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Guided Tour #1: Canon EOS Rebel XT Digital
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Guided Tour #1: Canon EOS Rebel XT Digital

Take the tour and master the camera!

Welcome to the first of the Guided Tour series, an Adorama exclusive, where we take you on in-depth looks at today's most popular cameras. Read this to the end and follow the many tips and you'll soon master your camera!

You can read Guided Tours...
...before you buy. The more you know about the abilities of a camera, the better equipped you are to make a buying decision. Our Guided Tours offer extensive information.
...after you buy. You've invested in the camera; now you want to learn everything there is to know about it so you can take advantage of all of its capabilities.

How to read a Guided Tour:
If you just want to turn on the camera and start shooting, go to the "Basic features" section.If want to explore other features in depth, read the "Advanced Operations" section. And to unlock your camera's deepest levels of control, scroll to "Pushing The Envelope."

Now, on with the tour!

Canon EOS Rebel Xt at a glance

Front: flash up, with 18-55mm "kit" lens.

Back: Note LCD information panel above the color LCD monitor.

Top: Hot shoe for flash, creative and basic modes on dial, control wheel behind shutter release.

Key features
  • 8 megapixel sensor
  • 1.6X 35mm equivalent
  • Lightweight and small
  • 9 custom functions
  • Improved control layout
  • Short processing time, increased buffer capacity
  • E-TTL II flash
  • Flash exposure compensation
  • Histogram in image review
  • NB-2LH battery is small, light
User profile
  • Snapshooter stepping up from compact cameras
  • Film Canon SLR owner buying first digital SLR
  • DSLR hobbyist (20D/30D owner) who wants a back-up body
  • Small and light
  • Easy to use
  • Extensive features for experienced users
  • Compatible with all Canon EF-mount lenses
  • No PC outlet for accessory flash
  • Not built for heavy use in extreme climates
  • Small LCD finder hard to see in bright sun

Basic Features
Outside controls

First-time DSLR users will want to start with the controls on the right side of the camera's top plate. Turn the camera on with the on/off switch adjacent to the main control dial. You can start shooting immediately (once you've charged and installed the battery and inserted the Compact Flash card, of course) by simply turning the control dial to "P" (Program mode)--the camera will deliver an accurate exposure.
The control dial is divided into a "Creative Zone," designed for experienced photographers who know their way around more advanced cameras, and "Basic Zone," which automatically sets optimum exposures for specific subjects, indicated by icons. Beginners should start with the Basic Zone.Basic Zone

The Basic Zone begins with a green rectangle--simple auto exposure. This setting locks you out of the camera's many other settings, and does everything itself. It will deliver perfectly acceptable images and keep you from accidentally changing the camera's settings before you know how to get out of them. If you're a beginner, you can choose this mode, and start shooting. (Come back soon and learn about the more advanced features that give you creative control. For now, just go out and have fun with your new camera!)

Continuing counterclockwise, the basic zone settings tell the camera to choose ideal settings for: portraits, landscapes, close-ups, sports, and portraits at night or in dark rooms, and with the flash disabled. These are similar to basic Scene settings found on most point-and-shoot cameras.

Creative Zone

A-DEP: Claimed by Canon to be a simplified way to control depth of field. It measures the nearest and farthest items that you want in focus. But it's tricky. I tried following the manual instructions and wasn't able to get it to work--you need to press the shutter release halfway while simultaneously pressing the depth-of-field preview button, which is on the left side, at the base of the lens mount. This is simple? There's an easier way to control depth-of-field--read the Av description for details.

M: Manual exposure. For those of us weaned on all-manual SLRs, this control should feel familiar. It lets you manually set aperture and shutter speed. Twirl the dial right behind the shutter release to change the shutter speed. Turn the same dial while pressing the AV (EV control) button to set aperture. Check exposure accuracy in viewfinder or on LCD panel.

Av: Aperture Priority Auto exposure. Change aperture by twirling the control dial. The camera will automatically set shutter speeds to get accurate exposure. Use this when you want to control depth of field. Choose your aperture, focus, and then check depth by pressing the depth-of-field preview button. See? Wasn't that easy?

Tv: Shutter Priority Auto exposure. Change the shutter speed by twirling the control dial. Use this when capturing action or showing a sense of motion is more important than focus control.

P: Program Auto exposure: Basically the same as auto exposure, but it also lets you take advantage of all of the menu-driven camera functions, such as flash exposure compensation, image recording settings (RAW or JPEG), ISO speed settings, Color balance, metering modes, and sensor cleaning, to name just a few.

These two thumb-operated controls handle autoexposure and zooming into preview images.

Autofocus aid light helps the camera focus in low light by shining a beam on the subject.

Back of camera controls

In image preview modes, use the two buttons shown in the photo above left to zoom in and out when looking at an image. In shooting mode, the right button controls the active focus zones. The focus zones are in a cross formation, and you can select all of them or just one. So if you want to focus on something on the far right, just activate that focus zone. The left button, marked with an asterisk, is the autoexposure lock button. Aim at what you want exposed properly, press the button, recompose and shoot.

Tip: I prefer shooting with just the middle zone selected. I center what I want to focus on, press and hold the shutter release halfway down to focus, re-compose, and shoot.

The top button works with the control wheel (located right behind the shutter release). In Manual mode, you press the top button and turn the wheel to control aperture settings. In any Creative Zone mode except M, simply press it and turn the dial to set exposure compensation. This lightens or darkens the image.

The second button down controls the Drive--self-timer/remote control, single- and multi-shot (3 frames per second) mode. An icon on the right side of the LCD panel shows you which mode you're in. If you want to use remote control, you'll need the Remote Controller RC-1 or RC-5, which are an additional purchase. Right below this button is an LCD illumination button. Press it and you'll be able to read the information in the LCD info panel in low light.

When in any picture-taking mode except auto, the four-way, circular array of switches are simple shortcuts to (clockwise from top) ISO speed setting (100-1600), autofocus mode, white balance setting, or metering mode (evaluative--the camera's default setting--or 9 percent spot, or center weighted). In image preview mode, right and left buttons scroll through images, and use all four buttons to scroll through magnified images; in Menu mode, use all four buttons to navigate through menu items. The "set" button in the center sets chosen settings.

Tip: Check focus by zooming in on your subject in preview mode, and use the arrow buttons to scroll around. If your subject looks blurry in the LCD screen at top magnification, it will likely look worse when printed, and you should re-shoot if possible.

Finally, there's a tiny light to the right and at the bottom of the LCD monitor, which indicates when an image is being written to a CompactFlash card. During this process, you may not be able to take a photo.

While the optical viewfinder provides basic exposure information, the info panel has more detail. At a glance you can see current white balance, image quality, battery power consumption, and shooting mode settings.

Info central: Clockwise from top: image preview with histogram and exposure info; camera setting info screen; image preview with basic info.

The five control buttons to the right of the LCD screen are, from the top: Menu button (we'll look at menu items in detail shortly); Info, which brings up histograms and exposure information for images in preview mode, and details about current camera settings; Jump, which navigates quickly through stored pictures by date or by skipping forward or backward through preview images 10 or 100 at a time; Image Preview button, which accesses images stored on the CompactFlash card; and the delete button.

Tip: Don't rely on what the image looks like in the camera's LCD screen to determine if your exposure is correct; viewing conditions and the monitor's intensity settings will affect what you see. Instead, use the Info button and check the histogram--one of the most powerful features on any digital camera. If you see a "mountain" in the center of the histogram, or the mountain is spread fairly evenly through the graph, your exposure is good. If it's bunched on either side of the screen, your exposure is either over- or underexposed and you should re-meter and re-shoot.

The left side of the camera has a rubber door that protects the connectivity outlets. From the top, these are: Video Out, for viewing images on a TV screen; a remote control terminal (you'll need to purchase the Remote Switch RS-60E3 to take advantage of this option); and a digital terminal, which tethers your camera to a computer or PictBridge-enabled printer via USB cable. (You will need to supply the USB cable, since one is not packaged with the EOS Rebel Xt.)

Tip: Downloading images directly from camera to computer may be convenient, but it's not especially fast. Consider buying a FireWire CompactFlash card reader--they are not very expensive, but can download a gigabyte's worth of image files in less than a minute. USB transfers take longer.

Finally, there are three more buttons on the left side of the camera: The flash button (press it to pop up the flash), the lens release button, and the handy depth-of-field preview button. The latter is a rarity in entry-level SLRs, and is an added value for this camera.

Tip: Use the depth-of-field button to see what will be in focus when you shoot. Otherwise, what you see in the viewfinder is not exactly what you get, since by default the lens remains at its widest aperture until the moment of exposure.

Left: The battery compartment is located in the camera's base, under the grip; the compact flash card slot (right) can be found behind a door on the right side of the camera.

Advanced Operation
Modes and menus

The camera's menus are divided into five sections: Two camera modes, preview, and two sets of tools modes.

The Camera 1 menu controls the following features:

Image Quality: Choose from RAW+JPG at 8MP , or one of eight settings that range from high-quality L (Large) to lower-quality smaller images, which are best for email only.

Red-eye on/off (self-explanatory).

Beep on/off (turns off those annoying beeps the camera makes when it focuses or takes a picture)

AF mode (see photo): One Shot is best for portraits and other still subjects; AI Servo AF is designed for capturing moving objects, especially those moving towards or away from your camera, using Predictive Autofocus. Predictive Autofocus follows a moving object and assumes that it will keep moving at the same speeds and changes focus to keep pace while you're shooting.

Metering mode lets you choose (from top) evaluative metering, the camera's default, which divides the entire image into 35 zones and automatically sets exposure; semi-spot metering, which meters the central 9 percent of the image; or center-weighted metering, which places the most emphasis (but not all) on the center area of the image when determining exposure.

Tip: The best mode for general shooting is evaluative metering, which will handle all but the trickiest light. Spot metering's great for photographing spotlit performers on a stage. To use spot metering on off-center subjects, first aim directly at the subject, press the shutter release halfway, hold and recompose, then shoot.

ISO speed: Choose the shown ISO speeds; note that the camera does not show you which ISO you've chosen unless you check this screen. Remember that you have a shortcut button that will access this information quickly.

Pushing the envelope: The Camera 2 menu

The Camera 2 menu offers an incredible selection of advanced image quality controls. For serious hobbyists--especially those with a film background--this is where the fun begins.

AEB stands for Auto Exposure Bracketing. Set this and every time you press the shutter release, the camera will take three pictures in rapid sequence--one overexposed, one underexposed, and one at the metered exposure. Use AEB to control the exposure range, up to two stops, in 1/3-stop increments.

Flash Exp. Comp lets you fine-tune flash exposure as it relates to your subject and the ambient light in a scene. While Night Portrait does this too, Flash Exp. Comp lets you adjust the flash output up to 2 stops in either direction, in 1/3-stop increments.

Tip: Use Flash Exposure Compensation in concert with exposure compensation and you can have full control over the ratio of flash illumination to ambient light level.

White balance lets you choose one of eight settings for specific light. These are default, sunlight, open shade, clouds, incandescent, fluorescent, flash, and close-up.

Tip: If you want to warm up a mid-day sunlit scene so it looks like it was shot closer to sunrise or sunset (the "golden hour"), choose the Clouds setting.

WB SHIFT/BKT is the most precise white balance setting this camera offers, and is really for situations where color reproduction quality is critical--and will rarely be needed. Using the four-way arrow control buttons, move a cursor around a grid pattern (see photo) to shift the image's color balance. And you can bracket color balance by turning the control wheel while in this setting--the camera will shoot three images at three color biases. Make sure the cursor dot is on the thick horizontal or vertical lines. On the horizontal line, the camera will shoot one blue-biased, one neutral, one red-biased; on the vertical line, the camera will shoot one green-biased, one neutral, and one magenta-biased. The wheel controls the range of each color bias. (If you didn't follow that, you probably don't need this control.)

Custom WB is simple, and very useful: Photograph a white object in the same light that you want to shoot in, then select the image in this mode. Hit the "set" button, and all of your images will reflect this balance. Then go to the WB menu and choose and set the bottom right setting to save the setting for future use. Don't forget to go back to auto WB when you're done.

Hint: This is a good approach if you know you'll be shooting a lot of pictures in one place.

The Color Space setting is mainly for commercial printing purposes. Leave it alone unless you anticipate that your photos will be published in a book or magazine.

Parameters are another way the Rebel Xt lets experienced photographers fine-tune their images in camera and even approximate the look of classic film emulsions. You can set four parameters--contrast, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Want the look of Kodachrome? Pump up the saturation and shift color tone to the right for a warmer skin tone. Want more flattering portraits? Lower the contrast, sharpness, and saturation while keeping color tone neutral. Parameters is a great place to experiment with image characteristics.

A well-hidden, hobbyist-engaging features of this camera is the B&W parameter setting. To get to it, Select Parameters, hit the set button, then hit the down button until you see B/W on the upper right. Now your images will be black and white. You can control contrast, sharpness, and control relative grey tones by selecting a filter effect (yellow and red filters darken blue skies; blue filters cause skin to appear lighter in black and white portraits.), while you can also choose between neutral, sepia, blue, purple and green overall image tones).

If you're a serious hobbyist and have ever used black-and-white film or have printed your own images in a conventional darkroom, I think you'll love experimenting with Parameters!

Tip: Try shooting the same subject while changing the parameter settings.

Image preview modes

The third menu is the arrow (image) menu, which handles images that are stored on your memory card. Protect prevents you from accidentally erasing protected images, even when you hit the "erase all" option. Rotate automatically turns vertical images so you don't have to when viewing them in the preview mode. Print order lets you select images to send to a PictBridge-enabled printer for printing direct from the camera. Auto play shows the images on the memory card in sequence--you can plug your camera into your TV and watch the slide show. Review time sets how long each picture stays up during the slide show, as well as immediately after you've taken a picture.

Tool menus

The Rebel Xt has two Tool menus. These control the camera's operation, how images are displayed and numbered, and let you update the firmware, clean the sensor, and set custom functions. While most of the tool menu items are set 'em and forget 'em, there are a few deeply embedded features that may be indespensible for advanced shooters.

Tool menu 1 controls basic functions that affect general camera use.

Auto power off turns the camera off after one minute if it isn't being used as a default, but you can change that to as long as 30 minutes.

Tip: Auto-off is a handy way to save battery power so unless you have a pressing need, keep it set at the default.

Auto rotate turns your vertical images so you don't need to flip the camera to view it. The disadvantage to this option is that to fit the vertical image in the horizontal frame, it appears quite small. You can also access this feature through the Image Preview menu, courtesy the Canon department of redundancy department.

LCD brightness helps you avoid eyestrain when looking at images in different light. Pump it up to full brightness if you're in direct sunlight, but if you're viewing in a darkened room you may want to dim the finder.

The date/time setting controls the part of the meta data field that travels with your image that indicates the time and date it was taken. Set this when you get your camera--then forget about it.

File Numbering assigns each image shot its own number. These are sequential, but can be reset to 0 if you want.

Tip: Continuous is the best setting for most users because as the images are loaded onto a computer, there would be no overlap of image numbers which might lead to older images being overwritten by newer ones if the camera's on auto reset.

Format is used to reformat your CF card. Doing this will erase all of the card's contents, so do this only if you have already backed up all of your images. You can also select this setting to see how full your CF card is.

Tip: Do not erase images from your card by deleting them on your computer; do erase them in camera by reformatting your card on a regular basis.

Shoot w/o card: Do you really want to do this? If you do, the camera will keep shooting but won't record images if there's no card. If you choose no, the camera will lock up if the CF slot is empty.

Tools 2

The second Tools menu goes into less frequently needed or "set once" settings.

Language: You can choose from 15 languages, including Mandarin and Cantonese. On the Xt, the default language is English.

Video system: The default is the US standard NTSC; PAL is available for other countries.

Communication lets you choose between direct download of images to a PC or printer via PictBridge.

Custom Functions is another well hidden but extremely useful feature. It accesses nine different camera functions; while most users will be happy with the default settings, advanced photographers may want to change them to suit their shooting habits.

You can change which keys control certain functions, change from front to rear-curtain flash; allow noise reduction for long exposures; adjust flash sync speed in AV mode; turn the shutter button into an autoexposure lock, autofocus lock, both, or neither; turn on or disable the Autofocus beam; change exposure compensation adjustment increments from 1/3 stop to 1/2 stop; enable mirror lockup; and change E-TTL flash from evaluative to average metering.

Tip: If you want to show a moving "ghost" plus frozen image effect with the frozen part of the image at the front of the "ghost", choose Parameter 9 and select option 1, second curtain flash sync.

Clear Settings does just that: it clears all the custom functions and camera settings that you may have forgotten about. Use this if you want to quickly return to the camera's default settings.

Sensor cleaning is used to clear dust particles off the sensor. If you're seeing light grey circles on your images, you've got dust, and it's time to clean your sensor. Make sure your battery is fully charged before you do this (the camera won't let you start if there's insufficient juice).

Tip: Most dust lands on a sensor while you're changing lenses. To reduce this, hold the camera facing down whenever you change the lens.

Firmware: Sometimes, the manufacturer will provide a firmware update that addresses a camera malfunction or (even better) adds new functions or improves performance. Check the Adorama News Desk Archives Firmware Updates category to see if there have been recent updates for this camera.

That's it for our guided tour. If you've gotten this far and carefully followed along with your camera, you have mastered your Rebel Xt's controls. Now, go out and take lots of great pictures...and if you need some help getting ideas or learning about exposure and composition, be sure to visit the Adorama Academy.

© 2006 Adorama



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