll find when you crack open the box for the two official kits:

  • The 15.1 effective Megapixel Rebel T1i camera body
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm IS lens [lens kit only]
  • LP-E5 lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Body cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solution software and documentation
  • 227 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. While this lens is better than its predecessors, it does feel a bit "cheap" in your hands. I'm also not a fan of the manual focus ring, either. While it's not a terribly sharp lens, image quality is generally good by kit lens standards. If 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.

Like its predecessor, the Rebel T1i uses Secure Digital memory cards for storing photos. Since Canon doesn't provide one with the camera, you're going to need to purchase an SD or SDHC card to go along with the camera. I'd recommend picking up a 4GB card (or larger, if you'll be taking a lot of videos), and it's worth spending the extra dough for a high speed card. Canon recommends using a Class 6 card for HD movie recording.

The Rebel T1i uses the same LP-E5 lithium-ion battery as the Rebel XS and XSi. Considering its relatively small footprint, this battery packs a lot of juice: 8.0 Wh to be exact. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS Rebel XSi 500 shots LP-E5
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 400 shots LP-E5
Nikon D5000 510 shots EN-EL9a
Olympus E-620 500 shots BLS-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 * 300 shots DMW-BLB13
Pentax K20D 530 shots D-LI50
Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 510 shots NP-FH50

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

The first thing to point out is that the Rebel T1i's battery life has dropped 20% compared to its predecessor. I'm guessing that the new sensor, image processor, and LCD use a lot more power than what was on the Rebel XSi. In the group as a whole, the T1i's numbers are below average. Those numbers are when shooting with the viewfinder -- for live view shooting, they'll be substantially lower.

Like all of the cameras on the above list, the Rebel T1i's battery is proprietary. That means that it's pricey (a spare will cost at least $39), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when the LP-E5 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 T1i with the optional battery grip
Image courtesy of Canon USA

Speaking of the battery grip, above you can see the BG-E5 (priced from $113) in action. The grip holds two LP-E5 or six AA batteries, offering double the battery life. There are also additional 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 T1i:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The T1i supports all EF and EF-S mount lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion
External flash

430EX II
580EX II

From $150
From $246
From $370
You'll get more flash power and less chance of redeye with an external flash. The 580EX II can be used to control other flashes wirelessly.
Wired remote control RS-60E3 From $24 Basically a shutter release button on a 2 foot long cable.
Wireless remote control RC-1
From $22
From $22
Another way to take photos remotely; the RC-1 allows for a 2 second delay, the RC-5 does not
Battery grip BG-E5 From $113 Get double the battery life and a comfortable vertical grip
AC adapter ACK-E5 From $66 Power your camera without draining your batteries
Car battery charger CBC-E5 From $99 You never know when you may need to charge your battery in the car...
Right angle finder Angle finder C From $176 For looking into the optical viewfinder from above
HDMI cable HTC-100 From $52 A pricey way to connect to your HDTV
Semi-hard case EH-19L From $55 Protect your camera from the elements
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Since Canon's been making digital SLRs for ages, they've built up quite a collection of accessories -- and the list above doesn't even cover everything!

Let's move onto the T1i's software bundle now!

EOS Utility - Main Screen

Canon includes version 20.0 of their EOS Digital Solutions Disk with the Rebel T1i. The first application that you'll probably bump 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, or adjust camera settings (that last option doesn't work with this camera).

EOS Utility - Selecting Photos to Download

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.

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.

There really isn't much in the movie editing department in the Browser software. You can trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of your clip (in 1 second increments, at least on the Mac), and that's about it.

The Browser software can be used to view RAW images, but that's about it. You cannot edit or convert the Rebel T1i's RAW files. 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 w/shooting data screen. A 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 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, the tone curve, shadow and highlight detail, luminance and chrominance noise, and lens aberration (such as distortion, vignetting, and purple fringing).

What is RAW, and why should you care about it? 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

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 and manually tweak focus. Photos are saved directly to your computer, though they can be stored on the camera too, if you wish.

While you can record movies using Remote Capture, they are saved to the camera's memory card, and not to your computer. I think that's due to the tremendous amount of data that must be written quickly while you're recording in HD.

Other things you can do with EOS Utility include customizing the My Menu (more on that later) and uploading Picture Styles that you've created with the software described below.

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 very detailed manual with the Rebel T1i. About the only part that I'd consider user-friendly is the "contents at a glance" section on pages 10 and 11 -- after that, expect lots of fine print. If you can successfully navigate through that, then you'll be able to find answers to any question you may have about the T1i. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your computer.