Close focus is also nice; at 55mm the 10" focusing
can fill the frame with a flower.
Vu All Over Again
This has happened before, you know. Kodak sent a warning shot across the
film world's bow in 1995 with the 6-megapixel, $30,000 DCS 460.
Olympus rocked the camera world in '97 with the first good megapixel
camera, the D-600L. In '98 the world of photojournalism got stood
on its head with the 2-megapixel Kodak DCS 520. Even at $17,000 it became
a runaway success, and captured more great breaking news and sports images
than any digital device of the era. The real groundbreaker, as far as
the consumer marketplace is concerned, was the stunning 2-megapixel Nikon
Coolpix 950 in February of '99. Now for under $1000 any photographer
could capture big, beautiful color images, instantly, with no film expense.
The cat was out of the bag.
Two Worlds Now One
Up until this past August, the digicam world was separated into two worlds:
the point-and-shoot world and the SLR world. Point-and-shoots started
at $100 and topped out at $1000. The better cameras, like the advanced
models from Nikon, Canon, and Olympus, produced 5-megapixel images that
rivaled color negative film for saturation, sharpness, and clarity. SLRs
were for the pros and the really serious "enthusiasts." This
is why the Canon Digital Rebel is so groundbreaking.
Canon introduced their new baby and made a fairly impressive statement.
The new camera utilized a modified version of the same exact sensor, exposure
control system, and autofocus system as the popular EOS 10D, but would
sell for an amazing $899! The magic $1000 barrier had finally been broken,
a mere three years after they broke the $5000 price barrier with their
3-megapixel EOS D30. Even more exciting was the introduction of the $999
Digital Rebel Kit, which is the camera bundled with an interesting 18-55mm
EF-S lens, specially designed exclusively for the Digital Rebel.
18-55mm EF-S lens is capable of some great results; at 18mm
it's plenty wide enough for some nice wide angle effects.
In The Box
The Digital Rebel Kit arrived packed in a colorful Canon retail box, and
included the body, EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, strap, BP-511 rechargeable
battery, single battery charger, Canon software disk and manuals. No media
included, but of course the camera accepts standard Type I or Type II
CompactFlash cards. Thank you Canon for not including some new media type,
some miniaturized ultra teeny card, sure to blow away in the slightest
breeze. CompactFlash is small enough for me.
New EF-S Lens
The new lens is particularly interesting. The Digital Rebel, like the
EOS 10D, EOS D60, and EOS D30 before it, utilizes a sensor that is smaller
than the traditional 24x36mm film frame. The sensor takes a crop out of
that frame that results in approximately a 1.6 magnification factor. (Of
course it doesn't magnify your lens, but instead just crops a central
section.) While Canon does make a camera with a 1.3 crop factor (the photojournalists
favorite is the 4-megapixel EOS-1D) as well as a full frame 24x36mm digital
SLR (my favorite, the 11-megapixel EOS-1Ds), Nikon addressed the 1.5 crop
factor in its cameras by introducing a new lens line that only covers
the new digital sensor size.
While this has been decried by some as covering up for an obvious flaw
it does give Nikon shooters a new line of lenses custom built for their
cameras. Canon begins to address that issue with the EF-S lens. Does this
mean that the smaller sensor will become central to the amateur and "prosumer"
line? Perhaps, but the new lens does offer a tremendous amount of utility
for very short money. The 18-55mm range translates into a 28-88mm 35mm
zoom range, which is very handy for casual shooting and travel photography.
Listen up EOS 10D owners: this EF-S lens is custom fit for the Digital
Rebel and will not work on any other EOS cameras. Also, it is not sold
separately; it comes only in the Rebel kit.
35-zone metering system is tough to fool--even a shot
with bright skies and dark wood is exposed nearly perfect.
Light & Compact
The whole package, once you hold it in your hands, fits like a glove.
For EOS-1Ds and EOS-1D shooters like myself, it is almost unbelievably
light and compact with the body weighing a mere 19.7 oz! At only 5.6"
wide by a very small 3.9" tall, you would think that those with
large hands would have a hard time, yet even my XL's had no trouble
comfortably hand holding the Digital Rebel and accessing all of the controls.
Side by side with an EOS 10D the Rebel is noticeably smaller, lighter,
and more "plastic" looking. The EOS 10D seems fairly "pro,"
while the Rebel has a more modern, stylish, "consumer" appearance.
Since you can buy an EOS 10D for a mere $500 more or thereabouts, I think
the two totally different approaches make sense.
Shooting with the Digital Rebel can be as easy or difficult as you want
to make it. I handed the camera to my 8-year-old son set to the green
box "Auto" mode, and he came back with brilliantly exposed,
super saturated, nice crisp images. An 8 year old! Minutes later I set
the camera to "Manual," slid an IR transmitter into the hot
shoe, and synced to my Balcar strobes for some brilliant studio portraits.
(The Digital Rebel has no flash PC socket, but the hot shoe can trigger
studio strobes with either a PC adapter or a shoe-mounted trigger.)
Canon has made a few major changes to the control system of the EOS 10D.
The Digital Rebel makes one positive change, positioning the ISO shift
control right on the back panel. Press the down arrow button, turn the
main dial with your index finger, and instantly change your ISO. This
is a substantial upgrade from the EOS D60 system of diving into the menu
to change ISO. The other changes are clearly not upgrades, but have been
made to accommodate the smaller, less expensive body. The most surprising
omission is the famed Canon control wheel. Yes, the big round dial on
the back of most EOS cameras has been replaced with a set of four arrow
buttons. No longer can you aim the camera in P mode and tweak your exposure
by rotating the control wheel--you must now press the AV +/- button
and turn the main dial just behind the shutter release button. Not a big
deal, but if you're using the Digital Rebel as a back-up for an
EOS 10D or one of the pro EOS cameras, you'll feel a little out
Once you're shooting how is the AF performance? Frankly, I think
it's amazing. Almost every subject bangs into focus quickly. The
non-USM 18-55mm EF-S lens focuses quietly and very, very fast. I even
used a good USM lens, the 24-70mm L on the Rebel and an EOS 10D, and everyone
who handled the two cameras thought the Rebel focused just a bit quicker,
and seemed to do just a bit better with dark objects. The goosed AF performance
more than makes up for the slightly smaller viewfinder (only noticeable
in back to back comparisons). Of course the old bugaboo of any AF system,
the subject in the foreground with a contrasty background, can throw the
AF off, and I captured a few of those during my test. Nothing automatic
is ever perfect, but overall I thought the AF was great, certainly better
than my older pro film EOS-1N SLR.
Thankfully Canon has included the exposure lock button, which I use all
the time, on the back. Now you can simply aim your camera at an area of
the scene that seems to have the tones you want to expose, hit the button,
and then you have 6 seconds to fire and use that locked exposure setting.
The same button is an exposure preview for the built-in flash, which will
pre-flash, lock exposure, and then use that setting for your actual exposure.
New AF Wrinkle
A new feature that I'm sure will clog up thousands and thousands
of posts to the Internet digicam forums is the new "Automatic"
autofocus mode control. Sure, the Digital Rebel utilizes the same seven-point
AF system, but the user-set "AI Servo" and "One-Shot"
modes are gone. When the camera is set to many of the Programmed Image
Control modes--like portrait, close-up, etc.--the camera automatically
is in One-Shot mode. Switch to "P" or "M" and
you're in Auto mode, which means that you start out in One-Shot
mode and the camera will automatically switch to AI Servo if necessary,
based on its own analysis of subject movement. This should, in theory,
allow you to compose any image and then follow focus that subject seamlessly.
First of all, always starting out in "One-Shot" mode means
that you cannot fire the shutter unless focus confirmation is achieved.
This is similar to every point-and-shoot out there, and should reduce
the number of out of focus images. However, it also means that picking
the camera up and firing always results in a bit of shutter lag until
the camera achieves lock focus. With the 18-55mm it's almost negligible,
but bolt on a longer lens, especially the kind of super-zoom 28-200mm
lens with an f/5.6 minimum aperture that most Rebel owners will pine for,
and you can have a decent amount of delay. While the camera shoots at
a decent 2.5 fps, it only has a four image buffer. Between the AF issues
and the small buffer, the Digital Rebel is a tough choice for really fast
moving sports photography, though it is certainly more than capable for
most everything else.
In The Field
I took the Rebel out for a couple of days of local shooting, using both
the EF-S 18-55mm lens and a Sigma 28-200mm super zoom, as well as my working
kit of Canon EF "L" glass. At first blush the EF-S lens is
a wonder. It's so small and light, plus the viewfinder image is
so crisp. It focuses extremely close at about 10", filling the frame
with a small flower. The whole package fits your hand beautifully, and
shooting in decent light everything works quickly and accurately.
Like the EOS 10D, the 118,000 pixel LCD is bright and contrasty, and its
1.8" diagonal size is a perfect size for this camera. I had no trouble
reviewing images in bright sun. Canon has included position sensing, so
verticals review as verticals, and when opened in either Canon's
software or in Photoshop 7 they display as verticals. No more rotating
images! (The vertical feature only applies to files opened using Photoshop's
browser.) To accommodate the form factor Canon had to move the LCD control
screen to the back of the camera, where it is both less readable in room
light and frankly less useful. That's a small quibble, and a nice
amber backlight makes the display usable in dim light.
Back in the studio I downloaded the images into a Windows XP machine running
Photoshop 7. While I am used to working on images shot with the 11-megapixel
EOS-1Ds, I was completely satisfied with the Digital Rebel files. That
awesome CMOS color still impresses. Skies are blue--really, really
blue. Green grass pops, flesh tones are gorgeous, and even bright chrome
and dark shadows seem to have endless detail. Like the other CMOS sensor
cameras, images shot in default JPEG settings need some unsharp masking.
Shooting at ISO 100 the images are nearly noiseless, and can tolerate
quite a bit of USM, resulting in very, very sharp files with almost no
digital artifacting. I found absolutely no issue with color fringing or
moiré, though bright images toward the corners of the frame can
occasionally display some purple chromatic fringing.
Sharpness of the 18-55mm lens was surprising. Even wide-open I found the
lens to be crisp and fairly sharp. By f/11 it was tack-sharp throughout
the range, though a minimum aperture of f/5.6 for a fairly tame focal
length--55mm--seems like a terribly limiting feature. (I would
expect it in a 200mm zoom.) I was pleased with the images, handling, and
overall performance of this camera with the 18-55mm lens. If this camera
came with this lens permanently attached for $999, I would absolutely
buy one and never complain. The images are brilliant and sharp, the camera
handles beautifully, the batteries last for a really long time, and even
the on-camera flash performs well. (Though contrary to early reports there
is no provision for flash exposure compensation.)
However, this camera positively explodes when coupled to some really good
lenses! Running and jumping subjects that were always a bit soft with
the 28-200mm super zoom were crisp and really vibrant when shot with the
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM "L" lens. Birds shot with my
EF 400mm f/2.8 "L" lens just about popped off the screen and
made stunning 16x20" enlargements. The 16-35mm "L" lens
and ISO 800 combination turns this camera into a fast and capable indoor
camera, and at ISO 100 produced very crisp and vibrant architectural images.
The big and heavy 24-70mm "L" lens was an amazing match for
our new puppy darting about the backyard, producing more than 50 perfectly
exposed, perfectly focused images.
The paradox thus becomes how far do you go. If you buy a Digital Rebel
you'll surely lust after the great glass, all of which costs much
more than the camera itself. Did Canon make this camera too good?
The EOS Digital Rebel is a groundbreaking camera. It brings professional
quality images, industry-leading camera performance and compatibility
with the entire EOS line of lenses and accessories to a very affordable
price bracket. What makes this camera so peculiar is that performance.
As a working professional photographer I know that I could use this camera
every day for most of my assignments. Coupled to good glass and handled
by an experienced photographer, it produces images that are simply fantastic,
in all cases the equal of any film camera. In the hands of a total amateur
and shooting through Canon's excellent budget lenses, it produces
beautiful, crisp images sure to please. Bolted to Canon's BG-E1
handgrip the camera now has a heftier feel, and can shoot for a week on
a pair of batteries.
As an entrée to the Canon EOS system it is a no-brainer, must-have.
As a back-up to a more expensive EOS digital camera it is an amazing bargain.
As a do-it-all fun machine, it currently has no equal. The camera feels
quick and responsive, operates flawlessly, and provides dozens more features
than most users will ever bother with.
A new day has dawned in digital photography. The earth has shifted just
a bit, and the rest of the industry is sure to feel it.
For more information on the Digital Rebel, visit Canon U.S.A.'s
website at www.usa.canon.com.