In the last year, a handful of camera manufacturers have added HD video recording capabilities to their DSLRs. Nikon initially beat Canon in this race by introducing the $999, 12.3 megapixel D90. Canon wasn’t too far behind, though, with its $2,699, 21.1 megapixel EOS 5D Mark II that is capable of capturing 1080p (better than the D90’s 720p capabilities). At close to $3,000 however, the EOS 5D Mark II wasn’t a lot of competition for the D90 in the consumer space.
Time and technology always march on and now you’ll find that Canon’s latest offering, the EOS Rebel T1i, is in a much better position to compete against the D90 and against the brand new 12.3 megapixel Nikon D5000. The 15.1 megapixel Rebel T1i not only beats the D90 and D5000 in terms of HD video capabilities (like the EOS 5D Mark II, the Rebel T1i can record 1080p movies), but it also comes with an MSRP of $899.99 with its EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens.
The Rebel T1i is the successor to the hugely popular EOS Rebel XSi. You’ll find many external similarities between the two models. They have similar weights and dimensions, but the newer Rebel T1i inherits a number of features from the higher-end EOS 50D and EOS 5D Mark II models such as the DIGIC 4 Imaging Processor and the ability to process full HD video.
There are still some key differences between the Rebel T1i and its higher-end counterparts, however. For starters, the Rebel T1i has half the data transfer rate, which causes the Rebel T1i to have a slower continuous shooting rate than the EOS 50D and EOS 5D Mark II. This transfer rate also means that the Rebel T1i’s 1080p video mode is only able to capture video at 20fps (there’s also a 720p / 30fps mode.) Since we would expect Canon’s consumer-grade, entry-level Rebel line to offer fewer features than the semi-pro and professional models, these differences don’t necessarily signal a disappointment, at least for the mainstream target end user this camera appeals to.
Is the new T1i the killer DSLR it appears to be? We put it through its paces to find out.
|Bundle & Specifications|
The EOS Rebel T1i comes with the following:
We tested the Rebel T1i as a kit with Canon’s EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens. This is the most popular kit option, though some retailers may opt to create their own custom kits with other lenses. There are a number of accessories available for the Rebel T1i, including a Battery Grip BG-E5 that holds two LP-E5 batteries or six AA-size batteries.
|Features and Technology|
One of the upgrades in the Rebel T1i from previous consumer-grade models is the DIGIC 4 Imaging Processor which provides faster processing of fine detail and natural color reproduction and 14-bit analog-to-digital conversion for smooth color tones and less risk of banding. Canon claims this processor also speeds up camera operations.
The DIGIC 4 Imaging Processor works in combination with the EOS Rebel T1i's CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor, ie: all digital) sensor to give you the best possible clarity and tonal range in your images. The CMOS sensor used in the Rebel T1i uses many of the same technologies that you'll find in Canon's professional cameras. Unlike professional cameras though, the Rebel T1i has an APS-C size sensor which creates an effective 1.6x field of view (compared to 35mm format). This 1.6x conversion factor is common in all of Canon's consumer-grade DSLRs. Nikon has a similar conversion factor in its consumer-grade DSLRs.
Obviously another highly touted feature of the Rebel T1i is its ability to capture full HD video at 1920 x 1080 resolution. The Rebel T1i's frame rate of 20fps at 1080p is a bit disappointing, but it's not completely unusable. Some users may also prefer to use this mode as a high-speed continuous shooting mode rather than a video mode. Although each individual frame may only be the equivalent of a 2 megapixel image, 20fps is certainly a very fast burst rate. Realistically speaking, however, most users will treat the Rebel T1i as a 720p model since that's where you're going to get the best quality video at a much more fluid 30fps.
The video capture mode uses the Rebel T1i's Live View function and the Picture Style that has been selected for Live View still image shooting. If you adjust image sharpness, contrast, color saturation, or white balance on the camera, the same settings will apply to the movie image as well. Video clips are limited to 4GB per clip. Depending on the complexity of the video you are capturing, Canon says this limit is equivalent to about 12 minutes of Full HD video, 18 minutes of 720p HD video, or 24 minutes of SD video. There's a small monaural microphone on the front of the camera that records sound. Video clips are recorded in .MOV format using an MPEG-4 video compression and sound is recorded using linear PCM without compression. After you've captured videos, you can show them off on a HDTV using the camera's built-in HDMI output.
In addition to the ability to review images and video on an HDTV, the Rebel T1i provides a 3-inch Clear View LCD with 920,000 dots/VGA resolution on the back of the camera. For added protection, the LCD also has anti-reflective and scratch-resistant coatings. This LCD is the same screen found on Canon's professional models such as the EOS 5D Mark II and an improvement from the screens found on previous Rebel models.
The Rebel T1i's continuous shooting option at 3.4 fps is pretty much on-par with what we expect for cameras in this space. If you use a class 6 or higher SD or SDHC memory card, Canon claims you'll be able to capture up to 170 large/fine JPEG images or up to nine RAW images in a single burst.
Other enhancements to the Rebel T1i include the Auto Lighting Optimizer that can lighten dark areas of a scene while keeping the correct tonal detail in bright areas. The camera also supports a wide ISO range from 100-3200 with ISO expansion options of 6400 and 12800. To help combat noise in these higher ISO ranges, the DIGIC 4 Image Processor incorporates noise-reduction technology.
Finally, to help improve the Rebel T1i's resistance to dust, Canon included its popular EOS Integrated Cleaning System. Canon also upgraded the Self-Cleaning Sensor Unit for the Rebel T1i with a fluorine coating on the low-pass filter.
|Body Design and Feel|
If you're familiar with Canon DSLR cameras, especially those from the Rebel series, then you'll feel right at home with the Rebel T1i. At first glance, the Rebel T1i very closely resembles many of the other Rebel series digital cameras in terms of both layout and overall design. Upon further inspection, however, you'll notice a few small differences, one of which is the larger, 3-inch LCD on the back of the camera.
The Rebel T1i's body measures approximately 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 inches and weighs about 1.06 pounds. The build quality of the body feels solid.
On the front of the Rebel T1i, you'll find the remote control sensor and the red-eye reduction/self-timer lamp located near the grip of the camera. On the other side of the lens mount, you'll see the Depth-of-field preview button as well as the lens release button. A flash button and the camera's microphone are located in the upper-right portion of the front of the body.
Moving from front to back on the top near the grip, you'll find the shutter button, mail dial, ISO speed setting button, power switch, and mode dial. Although this may sound like a handful of buttons to place in a small area, the layout and arrangement are very usable in practice. The Rebel T1i's mode dial houses all of the popular shooting modes, including automatic and manual controls as well as the video shooting mode. The Rebel T1i's flash and hot shoe are located in a traditional position in the center of the top of the camera's body.
On the opposite side of the camera from the grip, you'll find a Terminal cover which opens to reveal a remote control terminal, audio/video out digital terminal, and the camera's HDMI mini Out terminal.
Because the Rebel T1i's 3-inch LCD takes up a large portion of the back of the camera, most of the controls are located to the right of the display, though you will find the Menu button and the shooting settings display button located above the LCD to the left of the optical viewfinder. Just below the optical viewfinder, there's a sensor that will turn the camera's display off when you hold the camera close to your eye.
The Rebel T1i uses Canon's traditional navigational cross keys to provide easy access to the camera's white balance, picture style, drive mode, and AF mode selection controls. A set button resides in the middle of these cross keys. Above the cross keys, you'll notice the Rebel T1i's Live View shooting button (which is also combined with the Print/Share button) and the Aperture/Exposure Compensation button. Below the cross keys, you'll find the playback button and the erase button.
On the back of the camera near the Mode dial, you'll find the Rebel T1i's AE lock/FE lock button and the AF point selection/Magnify button. A speaker resides just below these two buttons.
The Rebel T1i's card slot cover is located on the camera's grip.
|Controls, Response, And Menus|
The Rebel T1i's menu system is well organized and easy to navigate. In the Creative Zone modes (Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Automatic Depth of Field AE), you'll notice eight color-coded tabs across the top of the menu system with various functions assigned to each tab. In the Basic Zone modes, there are only five tabs across the top of the menu system.
Like other Canon DSLRs we've seen to date, the Rebel T1i includes a Creative Auto (CA) mode that essentially provides a means for beginners to experiment with manual controls. Instead of selecting a particular aperture, for instance, the CA mode provides an on-screen slider that lets you adjust the sharpness of the background. Another slider is used in CA mode to adjust the exposure compensation. Given that the Rebel T1i targets consumers who may be purchasing his or her first DSLR, the CA mode seems more appropriate for the Rebel line than for the 50D on which it made its debut. For more advanced photographers, this mode will be a bit too simplified.
When shooting in Live View mode, you'll need to press the AE / AF lock * button in order to focus on your subject. Canon has used this setup in earlier models as well, but now Canon has added instructions on the camera's LCD to tell you how to autofocus (previously, you'd have to read the owner's manual to figure this out.) Ultimately, we would have preferred that Canon implement autofocus with the half-press of a shutter release similar to many point and shoot models, but at least the on-screen instructions are a step in the right direction.
You must select one of the Creative Zone modes in order to use Live View shooting. While shooting in Live View, you can use one of three autofocus modes: Live Mode, Face Detection Live Mode, and Quick Mode. You can also focus on your subject manually. In Live Mode and Face Detection Live Mode, the image sensor is used to focus. Because this method doesn't interrupt the Live View preview, it is most similar to what you'd find on a point-and-shoot digital camera. In Quick Mode, the dedicated AF sensor is used to focus using the same autofocus method as is used with viewfinder shooting. While this focusing method in Live View is the quickest, the Live View image will be momentarily interrupted while the camera focuses on your subject. If you opt to focus manually, you can zoom in on a portion of the Live View preview to ensure you've accurately focused on a specific area of the photo.
You can select and set many of the camera's shooting settings directly from the LCD monitor thanks to the Quick Control Screen. To access these controls, simply press the Set button when the shooting settings are displayed on the LCD. You'll find that there are many more options that you can control from the Creative Zone modes than from the more automatic Basic Zone shooting modes.
When looking through the Rebel T1i’s viewfinder, you’ll see nine AF-points with a spot metering circle in the center. Canon doesn't build image stabilization into the body of the camera, so you'll need to buy a lens with image stabilization if you want to take advantage of this technology. Thankfully, Canon's kit lens for the Rebel T1i includes image stabilization which helps to reduce the effects of camera shake on an image.
Anytime you switch the power of the Rebel T1i On or Off, you'll notice that the Self Cleaning Sensor Unit operates to automatically shake off the dust on the front of the sensor. Should you feel the need, you can also activate this cleaning option manually or disable it. If visible dust remains even after the Self Cleaning Sensor Unit operates, you can activate Canon's Dust Delete Data function to help remove dust during post processing.
A camera’s controls and features are obviously very important, but the quality of images that the camera can produce is crucial as well. To give you a better feel for quality of images the Rebel T1i can capture, we've included a few sample images here. Overall, we were pleased with the images we captured using the Rebel T1i. Colors were accurate and focusing was crisp. All of our test shots were captured using the EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens.
|Sample Images - ISO settings|
Like the Canon EOS 50D, the Rebel T1i supports ISO expansion up to 12,800. Even though these settings are available, it's still best to use as low of an ISO setting as possible when taking pictures to avoid noise. Here’s a closer look at each of the ISO settings. You can click each thumbnail for a higher resolution view.
Since one of the major attractions of the Rebel T1i is its ability to capture high definition video, our review wouldn't be complete without a few sample videos. Check out our sample clips below or download the full versions to view the videos without compression. As you'll see, the 720p clip plays back smoothly. You'll also see the limitations of 20fps when you view the 1080p clip without compression.
Canon ESO Rebel T1i Sample Video - 720p Resolution
Canon ESO Rebel T1i Sample Video - 1080p Resolution
The Canon EOS Rebel T1i is a solid DSLR with the added benefit of HD video recording. The camera's layout and controls were easy to use, and we were generally very pleased with the images taken with the Rebel T1i.
The Rebel T1i's touted 1080p video recording capabilities are a bit of a disappointment since this mode is limited to 20fps, but the 720p videos at 30fps were satisfying. None of the DSLRs we've seen to date have fully rivaled that of a full-fledged HD camcorder, but cameras such as the Rebel T1i certainly are getting closer to combining an excellent still camera with very respectable video capabilities.
While the Rebel T1i doesn't offer an articulating LCD like we've seen on some new DSLRs lately, it does offer a high-resolution display. Really, it's a trade-off since you won't typically find an LCD on a consumer-grade camera that is articulating and supports a high resolution. In all, this comes down to personal preference for which feature you may value the most.
Overall, Canon’s Rebel T1i is a feature-packed DSLR that offers a number of improvements over its predecessor, the best-selling Rebel XSi. The Rebel T1i also inherits a number of features from Canon's higher-end models, but packages them into a smaller, lighter and more affordable form factor. In fact, we like this camera so much, we're giving it our coveted Editor's Choice award for product excellence.