Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT

Canon’s original EOS Digital Rebel (   , February 2004 ) was a breakthrough: a 6-megapixel digital SLR camera with interchangeable lenses, priced at less than $1,000. Since its release, the Rebel has seen new competition from low-priced SLRs from other vendors. After two years, Canon has finally released an upgrade—the EOS Digital Rebel XT. Priced at $899 without a lens, this new camera offers numerous improvements as well as a dramatically redesigned body. Feature- and value-wise, the Rebel XT still comes out on top in the sub-$1,000 digital SLR category. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement.

Body and interface

Just as the original Rebel was a scaled-down version of Canon’s midrange camera at the time, the EOS 10D, the Rebel XT is a slightly lesser version of Canon’s current midrange offering, the EOS 20D. Because the Rebel XT uses the same 8-megapixel image sensor and image processor as the EOS 20D, it yields identical image quality. However, while Canon chose to disable some features in the original Rebel, the Rebel XT has the complete feature set of the 20D. Flash exposure compensation, white-balance bracketing, and all of the 20D’s other features are packed into the Rebel XT’s menu.

The Rebel XT is a very small camera—much smaller than the original Rebel—and about the same size as the Pentax ist DS. Though it weighs much less than many of its competitors and has an all-plastic body, the Rebel XT isn’t too light, and feels sturdy and well-made.

But while shooting, the Rebel XT feels very cramped to me. There’s very little space between the hand grip and the lens barrel, and because the left side of the camera is so stubby, it’s difficult for me to brace it against my hand. Although the camera has a nice heft and decent balance, I prefer a slightly larger camera.

As with the previous Rebel, the back of the camera holds both the LCD status display and the 1.8-inch color LCD that provides image review and menu access.

Four buttons arranged in a circle on the back of the camera provide access to ISO and white-balance settings, and autofocus and metering modes. Pressing any of these buttons activates the main menu system, where you can alter your settings using either the control wheel mounted on the top of the camera or the buttons on the back of the camera. I prefer dedicated buttons for making these kinds of changes, rather than the Rebel’s system (which requires a trip to the menu), but the Rebel XT’s system is functional and similar to its competitor’s.

Interface preferences are subjective, but the Rebel XT’s lack of interlocking buttons is simply inexcusable. Because it only requires a single button-press to change some settings, it’s very easy to make accidental setting changes by simply bumping the camera, or even through normal handling. This would have been an easy problem for Canon to avoid, but as it is, you’ll have to be very diligent about checking the Rebel XT’s settings before you shoot.

Features

The Rebel XT also picks up the EOS 20D’s improved autofocus, so it does a much better job of focusing in low light than the original Rebel. It also powers up and wakes from sleep almost instantaneously, meaning it’s unlikely that you’ll miss a shot due to a dozing camera.

But the Rebel XT doesn’t deliver the same level of speed performance as the EOS 20D. Even with a burst speed of 3 frames per second (as compared to the 20D’s 5 frames per second), though, the Rebel XT still outperforms its chief competitors. In addition, thanks to the camera’s copious and well-engineered buffer, you can shoot about 25 JPEG frames at that speed, or five Raw frames. Once you fill the buffer, the camera only needs a second to clear out some space before you can begin shooting again at a reduced rate.

Except for it slightly-too-small size, shooting with the Rebel XT is very enjoyable. It’s quick to respond, and its primary controls are well-placed. A single dial behind the shutter button lets you cycle through reciprocal exposures, and a button next to the viewfinder turns the dial into an exposure-compensation control. These two features provide all of the manual control you’ll need for most situations. For the rest of the time, of course, the camera packs full priority and manual modes as well as custom shooting modes.

Image quality

Of the current affordable SLRs, the Rebel XT’s image quality simply outdoes its competition. Sharpness, detail, color rendition, contrast and dynamic range, and Canon’s exceptional low-noise images all contribute to the Rebel XT’s superior images. As with the 20D, the Rebel XT shoots noise-free photos at as high as ISO 400, and they’re only slightly noisier at 800 and 1600.

Most important, though, is that the Rebel XT not only delivers excellent quality when shooting in Raw mode, but also does a great job of processing JPEG images. While the Olympus Evolt E-300 and Pentax ist DS fall down when it comes to in-camera processing, the Rebel XT spits out beautiful images that are well-balanced and attractive.

New to the camera is a true Raw+JPEG mode that saves separate Raw and JPEG files for every image, making for a greatly simplified workflow for times when you need to shoot Raw.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

Canon defined this market with the original Digital Rebel, and the company keeps its lead with the EOS Digital Rebel XT. Although the lack of control interlocks is a ridiculous oversight, the camera’s feature set, image quality and price, combined with the vast assortment of available Canon mount lenses, make the Rebel XT the best choice so far in the sub-$1,000 digital-SLR market.

[Ben Long is the author of Complete Digital Photography , 3rd Edition (Charles River Books, 2004).]

Specifications

Resolution 8 megapixels
Storage format Compact flash
Batteries Proprietary, includes charger

Jury Tests

Color Quality Very Good
Clarity—Detail Very Good
Clarity—Artifacts and Noise Excellent

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

How we tested: We took a photo of a standard test scene with each camera under controlled conditions, with the flash turned off, with the white-point setting at tungsten, and at the same aperture and shutter-speed settings. All other settings were at automatic and all in-camera image-processing options were set at factory defaults. Images were saved as JPEGs. A panel of experts looked at our test image, both on screen and printed by an Epson Stylus Photo 2200, and rated color quality and clarity as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, or Unacceptable. —Macworld Lab testing by Ben Long and James Galbraith

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT

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