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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

REVIEW: Canon Rebel Xsi 450D dSLR

posted by snekse
* Some of you may have noticed a slight improvement in the foodporn pictures posted here over the past month. There's a reason for it. Say hello to my little friend...

The Canon EOS 450D / Rebel Xsi Digital SLR

We'll, not so little compared to my previous camera, the Sony CyberShot T-9, but fairly compact for a dSLR. And I've bonded with my Xsi in a way that I never did with the T9.

Remember when you first got your point-and-shoot (P&S) digital camera? Remember how great it was that first time. Snapping away all day long, never having to worry about running out of film. It changed the way you took pictures and looked at photography. But there's still that one nag almost every small digital camera user has; wait - everyone hold still...click - wait...snap. Shutter lag. It's fine for posed portraits, but it sucks royal when you're trying to take candid shots. You either miss the shot completely, or they are over/under exposed because the flash fired and it was too strong/weak, or they come out blurry because the camera isn't sensitive enough to shoot with the available light.

So your dad has an excuse for lusting after this new toy to add to his collection. He wants to use it to get better pictures of his grandchildren as they grow up, even if they did break his new Super-cool, super-fast Thermapen last week. Oh, and if he can just happen to also get much better food shoots because of the better sensor technology and faster shutter speeds available in the many different lenses he can choose from, well that's just an "unexpected" bonus.

Alright, so we've established that digital SLR (dSLR) technology is the bomb digity, but what makes the Canon Rebel Xsi 450D so special? Why not the Nikon D60, the Sony Alpha 350, or the Olympus E-520? Or for that matter, why not the older Canon Rebel Xti 400D? For me it came down to a couple of things.

Lens Selection: I didn't want to buy a camera and then be limited when it came to buying lenses. It's kind of a PC vs Mac thing. Sure Macs are great, but when you have 10 times the amount of software to choose from on a PC, why cripple yourself from the beginning. With that in mind, I narrowed my choices down to Canon and Nikon.

Low Light Performance: Whether it's taking pictures of a squab risotto in a dimly lit restaurant or a smiling child sitting on the floor at home, I often like to take pictures using nothing more than the natural available light; that means no flash, so your camera better be sensitive enough to pick out the difference between black and gray with what you give it. Canon has a strong reputation in this area, often getting applauded for the low noise at high sensitivities (AKA high ISO ratings).

User Friendliness: In the epic ongoing battle between Nikon and Canon, two truths seem to hold true. The Nikons have a slight edge in picture quality and the Canons have a slight edge in usability. For me, the picture quality of the Canon EOS line was more than sufficient for me, so I went with the ease of use. I put the Canon's self-cleaning sensor under that umbrella as well.

Autofocus (AF): Coming from a P&S world, I was looking for something that would make my transition easy. The Canon Rebel had a fast AF system that performed well. That's good. The Nikon D40 (which was the most direct competitor at the time) lacked an internal focus drive motor. That sounded bad. And it was. It meant that you were limited on which lenses you could buy if you wanted AF capabilities.

That settled it, I was getting a Canon Rebel. Now the question was, do I get the Xti or the Xsi? To make the decision harder, the Xsi wasn't even announced, so I had to guess when they were going to release it and what features they were going to add. I'm glad I waited because the Xsi kicks ass. Canon threw everything they could at the Rebel update just short of stepping on the toes of the EOS 40D, their next model up the chain from the 400D Xti.

Here's a list of just some of the features they added:

12 vs. 10 megapixel
Smaller SD/SDHC vs. CF Card
Live view (to preview your shot on LCD)
3.0" LCD
Larger viewfinder
High ISO noise reduction
14-bit A/D converter
Improved 9-point AF system
Larger, higher capacity, battery

My main decision to buy the 450D Xsi over the 400D Xti was the Live View. Again, coming from the P&S cameras, I was used to seeing what I was shooting on an LCD before I took the shot. The thought of not having that LCD terrified me a bit. It turns out I didn't really need it and the Live View implementation by Canon sucks. It's the most disappointing thing about this camera. It will not show you what the resulting picture will be when you press the shutter, so really, what's the point.

The other shiny new features, however, are the bees knees. Sure pixels aren't everything, but when you want to crop a photo and print an 8x10 from that crop, they're nice to have. The 14-bit processor, high ISO sensitivity and new AF system helps in that department too. The large view finder, mongo LCD and amazing battery life allows me to shoot comfortably for days on end (at 3.5 fps). And using SDHC cards just allows them to cram all those goodies into the camera body.

The things you can't put on a spec sheet are how easy this camera is to use. I put it in my mother-in-law's hands, and she took great photos. The only instructions I gave her were "look through here and push this button. Turn this ring to zoom in and out." It's really almost a point-and-shoot camera. Sure you can tweak the settings until the cows come home to get the exact shot you want, but you don't have to. And the buttons and menus are laid out well enough that you can gradually learn those things without needing to study the manual.

What you might need the manual for, is to figure out what to do with the Live View. I know it has a purpose, it's just not immediately apparent to me, so it tops my nag list. Followed similarly by the Depth-Of-Field preview button. It's supposed to show you - through the view finder - what will be in and out of focus before you snap a picture; Instead, it just makes everything darker. The final item under the predictability motif is the autofocus(AF) point selector.

When you have multiple objects in frame at different depths, the camera's AF system will, at times, pick the wrong object to focus on. This happens more frequently than I deem acceptable, so I often leave the focus at the center of the frame and manually select a different focal point when I want a different composition. You won't always have time to do that, so you'll either miss some shots or have to compromise on how the shot looks. If you always shoot with your subject front and center, this is not an issue.

Finally, it would be un-American of me to not complain about the cost of something that's cheaper than it should be but more expensive than it could be. The Canon Xsi is not cheap, but honestly, if you really think about it, it's not very expensive and should probably cost a lot more. I'll leave it at that.

As you can see, the flaws I've found are minimal, especially when compared to the highlights. So now you just have to ask yourself, "Am I..err, I mean is my dad, ready to make the jump to a dSLR"? For me, moving to a dSLR was almost as big as moving from a film camera to a digital camera. The small, compact digitals will still have a place in my bag, but it's hard to shun the reliability of the dSLR. And if you're ready to make the move, I'd recommend the Rebel Xsi to most users. If you know you want to make the switch, but are still not sure which camera is right for you, I suggest checking out the Related Links below. Be sure to check out the foodporn down there too under the Sample Shots :-) Next up...lenses...

***UPDATE***
Though I still love my Canon Rebel Xsi, there's a new bad boy on the market.

The Canon EOS 500D / Rebel T1i Digital SLR

The Canon T1i is about $200 more than than the Canon Xsi. It's your call if the bump in price is worth the features upgrade. Here's what's new in the Canon Rebel T1i vs. the Canon Rebel Xsi:
  • Record 1080p HD Video! (However, mono-sound and 20 FPS @ 1080p
  • 15 megapixel CMOS sensor like the professional 50D
  • Digic 4 processor
  • Auto Lighting Optimizer (Not sure what this is, but it sounds cool)
  • Extended ISO range to ISO 3200
  • Better High ISO noise reduction
  • Face detection in Live View (cool, but I wish it wasn't just in Live View)
The video is a great upgrade, but don't expect much other than basic performance from it. I also read that the kit lens starts to show it's flaws more when it's expected to resolve images at 15 Megapixels, so you might consider buying just the body and investing in better lenses. I believe the current price of the Rebel T1i is about the same as the release price of the Rebel Xsi when I bought it about a year ago. That makes it a pretty reasonable buy, but the cheaper Xsi is still tempting. I'd say the decision boils down to how badly would you like to be able to shoot video without having to pull out a different device and/or how much would you like those higher ISOs for those less than ideal shooting conditions? Here are some reviews for the Canon T1i to help you make your decision. Good luck! And don't forget to check out the related links below for more information.

Canon Xsi

Rating: 94+ RELATED LINKS: DPReview.com reviews the 450D Gizmondo dSLR Shootout Sample Shots: Canon Rebel Xsi 450D Foodies Guide to Father's Day Gifts Tags || | | | | | | more... |

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