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    Jan 2004
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    Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT Pro Review

    Canon EOS Rebel XT Review

    by Laurence Chen
    Canon's Rebel XT is the company's entry-level digital SLR (DSLR), but with 8 megapixels and the latest Digic II image processing chip, the XT holds its own against the more expensive Canon 20D and other entry-level DSLRs.The Rebel XT has a street price of approximately $800 to $900 in the US and is sold as a camera body only or in kit form with an 18-55mm EF-S lens.

    Price: Approximately $800 US

    • Responsive shutter release.
    • Subjectively quiet, unobtrusive shutter-release sound.
    • Light weight, small size.
    • Fast and accurate autofocus (AF) in low-light, low-contrast situations.
    • Clean, high-quality image files at all ISO levels up to 1600.
    • Grip may be too small for larger hands.
    • Menu navigation is inefficient (too much button pushing).
    • Rear LCD dim; menus go dim by design.
    • Viewfinder image small and grainy.
    • Focal-length multiplier of 1.6x.
    Canon EOS Rebel XT Studio Test Images
    Canon EOS Rebel XT Studio SamplesISO 100 Sample
    ISO 200 Sample >>
    ISO 400 Sample >>
    ISO 800 Sample >>
    ISO 1600 Sample >>

    More Canon EOS Rebel XT Resources
    All Canon EOS Rebel XT photos >>
    Owner-posted Canon EOS Rebel XT reviews >>
    Write a Review >>
    Canon Web site >>

    Canon EOS Rebel XT - Front and back

    Canon's new Rebel XT raises the bar yet again for digital performance at consumer prices. In fact, I questioned whether people would find the 20D worth almost twice as much as a new Rebel XT in my earlier review of the Canon 20D.

    I used the new XT and the 20D side by side on a recent two-week job, and I concluded that while the 20D is indeed faster and easier to use than the XT, the XT is a very capable camera. If you are not put off by the differences between the two control interfaces (physical and software), the slower continuous shooting speed, and the lack of weatherproofing, you may find the XT to be a suitable main camera or back-up body. Put the money saved into an EF-S lens, and you've got a camera with high price-performance value.

    Canon EOS Rebel XT Features
    The Rebel XT has most of the features found in its bigger brothers. DIGIC II processing for fast autofocus and low noise, full manual mode, and ETTL-II flash technology are all here. I would venture to say that for all but the most demanding or specific needs (e.g., sports, extreme conditions, frequent heavy use), the XT does not lack features. And, there is one "feature" unique to the XT: the soft sound of its shutter release! I elaborate on the virtues of this in my Canon EOS 20D review.

    Compared to the 20D, the XT mainly lacks white-balance setting in specific degrees Kelvin, a PC terminal for use with external lighting, and fast continuous shooting speed. Buy the 20D if you need to regularly set your white balance at specific temperatures. At three frames per second (fps) continuous shooting, the XT is adequate, but you may miss capturing optimum compositions with things like flapping wings, sports action, and so forth. And for external strobes, a PC terminal adapter can be added via the hotshoe mount for $15.

    There are other minor differences between the XT and the 20D, such as seven AF points vs. nine AF points, flash sync at 1/200th vs. 1/250th, maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th vs. 1/8000th, and so forth. I work around these smaller differences and, therefore, do not prioritize them.

    Autofocus can be chosen from seven points seen in the viewfinder, but I only use the single center point. My technique is a common one: lock focus and then recompose the frame as needed. The center focus point is the most sensitive and therefore the fastest, so I never bother with the multipoint system. I also did not test the follow-focus (AI Focus) modes, so I won't comment on the potential performance of this camera in that department. Rob Galbraith's review ( of the Canon 20D is highly favorable toward the AF system, and the XT's system is at least as new as the 20D's DIGIC II technology.

    The built-in flash worked well for casual snapshots. Most of the time I preserve the natural ambient light, so when I use flash, I just mix a little in with the existing light. Thus, I set flash exposure compensation to -1 1/3 stop, and this gives me the look I desire. I did not test this with big wide-angle lenses, so if this is an issue for you, I recommend dedicated Canon flashes.

    Canon EOS Rebel XT Design
    The XT is small, especially for an SLR. With certain lenses, the XT is even smaller than the Olympus C-8080 SLR-style point-and-shoot. People may find that the XT mated with, say, the Canon 17-40mm L feels "lens heavy" because the lens weighs more and appears large relative to the camera body.

    The XT shares a new lens mount with the 20D enabling the use of Canon's EF-S lenses built specifically for small digital image sensors. The EF-S lenses are a topic for other reviews, but my experience with the lenses suggests that this is a reasonable means of bringing quality wide-angle lenses back to low-end digital photography.
    Canon EOS Rebel XT and EOS 10D
    The Canon EOS Rebel XT next to the Canon EOS 10D

    Canon EOS Rebel XT Controls
    During my test, I found it simple, although admittedly distracting, to shift gears from using the 20D controls to using the XT controls. Control is where the 20D really shines in terms of ease of use. The scroll wheel on the back of the 20D is like using an iPod's scroll wheel. And, settings "stick"-they stay where you set them-without the need to "confirm" the change with an additional press of the SET button. The scroll wheel is simple, fast, and effective.Canon EOS Rebel XT and EOS 20D rear controls
    Arrow buttons on the Rebel XT (left) vs. the scroll wheel on the EOS 20D (right)

    The XT replaces the wheel with arrow buttons, and the navigation uses groups of features (menus) organized by top-level tabs. This means that when you want to change a feature setting in a group different from the one you are in, you must travel through the menu you are in up to the tabs, then across the tabs, then down the menu to the item you want. This menu navigation system is similar to that found on many point-and-shoots. Canon EOS Rebel XT LCD display
    The Rebel XT menu display (left) and image review with information and histogram on (right)

    One reason to choose a DSLR over a point-and-shoot is that SLR cameras, by design, provide very efficient access to camera features. Ironically, the small size of the XT and its menu design make it feel a little like a point-and-shoot camera! Photographers who change settings frequently will dislike this characteristic. But, let me stress that when it comes to actually using the XT, it retains the advantages of the SLR that it is unless you have large hands and fingers.

    Observed Performance
    I compared these two cameras recently while photographing hotels, people (models) interacting at these hotels, and restaurant food for two weeks. From the standpoint of photographic functionality, this job required me to use the camera as if I were carefully setting up landscape compositions and as if I were working fast and light as a photojournalist.

    A typical 10- to 12-hour day involved heavy use of the rear LCD to check scene composition and lighting (all lighting was generated by flashes and studio lights set up off camera, all fired via PocketWizard Plus radios and slave-syncs). Also as shoot situations changed from static interior "still-life" settings to live models and back again, I constantly changed the camera's controls for white balance, quality (RAW+JPEG and RAW), shutter drive (continuous, timer), and mirror lock-up (in custom functions). I also edited continuously during the shoot, reviewing focus and histograms and deleting clear losers as I went through the day. Finally, the client and art director looked over my shoulder at the LCD all day long, too. Despite working in this way, the remarkable batteries needed to be recharged only in the evening.

    Canon EOS Rebel XT outdoor color sampleCanon EOS Rebel XT outdoor color sample
    Left: Canon Rebel XT default setting outdoor color sample
    Right: Same image with author's adjusted color

    Canon EOS Rebel XT cropped fly closeupScreenshot of the fly image crop
    Left: Canon EOS Rebel XT ISO 100 cropped fly closeup
    Right: Screenshot of the fly image crop

    During my test, the white balance was frequently adjusted using automatic or the preset settings. I find the outdoor balance and electronic flash settings acceptable (but I tend to tweak in post-processing). The indoor tungsten setting can be a bit cool (too blue or pale) for my taste. And using automatic white balance (AWB) for indoor tungsten lighting can be too yellow-red, especially when there is underexposure. I prefer to tweak white balance in post-processing if the JPEG recorded at the same time appears unattractive. Occasionally I used the AWB feature based on a white card shot in the ambient light. In practice, I find this system satisfactory but not always satisfying.

    Canon's image quality is among the best in the industry, so using high ISO settings is not a problem. Post-processing software like Noise Ninja from PictureCode also helps. (Keep in mind that what you see onscreen may come out smoother-in a good way-when you make prints; they are in a different medium.)

    Passion flower photo taken with the Canon EOS Rebel XTCanon EOS Rebel XT owl photo
    More Canon EOS Rebel XT samples. Click to see full images.

    The Rebel XT is a solid performer at a bargain price (for digital photography). Matched with quality EF-S lenses, such as the 17-85mm or the 10-22mm, the XT covers the focal-length gamut and brings true wide angle back within the financial reach of most photographers.

    Who Should Buy The Canon EOS Rebel XT

    • Those who may need a quiet shutter: wedding, wildlife, documentary photographers.
    • Budget, beginning, and casual photographers who want control and lens selection.
    • Photographers looking for a small, lightweight camera system to use while traveling/hiking.
    • Pros who don't like most point-and-shoots (me)!

    Why not buy an XT?

    • Physically too small for large hands.
    • Menu navigation awkward, inefficient.
    • Lack of weatherproofing.
    • Consumer build-quality is high, but not built for rigorous use or extreme environmental conditions.
    • Slow continuous shooting inadequate for sports.
    • Small image sensor results in 1.6x focal length multiplier; L-series lenses slightly compromised.
    • Lack of special-purpose, high-end features such as 45 AF points or flash exposure lock.


    Other Resources:
    Canon EOS Rebel XT User Reviews >>
    Write a Canon EOS Rebel XT Review >>
    Canon EOS Rebel XT Sample Gallery >>
    Canon Web site >>

    About Laurence Chen
    Laurence Chen is a freelance editorial, commercial, and wedding photographer based in Seattle, Wash. His clients have included Fortune Magazine, Sunset Magazine, and America 24/7. Visit his portfolio at and buy his e-book, "Take Control of Buying a Digital Camera", at

    Last edited by Photo-John; 08-19-2005 at 01:10 PM.

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