Canon has shaken up its entry-level offerings for the second time in 2008 with the launch of the Canon Rebel XS consumer-grade DSLR. Announced way back in June for the European market (as the EOS 1000D) but only recently available on this side of the Atlantic, the Rebel XS slots in at the very bottom of Canon's DSLR line – providing a second new entry-level option in Canon's lineup and a lower-cost, lower-res alternative to the relatively advanced XSi.
The ace up Canon's sleeve in the case of the XS, though, is that this camera retains a surprising amount of the technology that made the XSi an Editor's Choice pick around these parts. If you like what Canon's doing at the entry level but have been turned off by the Rebel XSi's upper-tier market position and street price, the new XS may just be the Rebel you've been waiting for.
The Rebel XS represents a shift in strategy for Canon; with the manufacturer bringing a second simultaneously developed and supported DSLR to the bottom-tier consumer market. Traditionally, Canon has demoted its previous-generation Rebel into the entry-level spot with each new announcement. While the new XS diverges from this formula insofar as it was purpose-built for beginning DSLR users (rather than simply a more advanced hand-me-down, as in the case of the XTi that it replaces), the net result really isn't that different from what we've seen before: in terms of both hardware and design, the XS is very much an amalgam of XSi and XTi.
To this end, the XS uses the previous-generation 10.1 megapixel CMOS sensor as well as the XTi's smaller 2.5 inch LCD. XSi-level upgrades include DIGIC III processing, Canon's advanced "Picture Style" menu that allows shooters to fine-tune image processing (and includes space for several user-defined custom settings), and an impressively fast advertised continuous shooting speed with a new-for-XS unlimited buffer for JPEG shooting.
The XS also brings the XSi's live view system (which allows the screen to be used for shot composition) all the way down to Canon's entry-level model. The XS's live view implementation moves beyond the basic with the addition of a contrast-detection AF mode that allows the camera to auto focus without interrupting the on-screen preview to do so – a feat not possible in the first generation of live view DSLRs.
As with previous Rebel DSLRs, the XS's shooting modes are divided into two basic groups, which Canon terms the "Basic Zone" and the "Creative Zone." The Basic Zone is made up of the XS's auto exposure and scene preset options. Basic Zone presets are as follows:
Note that in the Basic Zone, many exposure control and general shooting options (including AF drive mode, metering options, and flash modes) are locked out or limited.
Canon's Creative Zone modes encompass the full range of expected user-controlled exposure options, with a few interesting additions:
Like most DSLRs, playback options are fairly basic with the XS. The camera does incorporate an orientation sensor that automatically rotates portrait-orientation images during playback. As with Canon's point-and-shoots, it's also easy to scroll through images either 10 or 100 at a time using the control dial.
I appreciate that Canon has incorporated its proprietary optical Image Stabilizer by default into the new kit lens – the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS – but as noted when we tested the XSi, I still don't have a lot of good things to say about the upgrade. The lens feels flimsy, and our review sample – which appears to have spent some time taped to the inner fender of a Jeep given the amount of dust permanently adhered to the crevices of its zoom ring – reminds me of just how poorly these all-plastic budget lenses age if you don't handle them carefully.
Optically, the lens remains a weak spot for this setup as it was for the XSi, but the flip side is that with slightly less resolution, the 18-55mm also isn't as taxed to pull out details in this application. Not surprising then that on balance it seems to perform better here than on the XSi.
For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
Styling and Build Quality
Hold up an XS and an XSi side by side, cover their badging, and I'm betting even their designers wouldn't be able to tell them apart. These two share that much in common in terms of form.
Per Canon's specs, the XSi is ever so slightly larger, but having recently worked with both cameras I can say that in hand, there's essentially no difference between them.
This means that the Rebel XS is wrapped in Canon's signature smooth black plastic that's more than a bit controversial around here. In reviewing the XSi, I expressed some displeasure with the cheap feeling that the use of an oddly finished, all-plastic body exudes. Shiny black plastic buttons aren't nice to look or nice under hand, and the control dial has a clicky feel that doesn't inspire confidence.
The XS has lost some of the XSi's detail touches as well, lacking both a padded thumb rest on the back panel and the XSi's more comfort contoured grip area. You also won't find an IR port on the front of the grip area, as the new model doesn't support a wireless remote.
Styling is a direct carry-over from the XSi, with swooping lines and few hard edges. As before, it's basic and generally inoffensive if you can get past the copious use of plastic all around – though it should also be noted that all of this plastic makes the XS and kit lens weigh in lower than Canon's current ultrazoom, the SX10 IS, with batteries loaded.
I still maintain that some will find the level of fit and finish for what is unquestionably one of the premier entry-level DSLRs on the market unappealing. But if the Rebel's cheesy finish choices don't send you running for a Nikon or an Olympus, there's no reason to write off the XS without some shooting time – there's simply too much that's good here to get hung up on some iffy design decisions.
Ergonomics and Interface
As with the build quality discussion, there's not much to say about the XS's interface that hasn't already been said about the XSi's arrangement. That's because the new camera copies the button layout of its predecessor directly, with a four-way controller and a row of buttons to the right of the screen, a few controls above the display to the left, under-thumb focusing and exposure controls, a top-mounted ISO button, and a multi-function control wheel.
Well considered dedicated controls provide quick access to just about everything that the average shooter might need to adjust in setting up a shot, making the XS easy to shoot with once you figure out its layout.
The XS's grip area remains, like those found on previous Rebel cameras, too narrow for many to comfortably wrap their fingers around, though the camera feels less awkward in hand with a little bit of time. It should also be noted that the XS maintains the XSi's ludicrous depth-of-field preview button placement: the small, hard-to-press button is positioned just under the lens mount release, making it a bit of challenge to grab easily with a left-hand thumb as Canon presumably intended.
Canon's menus are easy to appreciate as well: simple, uncluttered, and to the point. The most advanced arrangement of controls lies in the multi-page custom functions menu. Otherwise, the XS eschews multi-page menus in favor of brief lists of options under each of its tabbed main menu headings.
A customizable My Menu system can also be set up to display the adjustment options of the user's choice, though setting up the system is perhaps not as intuitive as it should be.
The XS's LCD is a 2.5 inch, 230,000 dot spec that appears to have been sourced directly from the XTi. Color reproduction is reasonably accurate, as is contrast.
When in shooting mode, the rear LCD also serves as status indicator, providing detailed information about exposure parameters, battery life, and number of available shots remaining. The basic look and layout of the status display has been the same on the last few generations of Rebel cameras – definitely not a bad thing, given its clear, plain, and logical information arrangement.
The XS also features a live view mode, allowing the LCD to be used for shot composition. With good color reproduction and only the slightest hint of sluggishness, the LCD is up to the task of on-screen composition as well, performing up to the standards of a high-quality compact camera in live view use. Screen brightness is adjustable across seven levels, easily handling outdoor composition and shot review in all but the brightest situations.
The XS's viewfinder is similarly spaced to the pentamirror units used on both the XSi and the XTi, with 95 percent coverage all around – though its 0.81x magnification puts its higher eyepoint closer to the XTi's spec than the XSi's. If it's a little dark and boxy compared to an advanced amateur DSLR's finder, the XS's prism is better than what we've seen from most of its entry-level competitors.
The XS also gets the Rebel XSi's reworked in-viewfinder information console, which provides a full-time ISO setting display in addition to a focus confirmation indicator, a metering scale with shutter/aperture info, flash mode information when relevant, and a read-out of the number of burst-mode shots remaining. All in all, for an entry-level model especially, the XS's heads-up display is about as good as it gets, providing users with a straightforward arrangement of useful information and a bright image that makes manual focusing and low-light composition less tiresome than with previous generations of the Rebel.
Timings and Shutter Lag
Canon has built its reputation in the DSLR space on several performance pillars, with shooting speed being chief among them. The XSi was fast. The XTi was fast. Hence, given the amount of carry-over at work here, there was no reason to assume that the XS would be anything but quick.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Canon Rebel XS
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A200||0.05|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A200
|Canon Rebel XS
As always for our consumer DSLR reviews, the numbers stated represent a five-shot average time for each camera using its kit lens. Given how responsive the XS feels, it's no surprise to see it right up at the front of the pack in both of these measures. Even more interesting is the fact that the XS slightly bests the XSi in AF acquisition speed (the XSi turned in a 0.22 in the same test). While the practical difference between these two marks is negligible – which is to say, it's not as though you're getting an appreciably faster camera with the XS – you're certainly not losing speed by stepping down to the XS in spite of its lower-spec AF system.
|Olympus E-420||10||3.4 fps|
|Canon Rebel XS||∞||3.0 fps|
|Nikon D60||6||3.0 fps|
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A200
Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Although it doesn't blast through shots as fast as the absolute fastest models in this class, the XS's most impressive feature is undoubtedly its infinite buffer – which even the more expensive XSi can't claim. Shoot at lower sensitivities (i.e. below the noise reduction threshold) and sufficient shutter speeds and the camera shows no signs of slowing. We dashed off 30 such highest quality JPEGs in an on-the-mark 10.01 seconds.
One point of differentiation for the XS from its upper-tier sibling is in the AF system: the XSi's 30D-derived nine-point auto focus system is gone. In its place, you'll find a seven-point AF system. While some users will lament the restricted number of points, the XS's five-and-two horizontal/vertical cross array covers about the same percentage of the frame as the XSi's nine-point system (though the move away from a diamond pattern shape does leave key in-between areas – the precise cross positions of a "Rule of Thirds" composition grid, in fact – uncovered). Moreover, even a mere seven points is light-years beyond the three-point systems still lurking on many entry-level DSLRs.
True to form, Canon is also offering an interesting enticement with its latest AF system: the XS is the only Rebel camera to utilize a more accurate cross-type center AF point with lenses faster than f/5.6. The XSi's cross-type center sensor is restricted to more premium-priced f/2.8 glass only. This expanded cross-type compatibility may be to thank for the XS's slightly improved AF numbers when compared to the XSi.
In terms of focus drive modes, the XS mirrors the XSi: Canon has provided the traditional single-shot and continuous (AI Servo in Canon-speak) drive options, but has also included a "hybrid" AI Focus mode in which the camera automatically switches between single and continuous AF drive. Similarly, if you're using automatic multi-point AF, Canon's proprietary A-DEP exposure mode will automatically calculate an aperture-priority exposure that ensures enough depth of field to bring all of the selected AF points for a particular shot into sharp focus.
As with the XSi's system, I found the XS's auto focus system to be among the quickest and most reliable of any I've used in an entry-level consumer DSLR. Even respecting the limits of slow-focusing consumer glass, the system is both quick and predictable, with solid tracking abilities via its AI Servo continuous setting. The XS features a dedicated AF point selection button, and the fact that the selected AF point (or all seven, if you select multi-area auto mode) lights up in the viewfinder makes it relatively easy to select a focusing area without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.
The only weakness we observed, in fact, was one I also noted with the XSi's system: the XS can be a little dodgy in choosing focus points automatically, not always picking up obvious foreground subjects in a frame. Select your own points, however, and you'll find the camera's auto focus to be a reliable companion – even in low contrast/low light situations (though, it should be noted, you do have to raise the flash for low-light AF assist, as there's no built-in lamp).
Live view opens up a whole other range of options where auto focus is concerned. The system disables AF in live view altogether by default, but custom function settings allow the XS to use either traditional focus-sensor AF (in which the mirror must be moved out of the way for the camera to focus, thereby interrupting the on-screen preview for around a second in most cases), or use a slower contrast-detection focusing system like those found on compact cameras (which allows the camera to auto focus without interrupting the on-screen preview, but often takes three to four seconds to lock). In either case, AF in live view must be initiated by pressing and holding the AE-Lock button until the camera beeps to confirm focus lock: as with the XSi, a half-press of the shutter button won't do it.
Overall, what I said about the XSi's live view system can be applied directly here as well: Canon's live view technology – though unquestionably more refined than the first generation of live view systems – is still too slow and clunky to be much more than a gimmick unless you shoot static subjects. Because the system doesn't reconfirm focus when the shutter fires, if your subject has moved significantly between the time you acquire AF lock and the time you press the shutter button (which then takes roughly a half a second to initiate the up-and-down mirror motion and fire the shutter), you're simply out of luck and out of focus. Contrast-detection auto focus is helpful insofar as you can track the subject while focusing, but it creeps along compared to the traditional phase detection system and doesn't handle moving subjects or low light very well.
In short, those who were hoping that Canon would significantly overhaul their DIGIC III based live view technology for this application are simply out of luck. As expected, it will likely take moving up to a model with Canon's next-generation DIGIC IV processor to see substantive improvements here, and while it's not a bad feature to have – it doesn't hurt the XS's performance in any way – it doesn't provide a well-sorted point-and-shoot style shooting experience either.
Like the rest of the Rebel series, the XS sports an EF-S lens mount capable of handling basically all current Canon glass – including full-on, full-frame EF-mount lenses. The body receiver mount is metal, but you'll find a plastic coupling on most of the budget optics with which the XS is typically paired; plastic mounts adorn both the 18-55mm kit lens and the new 55-250mm expanded kit telephoto.
While Canon's backwards compatibility is not as good as what some rivals provide, the ubiquity of Canon AF glass makes it relatively simple to find any lens you desire. Additionally, you'll never be left wondering if a new third-party optic will be on the way for your camera, leaving you free to thumb your nose at anxious Pentax and Sony shooters.
The XS uses the same on-board flash unit that's been on Rebel models for awhile now, with a guide number of 13 meters. Flash output can be compensated up or down up to 2 EV, with coverage out to around 17mm. Using the same flash unit and battery pack, the XS was able to recycle a full-power flash discharge in under 3 seconds with a fully charged battery – just like its big brother.
Mode options are the four basic ones: auto, forced on, forced off, and red-eye reduction. There are no preset slow sync or rear curtain flash modes, though the XS automatically employs slow sync in the Night Portrait scene mode.
On-board flash performance was, as before, perfectly acceptable, with spot-on exposure across a range of situations. Red-eye reduction also worked as anticipated, with a pre-flash effectively controlling unusual reflectivity.
The XS's current-generation E-TTL flash metering supports all automatic control functions with Canon's EX Speedlites, which can be mounted via the Rebel's hot shoe.
In order to keep pace with rival Nikon as well as the in-body image stabilization crowd, Canon has given both the XSi and the XS a new kit lens, an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 EF-S zoom with IS. Image stabilization is selectable via a dedicated switch on the lens, and there are no mode options for IS: rather, the system engages when the shutter release is half-pressed.
Testing suggests that the stabilization system with the kit lens is good for shutter speeds as slow as around 1/15, after which the results become noticeably more hit or miss. Including IS with the basic kit was almost a necessity for Canon, and it's a particularly nice addition for a budget lens.
That said, Canon still hasn't addressed the squealing noise when IS is active that we first experienced with this lens. Although there was a seemingly related firmware fix for some lenses when used in conjunction with the 40D, a similar update for the XSi and XS have been slow in coming, and our up-to-date XS review unit still exhibits an irritating high-pitched whine whenever the IS system is working.
The XS packs the same beefy 7.4 V/1080 mAh lithium-ion pack that powered the XSi, meaning that not only batteries, but also chargers and battery grips, are interchangeable between Canon's two current Rebel models. Unfortunately, though, you won't be able to shop for surplus XT or XTi kit to outfit your XS's power needs, as the new system is not compatible with previous-generation Rebels.
As before, Canon claims 600 shots per charge with the XS, and several weeks with the latest Rebel suggest that this is a fair number: we've easily crested the 350 shot mark with this review unit before seeing a change in the power status indicator. If you're looking to use readily available AA power, the XS can also oblige via an adapter that converts the aforementioned optional battery grip to using six alkaline cells rather than a pair of li-ion packs.
Both the XSi and the XTi wowed us with superior image quality, and given that the XS uses the imager from one and the processing from the other, there was no reason to expect anything other than another stellar performance with the latest Rebel.
Baseline image quality shows off everything Canon is known for, with saturation that's vibrant without being overdone and lots of detail capture with little unattractively hard-edged sharpness. As before, the kit optic can be a bit of a weak link where pulling out strong contrast is concerned: switch the XS over to a good prime and the strengths of its imager really begin to shine through.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
The XS uses the same Evaluative multi-area metering system by default that we've seen in other Rebel models, and as before, I found the current model to stand up well to wide-range shooting situations. In extreme contrast scenes you'll need to manually adjust the compensation to preserve highlights (as in the -1 EV of comp used in the capture below), but otherwise the camera is impressively accurate from a metering standpoint.
Partial and center-weighted average metering options are also available, but unlike the XSi, there's no advanced spot metering system in this case.
Dynamic range control is all the rage right now, but in contrast to the XSi (which features a Highlight Tone Priority option that serves to expand d-range somewhat), the Rebel XS is limited to Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer – the effects of which could be described as subtle at best.
Tweakability is the name of the game in terms of overall processing, however, with Canon offering an expansive list of preset Picture Style options for JPEG shooters, as well as its common raw format for even more involved image post-processing. Quickly accessible via the Picture Style function button on the d-pad, the XS's presets provide a nice range of color and sharpness options for modifying JPEG output.
In addition to the Standard, Landscape, and Portrait modes seen above, the XS features Neutral and Faithful image handling options, as well as a Monochrome setting for in-camera black-and-whites.
In real world shooting, the changes in processing across presets prove to be fairly aggressive, with the Landscape setting, for instance, providing significantly more contrast and punch than the XS exhibits by default.
Landscape Picture Style
Likewise, the Portrait mode skews warm, with a hue adjustment obviously tailored for vibrant portraiture and a more open mid-range. Overall, given that the Canon's default processing is a little soft and watery – ideal for post-processing, but not great for printing directly from the camera – the range of meaningful adjustments here is excellent for those who want to set up print-ready processing in camera.
In addition to the contrast, sharpness, and saturation fine-tuning options for the processing presets, three user-defined styles also allow more flexibility than we've come to expect from a basic DSLR, with the Canon rivaled only by a handful of other entry-level cameras in terms of customizable processing. Sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone (essentially a hue setting) can all be adjusted on scales range from 0 to 7 for sharpness (3 is default), and -4 to +4 for all other parameters (0 is default). As we saw with the XSi, although the Canon's standard processing didn't exactly do it for me, the range of adjustments here made it simple enough to get an image look that I was happy with without having to process raw files as a general rule.
As noted, the XS can output raw files (or raw images plus JPEGs) in any of the Creative Zone shooting modes. In terms of detail rendering, however, I found the difference between in-camera JPEGs and processed raw files to be miniscule at most.
Given that they share a processing arrangement, we weren't at all surprised to see the XSi's same mediocre automatic white balance performance under incandescent light return for a second round.
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light
Canon's made improvements by degrees from one processor to the next (and from what we've seen with the DIGIC IV cameras, things will continue to get better), but if you're an XS owner you'll definitely want to familiarize yourself with those presets for shooting indoors (where rendering is, as seen, warm of neutral) and outdoors late in the day or in shade (where the XS continues to be too cool in its cooler presentation).
Thankfully, Canon has made the latest Rebel's white balance options easier to get at than ever with the decision to convert the underused Print/Share button to a dedicated white balance control when in shooting mode.
Sensitivity and Noise
If the XSi set a new standard for what to expect in terms of noise performance at the entry level, Canon's previous generation CMOS sensor – the one used in the XS – has never been far behind in terms of performance. The camera's default settings (with high-sensitivity noise reduction disable) show the XS to be a competent performer all the way up to ISO 1600.
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Color fidelity is excellent throughout the range, with just a hint of saturation loss at ISO 1600. Likewise, while edges lose a touch of definition at the highest setting, ISO 100 to 800 are essentially indistinguishable from a detail capture standpoint. Kick on the noise reduction at ISO 1600 to take care of the XS's minor color noise issues in dark solid-field areas and you get a high-sensitivity output that could pass for ISO 400 from some systems.
Likewise, while the XSi is a bit cleaner at ISO 1600, it takes a sharp eye to spot the differences.
Canon Rebel XS, ISO 1600, 100% crop
Canon Rebel XSi, ISO 1600, 100% crop
At the end of the day, this kind of class leading performance is a big part of why the Rebel cameras have stayed at the top of the heap for so long: throw a good lens on this body and you have a camera capable of taking pro-quality shots, even in low light.
Additional Sample Images
Shooting with the Rebel XS is an enjoyable experience, and while comparisons between the XS and the generally similarly (and often identical) XSi are obvious and natural, Canon has done a nice job of paring down the more advanced camera's feature set for the XS without losing the essence of what has made the latest Rebel models so excellent. If you can live without some of the advanced features – better dynamic range control, more resolution, a wider AF area with more points, and a larger screen – that the XSi offers, the XS actually brings newer technology to the table with its unlimited JPEG buffer for continuous shooting and more broadly compatible cross-type center AF sensor.
Canon's kit zoom remains my least favorite part of the current Rebel package, but that's easily (and relatively cheaply rectified). There are some construction oddities and ergonomic issues to look out for, but a quick in-store test drive should be enough to tell whether you'll get along with the XS's physical form or not. With those concerns aside, there's very little else to get in the way of taking fantastic photos with the XS.
Finally, it might have been nice to see more differentiation between the XS and what's already available from Canon. But with overall performance and image quality marks that are top notch, it's hard to fault the manufacturer too much for sticking with a formula that works. And in almost every regard, the Rebel XS does just that.
|Sensor||10.1 megapixel, 22.2x14.8mm CMOS|
|Lens/Zoom||Canon EF/EF-S mount
|LCD/Viewfinder||2.5", 230K-pixel TFT LCD with live view; Pentamirror optical viewfinder with diopter adjustment (95% coverage)
|Shutter Speed||30-1/4000 seconds|
|Shooting Modes||Auto, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Depth of Field Priority, Scene, Manual
|Scene Presets||Portrait, Landscape, Close-Up, Sports, Night Portrait, Flash Off
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash, Custom
|Metering Modes||Evaluative, Partial, Center-Weighted
|Focus Modes||AI Focus, AI Servo, One Shot, Manual
|Drive Modes||Single, Continuous, Self Timer, Self Timer Continuous
|Flash Modes||Auto, Forced On, Force Off, Red-Eye Reduction|
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
|Memory Formats||SD, SDHC
|File Formats||JPEG, RAW
|Max. Image Size||3888 x 2592
|Max. Video Size
|Zoom During Video||N/A|
|Battery||Rechargeable 1080 mAh lithium-ion|
|Connections||USB 2.0, AV output, remote control in|
|Additional Features||Live View, DIGIC III Processor, Auto Lighting Optimizer, 7-Point AF System|