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Product Review: Canon Rebel T2i
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Product Review: Canon Rebel T2i

A game-changing Rebel with a cause

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The Canon Rebel T2i is technically a consumer-level camera, but it brings an extensive range of features a pro would love.


Key features

  • 18 megapixel CMOS APS sensor
  • 14-bit RAW image capture
  • 3.7 fps burst rate up to 34 consecutive frames
  • HD Video up to 1080p at 30, 25, and 24 fps
  • 63-zone dual-layer metering system
  • 9-point AF system
  • Live view


Positives

  • Outstanding image quality at high ISO
  • Spectacular HD performance
  • External microphone jack
  • Remarkable bang for the buck


Negatives

  • Counterintuitive movie viewing
  • Limited buffer capacity
  • Modest battery life


Price: $899.99 (Price accurate as of April 21, 2010)

Among Canon’s impressive line of DSLRs the new Rebel T2i occupies the bottom tier. Technically it’s an upgraded, more evolved version of the Rebel T1i, a broad-spectrum model aimed at attracting newbies, soccer moms, and enticing PowerShot point-and-shooters into the DSLR fold with its greater optical flexibility and an enhanced feature set. Like previous Rebels, the T2i is lightweight (18.7 ounces, body only with battery and SD card), compact (5.1x3.8x3.0 inches WxHxD), attractively contoured, and easy to handle, with all the buttons and dials in the right places.

While all this sounds almost boringly predictable, the T2i is truly a transformational camera that provides a level of performance and sophistication that is astonishing for a consumer DSLR that retails for just under 800 bucks (body only) or just under $900 with a short zoom (Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS) lens. It has been aptly described as a “Baby EOS 7D,” and is surely destined to be snapped up by scads of serious enthusiasts, and wind up in the bags of countless Canon-shooting pros as a formidable backup camera.

The defining feature of the EOS Rebel T2i is a Canon-manufactured 18-megapixel single-plate CMOS sensor that delivers extremely low noise, ultra-high-resolution, and provides ISO settings of ISO 100-6400, expandable to ISO 12,800. This is coupled to a cutting-edge DIGIC-4 image processor that not only provides enhanced image quality and color accuracy, but also impressive speed that allows the camera to capture 14-bit RAW images and shoot RAW+JPEG stills at burst rates up to 3.7 frames-per-sec for as many as 34 frames.

Friends: Double portrait shot in early evening light at ISO 3200 shows very good sharpness and remarkably accurate color at this high ISO. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lens at 70mm, f/2.8 at 1/60 sec hand-held in A mode.

The EOS Rebel T2i can also shoot full 1080p HD video in MOV file format, with better stereo sound via an optional plug-in microphone. You have a choice of 1920x1080 at 30-, 25-, or 24 fps and 1280x720 at 60/50 fps, both in the 16:9 HD aspect ratio, or Movie Crop that records VGA 640x480 video in classic 4:3 aspect ratio at 50//50 fps.  A dedicated Live View/Movie button lets you start/stop, compose, and edit stills and videos on the fly using a big, bright 3.0-inch, 1.4-million dot Clear View LCD that displays fine details and excellent full-range color, making it easy to assess fine details or focus manually.

The field test

To put the camera through its paces, I shot hundreds of exposures over a two-week period in conditions ranging from brilliant sunshine to challenging low-light environments such as urban night scenes and dimly-lit interiors. It was a lot of fun, and the T2i generally acquitted itself admirably with a few notable exceptions. The enhanced IFCL 63-zone Dual-Layer metering system and 9-point AF system with high-precision f/2.8 cross-type center point can deliver accurate exposures, and swift, precise focusing even with dark-colored subjects in dim light.

 

New York State Dept. of Education Building, Albany, NY is captured in exquisite detail with rich color saturation at ISO 100. Canon EF-S 15-85mm f3.5-5.6 IS lens at 21mm in P mode, f/9 at 1/160 sec hand-held. Below: 100 percent detail shows fine grain.

Occasionally, the camera would not focus on my intended subject when using multi-zone AF mode—it seemed to have a penchant for focusing on the closest object. The quick cure was to switch to single-central-point AF to pinpoint a particular detail and lock focus on it by holding the shutter release partway in. Enabling the “laser spot” red dot AF-point indication in the finder really helps when using this technique.

The auto-exposure system performs remarkably well, delivering accurate exposures over 95% of the time even with high-contrast scenes and in really low light. When you want more or less exposure, just hold in the “AV/+/-“ button and dial in up to +/-2 stops of exposure compensation using the well-positioned control dial just behind the angled shutter button. There’s also a dedicated button that displays the Quick Control screen that provides one-finger access to frequently used settings including ISO, exposure and flash compensation, drive mode, and much more.

When paired with my pro Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS, Canon EFS 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, and Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 VC lenses, the T2i handled superbly. Its mirror-prism viewfinder is not quite as bright as the all-glass pentaprism viewfinders found on middle-tier and pro-level Canon DSLRs, but you probably wouldn’t notice it unless you conducted a side-by-side comparison. The T2i’s finder does show a commendable 95% of the captured image and its 0.87X magnification is not at all bad for a camera in this class.

 

Pub tap handles: Taken in very low light, it demonstrates the T2i's remarkable performance at ISO 6400 as well as the abilities of its metering and AF systems under challenging conditions. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lens at 70mm, f/2.8 at 1/125 sec hand-held in A mode. Below: 100 percent detail shows amazingly low digital noise.

 

Astounding image quality

Perhaps the T2i’s most gratifying and astounding feature is its brilliant performance in delivering overall image quality that certainly rivals that of much more expensive DSLRs. As you would expect from a camera with a high-resolution 18MP sensor coupled to a high-end image processor, images shot at ISO 100-400 are exquisite. Likewise, there is hardly any noise or loss of color saturation or definition noticeable in images shot at ISO 800-1600.

Remarkably, this elevated level of image quality is maintained even at ISO 6400, where moderate “digital grain” and a slight loss in color saturation can be seen at high image magnifications. Quite frankly, this is better performance than the average mid- or pro-level DSLR of two to three years ago—a testament to the incredible pace at which digital technology is advancing.



Urban street scene: Shot in late afternoon daylight, it shows excellent color and detail at ISO 400. Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, 1/100 sec at f/5.7 hand-held in P mode.

Let’s go to the movies

The T2i’s HD movie mode is equally spectacular. It delivers pro-caliber low-light performance with virtually any Canon lens, offers manual exposure, manual focus, basic cutting, and Movie Clip in VGA resolution for complete creative control. It lets you select the ISO manually or even enable AF capability while shooting video by navigating through simple, logical Video menu settings.

Like most DSLRs, the T2i uses the Live View contrast comparator AF system built into Live View for video AF rather than the phase-detection system used for still capture, so in video mode AF is somewhat slower. However the bottom line is that you can record breathtaking 1080p HD video at 24, 25, or 30 frames-per-sec (fps) and 720p HD or VGA video at 50/60 fps.

One function I found a bit counterintuitive was movie viewing. You start logically enough by pressing the Playback button with main mode dial atop the camera set to the “movie camera” icon. A prompt now appears on the LCD to press the SET button. When you do so, line of icons (fast forwards, slow motion, etc.) now comes into view with the Playback icon highlighted. It’s telling you to press the Playback button to view the movie clip right? Nope—to view the movie you press the SET button again to activate the highlighted function, namely playback.

The sound quality recorded by the T2i’s built-in mike is decent enough, but if you want sound quality that equals your “pro video” shot at 1080p, you’ve got to plug a good quality auxiliary stereo mike into the MIC terminal under a rubberlike flap on the camera’s left-hand side. Most HDSLRs at this lack such a terminal, so bravo to Canon for including one on this model.

Still, it’s a consumer grade camera

Are there any downsides to this remarkable machine that redefines the very concept of a broad-spectrum consumer DSLR? Well…yes.

To begin with, this is a consumer-grade camera that simply doesn’t have the body build of a mid- or pro-level DSLR, or its comprehensive weather sealing, or a shutter designed to deliver 200,000+ cycles of operation. It is certainly well-made and durable, quite handy and refreshingly light, but it’s not built to withstand the full rigors of professional use.

Functionally, the T2i’s buffer is not as large as those built into more expensive cameras, so when you shoot a number of pictures in rapid succession on the RAW+JPEG setting, you may have to wait a minute to view all of the images. The camera is very polite about this, displaying a Busy Please Wait Message, but there’s really nothing you can do about it.

Then there’s the LP-E8 Li-ion battery, which has a reasonably large capacity (over 400 shots with average LCD viewing according to the CIPA standard) but not as much as higher-end cameras. Fortunately high-volume shooters have a good workaround for shooting more pictures—the optional Battery Grip BG-E8, which accepts AA-size batteries.


Conclusion and recommendation

The EOS Rebel T2i delivers a level of image quality, flexibility, and real-world performance that’s unprecedented in its class or at this price level. It’s a great first DSLR to grow with, a superb choice as a first or second DSLR for serious enthusiasts, and an affordable and competent backup camera for weekend warriors and working pros. I call it a Rebel with a cause, and it’s one that’s destined to be a very hot commodity in the fiercely competitive DSLR market.

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