Canon Rebel T1i Review

The Canon Rebel T1i (also known as the 500D and Kiss X3 outside of the US) is the follow-up to the Rebel XSi, which was (and still is) a very appealing entry-level DSLR.  With the Rebel T1i, however, Canon steps into a new feature set for entry-level DSLRs.  This camera is leaps and bounds above what we saw in the original Rebel.  The T1i also pushes the entry-level boundary beyond what we previously expected Canon to offer in a camera at this price point.

While you may not consider the Rebel T1i cheap (a retail price of $800 for the camera body and make it $900 if you want an 18-55mm lens in your kit), it offers considerable value as compared to other cameras at or above its price range.  Over the past couple of years, Nikon and Sony have pushed Canon out of its comfort zone at the top of the digital camera world.  Competition has forced Canon to really push its camera development (particularly in DSLRs) to new levels.  The Rebel T1i is demonstrable evidence of this renewed competitive environment among what can fairly be characterized as the “big three” camera manufacturers.

Over the past couple months, I have shot with the Rebel T1i on a regular basis in my ordinary photographic endeavors.  Everything from backyard snap shots, fast moving cars and motorcycles, and the occasional indoor play or event.  I have tried to make use of this camera in the way that I expect most purchasers of entry-level cameras would use it.  Additionally, I have taken a bit of time out of my normal shooting to pit it against its most direct competitor, the Nikon D5000.  Anyone shopping for the Rebel T1i is likely considering the similarly equipped Nikon D5000.  It was useful shooting with these cameras side-by-side, and below I will direct you to some more specific image and video comparisons for these two cameras.

What’s New in the Canon Rebel T1i

  • 15.1 Megapixel CMOS Sensor
  • HD Video Capture (1080p at 20fps; 720p at 30fps
  • DIGIC 4 Processor
  • 3″ LCD w/ 920k Dot Resolution and Anti-Reflection Coating
  • 3.4 Frames Per Second
  • ISO 100 to 12800 Sensitivity Range
  • Interactive Quick Control Panel
  • Increased High ISO Noise Reduction
  • Face Detection Autofocus in Live View
  • Peripheral Illumination Correction
  • HDMI Output

What’s in the Box

  • EOS Rebel T1i Body
  • EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens
  • Eyecup Ef
  • C. Wide Strap EW-100DBIII
  • USB Interface Cable IFC-200U
  • AV Cable AVC-DC400
  • Battery Pack LP-E5
  • Battery Charger LC-E5
  • EOS Digital Solution Disk and Instruction Manuals
  • “Great Photography is Easy” Booklet and “Do More with Macro” Booklet

Canon Rebel T1i Features and Specs

15.1 Megapixel CMOS Sensor

The new sensor in the Rebel T1i is up by 3-megapixels from the Rebel XSi, which offered 12.2-megapixels.  It is the same 1.6x crop format as prior Rebel-series cameras, which makes for narrower angles of view that appear as longer focal lengths (e.g., a 300mm lens looks and feels like a 480mm lens on the Rebel T1i because of the smaller sensor as compared to a full frame or 35mm camera).  The 15.1-megapixel sensor appears to be the same sensor as found in the Canon 50D, which produced stellar images in my previous Canon 50D Review.

DIGIC 4 Image Processor

The DIGIC 4 processor aids in noise reduction and is also found in Canon 50D and 5D Mark II DSLRs.  All three cameras that feature the DIGIC 4 processor are now known for outstanding noise reduction, even with their increased resolution over past generation cameras.  The DIGIC 4 also aids in the 14-bit analog-to-digital conversion and provides the ability to process 1080p HD video.

Frame Rate

Despite increasing the resolution by 3-megapixels over the Rebel XSi, the Rebel T1i maintains a image capture frame rate of 3.4 frames per second.  This is an immaterial difference when compared to the Rebel XSi’s 3.5 fps capture rate.  Additionally, the buffer speed of the Rebel T1i steps up to 170 large/fine JPEG images or up to 9 RAW images in a single burst when using a class 6 or higher SD or SDHC memory card.  This improves over the Rebel XSi, which featured a 53 large/fine JPEG buffer and a 6 image buffer for RAW files.  This buffer comes in handy at soccer and baseball games if you are shooting in RAW format.

Auto Lighting Optimization

Canon has advanced the options available under the Auto Lighting Optimization Custom Function from the Rebel XSi.  In the XSi, you were only permitted to turn ALO on/off.  Now, the T1i affords you the ability to make adjustments to ALO by setting it to Standard (camera default), Low, Strong, or Disabled.  ALO aids in correcting exposure and contrast errors. Ideally, it will lighten dark areas of a scene while ensuring that bright areas maintain tonal detail.

Highlight Tone Priority

This feature is a available through the T1i’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.

3″ LCD

While the rear LCD remains the same size, the increased resolution is an appreciable difference, particularly when operating in Live View mode or shooting video.  Canon has also included an anti-reflective coating on the T1i to make it more visible in bright sunlight, as well as to reduce the propensity of fingerprints.

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.  Pretty much all current DSLR models now offer some sort of dust reduction or sensor cleaning system.  In real world use, it’s a nice feature, but no deal breaker here.

Canon Rebel T1i Functionality and Performance

As far as ergonomics are concerned, I am not a fan of smaller DSLRs.  I like a larger grip like you will find on a Canon 50D or 5D Mark II.  With that out of the way, everything seems to be in pretty good place on the camera.  The menus are quickly accessible and, for the most part, relatively intuitive to navigate.  I wish there were more functions available via direct buttons or dials on the T1i; however, I am reminded that this is an entry-level DSLR, which does not need a plethora of customization options at your finger tips.  The big features like ISO, white balance and autofocus mode settings are available by pushing a single button.  For me, these are the biggest features that should be accessible quickly and I will take points off if I have to dig for them through a series of menus.  Overall, Canon does a fair job of making the camera simple for beginners, yet easily customizable for more involved shooters.

Autofocus

Like the Rebel XSi, I have no complaints in the autofocus department for the Rebel T1i.  It is quick and snappy with the variety of lenses that I used on it, including the 18-55mm kit lens.  Kudos to Canon for the 9-point autofocus system that offers a center cross-type sensor for increased AF sensitivity and accuracy when the center AF point is selected.  This is usually where I have the camera set and encountered no problems with locking on to my subject throughout a variety of lighting situations, including indoor available light scenarios.  While I did not perform any controlled tests, the T1i’s autofocus seemed like it locked on better than the 5D Mark II in low light.  Not bad at all considering the Rebel T1i is a third the price of the 5D Mark II.

Live View

While Canon has made Live View a little more accessible and easier to use, it is still not very practical to use in most ordinary shooting situations.  There are three different autofocusing modes in the Live View setting.  All three have their disadvantages.  Rather than going into great detail about how the work, I’ll leave it to the point – Live View is slow and clunky.  If you want a DSLR camera that you can hold away from your body and shoot using the LCD screen, buy the Sony A330.

Sony has the best Live View system of any DSLR camera that I have tested.  It’s fast, effective and intuitive – something I can’t say for the Rebel T1i.  The only time that I have found the Rebel T1i’s Live View system worth using is in macro photography.  And, generally, I use manual focus coupled with the 10x LCD zoom feature to achieve that critical focus necessary with macro subjects.  As with the Rebel XSi, Live View on the Rebel T1i is a feature that I could do without.  It’s there, but I’ll likely never use it.

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 T1i kit. Canon has recognized the need for an Image Stabilized kit lens due to Sony, Olympus and Pentax’s in-body image stabilization DSLRs.  This is the same kit lens as was included the the Rebel XSi, thus my evaluation and Image Stabilization sample images remain the same.

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 an older Digital Rebel, the kit lens works quite well.  The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens improves upon the former non-IS version with better image quality and, of course, 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.  Again, these sample images came from my previous evaluation with the Rebel XSi.  (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

Image Quality

The Rebel T1i’s 15.1-megapixel sensor lends itself to stellar image quality.  I really have no complaints in this category.  I think many enthusiast photographers will find themselves in a conundrum when trying to decide whether to go with the Canon 50D or Canon Rebel T1i.  If you don’t need some of the more advanced features found on the Canon 50D, it’s hard to justify the extra dollars spent over the Rebel T1i.  In practical usage, there is no way to discern images taken with the 50D or Rebel T1i on the basis of image quality.  If you are looking for pixel peeping resolution comparisons, you won’t find them here.  You can get a little flavor of image quality in the ISO performance sample images referenced below; however, if you are looking for further detail, I would suggest reading DP Review or The Digital Picture for lab-like image quality tests.

ISO Performance

Stunning.  I fully was not expecting noise control like the Rebel T1i produced.  I took the time to do a couple in-depth comparisons of the Rebel T1i and D5000, which you can read via the following links:

Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D5000 – ISO Comparison

Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D5000 – ISO Comparison Part II

I think what you will take away from both of these comparisons is the fact that the Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000 perform extreme well at higher ISOs – better than what you would call either of their predecessors.  Anyone in the market for a Canon Rebel T1i will not be disappointed in the noise suppression of which it is capable.  If you don’t feel like reading these two comparisons, take a look at the below image of my subject of choice, which was shot at a dimly lit restaurant at ISO 6400 with the Rebel T1i.  You can shoot snapshots all day long with this camera at ISO 3200 and 6400 and get great family album prints in the 4×6 sizes.

ISO 6400 Real World Sample

Video Performance

The Canon Rebel T1i claims to capture “Full HD”.  Canon needs to put an asterisk on this claim though.  The term Full HD has become synonymous with 1080p resolution.  While the Canon Rebel T1i can capture 1080p resolution video, it does so at 20 frames per second, which makes for some not-so-smooth video.  The 20 fps frame rate is particularly troubling when panning.

The good thing is that you can easily change the resolution to a more practical 720p resolution, which rolls smoothly at 30 fps.  The overall quality of 720p video will still blow you away. Finally, you have the option of shoot at standard VGA resolution of 640×480.

As for user-friendliness, the video functionality of the Rebel T1i has gotten easier to operate as opposed to Canon’s first foray into DSLR video features found on the 5D Mark II.  Canon has lessened the cumbersome menu options to begin recording video by including a video setting on the camera’s Mode dial.

In addition to the ease of access to the video mode, pressing the menu button will take you directly to the video recording options when the Mode dial is set to video.  Additionally, you can cycle through a number of options, including Picture Styles, by pressing the Set button and using the scroll wheel near the shutter release to change your settings.  You can use the ISO button to set your exposure lock and maintain the exposure that you want throughout your single file recording.

When you are ready to shoot video, simply turn the Mode dial to the video setting.  The mirror will then flip up, blacking out the optical viewfinder, and the rear LCD panel displays a Live View of your scene.  If you are in 1080p or 720p mode, you will see grayed-out bars along the top and bottom, which shows the limits of your scene.  In VGA mode, you see the bars along the sides.

The Rebel T1i gives you the ability to start your recording with the RC-1 or RC-5 remote.  If you’re using the RC-1 remote, make sure you set it to the 2-sec delay position, otherwise the “immediate shooting” position will capture a still image.

The Rebel T1i also prompts you to autofocus by using the * button located at the top-right of the camera’s back surface.  Unfortunately, autofocus has not quite arrived yet.  There are three AF modes to choose from, which should really only be used as an initial gauge of your focus point before you begin to record.

The Quick Mode AF allows you to use the T1i’s fast and accurate phase detection mode by framing your subject and pressing the * button, which causes the LCD to black out momentarily while the camera’s mirror flips down and quickly focuses.  After acquiring focus, the LCD comes back live and your subject is in focus, you can then switch over to manual focus and begin recording.

Due to the noise and jerkiness of the AF functions, manual focus should be used when actually recording video.  You can hear the terrible AF noise in the short video sample below.

The Rebel T1i’s video quality is, as noted above, stunning.  Due to the slow frame rate at 1080p, I recommend staying in 720p mode for most purposes.  Unless you are looking for a specific effect or you are filming from a stationary position and a rather static subject, the T1i’s 1080p mode is just a little too rough.  While the static subjects look great, start panning and you can see the effect of the 20 fps.

Recording time is limited by memory capacity.  4GB is the magic number in the T1i.  If you are recording a single file that reaches the 4GB file size mark, then the camera will automatically stop recording.  If you have a larger card in the camera, you can simply hit record again to restart the recording.

A 4GB card offers the following approximate recording times:

  • 1080p for 12 minutes
  • 720p for 18 minutes
  • 640×480 for 24 minutes

A 16GB cards nets the following approximate recording times:

  • 1080p for 49 minutes
  • 720p for 1 hour 13 minutes
  • 640×480 for 1 hour 39 minutes

Note, however, that my longest single file recording at 1080p was for 15 minutes 7 seconds, which tallied up to 3.98GB, at which time the camera stopped recording.  I hit the record button again and it started right back up, so no surprises here.  You can feel the heat through the camera’s plastic though.  Canon warns that extended video recording can result in degraded image quality – so be warned.

The T1i appears to chew up about twice as much memory than the Nikon D5000 when shooting video at 720p – roughly 220 MB per minute on the T1i as compared to around 100 MB per minute on the D5000.

The good thing about the files from the Rebel T1i is that they play without a problem on my Windows Vista machine using Quicktime.  I ran into playback difficulties with the Canon 5D Mark II files, which led me to have to open them only using a Mac.  Unfortunately, editing the Rebel T1i files is a problem with Windows Movie Maker, which is the default software included with Windows Vista.

Canon has included in the ZoomBrowser EX software some basic video editing functions for manipulating your Rebel T1i video files.  One of the cool features of ZoomBrowser EX is the ability to extract a still frame from your video files.  A 1080p file gives you an approximate 2 megapixel image.

Windows users will need to use the ZoomBrowser software to cut and edit video files (unless you have some more advanced third-party software), while Mac users shouldn’t have a problem editing the files in iMovie.  The camera itself also features an HDMI output, so you can plug it into your flat panel 1080p to view the videos if you haven’t downloaded them to your computer yet.

The built-in mic is pretty lame on the Rebel T1i.  It seems like it needs a windscreen as there is no barrier to any noise at all.  Also, it is quite omnidirectional, which results in picking up unwanted sounds on your pristine video.  I found myself turning the audio off for most of my tests because the noise was just too distracting.  The biggest crippling factor for the Rebel T1i’s video prowess is the lack of an input for an external mic, a feature found on the Canon 5D Mark II.  As a result, the Rebel T1i lacks the professional potential that its video quality would otherwise offer.

I will have to say that Canon has improved upon the user-friendliness of video capabilities for DSLR users.  It’s certainly not an ideal implementation, but it’s getting better.  I don’t know if or when we will see a practical autofocus system in a DSLR – the hybrid cameras, like the Panasonic GH-1, may be the end solution.  For now, plenty of consumers and hobbyists will be able to produce stellar-quality videos, even if the audio quality is lacking.  Serious, budget-minded videographers will find a way around the audio issues.  The rest of us will have a great camera for still images that happens to be able to have a convenient HD video camera built-in.

Canon Rebel T1i Video Sample

My sample file for the Canon Rebel T1i has no audio (don’t worry about adjusting your volume).

Download the full resolution file – Canon Rebel T1i Video Sample (right-click and choose “Save as…”).

Canon Rebel T1i Accessories

As with every other DSLR on the market, there are a wide range of accessories available for the Canon Rebel T1i. Below, I have highlighted a couple of the more popular ones.

Canon BG-E5 Battery Grip

The Canon BG-E5 battery grip was designed for the Rebel T1i and Rebel XSi body styles. The BG-E5 acts as an extension of the T1i, 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 T1i with 6 AA batteries with the included battery holder.

I am a big fan of the BG-E3, which permanently resided on my Rebel XT. Men typically like the feel of these grips on smaller DSLRs like the Rebel series. Although the Rebel T1i’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 T1i on a daily basis, the BG-E5 would be a must buy for me.

Canon RC1 Wireless Remote

The Canon RC1 remote is an infrared remote that works out to about 17′. Its great if you’re picking up a T1i 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 4 years now and it’s proven to be well worth the $20 I spent on it.

Canon Rebel T1i 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.

Conclusion

Overall, I highly recommend the Canon Rebel T1i to anyone looking for a feature-rich and very capable DSLR on an entry-level budget.  There are plenty of great DSLRs on the market – some offer more features and some may be cheaper.  However, this is the best Rebel yet.  Image quality rivals cameras much more expensive than it and, if you buy something cheaper, you’re going to miss out on some cutting edge stuff that only the Rebel T1i offers.

If you are comparing the Rebel T1i to the Nikon D5000, you are going to have a tough time deciding between the two.  These cameras are so closely matched in terms of quality and features that it may boil down to which one feels better in your hands.  Either way though, you won’t go wrong.

Finally, if you’ve never used a DSLR before (or even if you have and you don’t fully “get it”), 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.

Where to Buy the Canon Rebel T1i

I recommend B&H Photo as a trusted online source for cameras like the Canon Rebel T1i, along with a broad range of lenses and accessories to go with it.

email
 

Comments

  1. melissa says

    How does the Ti compare to the XSI with shooting sports photography? Would either of these cameras work well for this purpose? Or would you recommend another camera for shooting sports photography?

    Thanks.

    • says

      @Melissa – I think outdoor sports will work ok. You might want to step up to a better AF system like is found in the Canon 40D or 50D for lower light though. Also, you’ll have to decide whether 3.5 fps is enough for the sports you shoot. If not, the Canon 50D offers 6.5 fps (I think). For my kids’ soccer games, I would feel totally fine with using the XSi (has shot many a soccer game for me) or T1i.

  2. says

    I bought the T1i for my wife the day they arrived at our local photo store. We moved the 70-300 IS USM from her prior XSi to the T1i, and added the BG-E5 grip. Three days later, we commenced a four-week bird-photo trip. She shot over 1100 photos with it. With the usual “toss-em” percentage, she got excellent results, often getting better shots of the same subjects than I got with my 40D and 100-400 IS USM. I also used it for a couple of hours with the 100-400. Excellent camera. I’ve been using Canon cameras since Pellix days, they’ve never disappointed me, and she loves the camera. Can’t wait to get the 60D (or 7D … ??).

Trackbacks