Canon EOS Rebel T1i Review

Look and Feel

The EOS Rebel T1i is a compact digital SLR made almost entirely of plastic. While the plastic shell gives it a lightweight feel, it does make the T1i feel a bit cheap. The camera has a rather small grip, so those of you with large hands will want to try the camera out in person to see if it's a good fit. The Rebel T1i does suffer a bit from button clutter: they're scattered on three sides of the body, and some of them serve multiple functions.

Unless you look closely, the Rebel T1i looks nearly identical to its predecessor. See for yourself:

Rebel XSi on the left, T1i on the right (photos not to scale)
Images courtesy of Canon USA

The only real differences here are the addition of the microphone on the front (above the EOS label) and a speaker on the back (near the top-right of the photo). The function of one of the buttons on the back has changed too, but I'll get to that later.

Now, here's a look at how the Rebel T1i compares to other entry-level D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in. 46.5 cu in. 480 g
Canon EOS Rebel XSi 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 in. 46.5 cu in. 475 g
Nikon D5000 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 in. 63.6 cu in. 560 g
Olympus E-620 5.1 x 3.7 x 2.4 in. 45.3 cu in. 475 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 4.9 x 3.3 x 1.8 in. 29.1 cu in. 385 g
Pentax K20D 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 714 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.8 in. 53.2 cu in. 489 g

The Rebel T1i is the same size as its predecessor, and just 5 grams heavier. Excluding the mirrorless Panasonic GH1, the T1i comes in second in terms of size, just behind the Olympus E-620. While the T1i isn't going to fit into any of your pockets, it does travel comfortably over your shoulder, or in a small camera bag.

Let's begin our tour of the camera now, shall we?

Front of the Canon EOS Rebel T1i

Here's the front of the Rebel T1i, without a lens attached. Like all the Rebel cameras, the T1i 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.

You don't want dust getting onto the T1i's 15 Megapixel CMOS sensor, so Canon equipped the camera with the same EOS Integrated Cleaning System as its predecessor. First, the IR filter (in front of the low-pass filter) has an anti-static coating, which helps to repel dust. If dust manages to stick, the camera can shake it off with ultrasonic vibrations when the camera is powered on or off. If you still have dust after all that, then you can create a "dust map", which you import into the Digital Photography Professional software. The camera 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 unchanged since the Rebel XSi. This is as powerful of a built-in flash as you'll find on an entry-level digital SLR. Should you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that I'll discuss in a moment.

The 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. Do note that the AF-assist lamp is not available in some live view modes.

Over on the grip, you'll find the receiver for the optional wireless remote, the self-timer/redeye reduction lamp, and the shutter release button. Jumping to the opposite side, just above the EOS label, is the T1i's microphone, which records monaural sound.

Back of the Canon EOS Rebel T1i

While you can't tell by looking at it, the Rebel T1i has a much better LCD than its predecessor. This screen packs a whopping 920,000 pixels, so everything is exceptionally sharp (especially the menus). The screen is fairly easy to see in bright outdoor lighting.

You can display a little shooting info or way too much info while in live view

Like the Rebel XSi before it, you can compose photos on the T1i's LCD using the "live view" feature. 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 T1i 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 (which I find to be quite telling).

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.

Live view settings

There are three focus modes to choose from when using live view: live, live w/face detection, and quick. The first two use contrast detect AF, which is very slow -- you'll usually wait for several seconds before the camera locks focus. The face detection system doesn't work in quite the same way as it does on Canon's compact cameras. Instead of showing you all the faces that have been detected, the camera just puts a "box" around one. If there are other faces detected, there will be arrows on the side of the box, which means that you can use the left/right buttons on the four-way controller to select that face instead. As with other D-SLRs I've tested, the face detection system on the T1i isn't nearly as good at locating faces as a compact camera.

The other live view AF mode is called Quick AF. This flips the mirror down (which turns off live view), uses the camera's AF sensor to focus, flips the mirror back up, and returns to the live view. Focusing is much faster, if you don't mind the brief blackout. This mode is the only one that allows you to use the Rebel T1i's AF-assist lamp in live view.

Zoomed in 10X in live view mode

Live view really shines when the camera is in manual focus mode. You can enlarge the frame by 5 or 10 times to make sure everything's properly focused, and then take your picture. I've been using this feature on my EOS-40D for my product photos for several years, and it works great.

This info screen is displayed when you're shooting with the viewfinder You can easily change settings by pressing the Set button and using the four-way controller

When you're using the viewfinder to compose your photos, the LCD turns into an information display. Not only does it display all relevant shooting information -- you can also adjust whatever you see here using the four-way controller. The camera detects when your eye is pressed to the viewfinder, which turns off the info screen.

The viewfinder is unchanged since the Rebel XSi. It has the typical coverage of 95% and a magnification of 0.87X, which makes this one of the larger viewfinders on an entry-level D-SLR. Below the field-of-view is a line of data, showing things like exposure, shutter speed, aperture, focus lock, shots remaining, and more. To adjust the focus on the viewfinder, just use the diopter correction knob, located to its upper-right.

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).

Under those buttons is the T1i's speaker.

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 button whose function varies depending on the shooting mode. If you're in the P/A/S/M/A-Dep modes, this button turns on live view. In movie mode, it starts and stops a recording (more on that later). When connected to a printer, the button lights up, and lets you print the currently displayed photo. Finally, if you're hooked up to your Mac or PC, you can press the button to select which photos are transferred over.

The next item of note on the back of the Rebel T1i is the four-way controller. The controller is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:

  • Up - White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom) - see below
  • Down - Picture Style (Standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, user defined 1-3) - more on this later
  • Left - Drive (Single shooting, continuous shooting, self-timer + remote control, 2 sec self-timer, continuous self-timer) - see below
  • Right - AF mode (One shot, AI focus, AI servo) - see below
  • Center - Set + Adjust settings (on shooting info screen)

The white balance options you see above are just the beginning of what's available on the Rebel T1i. Here you'll find the usual presets, plus a custom option that lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting conditions. Later in the review, you'll see that you can also fine-tune and bracket for white balance. One thing you cannot do here is set the white balance by color temperature.

The continuous shooting mode on the Rebel T1i is actually a little slower than on the XSi, but that's not surprising, as it has 3 million more pixels to deal with on every shot. Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the camera:

Quality setting Performance
RAW+ Large/Fine JPEG 3 shots @ 3.3 fps, 4 shots @ 2.0 fps, then unlimited @ 0.7 fps

8 shots @ 3.4 fps,
then unlimited @ 0.8 fps

JPEG (Large/Fine) 24 shots @ 3.3 fps,
then unlimited @ 1.9 fps
Tests performed with a SanDisk Class 6 SDHC card

The Rebel T1i turns in just average numbers in its continuous shooting mode. The burst rate and number of shots were fairly typical for this class (though slower than I'd like). I especially surprised to see that the camera only took 24 JPEGs at full speed before it slowed down -- by contrast, the Nikon D5000 can take over 100 JPEGs at full speed (4 frames/second). You can shoot continuously in live view mode, but the screen goes black after shooting begins.

The continuous self-timer feature is a unique 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 things to see on the back of the camera are the two buttons below the four-way controller. One of them enters playback mode, while the other deletes the current photo.

Top of the Canon EOS Rebel T1i

The first thing to see on the top of the Rebel T1i 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. These flashes also allow you to control their settings right from the camera. If you've got the 580EX II attached, you can use it to control groups of wireless Speedlites. Canon Speedlites also allow you to use the flash at any shutter speeds, while third party flashes are limited to 1/200 sec. You may also need to set the exposure settings on third party flashes manually. Finally, do note that you cannot use the flash with live view when using a third party flash.

Moving to the right, we find the T1i's mode dial, which is packed full of options. They include:

Option Function
Movie mode I'll tell you all about this later
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
Full auto mode Point-and-shoot, with many menu options locked up; live view is not available
Creative auto mode Another point-and-shoot mode, with some pseudo-manual controls (see below); no live view here, either; see below for more
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

Creative Auto mode

As you can see, the Rebel T1i has plenty of automatic controls, plus a full set of manual controls. One new point-and-shoot option is called Creative Auto mode. This still locks up most of the menu options, but if lets you adjust the brightness, depth-of-field, and color tone in a simpler manner than in the other modes.

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 T1i's sole command dial (I prefer having two) and the shutter release button.

Side of the Canon EOS Rebel T1i

On this side of the EOS Rebel T1i you'll find the flash release and depth-of-field preview buttons, plus the I/O ports. You can also catch a glimpse of the AF/MF and image stabilizer switches on the 18 - 55 mm kit lens.

Let's take a closer look at those I/O ports now:

The ports here include (from top to bottom):

  • Remote control
  • USB + A/V output
  • HDMI (cable not included)

The ports are protected by a rubber cover.

Side of the Canon EOS Rebel T1i

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 T1i

The last stop on our tour is the bottom of the camera. Here you will find a metal tripod mount (inline with the lens, of course), as well as the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is a bit flimsy. If you're using the AC adapter, you'll feed the power cable through a port that opens up on the side of the compartment.

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