I am a man of many hidden talents. In addition to being a fine coinsurer of trashy B-Movies, monster flicks and Kung Fu movies, I bet you don't know that I also like taking pictures. No, not that kind you perv.
I started out with taking a class back in college in film and video production - and while my BA is mostly useless, it does mean that I've got a pretty good eye for composition and whatnot. I started dabbling in still photography some 6 years ago now on a trip to Disneyland, and I've been slowly sucked in more and more as a hobby. I've been through a couple of cameras now - Canon, Kodak, and my most recent toy: the Canon Rebel XSi
THATS NICE, WHAT'S THE REBEL LIKE?
Well, you can get the XSi in two styles, a traditional all black and a fugly two tone silver and black. The XSi weighs about - and this is just a guess, since I havent gotten the scale out - 1.5 pounds. It's light enough to not drag you down, but meaty enough that you feel like a Real Man when shooting with it. Of course the weight will change with the type of lens you have on at the moment, too. The smooth plastic case, on the other hand betrays your Real Manly-nees, feeling kind of cheap and, well, plastic-y.
The viewing screen is a nice, large three inches, and looks pretty good even in direct sunlight. My only wish was that you had a swing-out screen like my old S3 - taking shots low to the ground means that I either fire blind and hope for the best or lay on the ground myself. Both are pretty awkward. Of course, thanks to the way a DSLR is constructed, you generally dont get a live view anyway. You can - you can shoot in a mode where the mirror doesnt flip down (making the camera run quieter), but it slows cycle time for shooting way down.
Mostly you'll have to do your shooting through the actual eyepiece. A novelty, I know - but you get used to it. In fact, I prefer the Rebel's optical viewfinder over the S3's digital one. Means that what you see is exactly what you get, and the viewfinder isnt one more drain on the batteries.
The layout of the controls is nice. Nearly all the buttons are right under your right hand, and each feels slightly different so that you can identify they by touch (after some practice, mind you). None of them require two-handed operation: when you push the button to change ISO, white balance, metering, and so on. And more importantly, I'm not constantly bumping something by accident, sending me to the picture review screen like I was on my S3.
YEAH, YEAH - FEELS GREAT. HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
I was drawn to the XSi because it sports some pretty nice horsepower under the hood. The camera runs in with the 12 megapixel crowd - although I should point out: dont be fooled by this megapixel arms race. It's pure snake oil. Once you get above about 8 or so, there's virtually no difference that the consumer will see. It's just a buzzword that people like to throw around to make their cameras sound important. So 12 megapixels sounds sexy, but it's ultimately meaningless.
No, where the true power lies is the size of the sensor. The bigger the sensor, the better your pictures will look. According to the box, the Rebel sports a APS-C size CMOS sensor. I'll be honest - that's a whole bunch of technobabble that flies right over my head. I do know that my pictures look great.
Speaking of the battery, I have to admit that the camera is really robust in this regard. I can take several hundred shots, nearly filling up a 4 meg memory card, without running it down. I've gone a week of pretty hard core shooting and never had to swap or recharge. I should mention that the Rebel uses a unique battery pack, and not something like your standard Double-A batteries. You can get a battery pack that does use them (for about a hundred bucks) or a secondary battery (about fifty bucks), but you just cant run down to the 7-11 and grab some more when your current set goes flat.
BUT WHAT ABOUT ACTUALLY SHOOTING PICTURES?
While I haven't actually used any of the higher end cameras to compare, the Rebel has some good shooting speed - far faster than my old S3. It goes from power on to photo ready in well under a second. The lag between shots is about average - about one second average, with some fast rapid fire shots in the sports burst mode - doing about 3 frames a second. Add in just a touch for the flash to cycle, and you still have a pretty fast camera.
SOUNDS SWEET. ANY DOWNSIDES?
One big one - the Rebel lacks a feature I miss off my S3: in-body mechanical stabilization. Now, most lenses come with image-stabilizing functionality, since optically stabilized lenses tend to cost more in the long run. Performance-wise, the camera tops out at an ISO setting of 1600, while most other high end cameras go as high as 3200 (ISO of course meaning the camera's sensitivity when shooting in lower light situations.), and I already mentioned the lack of swing out viewfinder.
Oh, and I guess I'm not thrilled by the menu screens and configuration layout. The menus can be inconsistent, annoying, and just downright dumb. Take, for example, that you have the ability to change the ISO settings with either the settings dial on top of the camera or via the menu, but you can only change the metering through the menu. And actually navigating around is sometimes annoying - going to the bottom of the first column to get to the settings of the second and so on.
Oh, and I guess the other downside is that the 800 bucks only gets you the body of the camera. Lenses and stuff will cost you another 200 to 400 bucks, depending on what you get. Annoying, but that's pretty much par for the course when you jump up to this grade of camera gear.
AWW, THATS TOO BAD -
Dont get me wrong - the Rebel delivers some nice pictures. The colors are accurate, the images are clean and sharp, and even running at 1600 ISO, there's not a lot of noise or artifacts. It may run a couple of bucks more than the Sony and Nikon DLSR cameras, but it looks like it's worth it.
WAIT A SECOND - THIS IS THE SAME REVIEW AS THAT OTHER XSI REVIEW!
Well, mostly - with one main difference: the lens! For about 800 bucks, you'll get just the camera. No lens, no nothing. With this bundle (which will run you about a hundred bucks more, give or take), you get some extra goodies, most importntly - the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. That's a whole lot of techobabble meaning that the back focus of the lens and the distance from the sensor.
The EF lens is not terribly outstanding - pretty much an entry level grade unit. It's plastic, so the weight is on the lower end, and although it is a lower end lens, it still performs well. The autofocus is fast, reasonably accurate and quiet, and the onboard image stabilization seems pretty solid. It may not deliver images as sharp as some of the higher end lenses, but it also doesnt cost a thousand dollars either.
If you print up a bunch of photos taken with this lens, you're not going to get people going "Hang on, that lens distortion at the edge is diabolical. If only you had used a Canon DB-S 400mm" or some such nonsense. I've been shooting with this lens for three months now, and have been nothing but happy with the result.
REVIEW TOO LONG! SUM UP, PLEASE!
Despite my inexperience with DSLR cameras, I was up and running within minutes (well, after I charged the battery, that is). There is still lots left I have to learn about the camera, but for the moment I'm taking great pictures. It's easy enough to point and shoot, but should have enough bells and whistles to make the high end amateurs happy.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, if you want to see the Rebel in action, wander over to www.flickr.com/photos/tonyjcase/ and you'll see my gallery of XSi shots.
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Amount Paid (US$): 800
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Flexible Enough for Enthusiasts