A feature-by-feature look at Canon's first consumer-level DSLR to offer HD Video.
Guided Tour: Canon Rebel T1i
Canon T1i with 18-55mm kit lens.
- 15 megapixel sensor with Live View
- 1.6X 35mm equivalent
- HD Video recording with sound
- Lightweight and small
- E-TTL II flash
- Flash exposure compensation
- Histogram in image review
- Saturation, sharpness, contrast controls via "Picture Style" feature
- Creative Auto feature simplifies image control
Price (at time of writing): $835 with kit lens
- General photography
- Videography for HD TVs
- Low light
- More than enough resolution
- Lots of features for advanced photographers
- Great price
- Big, sharp LCD monitor
- Small and light for an SLR
- Not built for heavy use in extreme climates
- 20 fps full HD renders motion in video as choppy
- No outlet for external mic
- No built-in stabilization
- No PC outlet for accessory flash
The Canon T1i breaks new ground as the first consumer-level Canon DSLR—and the first non full-frame sensor camera—to offer HD Video. Outside of that feature, there are several incremental improvements over previous Canon Rebel cameras, including a bump up to a 15 megapixel sensor. For first time DSLR owners, this camera offers quite a lot of features and promises great quality. According to our field report and lab tests, it delivers.
Read our full review of the Canon Rebel T1i. On to the tour!
Basic Features: Outside controls
First-time DSLR users can 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. Begin 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 in most cases. But even better is the new CA (Creative Auto), which gives you greater flexibility in image control without needing to know all the technical jargon or settings.
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 types of subjects, indicated by icons. Beginners should start with the Basic Zone.
The Basic Zone begins with a green rectangle--simple auto exposure. This setting locks any exposure overrides, 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.
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. The final setting is a movie camera icon, which enables the camera's video feature. More on this later.
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. 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 change the aperture. Check exposure accuracy in viewfinder or on LCD panel.
Av: Aperture Priority Auto exposure. Change the aperture by twirling the control dial. The camera will automatically set shutter speeds. Choose your aperture, focus, and then check depth by pressing the depth-of-field preview button, which is on the front left side of the camera. See? Wasn't that easy?
Tip: Use AV mode when you want to control depth of field.
Tv: Shutter Priority Auto exposure. Change the shutter speed by twirling the control dial.
Tip: Use Tv 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.
Even better, if you're ready to dip your toes into this camera's flexibility and creative ptential, is the CA (Creative Auto) setting, which is right next to the green mode. This setting opens up a menu that gives you control over focus and image quality, but does it using simple, easy-to-understand language rather than photographic jargon. You can control Aperture and Shutter speed, color balance, image resolution, color quality (intense, faithful, monocrhome), etc. It's all in plain English; if you want a blurry background, for example, select "Background: Blurred<>Sharp" and then simply move the control accordingly.
Tip: I found CA to be the camera's most accurate and flexible "beginner mode". It gave me the ability to make quick adjustments for better overall image quality in tricky lighting, such as indoors with on-camera flash.
Above and to the right of the mode dial is the ISO button--use this to quickly change the ISO. The ISO range is 100-6400. Above that is the forefinger control dial, which is used in tandem with the back-of-camera control buttons to navigate the menus and to change the aperture and shutter speed.
Back of camera controls
In image preview modes, use the two buttons on the upper right corner of the camera back to zoom in and out when looking at an image. In shooting mode, the right button controls the active focus zones. You can select all focus zones or just one by turning the top control dial. 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. Aim at what you want exposed properly, press the button, recompose and shoot. This button also operates the autofocus when the camera is recording videos.
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 AV +/- button, immediately to the right and top of the LCD monitor, works with the control wheel (located 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 activates the Live View feature: The mirror locks up (so you can't see through the optical viewfinder) and the electronic version of what the sensor is seeing appears, just like on a compact camera. When the Mode dial is turned to Video, this button acts as the "record" button. Press it to start video recording. This button also accesses and is used to control print and sharing settings when in preview mode.
Tip: Use Live View sparingly or bring along additional batteries, since this mode uses more power more quickly.
The third button down operates the Drive—self-timer/remote control, single- and multi-shot (3 frames per second) mode. An icon in 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, which is 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.
The Drive button is also part of the four-button circular array of control buttons.
When in any picture-taking mode except auto, the four-way, circular array of switches access: (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, the 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. To view a video, hit the "Set" button.
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.
Back to the four-button circle: The top button, WB (White Balance—menu screen shot right), lets you choose the appropriate color balance for the scene: Auto, Daylight (approx. 5200K), Shade (Approx. 7000K), Cloudy (Approx. 6000K), Tungsten (approx. 3200K), White fluorescent light (approx. 4000K), flash, and custom white balance.
AF (Autofocus mode, right button): 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.
Picture Style (bottom button) lets you choose the color palate for your picture. The default is Standard, but you can also choose Portrait (more flattering colors for skintones), Landscape (more intense blues and greens), Neutral (flat color and contrast), Faithful (most accurate color rendering), and Monochrome. You can also create up to three additional custom Picture Styles via menu options that control color balance, contrast and color intensity.
In the middle of the four button array is the Set button. Use this to apply menu changes.
The Delete button can be found below and to the right of the four control buttons.
The Menu button, located on the upper left corner above the LCD monitor, accesses the camera's setup, shooting and print menu functions as well as custom settings. We'll look at those in depth next.
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 T1i.)
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 about a minute. USB transfers take longer.
Modes and menus
The camera's menus are divided into eight sections: Two shooting menus, two printing menus, three setup menus, and a custom "star" menu.
Shooting 1 menu controls shooting settings that you may need to change occasionally. Some modes are for fine-tuning image quality. It has been streamlined, and controls the following features:
Quality: Choose from RAW+JPG, or one of eight settings that range from high-quality L (Large) to lower-quality smaller images, which are best for email only.
Beep turns off those annoying beeps the camera makes when it focuses or takes a picture.
Release shutter without 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. We recommend the "no" option.
Review Time controls how long the preview image appears on screen immediately after you take a picture. You can choose 2, 4, or 8 seconds, hold (stays on until you press shutter release halfway) or off. 2 seconds is the default.
Peripheral Illumination Correction is a nifty new feature that detects which Canon lens is mounted on the camera and compensates for any light fall-off, so image brightness will be consistent throughout the shot.
Tip: Peripheral Illumination Correction is a subtle effect and you might not notice the difference in every scene situation. Try it to see if it improves your photos.
Red-eye On/Off activates or deactivates pre-flash pulse that reduces the size of subjects' irises, which reduces the likelihood of red-eye.
Flash control accesses five different flash functions: disabling flash, 1st or 2nd curtain flash, E-TTL II evaluative or average flash metering, Flash exposure compensation (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), and control of external flash functions and metering.
Tip: Use Flash Control in concert with exposure compensation and you can have full control over the ratio of flash illumination to ambient light level.
Shooting 2 menu
Expos.Comp/AEB: 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.
Tip: Use exposure bracketing to create a range of exposures that can be combined in software for high dynamic range photography. Be sure to use a tripod when doing this!
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.
Tip: This is a good approach if you know you'll be shooting a lot of pictures in one place.
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.
Tip: 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 image; on the vertical line, the camera will shoot one green-biased, one neutral, and one magenta-biased image. The wheel controls the range of each color bias. (If you didn't follow that, you probably don't need this control.)
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.
Picture Style is another way the Rebel T1i 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.
Tip: A well-hidden, hobbyist-engaging features of this camera is the B&W filter effect. To get to it, select the Monochrome option. Now hit the Disp. Set button, next to the viewfinder, to access controls for contrast, sharpness, and control of 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.). Hit set again to select filters. In this deeply-hidden mode, you can also choose between neutral, sepia, blue, purple and green overall image tones). Go here to read more about using these effects.
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 Picture Style!
Tip: Try shooting the same subject while changing the Picture Style settings.
Dust Delete Data works in tandem with Canon's Digital Photo Professional image processing software to map and digitally remove stubborn dust that remains on the sensor after it's been cleaned. Simply photograph a white sheet of paper and follow the on-screen instructions.
Image preview modes
The third menu is the arrow (Image Preview) menu, which handles images that are stored on your memory card.
Protect images 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.
Erase images lets you go through the images on your memory card and erase them.
Print order and Transfer order let you select images to send to a PictBridge-enabled printer for printing direct from the camera. The camera is DPOF-enabled. See the manual for extensive directions for printing directly from the camera or CompactFlash card.
Histogram: This changes what kind of histogtram is shown when in Histogram screen mode in image preview. The choices are a standard brightness histogram, which simply shows levels of gray, or RGB, which shows three smaller histograms each showing the histogram curve for each of the primary red, green, and blue colors.
Slide show shows the images on the memory card in sequence--you can plug your camera into your TV and watch the slide show.
Image jump moves the image preview through image files 10 at a time—a convenient feature when going through large quantities of photos.
The Rebel T1i has two Set-up 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.
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 15 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.
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.
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 smaller.
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; Erase them in camera by reformatting your card on a regular basis.
LCD Auto off automatically turns off the LCD monitor when you bring the camera up to your eye for viewing through the viewfinder. It also turns off the monitor when anything is with an inch or two of the viewfinder, effectively turning the camera off when you stow it in a gadget bag.
Screen color lets you choose one of four color schemes for menu displays on the LCD monitor. I tried all four and found the default (black letters on light grey) to be the most readable.
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.
Date/Time 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.
Language lets you choose the menu language from 25 possible languages, including Korean, Japanese, Chinese, German, Danish, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, Russian, and Arabic. The default language is English.
Video system lets you choose NTSC or PAL TV standard. The US standard is NTSC.
Sensor cleaning enables the camera's internal sensor cleaning system, which causes the sensor to vibrate and shake off clinging pieces of dirt. By default, the sensor is automatically cleaned every time you turn the camera on or off. However, you can change this to clean the sensor at any time, or to gain access to the sensor for manual cleaning.
Tips: 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). Dust is most likely to enter the camera while you're changing lenses. To prevent dust, change lenses in dust-free environments if possible, and keep the rear elements and the camera body cap dust-free. Hold the camera facing down whenever you change the lens.
Live View function settings lets you change how the camera's live view works, and there are several hidden gems here. First is Face Detection, which detects human faces in an image. This is indicated in the menu as ;-) Live Mode. A Grid Display superimposes a "rule of thirds" grid over the live image or a 20-segment pattern, both of which can aid in composition.
Tip: Keep the Face Detection mode on at all times. You never know when it will come in handy!
Custom Functions is another well hidden but extremely useful feature. It accesses 11 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 Custom Function 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.
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 for recent updates.
The Star menu gives you extensive control over the camera's operations.
High ISO Speed Noise Reduction accesses four different degrees of noise reduction. You may wish to adjust this setting depending on the shooting situation and how much shadow detail noise you are willing to live with.
Tip: The more noise reduction used, the softer the image will be overall; if you use less noise reduction, you will have a sharper image, but more noise.
Add original decision data is a security feature, used to verify that the image is yours and not appended from someone else.
My Menu lets you customize the menu, placing up to six of your most frequently accessed settings front and center so you don't have to press so many buttons to get to 'em. Dozens of possible settings can be chosen; once you've picked your favorite menu items and registered them, simply go to the * tab in the menus to access them.
That's it for our guided tour. If you've gotten this far and carefully followed along with your camera, you should have mastered your Canon Rebel T1i's controls. Now, go out and take lots of great pictures and videos!