Pros: Great image quality, takes SD cards, lots of convenient features, reasonable price
Cons: There’s a bit of a learning curve
I’ve always loved computers and taking pictures, making my love for digital photography a natural progression. My first digital camera was a 2 megapixel, alkaline battery-operated Kodak with no zoom. Luckily, technologies have advanced, and I’ve had a lot of point-and-shoot cameras that have produced beautiful images. I thought nothing could compare to my Canon Digital Elph SD600, until the newer Canon Digital Elph SD1000, SD950IS , and SD1100IS . The latter has been my most frequently used point-and-shoot since early this year. It take phenomenal pictures, but I’ve been drooling over the entry level digital single lens reflex (D-SLR) cameras for years now, and with a honeymoon coming, my now husband and I decided it may be time for a purchase.
I had some prior experience with D-SLRs, which mainly consisted of using them in-store when I worked in retail. I had a moderate amount of experience with the Sony Alpha 100, but I primarily used and preferred the Canon Digital Rebel line. I had long been drooling over them; since the original Digital Rebel, in fact. I had priced out and planned my purchases, but there was always a reason not to get it. I love Canon’s Digic processors and liked the idea of having all of my cameras from the same brand, but I did not like the idea of having two types of memory cards. Everything I own takes Secure Digital (SD) memory cards. I’ve only owned Kodak and Canon point-and-shoots, all of which took SD cards. My Kodak digital picture frame takes SD cards. Our Wii takes SD cards. All four of the GPS systems we’ve owned in the last five years took SD cards. The four or five laptops we went through have all had SD card readers only (Dell). I really didn’t want to add the more cumbersome format of Compact Flash to my collection. When the Canon EOS Digital Rebel Xsi was released, I was sold. I ordered one in my local Best Buy store last May. I’ve been thrilled with it!
The Canon EOS Digital Rebel Xsi is small for a D-SLR. The body is only 3.8” H x 5.1” W x 2.4” D. It’s certainly bigger than a point-and-shoot camera, but still very manageable in my small hands. It weighs only 1.1 lbs, which also makes it easier to hold. D-SLRs can be cumbersome, and this is certainly one of the easier ones to lug around. I found myself using it in a number of situations that I thought for sure I’d want to use the point-and-shoot for convenience. For comparison, the Nikon D60 is 0.5 lb heavier than this model. The body is made of a sort of lightweight plastic and comes in two colors; black and silver. I purchased the black, simply because it is what the store could order. I may have purchased the silver, but at the time of purchase, supplies were constrained. Availability may be better now as the camera has been out for a number of months now. As far as style, this camera may not match up to the sleekness of the tiny point-and-shoots, but I’d venture to say it is one of the more stylish D-SLRs on the market.
The layout of the Canon EOS Digital Rebel Xsi is well thought out. The buttons are sufficiently large and intuitively placed for easy toggling in a pinch. The camera is extremely comfortable to hold, with a grip around the side of the camera near the shutter button. In my experience, even technology-allergic relatives could pick it up and snap a photo in auto mode without being shown how to hold the camera. All of the controls I need to use are easy for my small fingers to access.
The front of the camera is home to the lens mount (obviously). The Xsi is compatible with EF and EF-S lenses. The lenses are easy to attach, and detach with the lens eject button located next to the lens mount. The back of the camera houses a 3” LCD screen, which is one of the larger screens I’ve seen on a D-SLR. The screen is very vibrant and sharp. I found it easy to inspect my shots and view all of the camera’s settings on it. The brightness of the screen is adjustable (7 levels), and I found I could use it effectively at less than 100% brightness. Live view mode is available.
A viewfinder is located above the screen with adjustable diopter, allowing viewing of 95% of the image. I found the small eye cup surrounding it to be quite comfortable for my eye, and it was easy to frame my photos and view my shooting settings in the viewfinder. The viewfinder allows you to view AF information (AF points, focus confirmation light), exposure information (shutter speed, aperture, AE lock, exposure level, ISO speed, exposure warning), flash information (flash ready, high-speed sync, FE lock, flash exposure compensation), monochrome shooting, white balance correction, maximum burst, and SD memory card information.
Ease of Use
The learning curve for this camera would vary based on the user’s level of experience with D-SLRs and photography. Someone who understands all of the basic principles of photography and has experience using an SLR camera will pick this camera up quickly after one glance at the manual. As a favor, a good friend who happened to be our wedding photographer, picked up my camera and shot some photos at our rehearsal. He shoots regularly with much higher end Canon D-SLRs, and seemed to have learned the camera inside and out in minutes.
Then there are those of us who don’t look at a room and automatically know what shutter speed and aperture will give us that perfectly exposed picture. Despite having a little experience with D-SLRs and the Rebel line, I’ve had a bit of learning curve with this camera that I imagine most users who primarily used point-and-shoots would experience. The wonder that is auto mode is easy to master immediately, followed by the other preset modes. The “creative modes” are a lot more work to master. I’ve worn my manual out learning all of the different controls for the various settings. I’d say at this point (almost seven months after the original purchase) I know most of the controls. It definitely helped that I picked up D-SLRs for Dummies and another book that was specifically geared toward digital photography using the Rebel Xsi. Someone who is less technology-oriented may have a harder time learning all of the cameras features, but can use the preset modes with ease and still get pictures that blow point-and-shoot photos out of the water. It may just take some until they reap the full benefit of all of the camera’s features.
The Canon EOS Digital Rebel Xsi takes excellent quality photos. I was really blown away by how the images seemed to pop off the page. Simple portraits took on a lifelike quality I hadn’t experienced with my point-and-shoot cameras. With 12.4 total megapixels (12.2 effective), the amount of detail captured was really thrilling. I can zoom in on the tiniest details on my images for a close look, or blow up the pictures to poster size to really appreciate them. The detail is so high that a portrait of my Mom laughing actually required me to edit out an old silver filling in the back of her mouth. It was quite impressive. A portrait of my corgi was so detailed that I could zoom in on individual hairs in his coat.
The Xsi features Canon’s DIGIC III processor. I was a big fan of its predecessor, the DIGIC II, and was surprised at how much it had been improved upon for this latest incarnation. My Canon SD1100IS also features this processor and I was shocked at how side-by-side shots of something as simple as a wine bottle looked so different (in a good way). There was more depth of color and contrast among different shades. The color was much more accurate (though I hadn’t noticed it was inaccurate until I compared the two). The Xsi takes it a step further. My shots always have vibrant, but realistic colors.
This D-SLR offers pre-set modes for easy shooting and “creative” modes for users who want total control of their images. Auto fits in the former category and I found it to be very helpful when I first purchased the camera. It works well as an all-purpose shooting mode for those that want to be the family photographer, without a desire to venture into macro photography or shoot photos that require very slow shutter speeds. The day after I purchased my Xsi, I attended my cousin’s law school graduation party. Since I didn’t know much about my new D-SLR, I shot in auto and portrait (another pre-set) modes. The pictures turned out excellent. The autofocus on the camera did an excellent job; the portraits were sharp and the photos of people dancing were blurred just enough to indicate motion. I was even impressed by the reach of the flash which helped me take sharp photos of family greeting one another across the room.
The down side to the preset modes is the lack of control of certain features. Some modes won’t allow you to toggle the flash on or off. Other modes won’t allow you to charge the white balance. The macro preset does a decent job of capturing sharp images of objects close up, but the user doesn’t have control of the focus. Frequently, the autofocus focuses on only a small part of the subject I want in focus. Leading up to our wedding, I would often take pictures of various details to share with my fellow “Knotties.” Images of our invitations would look fine, but I’d notice some of the details were more in focus than others because the autofocus seemed to select random focus points.
The “creative modes,” including AV (aperture priority), TV (shutter priority), and manual give you full control to get the most out of your images. The down side to this is less than perfect images are now the fault of the photographer (amateur, in my case), but this probably isn’t a problem for those who know how to take full advantage of the camera’s features. The Xsi offers shutter speeds of 30 seconds to 1/4000 second. It offers apertures of f/3.5-f/5.6. Available ISOs range from 100-1600. I was actually very impressed with my images shot at ISO 1600. Changing the ISO is a good way of adding more light to the image when you don’t want to adjust the shutter or aperture. In the past, I’ve felt like this wasn’t a viable option, as often my high ISO images had a lot of noise. With this camera, I had very little noise at ISO 1600. The camera offers several white balance options: auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten light, white fluorescent light, flash, and manual. I found auto does a good job of determining the appropriate white balance, but can cool the colors too much in very bright sunlight. The camera has a focus range of 9.8” to infinity.
The flash can be set to auto or manual. I found it to be sufficiently powerful for my current needs. I did find it a bit irritating that it can’t be toggled off in auto. It has a 3 second recycle time. It pops up automatically, though I must warn you that those users who have no experience with the camera may be confused by the flash pop up and think it took a picture. I always have to inform family members that the flash is going to pop up.
The kit lens is a Canon EF-S 18-55mm (equal in 35mm) f/3.5-5.6 lens. It has built in image stabilization, which drains a small amount of battery power but compensates for a small amount of shake in your hand. The camera’s zoom has been sufficient for basic pictures, especially portraits. For more creative shots, I’m hoping to pick up a macro and telephoto lens.
Available exposure compensation is + or - 2 EV in 1/2- or 1/3 stop increments. The camera offers a number of focusing modes: one-shot AF, AI Servo AF, AI Focus AF, and manual focusing. There are 9 AF points which are superimposed over the viewfinder. The camera offers a burst mode of 3.5 shots per second. This burst mode can also be used in conjunction with the camera’s self timer, which can be set to 10 second or 2 second delay, or 10 second delay plus continuous shooting. I found this convenient because you can take a few shots to choose from, without having to continuously run back and forth between the camera and shot. It resulted in a number of hysterical pictures from our honeymoon. Every night, we’d pose for a self portrait before we left to go out. Every series involved 1. A posed shot, 2. A looking at each other shot, 3. A kissing shot, and 4. A few running to turn off the camera shots. The first time it happened, I didn’t realize the burst mode worked with the self timer. Those were several confused running to turn off the camera shots!
Overall, I’ve been happy with the range of control and features offered by this camera. The camera’s response time is incredible. I experience no lag time while taking pictures. The camera powers up in 0.1 second. All of my portraits turn out well. It takes excellent shots of fast-moving subjects, like my two dogs playing in the backyard. Low light photos are a little tricky, but it’s more my fault than the camera’s. When I do adjust to the right settings, the shots turn out great. At the co-ed shower that was thrown for my husband and I, I was taking pictures of my little cousins enjoying the pool and diving board. The sun was setting so it took me a few tries, but I eventually ended up with an amazing series of shots ranging from my cousin leaping from the diving board, to being mid-air, then splashing into the pool. I’ve been learning how to take better macro shots, which when I get them right, have been turning out amazing. One macro image of a rose turned out well enough that I used it to make note cards for our shower thank-you cards.
Attention to Detail
Some of the things that impress me most about the Xsi are the little features that show an extreme attention to detail on Canon’s part. A sensor is located above the camera’s LCD screen that detects when your eye is against the camera’s eyepiece, and toggles the screen off to conserve battery. When reviewing pictures or viewing menus, a simple tap of the shutter button is all that is needed to bring the camera back to a shooting-ready state. Upon shutting off the camera, the sensor automatically cleans itself of dust. It’s refreshing to see features that put photography and the user first, when so many digital cameras trend toward aesthetics over functionality.
The Canon Digital Rebel Xsi takes the rechargeable lithium-ion LPE5 battery. The battery is rated to take up to 600 pictures. The battery life is excellent. I didn’t need to recharge the camera for the entire first month I used it, even though I was constantly viewing pictures on it and fooling around with settings. On average, I get 500 pictures out of a full charge, over a few weeks time. The compact battery charger is included. .
The down side to rechargeable lithium ion batteries is that they can’t be replaced in a pinch by a simple trip to a pharmacy. I always carry a charged extra on me. I purchased the Canon EOS Digital Xsi Starter Kit, which came with the extra camera battery. There is an optional battery grip which I did not purchase, that allows the use of four AA batteries.
As I mentioned previously, the Canon Xsi takes secure digital (SD) and secure digital high capacity (SDHC) memory cards. It is the most widely used of all of the memory cards. I only use high speed memory cards, in an effort to get the most of the camera’s speed. I use two San Disk Extreme III SD Memory Cards: a 4 gigabyte (GB) SDHC and my 2 GB backup card. The former holds anywhere from 260 to 980 pictures, depending on which file format I’m shooting in. I usually shoot in large JPEG or RAW format.
Though I never recommend dropping a camera, especially a D-SLR, I did just that (accidentally, of course). While getting out of the car, in a rush, I absentmindedly dropped my Xsi five feet on to pavement. Luckily, it landed on the edge of my UV lens filter that was included in the starter kit I purchased. The camera body sustained no damage at all. The filter received some damage on the edge where the camera landed, but aside from the aesthetic disruption, was still functional. It did bother me so I ended up purchasing a new UV filter to replace it. I figured it would also serve the purpose of better protecting the camera than the banged-up one. I do recommend purchasing a bag to protect the camera, and unlike my previous slip up, actually using it.
I have two bags. The larger one came with the starter kit and has room for extra lenses and other accessories. I later purchased a smaller case that only houses the camera. It’s perfect for carrying the camera on outings where I won’t have a place to store my big camera bag. Even with all of these protections, I’m glad we purchased the accidental coverage at the time of purchase. I’d rather not have to use it, but it is nice having peace of mind.
The camera connects to the computer with a USB cable. The software walks you through the process completely. It is compatible with Windows Vista Home Premium. I often use the memory card reader on my laptop or my USB card reader when I want to back up my images. I just find it to be more efficient and it doesn’t waste any of my camera’s battery power.
In the Box
Xsi Camera Body
EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens
Rechargeable Lithium Ion LP-E5
Battery Charger LC-E5
EOS Solution Disk and Instruction Manuals
“Great Photography is Easy” Booklet and “Do More with Macro” Booklet
Price and Availability
The Xsi was relatively new at the time of purchase, and it cost me $899.99 for the camera kit. It has since dropped down to $799.99. I purchased mine at Best Buy and have seen it at most electronics stores.