Canon EOS Rebel T2i Review

Look and Feel

The Rebel T2i is a compact digital SLR made of a mix of plastic and metal. The frame is stainless steel, while the outer shell is polycarbonate. For the most part, the camera is very well put together, with no really flimsy parts. The biggest issue I've always had with the Rebel series is that they have very small right hand grips, which makes it challenging for those of us with large hands to hold onto. The grip is rubberized, which helps somewhat, but still, I recommend checking one out in person before you buy.

The Rebel has its share of buttons, though though they are large and generally well-labeled. Most of them perform two functions, so you may need to consult the manual to figure out what does what. The most important controls are easy to reach, and Canon has designed the camera in such a way that you won't accidentally bump anything.

From most angles, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Rebel T2i and its predecessor. The biggest differences can be found on the back:

Back of the Rebel T1i and T2i

Rebel T1i on the left, Rebel T2i on the right (photos not to scale)
Images courtesy of Canon USA

The first change, though not super-obvious, is that the Rebel T2i now sports an LCD with a 3:2 aspect ratio, instead of the usual 4:3. Since the camera takes photos at a 3:2 ratio, this is a good thing. The button layout hasn't really changed, but they're now a bit larger and square, instead of round. There's also a new, dedicated live view / movie recording button located just to the right of the viewfinder. The T2i is also about 0.6 inches thicker than the T1i.

Now, here's a look at how the Rebel T2i 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 T2i 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 in. 58.1 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-G10 4.9 x 3.3 x 2.9 in. 46.9 cu in. 336 g
Pentax K-x 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7 in. 46.7 cu in. 516 g
Samsung NX10 4.2 x 3.4 x 1.6 in. 22.8 cu in. 349 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 5.5 x 4.1 x 3.4 in. 76.7 cu in. 599 g

I threw the mirrorless (and smaller) Panasonic Lumix DMC-G10 and Samsung NX10 in the table since folks may be considering them, but it's not really fair to compare those with traditional SLRs when it comes to size. Of the "real" D-SLRs, the Rebel T2i is one of the larger ones, though both the Nikon D5000 and Sony A550 have it beat in that department. I carried the T2i around with me in Death Valley National Park for three days, and never found it to be burdensome.

Alright, let's start a tour of the camera now, beginning (as always) with the front view:

Front of the Canon EOS Rebel T2i

The first thing to talk about is the lens mount, which supports both EF and EF-S lenses. The red dot at the 12 o'clock position is where you line up the EF lenses, while the smaller EF-S lenses are at around 1 o'clock. Whichever type of lens you se, the 1.6X focal length conversion ratio is the same. Thus, that 18 - 55 mm kit lens has a field of view of 28.8 - 88 mm. Since the camera doesn't have built-in image stabilization like some of its peers, you'll need to buy a lens with that useful feature. Thankfully, Canon makes a lot of them. To release an attached lens, simply press the button located to the right of the lens mount.

The Rebel T2i has 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 will 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 T1i. 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 T2i doesn't support wireless flash control out of the box, though you can accomplish that with the ST-E2 Speedlite transmitter or the 580EX II flash.

The flash is also used 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, with the shutter release button above it. Next to the shutter release button is the redeye reduction / self-timer lamp.

Back of the Canon EOS Rebel T2i

That brings us to the back of the Rebel T2i, and its spectacular LCD display. This is, by far, the finest LCD I've ever seen on a digital camera, at least in terms of resolution. The screen packs an incredible 1.04 million pixels, and comparing images on it to cameras just two generations old is like comparing standard definition to high definition television. Another thing that's different with this screen is the aspect ratio: it's now 3:2 -- the same as the photos being taken -- instead of 4:3 like on most D-SLRs. Two things I don't like about the screen are that it doesn't automatically adjust the brightness like some other models, and outdoor visibility wasn't as good as I'd hoped.

The live view can be pretty crowded, if you want The Quick Menu can be used to adjust certain settings in live view

As you'd expect, the LCD isn't just for reviewing photos you've taken and navigating menus -- you can also use it for composing your photos. This "live view" feature lets you preview exposure (complete with histogram), white balance, color, and focus -- just like on your point-and-shoot camera. Things can get a little crowded, especially if you have the histogram turned on, but you can hit the Display button to reduce how much is shown. An overlay-style menu is needed to adjust certain settings, as the four-way controller is now used for setting the focus point. Press the Quick Menu button and you can adjust the white balance, Picture Style, Auto Lighting Optimizer, image size, drive setting, and AF mode.

As you'd expect, the view on the LCD is super sharp, which comes in especially handy when you're zoomed in for manual focus. As I just mentioned, outdoor visibility is just okay. Low light visibility is very good.

There are three focus modes to choose from when using live view: live, live w/face detection, and quick. The first two use the camera's CMOS sensor for contrast detect autofocus, which is very slow -- you'll usually wait for one or more seconds before the camera locks focus. If you've chosen the face detection option, the camera will highlight a face that it finds, and if there are more than one, there will be little arrows on the side of the box. You can then use the four-way controller to move between each of the selected faces.

The other live view AF mode -- and my personal favorite -- is called Quick AF. This flips the mirror down (which turns off live view for a moment), 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 T2i's AF-assist lamp in live view.

Whichever AF mode you choose, focusing is as simple as halfway-pressing the shutter release button. Unlike previous Rebels, you don't need to hit the AE/AF lock button to do that, which wasn't very familiar to those moving up from compact cameras.

Zoomed-in 10X in live view

Live view is especially handy when you're manually focusing. 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 to take my products shots for several years now.

The shooting info screen -- and how you can change settings by using the Quick Control button

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 by pressing the new Quick Control button and using the four-way controller.

Let's get back to the tour now, shall we? The Rebel T2i has the same optical viewfinder as its predecessor. That means that it has a magnification of 0.87x (slightly above average for its class) and 95% coverage. The nine focus points on the screen are illuminated with red dots, and are easy to see outdoors. Below the field-of-view is a line of green data that shows AE/AF lock, shutter speed and aperture, shots remaining, ISO speed, and more. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction dial that's on the top-right of the viewfinder.

Right under the viewfinder is an eye sensor. Its function is simple: to turn off whatever's on the LCD when you place your eye against the viewfinder.

To the left of the viewfinder are buttons for entering the Menu and toggling the information displayed on the LCD. Jumping to the opposite side, we find the new dedicated live view / movie recording button. In all of the shooting modes except for movie mode, pressing this button will activate live view. In movie mode, you'll press this button once to start recording, and again to stop.

Continuing to the right, we find buttons for AE/AF lock and focus point selection. On previous Rebels, you'd use the AE/AF lock button to autofocus in live view mode, but that duty has now been relegated to the shutter release button. The focus point selection button lets you choose which of the nine focus points in the frame on which to focus. These two buttons are also used for zooming in and out in both live view and playback mode. Just under those buttons is the Rebel T2i's speaker.

Moving closer to the LCD now, the first button of note is for adjusting the aperture (Av) or exposure compensation. Since the T2i has just one control dial (on the top), you'll have to hold down this button to adjust the aperture when you're in manual mode. Underneath that is the Quick Control button, which opens that shortcut menu that I showed you earlier. When you're connected to a printer, this button handles Direct Printing duties, which was its sole function on the Rebel T1i.

Next up is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:

  • Up - White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom)
  • Down - Picture Style (Standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, custom 1/2/3)
  • Left - Drive (Single, continuous, 10 sec self-timer/remote, 2 sec self-timer, continuous self-timer)
  • Right - AF (One shot, AI focus, AI servo)
  • Center - Set

Lots to talk about before we can continue. At first glance, the Rebel T2i has some pretty standard-looking white balance controls, but there's more to see later when we get to the menus. The usual presets are here, plus a custom spot that lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting. There's no way to set the color temperature, though.

The six preset Picture Styles Adjusting the sharpness of the landscape Picture Style

Picture Styles are sets of image parameters such as sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone. In monochrome mode, you can also select filter (yellow, orange, red, green) and toning (sepia, blue, purple, green) effects. There are several preset Picture Styles -- each of which can be tweaked -- and there are three custom slots, as well. Picture Styles can also be created on your computer and then uploaded to the camera.

That brings us to the Rebel T2i's continuous shooting mode. It's supposed to be a bit faster than it was on the Rebel T1i (3.7 fps versus 3.4 fps), but was that the case in reality? Here's what I was able to get out of the camera:

Quality setting Performance
RAW+ Large/Fine JPEG 4 shots @ 3.3 fps
RAW 6 shots @ 3.3 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) 24 shots @ 3.3 fps
Tests performed with a SanDisk Class 6 SDHC card

I was unable to get the Rebel T2i to hit the advertised speed of 3.7 frames per second. In fact, it had almost the same numbers as the Rebel T1i. Other cameras in this class are both faster and have more buffer memory, so the T2i definitely isn't a speed champ. I should add that the camera doesn't stop shooting after it hits the numbers listed in the table above -- it just slows down considerably.

The only other option I want to mention in the Drive menu is continuous self-timer. This unique feature lets you select how many photos 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 T2i

The first thing to see on the top of the Rebel T2i is its hot shoe. As you'd expect, the camera works best with Canon's EX-series Speedlites, which take advantage of its E-TTL II metering system. These flashes also allow you to control their settings right from the camera, and you can use any shutter speed that you'd like. If you've got the 580EX II or ST-E2 wireless transmitter attached, you can use it to control two groups of wireless Speedlites. If you're not using a Canon flash, you'll probably have to set its exposure manually. You're also limited to a maximum sync speed of 1/200 sec, and you cannot use it with live view.

To the right of the hot shoe is the camera's mode dial, which looks a bit different than the one on the Rebel T1i. The power switch is located on the right side of the dial. The options on the mode dial include:

Option Function
Movie mode I'll tell you all about this later
Night portrait Believe it or not, these are all of the scene modes on the Rebel T2i
Flash off Disables the flash, including as an AF-assist
Full auto mode Point-and-shoot, with many menu options locked up
Creative auto mode Another point-and-shoot mode, with some pseudo-manual controls (see below)
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 (remote release strongly recommended).
Auto depth-of-field (A-Dep) mode The camera will attempt to make sure all detected subjects are properly focused.

Before I talk about anything else, let me point out one big difference between the Rebel T1i and the T2i. On the T1i, you could only use live view in the P/A/S/M modes -- why, I do not know. On this camera, you can use live view in all shooting modes.

Adjusting the "background" (AKA aperture) in Creative Auto mode

Point-and-shoot modes include your standard auto mode and a small selection of scene modes. If you want a mix of auto and manual controls, try out the Creative Auto mode, which lets you adjust the aperture and exposure compensation without knowing what either of those things are (they're simply named "background" and "exposure").

As for manual exposure controls, the Rebel T2i offers the usual options. You can set the aperture, shutter speed, or both. There's also a bulb mode for long exposures, though do yourself a favor and get the shutter release cable, unless you have incredible finger dexterity.

Above the mode dial and power switch is the dedicated ISO button. I'll tell you about the available ISO options later in this review.

The last thing to see on the top of the camera is the T2i's sole control dial, which you'll use for adjusting the exposure, selecting a focus point, navigating the menus, or jumping through photos you've taken.

Side of the Canon EOS Rebel T2i

The first thing to point out here are the AF/MF and image stabilizer switches on the 18 - 55 mm kit lens.

Moving to the right, you'll find the flash release and depth-of-field preview buttons (a lot of entry-level cameras lack the latter).

At the far right, under a rubber cover, are the Rebel T2i's I/O ports. Let's take a closer look:

Close-up of I/O ports on Canon EOS Rebel T2i

The ports here, from top to bottom, include:

  • External microphone
  • Remote control
  • USB + A/V output
  • HDMI

That external mic port is new to the Rebel T2i.

Side of the Canon EOS Rebel T2i

On the opposite side you'll find the SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of average quality. The kit lens is at the full telephoto position here (it's at wide-angle in the previous photo).

Bottom of the Canon EOS Rebel T2i

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the Rebel T2i. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount -- in line with the lens, of course -- and the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is also of average quality, and there's a little flap through which you feed the power cable for the optional AC adapter.

The included LP-E8 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.