Canon’s original Digital Rebel 300D lit the fuse that started the sub-$1,000 digital-SLR war. With the “DRebel” now in its fifth iteration, it’s hard to believe just how far this camera has come.
The original DRebel sported a dust-sensitive 6.3MP CMOS sensor and a pathetic four-shot JPEG buffer. The new EOS Rebel T1i 500D ups the megapixels to 15.1 and features a massive 170-shot JPEG buffer at 3.4fps. Dust cleaning, once rare in DSLRs, is featured, as is Live View, or the ability to use the LCD screen to focus and frame a shot. The three-inch screen is a gorgeous 920K pixels and makes smaller and lower-res screens seem antiquated.
The real eyebrow-raising feature of the Rebel T1i, though, is its support for 720p and 1080p video modes. While we once believed that DSLRs would never do video, it’s now the top checkbox on newer models. The T1i supports 720p at 30fps, but at 1080p resolution the frame rate drops to a nearly unbearable 20fps. Video is compressed using H.264 and is stored in a QuickTime .MOV container.
HD Video comes to budget photography.
We found the video quality to be mixed. The low-light performance was surprisingly noisy considering the T1i’s relatively large CMOS sensor. It’s not terrible, and it’s better than the majority of pocket HD cams, but we were hoping, perhaps foolishly, that the T1i’s low-light video would rival that of the superb and pricey EOS 5D Mk II. Sadly, audio is only mono and there’s no provision for mic-in. The trigger for the video is also poorly placed.
The low-light capability of the still images was far more satisfying. Although we’ve heard complaints of noise issues at high ISOs with the EOS 50D sensor that the T1i is based on, we felt the noise control was quite good. And when compared to an older-generation body, such as the 10MP EOS 40D, the T1i has the advantage. The T1i’s 3200 ISO is on par with the 40D at a lower 1600 ISO, which is quite a feat when you consider how many pixels Canon has jammed onto the APS-C sensor format in the Rebel. Generally, as the pixel density increases on an imaging sensor so does noise. The maker can increase the sensor’s size, but that adds cost. Today, the APS-C size is all budget consumers are going to get.
Is the T1i the perfect budget DSLR? Certainly not, but it is hard to ask for more in a body at this price. Sure, we’d love to see 24fps 1080p, a mic-in jack, and perhaps a higher-performance autofocus system (as is, it’s fine for the majority of folks), but for $900 those wishes are unrealistic. Of course, there was a time when our wishes for a large buffer, video mode, and a high-resolution screen in a sub-$1,000 body were unrealistic, too. Overall, the T1i is the pinnacle of the sub-$1K DSLRs—it will make anyone looking for a step-up from a point-and-shoot grin from ear to ear.
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 500D
Good low-light performance and HD Video in a sub-$1K body.
HD video is slightly noisy and audio is mono-only.
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 500D
Megapixels / Max Resolution
15.1 / 4752x3168
22.3mm x 14.9mm (APS-C) CMOS 3:2 ratio with self cleaning; 1.6 FOV
1/4000 to 30 sec; X-sync at 1/200 sec
170 large / fine JPEG, 9 RAW
720p 1280x720 @ 30fps; 1080p 1920x1080 @ 20fps; VGA 640x480 @ 30fps; max single file size 4GB
Rated Battery Life
500 shots (without flash) per charge or 400 (using 50% flash)