Mar 25, 2005

Canon Digital Rebel XT Field Test

The Canon Digital Rebel XT has caught the attention of a lot of amateur photographers and even some pros. The Imaging Resource has put this digital camera through its paces in a field test style of report and has some good things to say --and some bad things. Be sure to check out the full article. Here is a portion of it-
Canon Digital Rebel XT
Canon Digital Rebel XT

The launch of the Canon Digital Rebel in 2003 brought the digital SLR within range of consumers. The camera was so popular, Canon had to quickly ramp up production to keep up with demand. It wasn't a perfect camera, but the price was right, at $999.99, and the Digital Rebel hit the target much as did the Canon AE-1 in the late 1970's, offering easy of use in an attractive package. The Digital Rebel met most amateur photographers needs, and many pros were also seen shooting the camera on occasion, as well as scads of intermediate photographers and weekend warriors trying to make a buck with their favorite hobby. Though the camera's case wasn't as professional looking as its predecessor, the EOS 10D, its sensor was actually better than the 10D, and tuned for consumer tastes with its Parameter 1 setting (this setting boosts saturation, sharpening, and contrast to more closely match what amateur photographers expect from digicam and film output).

But there were some important features missing from the Canon Digital Rebel. Many enthusiasts complained that there was no flash compensation possible with the Digital Rebel; and though I poo-pooed this complaint myself at first, I soon came to agree. Some didn't like the silver painted case, others thought it felt somewhat cheap in its build. The camera rattles slightly when shaken, due to some loose brackets in the pop-up flash mechanism. By far my biggest complaint with the Digital Rebel though was its buffer depth. Capturing only four frames before filling the buffer, regardless of resolution or compression settings, this was an impediment that often hampered my portrait and event photography.

Still, there was no disputing the great value of the Canon Digital Rebel. Its image quality was superb, besting even very fine competitors like the Nikon D70 in some aspects. Its high-ISO performance was impressive, and its lens was surprisingly sharp and useful for all manner of photography. The combo was light, easy to use, focused quickly, and kicked out great shot after great shot.

Every great performance demands an encore, and Canon was happy to oblige. The new Canon Digital Rebel XT improves on the original in almost every way. It's smaller, lighter, faster, more versatile, more capable, and takes on nearly every trait of the benchmark EOS 20D. Nothing's perfect, however, and there's a bit of a dust-up here at Imaging Resource about the camera's overall size; and in particular the grip.

Out in the field, I found the Canon Digital Rebel XT a reliable performer that is faster than I'm used to, and easy to use. Its small size was not a big problem when out shooting gallery shots; all I would need to be happy for casual photography is the optional vertical battery grip, since most of my shots are vertical.

It's great for photographing the family, given its low shutter lag and nearly instant power on time. AF seemed fast too, resulting in far more good shots than throwaways. In low light (which is almost always when indoors unless you crank into higher ISO settings), you'll want to pop up the flash, as this is the only AF assist light that the camera offers. I also suggest setting Digital Rebel XT's AF to the single center point almost all the time for indoor shooting, as this seems to be the most sensitive.

Digital SLRs like the Canon Rebel XT offer a smaller depth of field than most people are used to from modern digital cameras, making focus accuracy paramount. In general, you'll do much better using the center AF point for most situations, then recomposing as necessary. Put your kids in contrasty clothes to help the AF a bit when you're shooting indoors. You'll find that the E-TTL II flash exposure performance is excellent, even for close-quarters indoor shots. Though the XT is better with limited lighting than are most point-and-shoot digicams, you should always do your camera a favor and shoot with a light source nearby to help out the AF. Rather than off-the-cuff snapshots, a better approach is to take pictures on purpose and move the kids to a window or other pleasing light source.

There's no question that the Canon Digital Rebel XT is a leap ahead, offering a quality SLR in a very small package. I think it'll be ideally suited for its target market, which is the family shooter who wants to catch the kids at play. It'll give you more of what you need to catch action at sporting events and is a good size for the traditional keeper of family photographs, the mom. Those who think the smaller size will be a burden can still choose the original Digital Rebel, now available in a kit that includes the lens for around $800. You can also buy the new BG-E3 battery grip, which you can load with less expensive AA batteries if you like. Since humans are vertical, shooting vertical is a great way to eliminate clutter in the background, so buying and using this grip by default would immediately improve your people photography. For travelers wanting a powerful digital camera with a spectacular imager, and the option of a few different lenses, you'll not find a more portable SLR, and certainly not a more capable one anywhere near its size or price range.

Read the Canon Digital Rebel XT Field Test.