In keeping with the 18-month life cycle of its consumer DSLRs, Canon announced the 12.2 megapixel EOS Rebel XSi on January 24, 2008 just prior to PMA. Canon also kept the tradition of upgrading the Rebel series by a couple of megapixels, which it has done with every generation since the original EOS Digital Rebel debuted in 2003 at 6.3MP. For your reference, the Rebel XT weighed in at 8MP and the Rebel XTi touted 10.1MP.
Canon EOS Rebel XSi Features and Specs
The Canon Rebel XSi packs in a number of upgrades from the previous DSLRs in this line. In fact, the XSi packs in so many advanced features that it’s almost hard to call it an entry-level camera anymore.
12.2 Megapixel CMOS Sensor
The 1.6x cropped sensor is the most pixel-packed sensor (in terms of pixel density) in Canon’s amateur DSLR lineup. The Canon 40D, which is more of a pro/advanced amateur camera, packs in 10.1 megapixels, the same as the previous Canon Digital Rebel XTi. Obviously, the new Rebel XSi’s image files are made up of more megabytes as well. This requires bigger memory cards and bigger hard drives to handle these larger files.
DIGIC III Image Processor
The new DIGIC III processor aids in noise reduction and is also found in Canon’s higher end EOS 1D Mark III and EOS 1Ds Mark III digital SLRs.
14-bit A/D Converter
The 14-bit analog to digital conversion is new to the Rebel line and was previously only found in higher end Canon DSLRs. This advance conversion process gives way to greater dynamic range, particulary in the Highlight Tone Priority setting, and smoother transitions between light and dark areas of images. The 14-bit A/D converter is used in JPEG images as well prior to their conversion to the standard 8-bit JPEG files.
Canon claims that the new Auto Optimization feature, which is available via the custom function settings, aids in correcting exposure and contrast errors. Canon claims that it will lighten dark areas of a scene while ensuring that bright areas maintain tonal detail. I have not found much use for this feature; however, it should be a deal breaker one way or the other.
Highlight Tone Priority
This feature is a available through the XSi’s Custom Function menus. It is intended by Canon to help you get better detail in bright highlights, even in contrasty lighting conditions. It’s beneficial for many types of shooting situations, particularly in high contrast mid-day shots. Also, there’s no impact on the camera’s shooting speed or burst rate when Highlight Tone Priority is engaged.
The Canon Rebel XT and Rebel XTi featured a capture speed of 3 frames per second. The Canon Rebel XSi steps up the frame rate to 3.5 frames per second. The Rebel XSi’s JPEG buffer also improves to 53 images over the XTi’s 27. However, the XSi’s buffer for RAW image capture is 6, which is a step down from the Rebel XTi’s RAW buffer of 10 images.
The huge 3″ LCD takes up a significant amount of real estate on the back of the Rebel XSi. While the larger LCD screen makes for nice preview images, the buttons on the rear of the camera are a bit more crammed in there. No longer is there room for the row of settings and function buttons along the left side of the screen as was found in the previous Rebel series cameras. Additionally, the LCD on the Rebel XSi has the same number of pixels as the smaller LCD on the Rebel XTi, which means the XSi’s screen actually has a lower resolution.
Live View enables you to view your subjects directly on the rear LCD panel. The function allows you to zoom in at 5x or 10x for precise manual focus. Additionally, the Rebel XSi’s Live View Function gives you a couple of ways to use autofocus through the camera’s custom functions. The Rebel XSi can use contrast detection autofocus for as-you-see-it autofocusing. Alternatively, you can choose “Quick Mode” for the standard phase-difference autofocusing that you experience when using the optical viewfinder. In Quick Mode, the Live View display actually goes black for a moment while the mirror flips up to allow the autofocus sensor to engage. After achieving autofocus, the Live View display reappears and you are free to snap the image.
The Rebel XSi brings a new 9-point AF system to the table and includes a center cross-type AF sensor for f/2.8 or brighter lenses. The autofocus modes include the traditional One-Shot, AI Focus, and AI Servo AF modes.
Canon has finally added spot metering to the Rebel line with the inclusion of a 4% center spot on the Rebel XSi. Otherwise, the Rebel XSi maintains the 35-zone evaluative, 9% center and center weighted metering found in the prior Rebel XTi.
Another big change for the Rebel XSi is the use of SD cards as opposed to the CF card format found in all prior Canon DSLRs, including the Rebel series. Canon DSLR users upgrading from a prior Rebel-series DSLR will have to pony up for new memory cards since SD and CF cards are not interchangeable. Fortunately, memory cards are quite cheap. I recommend the 4GB version of the SanDisk Extreme III SD card, which is what I picked up when ordering my Rebel XSi. The XSi can make use of the speed and 4GB will go by quick when shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG image formats.
Sensor Cleaning System
If you are unfamiliar with DSLRs, you should know that dust can be a frequent problem with DSLRs. The problem grows when users change lenses on a frequent basis; however, even users who keep a single lens on the camera at all times still report dust problems with their DSLRs. The problem appears in images as small dark spots, which are typically visible on backgrounds such as the sky or light walls. No manufacturer has “solved” this problem completely. Canon continues to use their image sensor vibration feature as a means of reducing dust in combination with the anti-static coating and the dust mapping software, which works in conjunction with the included Canon software. In my opinion, it works about as well as the next guy’s method. In real world use, it’s a nice feature, but no deal breaker here.
Canon EOS Rebel XSi Functionality and Performance
First off, let me say that the redesigned ergonomics bode well for the Rebel XSi. It just feels better in your hands. It’s not really a lot bigger and the grip is just nicer. The basic features are all quite accessible and intuitive on the camera; however, the bigger LCD makes the button layout a little more cramped. I also warmly welcome the inclusion of a dedicated ISO button on the top of the camera near the mode dial. Thank you Canon.
Autofocus is quick and effective. Spot metering is a very nice addition and something which Canon Rebel-series users have requested for a long time. Additional kudos go to Canon for the inclusion of and Image Stabilized kit lens. The new lens does its job well and adds a great deal of value to the Rebel XSi kit. The only reason not to pick up the kit over the body is if you plan on substituting the kit lens for another stabilized lens like the EF-S 17-85mm IS.
Canon would have done well with an IS kit lens, new processor and more megapixels, but they decided to also pump Live View into the Rebel XSi. Seven months ago, everyone would have jumped for joy over the XSi’s Live View functionality. However, that was before the Sony A300 and A350 revolutionized Live View for DSLRs. Sony’s version of Live View makes the Rebel XSi’s offerings seem antiquated and obselete. The Sony A350 spoiled me with its quick, accurate and simple Live View. The Rebel XSi Live View feature doesn’t hold a candle to what Sony has done with the A300 and A350. (See Photography Bay’s Sony A350 Review)
In order to engage Live View on the Canon Rebel XSi, first you have to enable the mode in the custom functions menu on the XSi. After you have enabled the Live View capability, you must then press the “Set” button on the back of the camera and the mirror flips up to allow light to pass directly to the image sensor. You will then see the live image on the back panel display. In order to autofocus, you then press the * button on the back panel.
If the contrast-mode is selected, it will attempt to autofocus as you watch the display. If the normal AF mode is selected, the LCD will black-out momentarily while autofocus is achieved. Unfortunately, the latter option is the fastest and most accurate method of autofocusing in Live View mode. After achieving proper focus, you then have to press the shutter release on top of the camera body to capture an image.
So, if you were thinking this was going to be as smooth as your point & shoot camera, you were seriously mistaken. This is why the Sony A300 and A350 have every other DSLR-maker beaten on the Live View function. Canon and the rest need to figure out something else if they are going to compete with Sony’s Live View – or else that had better get some licensing agreements together for Sony’s patented method. Honestly, I could have done without Live View at all on the Rebel XSi. It’s so clunky that it distracts from this otherwise excellent DSLR.
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens
Overall, I’m very happy with the inclusion of this lens with the Rebel XSi kit. Canon, like Nikon, really needed to make this move from a marketing perspective due to Sony, Olympus and Pentax’s in-body image stabilization DSLRs.
Canon claims that the kit lens is capable of improving hand holdability by 4 stops. This means that if you could hand-hold a non-IS lens at a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second without any discernible camera shake in your image, then you should be able to hand-hold the 18-55mm IS lens at the same focal length at a shutter speed of 1/4 of a second without any discernible camera shake in your image. Of course, this doesn’t really help you if you have a moving subject, in which case your shutter speed needs to be fast enough to “stop” the motion.
For anyone stepping up to a DSLR, or maybe trading in their original Digital Rebel, the kit lens works quite well. I still use the old kit lens from my Canon Rebel XT on a regular basis. The new lens, however, improves upon the old one with better image quality and the inclusion of Image Stabilization. More seasoned photographers may wish for something with better build quality or improved glass as is found in Canon L series lenses. If you aren’t sure what’s right for you, chances are that the new kit lens will do just fine.
If you’ve never seen the effects of Image Stabilization, take a look at the images below. (Note, I cropped the center portion of the full images. You may click on each image to download the full 6MB file for each image.)
Handheld @ 55mm and 1/15 sec Shutter Speed – IS turned OFF
Handheld @ 55mm and 1/15 sec Shutter Speed – IS turned ON
Based on my subjective review, the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi has the best image quality of any current generation entry-level DSLR. The competitors in this category include the Nikon D60 and the Sony A350, both of which I have used extensively and hold in high regard. As for other models, I have viewed many sample images from Olympus, Pentax and Sony’s other offerings. I still haven’t seen anything in the current generation that is on par with the Rebel XSi.
The most impressive aspect of the Rebel XSi’s image quality is the low noise at ISO 800-1600. I simply did not expect such quality from this camera with 12.2 megapixels. Even the in-camera JPEG images are quite clean. Below I have included several samples that demonstrate the ISO range of the Canon Rebel XSi. You may download the original sized image, which contains full EXIF, for closer inspection by clicking on the low-res version below. Additionally, both of the IS sample images above were taken at ISO 1600 indoors.
Canon Rebel XSi Accessories
As with every other DSLR on the market, there are a wide range of accessories available for the Canon Rebel XSi. Below, I have highlighted some of the more popular ones.
The Canon BG-E5 battery grip was designed for the Rebel XSi and Rebel XS body styles. Due to the redesigned body and different battery format of the Rebel XSi/XS, it was necessary to make a new battery grip available. The BG-E5 acts as an extension of the XSi, which also makes vertical shooting more convenient due to the shutter release on the grip itself. Additionally, it will hold two of the standard LP-E5 rechargeable batteries, effectively doubling your shooting time. In a pinch, the BG-E5 will also let you power the XSi with 6 AA batteries with the included battery holder.
I am a big fan of the BG-E3, which permanently resides on my Rebel XT. Men typically like the feel of these grips on smaller DSLRs like the Rebel XT and XSi. Although the Rebel XSi’s grip is certainly more comfortable than the Rebel XT and XTi, it could still use a little extra meat to it. If I were shooting an XSi on a daily basis, the BG-E5 would be a must buy for me.
The Canon RC1 remote is an infrared remote that works out to about 17′. Its great if you’re picking up an XSi as a family camera because it allows the you to get into your photos too. You can snap instantly with the RC1 or use a 2 second delay, which allows you to get your hand down if you’re actually in the photos too. Additionally, the RC1 can be used with mirror lockup and bulb mode if you don’t want to jar the camera on its tripod while taking long exposures. I’ve had one in my bag for about 3 years now and it’s proven to be well worth the $20 I spent on it.
Rebel XSi Books and Guides
I think you should probably read your camera’s manual and the Bryan Peterson book recommended below before you decide upon an additional guide for your camera; however, I know that there are some who prefer to follow a step-by-step walk through of your camera’s features. As a result, I’ve listed a few offerings from popular publishers that may be up your alley. I encourage you to read the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere before you decide on which resource is right for you.
- Canon Rebel XSi DVD by QuickPro Camera Guides
- Magic Lantern DVD Guide for the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/EOS 450D
- Magic Lantern Guides: Canon EOS Rebel XSi EOS 450D
- PhotoBert CheatSheet for Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi
Here, the Rebel XSi is pictured with the Nikon D60 and Sony A350, two of its biggest competitors. After reviewing all three of these DSLRs, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them (See Nikon D60 Review & Sony A350 Review). As noted above, I think the Rebel XSi has the best overall image quality of the three; however, each of them produces great images overall.
There are several factors that should go into your buying decision if you are looking at these cameras. If you’re stepping up from a point and shoot camera, the Sony A350 (or it’s 10 megapixel sibling, the A300) may be a comfortable move due to the convenient and fast autofocus in Live View mode. Alternatively , the lower price tag and light weight of the Nikon D60 may be your cup of tea. I would recommend getting your hands on each of these DSLRs and see how they feel in your hands. The A350 has the best grip and body for my hands; however, the new XSi feels much better than the XT and XTi.
I highly recommend the Rebel XSi for anyone shopping for a DSLR in the entry-level range. It’s a great camera that has a number of advanced features with which you can grow as a photographer. Finally, if you’ve never used a DSLR before, I recommend that you pick up a copy of Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure with your new camera. It is a priceless guide to learning and growing with any DSLR. At around $15, it’ll be the best bang for your buck that you ever spend on photography.
Finally, you can find more reviews and resources on Photography Bay’s Canon Rebel XSi / 450D Reviews and Resources.