- Easy learning curve for newcomers
- Deep features
- Good price
For a little more than the past year, I have been moving towards dSLR cameras. I had invested into quite a bit of money into Canon Point and Shoot digital cameras so I was most comfortable with Canon products and their quality… which is especially important since buying a dSLR camera means you’re investing in a photographic platform. I purchased a Canon Digital Rebel early last year for a killer price of $600 with the 18-55 kit lens and slowly learned the basics of good photography. I was quite happy with the Digital Rebel but I started to want more flexibility. I tinkered with the hacks that allowed some of the features from Canon’s higher end dSLR cameras on the Digital Rebel but alas… the Digital Rebel has its own hardware limitations. I heard about Canon’s impending release of the new significantly more powerful Digital Rebel XT. I pre-ordered it from Amazon.com and received it March 25, 2005. Performance wise, the camera is excellent and a significant improvement over the original Digital Rebel… boasting features that I personally will not utilize anytime soon. However, there are a few nagging problems that irked me… most especially the size of the handgrip.
I purchased the Digital Rebel XT for $899 from Amazon.com. This was just the camera body in an all black color. Amazon gave me a 1.57% discount and a $100 promotional coupon for a future order. I purchased on my American Express Costco Business Card to have a chance to pricematch against any print ads with a lower price.
Overall, the Digital Rebel is an exceptional camera with professional level features but remains friendly enough to beginners and amateurs. The price of $999 for Canon’s Digital Rebel XT with a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 EF-S lens is a nice starting point for newcomers to dSLR cameras and with decent lens for beginners. However, most people whose experience come from low and middle range point and shoot cameras will have a coronary after seeing the XT’s price. Don’t worry… the XT is actually extremely reasonable for a dSLR. Just wait till you buy lenses for your dSLR… that’s when the sticker shock will really hit you!
Canon has improved on the original Digital Rebel in almost every way in the XT. The XT boasts 8 MP images, larger buffer memory, faster response time, smaller size, lighter weight yet firmer more solid build, more flexibility in shooting capabilities, and on and on! Feature and performance wise… the XT is an excellent camera. The change from the Digital Rebel’s original battery to the NB-2LH batteries used in Canon’s PowerShot S30/40/50/60/70 digital cameras was a bonus as well. I could carry just one recharger and several NB-2LH batteries to power either my Digital Rebel XT or my PowerShot S70!
So, why did I call it exceptional in the beginning? The XT has a few features that I personally found annoying. While I enjoy the smaller size and weight of the XT… I think that the handgrip feels too small and narrow compared to the original Digital Rebel. The menu system still feels a bit clunky especially after playing with a Canon EOS-20D in J&R Music World and B&H Photo World (and that was only for a very short period of time!). Although they irk me, they aren’t dealbreakers and more of my personal preference.
The price may be a sticking point for some. The original Digital Rebel costs at least $200 less than the XT. I personally feel that the original Digital Rebel is a good starting point especially for those of you who want to experiment in dSLR before making a full plunge in the dSLR market. For those of you who are more experienced, the $899-999 price isn’t unbeatable. The Nikon D70 with lens kit falls close to the same price range after rebates and is another excellent dSLR that seems to be even more flexible in some respects than the XT. The competition in the dSLR market is just starting to really heat up as well. Nikon should be releasing their new D50 and D70s dSLRs soon (based on Nikon’s recently released specs these two should be extremely competitive with the Digital Rebel XT in both features and price!). Other competitors like Konica Minolta, FujiFilm, Sigma, Pentax, and more are releasing entry level dSLRs this year. Canon isn’t alone anymore in the cheap dSLR market (yes, $1000 is considered cheap for the dSLR market!). Another blow is the ability to find the Canon EOS-20D for as low as $1200… a higher end, more flexible, and sturdier camera (Magnesium alloy body!) than the XT.
In the end, the Digital Rebel XT is a quality camera with more than enough flexibility to keep a large majority of consumers happy as well as professionals. Canon poised the XT to help recapture the market share of dSLRs lost to Nikon’s excellent D70 which captured 40% of dSLR sales (according to Nikon that is). The XT is a major upgrade from the Digital Rebel in just about every aspect, but it is not a large downgrade from the EOS-20D. In this respect, it seems that Canon and Nikon will lead the dSLR revolution at this pace… and it will be interesting when Nikon reveals the D50 and D70s and how these compare to Canon’s current lineup (The paper specs from Nikon look fantastic however)!
On dSLR Cameras
For those of you who have no experience with dSLR cameras, be careful when you make a decision to buy a dSLR. When deciding on a dSLR platform, you will be paying significantly more money than buying a Point and Shoot Digital Camera. Not only are the camera bodies much more expensive, but you must purchase lenses and other accessories to obtain the best possible photos. Lenses and other equipment for one dSLR often are not compatible with dSLRs cameras from other companies. Lenses for the Digital Rebel XT will fit on the Digital Rebel and EOS-20D but not the Nikon D70. In this respect, purchasing a dSLR or a SLR camera is investing a photographic platform that offers tremendous flexibility for capturing those special moments and for your entertainment. Buying a dSLR should not be a spur of the moment purchase (unless you have money coming out of the wazoo! – Love that E*Trade Super Bowl commercial from a few years back!). If you do not want to make such commitments, I would stick with Point-and-Shoot digital camera instead… that would make your life easier and digital point-and-shoot cameras win on size and simplicity. Many digital point-and-shoot cameras are flexible enough for most consumers.
By the way, the smaller size of the image sensor (CMOS sensor in the Digital Rebel XT) from the traditional 35mm film frame in regular SLRs changes the focal length of the lens you’re using. In the case of the Digital Rebel XT, you should multiply the focal length by 1.6x to get a rough estimate. For example a 28-300 mm lens is really a 45-480 mm lens on the Digital Rebel XT. Just keep it in mind when buying your lenses… and the EF-S lenses for specifically the Canon EOS-20D, Digital Rebel, and Digital Rebel XT also need their focal length values to be multiplied by 1.6x.
The Canon Digital Rebel XT looks much smaller the first Digital Rebel although the reality is that the Canon only shaved a bit off all the dimension and the weight. The largest cut in size came from the width which was a 0.6 inch cut. The actual dimensions of the Digital Rebel XT is 4.98 x 3.71 x 2.63 in./126.5 x 94.2 x 64mm and a weight of 17.1 oz./485g (which is a significant 2.6 oz. drop in weight!). The body feels more solid with the textured plastic body instead of the cheap feeling plastic body of the original Digital Rebel. I should note that I purchased the black Digital Rebel XT. All the controls are very easy to reach and press. However, the hand grip feels quite small and was somewhat uncomfortable in my use. The original Digital Rebel had a handgrip that I was far more comfortable with. I think the handgrip issue will depend on the individual… but at least the reduction in weight made it a bit easier to bear the small handgrip. Otherwise, the camera feels more substantial and solid than the original Digital Rebel. Even the mode dial feels exponentially more sturdy than the one on Digital Rebel… heck, even the power switch feels solid on the XT!
The XT retains a 1.8 inch color LCD screen to review shots and to view in camera settings. Note that the LCD screen does NOT allow you to preview shots like in point-and-shoot digital cameras. You must use the viewfinder to frame and take your shot. The color LCD is a bit on the dim side when compared to my other Canon point-and-shoot digital cameras. The screen is fairly easy to read in most conditions… although bright sunlight can significantly wash out the screen to the point it is unreadable.
The optical viewfinder is better than what you’ll find in most point-and-shoot digital cameras. I would say at least 95% of what you see is being captured. The 7 Auto-focus points are clearly noted through the viewfinder with the active focus points lit in red. Note that the AF is clearly much improved over the first Digital Rebel especially in speed!
If you care, the XT has a USB 2.0 connection for transferring photos to your computer… but a USB 2.0 card reader is much faster.
What’s New over the Digital Rebel
Well, the most obvious one is the 8.0 megapixel CMOS sensor. The upgrade from 6 to 8 MP is relatively minor if you work with small prints… maybe the trained eye can see any significant difference on a 8.5 x 11 inch print. If you don’t do alot of alterations and cropping of your photos, the jump to 8 MP I don’t think is very significant. In fact, I think the increase is pointless if you print 4×6 and 5×7 inch images without cropping your original shots.
Otherwise, there have been wholesale improvements to the XT over the first Digital Rebel. I don’t mean the size and weight of the camera alone. The XT is quick… less than a second to start up, faster image processing, faster writing to the CF cards, faster autofocusing, and more. The XT uses the DIGIC II processor which accounts for the XT’s newfound speed and imaging processing as well as the greatly improved power consumption. The is a much larger image buffer that allows the XT to shoot continuously at 3fps up to 14 JPEG images or 5 RAW images. This can be further extended if you get a very fast Compact Flash (CF) card like the Lexar 80x Pro series cards, the Sandisk Extreme III cards, and the Delkin branded cards… personally, I’ve been using Ultra II cards since they offer me good performance for an affordable price. An improved and more informative status LCD panel is found on the XT with a redesigned (and I feel better) control/button layout. The XT includes new custom options not available on the Digital Rebel (unless you used unofficial firmware hacks!). The XT uses a smaller, lighter, and less powerful battery from the S60/S70 but gives you the same uptime as the Digital Rebel due the improved power consumption from the DiG!C II processor. Canon added USB 2.0… finally! Canon finally sells the XT in a black body (which is the standard color while the silver body is a special option)!
The XT can utilize the same lenses as the Digital Rebel and the EOS-20D… which means any EF or EF-S type lens will work with the Digital Rebel XT. The XT has a hot shoe to accommodate external flash units but works best with Canon branded Speedlites (like the 420EX and 580EX). The XT is compatible with the E-TTL II flash system that is exclusive to specific Canon cameras. It worked quite well with the Canon 420EX Speedlite I purchased. Note that only Canon Speedlites worked with the XT when the mode dial was not set to manual mode.
I didn’t buy the XT with f3.5-5.6/18-55 EF-S II lens kit so I can’t make any comments on it. I used the older f3.5-5.6/18-55 EF-S lens from the original Digital Rebel. I thought the original lens was decent although limited because of the range. The original Digital Rebel kit lens did a better job with close-ups and short range photography than distance and telephoto jobs… most people will likely pick up another lens or two (actually you would have to buy at least one more lens to get some range).
I can only guess the kit lens in the XT package is similar to slightly better than the original kit lens with the first Digital Rebel.
Image Quality and Camera Options and Flexibility
The XT captures some of the best images I’ve ever seen in any digital camera… and this is with average lenses (use of original Digital Rebel 18-55 EF-S lens and affordable Sigma lenses). A point-and-shoot doesn’t even compare in image quality. High quality lenses allow the XT to take outstanding photos. The shots are highly detailed with rich color which is a bit brighter than the original Digital Rebel but not as vibrant as more consumer orientated point-and-shoot digital cameras (although you can adjust this!). The preservation of small details is excellent. To date, I haven’t used a camera that has preserved small details as well as the XT at an affordable price. The 8MP images are great for cropping and editing. Note that the sample images were captured with a Sigma 28-90mm lens.
Images showed very minor purple fringing (chromatic aberration) which is understandable in a digital camera even an extremely high quality and high level camera as the XT. You have to be pretty persistent to note the small areas of purple fringing… likely you will not even notice it. I’ve printed 8.5 x 11 inch photos which look fantastic.
The camera takes two seconds to power up from when you switch the camera on. There is virtually no delay from depressing the shutter button to taking the shot. The XT falls into a sleep mode when powered up and not in use. Here, the camera is ready to take shots in under a second! The 7 point auto-focus system is very quick especially when compared to the original Digital Rebel… although it is not as fast as the EOS-20D. This coupled with the fantastic image quality and flexible settings make the XT a formidable dSLR camera indeed!
The XT is capable of shooting in ISO settings of 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600. Leaving the camera on the Automatic setting on the mode dial allows only ISO settings of 100, 200, and 400 only. You do not get an ISO 50 setting or a ISO 3200 setting if it matters to you. Otherwise, images at ISO 100 and 200 have extremely low noise levels! ISO 400 had a bit more noise. ISO 800 had more notable noise levels but was still very good. ISO 1600 also fares very well with moderate noise levels (more than ISO 800 but images were acceptable).
The white balance has been vastly improved with a two axis system to really fine tune your white balance settings. One axis shifts from blue to amber while the second axis shifts from magenta to green. Very nice.
The XT has selectable metering, selectable AF, flash exposure compensation, independently selectable color space (you can select Adobe RGB color space), B&W mode with a color filter, two preset and three custom image parameter sets, AE lock, various shooting modes, AE bracketing, and preset white balance settings (i.e Auto, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Daylight, Flash, Shade, and Custom). Mirror lockup is also an option in the XT as well. The mode dial allows you to set up for various modes that include:
- Program AE (P)
- Shutter Priority AE (Tv)
- Aperture Priority AE (Av)
- Manual (M)
- Auto Depth-of-Field
- Night Portrait
- Flash off
File Sizes… Image Files
The XT has 6 JPEG image settings. You can set the image to large, medium, and small which correlates to 8MP, 4MP, and 2MP image sizes. Each of these settings allows a fine and a standard setting (which affects level of file compression). The fine setting on the XT is extremely well done… I don’t notice any differences from the fine large JPEG image setting versus the RAW setting on the camera. There is a RAW image setting available in all modes but Automatic mode. You also get the ability to save RAW and Large JPEG Fine in all modes except Automatic.
As far as image sizes go, you are dealing with 8MP images here…
- Large (3456×2304) JPEG Fine approx. 3 MB
- Large (3456×2304) JPEG Normal approx. 1.7 MB
- RAW image approx. 8 MB
- Medium (2496×1664) JPEG Fine approx. 2.0 MB
- Medium (2496×1664) JPEG Normal approx. 1.0 MB
- Small (1728×1152) Fine approx. 1.2 MB
- Small (1728×1152) Normal approx. 0.6 MB
Realize that you don’t get a starter CF card with a dSLR purchase… so you have to buy a CompactFlash card with the camera unless you have spare cards lying around. With that in mind, you really should consider getting a large capacity CompactFlash card. As a safe bet in determining the size of the CF card you’ll need, saving in RAW+JPEG will take 11MB per shot. That means a 512MB CompactFlash card would allow you about 48 shots. If you’re happy with taking Large JPEGs in fine compression (which is next best setting after the RAW setting), each shot takes up about 3 MB. Here your 512MB card will net 160 photos.
Consider these factors when choosing the size of your Compact Flash card. By the way, make sure the Compact Flash is a high speed card. I’ve been using SanDisk’s Ultra II series which is a good performer for the money. Some of the faster brand name cards include Lexar’s 80x Professional/Platinum Series cards, SanDisk’s Extreme III Series, and just about any memory from Delkin. By the way, higher speed cards do increase the price of the card by a significant amount.
Zip… Zero… None. dSLR camera were not designed for video capture… they were designed for the best still photo capture.
Interface and Menus
The menus can be a bit annoying for the experienced since it is not quite as easy to get to specific settings as in Canon’s higher end cameras… like the EOS-20D. However, it is arranged rather well for amateurs and newcomers to dSLRs and feels a closer to a point-and-shoot. The only other minor problem with the interface is that the status LCD gives less information than I would like… many of the settings have to made through menu settings through the color LCD.
The XT has support for 15 languages for those of you whose native language is not English.
The XT also allows you to remap the 9 customs functions (i.e. the buttons on the back of the XT) to set it to your liking.
In display mode, the XT can display photos in groups by date and can jump 10 or 100 images in a single press.
Canon claims 600 shots on a full charge with no reviews and no flash use. 50% flash use on photos according to Canon gives you 400 shots. Canon claims an operating temperature of 20 degrees C or 68 degrees F.
I got almost 400 shots over the course of 1 1/2 weeks of use after a full charge.
Another nice point for me… I have the S70 and use the battery for both cameras. That means I have a backup battery available to me since I bought both cameras. That’s less equipment I have to remember to bring with me if I take both cameras on a trip with me.
You can attach the XT to any PictBridge supporting printer to directly print your photos from the camera. The camera allows basic picture printing options however. Editing options are also limited as well.
What’s in the Box?
You get the XT camera, a neck strap, the NB-2LH battery, the compact NB-2LH charger, A/V cables, USB cable, software CDs, and a large printed manual.
Should you buy anything else?
You must buy a Compact Flash card. As I stated earlier, a high speed Compact Flash card in a 512MB capacity should be the minimum that you buy.
I would highly recommend a camera case. I consider spending the money to protect the XT worth it.
Buy a USB 2.0 card reader (if you have USB 2.0 ports on your computer). It is much faster to transfer photos to your computer this way.
You will likely need to buy lenses. I started with a Sigma two lenses kit with a 28-90 mm lens and a 80-300mm lens when I bought the first Digital Rebel. These are not great lenses but cost about $200 and gave me some flexibility when I started learning dSLR cameras.
The XT is a powerful camera that provides a relatively easy learning curve for newcomers and features deep enough for professionals. The price of the camera is more than reasonable and offers a compelling choice to upgrade from the original Digital Rebel due to the speed and flexibility.