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HD video capture, 15MP sensor in Canon EOS Rebel T1i
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
Canon today has introduced the EOS Rebel T1i, an evolution of the Rebel XSi that incorporates a 15.06 million image pixel CMOS sensor, DIGIC 4 processor and three inch (diagonal), 920,000 dot rear LCD into a body that's nearly identical to its predecessor. For pro photographers, though, the main attraction of Canon's newest entry-level digital SLR may well be its ability to capture HD video with sound, making it a budget alternative to the EOS 5D Mark II for Canon still shooters wanting to capture moving pictures with their SLR.

The EOS Rebel T1i is to ship in early May 2009 at an expected street price of US$799.99 in the U.S., or US$899.99 in a kit with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS.

Note: In regions outside North America, the EOS Rebel T1i is known as the EOS 500D or EOS Kiss X3.

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Front and Back: Views of the Canon EOS Rebel T1i. Click either photo to enlarge (Photos courtesy Canon)

Canon EOS Rebel T1i feature summary

Features of the new camera include:

Body The Rebel T1i's body is identical in size, shape and control layout to the Rebel XSi, and nearly identical in appearance: a movie setting on the mode dial, some shifting of button functions on the back (including the addition of movie start/stop functionality to the Direct Print button), a "D+" icon on the top LCD and in the viewfinder (indicating when Highlight Tone Priority is enabled), a monochrome mode icon in the viewfinder, a Type C HDMI video port on the side and a Rebel T1i name badge on the front are about the only visual differences when you glance at the camera or glance through its viewfinder.

Sensor The mostly-unchanged body houses a 15.06 million image pixel, 22.3mm x 14.9mm CMOS sensor designed and manufactured by Canon. The sensor has a pixel pitch of 4.7m square, features a gapless microlens array and incorporates Canon's Integrated Cleaning System in front of the sensor, complete with an anti-stick fluorine coating on the frontmost filter surface.

If this is sounding a lot like the image sensor in the EOS 50D, that's not a coincidence. The two share a sensor that is nearly identical, and in some early side-by-side testing with a beta Rebel T1i, it appears the image quality is nearly identical too. The only notable specification difference is the number of channels each sensor incorporates for data readout: the 50D has four, while the Rebel T1i has two.

Like other entry level and midrange Canon digital SLRs, the focal length cropping factor, relative to 35mm film, is 1.6X. File dimensions at full resolution are 4752 x 3168 pixels. An example photo from a beta Rebel T1i, taken in New York's Grand Central Terminal during a day-long briefing and shooting session staged by Canon USA last week, is below. It was captured as a RAW CR2, then converted in a beta version of Digital Photo Professional 3.6.

On the Move: Canon EOS Rebel T1i (beta unit) + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 18mm, ISO 100, 1.5 seconds, f/5. Click photo to enlarge. Click here to download a full-resolution version (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

DIGIC 4 processor The Rebel T1i is the latest Canon digital SLR to be built around the company's 14-bit DIGIC 4 processor. Like the 50D and 5D Mark II before it, the Rebel T1i gains new image processing options courtesy of the more powerful main CPU and image processing engine, including:
  • Three increments of High ISO Noise Reduction: Low, Standard, Strong (plus Disable)

  • Three increments of Auto Lighting Optimizer: Low, Standard, Strong (plus Disable)

  • Peripheral Illumination Correction that adjusts the amount of edge and corner brightening it applies to in-camera JPEGs based on the Canon lens attached. The T1i can hold data for up to 40 lens or lens+ attachment combos; it ships with data for 26 already installed. The included EOS Utility facilitates the loading and removal of lens vignette profiles in the camera

    (If the camera is set to CR2, Peripheral Illumination Correction is not applied to the RAW data, but the vignette info is noted in the metadata, enabling Canon's Digital Photo Professional software to optionally apply the correction during conversion)
ISO The camera has an extended ISO range of 100-12,800. In the beta Rebel T1i we've used, the available ISO increments were 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400 and H (for 12,800).

HD Video The Rebel T1i is the second Canon digital SLR model to offer a video mode, with similar features, similar capabilities and similar limitations to the first, the EOS 5D Mark II.

HDTV: The video mode of the Rebel T1i, in action. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Similar, but not the same. The most notable difference is resolution and frame rate: while the 5D Mark II is capable of capturing 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p) at 30fps, at this same frame rate the Rebel T1i tops out at 1280 x 720 pixels (720p). The new camera has a 1080p option, but is limited to a slightly jerky 20fps. Both cameras have a 640 x 480 pixel capture setting too (at 30fps).

Video quality between the two cameras seems generally comparable, including overall colour, the visibility of compression artifacts (minimal but apparent in dark areas) and fine detail that's somewhat soft (though it can be used to produce final video that looks properly sharp when viewed on an HDTV). They also generate the same H.264 format movie files, with a .mov extension. Several differences quickly reveal themselves, however, even in the short time we've spent with the Rebel T1i:

A shallow focus effect can definitely be achieved with the Rebel T1i, but the 5D Mark II's larger sensor - and resulting longer focal length for a given field of view - allows for shallow focus that is, well, shallower. How apparent or significant this is depends on what you're trying to record, but in the one comparison we've done, the difference was dramatic.

The photo below is a still pulled from a video clip shot with the Rebel T1i; roll your mouse over the photo to see a frame grab of the same moment, but pulled from video shot with the 5D Mark II. The depth difference results from a 300mm lens being used on the former, and a 500mm lens on the latter, which translates into approximately the same field of view for each. Click here to download a 940 x 528 pixel video containing the clips from which these stills were taken.

Shallow End: Canon EOS Rebel T1i (beta) + EF 300mm f/2.8L IS, still photo grabbed from video. Roll your mouse over the photo to see a still grabbed from video shot at the same time with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II + EF 500mm f/4L IS. Click here to download a 940 x 528 pixel video containing the clips from which these stills were taken (Photos by Vincent Laforet and Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Big Rig: The 5D Mark II, left, and Rebel T1i, recording video simultaneously in midtown Manhattan. This dual-camera rig was used to capture simultaneous video from each camera (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

The Rebel T1i's deep shadows may be less plugged than the 5D Mark II. This seems to be true in the few clips we've shot, but more testing is needed to be sure.

For all but static scenes, the stutter of the 20fps 1080p mode in the Rebel T1i will be unwelcome. The Rebel T1i should be viewed as a 720p video camera in reality, which means the 5D Mark II offers greater resolution (at its 1080p/30fps setting). The difference is most noticeable when comparing 1080p video from the 5D Mark II that has been downsampled on the computer to 720p resolution. When stacked up against native 720p video from the Rebel T1i, the 5D Mark II video is noticeably crisper.

It's possible to pull a usable still frame from Rebel T1i 720p video. The photo below is an example. Click on it to view the full-resolution (1280 x 720 pixel) frame grab. It has been sharpened in Photoshop.

Almost a Megapixel: Canon EOS Rebel T1i (beta) + EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, still photo grabbed from video. Click photo to view full-resolution frame grab (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

While both camera models include a built-in mono mic, the sound quality from the 5D Mark II's mic is richer and more live sounding. By comparison, the sound from a beta Rebel T1i was slightly muffled, though still decent. For most professional applications another mic will be required, but the 5D Mark II's mini mic and subsequent processing add up to clear, undistorted and reasonably natural sound that can work in a pinch. Our first impression of the Rebel T1i sound quality is that it's a notch below that, but still serviceable for a built-in mic (and noticeably better than the Nikon D90's built-in audio).

The 5D Mark II has an external stereo miniphone mic jack. The Rebel T1i doesn't. This means the new camera will require a separate audio recorder as well as a separate mic for situations where the built-in mic isn't sufficient. Audio from both cameras is 16 bit at a sampling rate of 44.1KHz. The 5D Mark II's audio is always output in stereo, even when its mono mic is used, while the Rebel T1i appears to be exclusively mono.

The Rebel T1i has a video capture setting on its mode dial, and a record start/stop button separate from the Set button, which makes it a bit more obvious and intuitive to enter video capture mode and begin recording.The 5D Mark II's intermingling of its video mode with Live View can mean scrambling to reconfigure the camera when you engage Live View when you actually want video, or vice versa. The Rebel T1i's approach is cleaner.
The experience of actually using the video mode in each camera is more similar than you might think from the list of differences above. Both models represent Canon's first generation of digital SLR video, with the sort of strengths and shortcomings one can expect from a company's first crack at an innovative new feature. For example, both offer fully automatic video exposure, plus exposure lock and +/-2 stop exposure compensation, but no means of dialing in a specific aperture or locking the exposure settings through multiple clips. It's Program mode video, in effect, though there are (clunky) workarounds for both the aperture and exposure lock limitations.

The Rebel T1i has a 4GB clip length limit, the same as the 5D Mark II.

If you've been eyeing the 5D Mark II as a way of getting familiar with SLR video capture while still being able to use your Canon lenses, but the price of that camera is out of range, the Rebel T1i will allow you to get your feet wet, but at a fraction of the cost.

Downloadable video clips

Below are links to full-resolution videos captured with a beta Rebel T1i, plus one clip from a 5D Mark II as well. All clips have been edited only for length, and then only by trimming the beginning and end of the clip, the remaining video is as the camera recorded it. Right-click on a thumbnail and choose your browser's save-to-disk option to download the associated video.

Click to download video
Click to download video
Grand Central: Canon EOS Rebel T1i + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 35mm, 640 x 480 pixels at 30fps (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Grand Central: Canon EOS Rebel T1i + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 35mm, 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Grand Central: Canon EOS Rebel T1i + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 35mm, 1920 x 1080 pixels at 20fps (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Click to download video
Click to download video
Click to download video
Pan: Canon EOS Rebel T1i + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 35mm, 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) 42nd Street: Canon EOS Rebel T1i + EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS at 200mm, 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) 42nd Street: Canon EOS Rebel T1i + EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS at 200mm, 1920 x 1080 pixels at 20fps (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Click to download video
Click to download video
Click to download video
Scrum: Canon EOS Rebel T1i + EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS at 135mm, 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps (Video by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Traffic: Canon EOS Rebel T1i + EF 300mm f/2.8L, 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps (Video by Vincent Laforet and Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Traffic: Canon EOS 5D Mark II + EF 500mm f/4L, 1920 x 1080 pixels at 30fps (Video by Vincent Laforet and Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Note: The videos slugged Traffic were shot with the Rebel T1i and 5D Mark II at the same time. There are differences in colour and density between the two video clips, however, differences that result from camera settings. First, we had trouble locking in the same exposure for each clip; the 5D Mark II consistently chose exposure settings that were 1/3 stop dark, and it couldn't always be coaxed to open up to match the Rebel T1i. Second, the cameras were inadvertently set on different Picture Styles (the Rebel T1i was on Neutral, the 5D Mark II was on Standard). As a result, these two clips can be compared for resolution, sound quality and depth of field, but not colour.

Shutter lag, mirror blackout, startup time
The Rebel T1i is specified to have a shutter lag of 70ms (or 90ms; as of this writing we've seen both figures and haven't learned which is correct), mirror blackout time of 130ms and startup time of 0.1 seconds.

SD/SDHC The Rebel T1i accepts the same range of SD/SDHC cards as the Rebel XSi. For video capture, Canon specifies a Class 6 card as being the minimum speed necessary to capture video continuously. The Rebel T1i does not support the upcoming SDXC variant of this memory card type.

Frame rate and burst depth The new model has a maximum frame rate of 3.4fps (CIPA standard) for a Canon-specified 170 Large Fine JPEG or 9 RAW CR2.

Note that burst depth doesn't drop when High ISO Noise Reduction is enabled, except when the Strong option is selected. Also note that the CIPA standard for stating frame rate is a little tighter than the standard used by camera makers previously, such that the Rebel XSi's 3.5fps stated frame rate is actually 3.4fps under the new CIPA guidelines. This means the Rebel XSi and Rebel T1i actually offer the identical shooting rate.

Autofocus The Rebel T1i's autofocus system carries over unaltered from the XSi: it remains comprised of nine AF points, including a cross-type sensor at the centre point, with a dedicated microprocessor performing the autofocus calculations. There is no AF Microadjustment menu.

Rear LCD Backing up the Rebel T1i is a sharp and clear three inch (diagonal), 920,000 dot rear LCD display, with seven increment brightness control. Based on its specifications and visual appearance, it's almost certainly the same display component as that found in the 50D and 5D Mark II. Like those cameras, it features a triple-layer coating designed to combat glare and smudges while also preventing scratches.

X-Ray: An inside look at the Canon EOS Rebel T1i (Graphic courtesy Canon)

Live View Live View in the Rebel T1i most closely resembles that of the 50D. It offers two grid overlays and three autofocus options:
  • Quick Mode (phase detection, Live View is interrupted while the mirror drops and focus is performed)
  • Live Mode (contrast detection, Live View is not interrupted, focus is slower than phase detection)
  • Live Face Detection Mode (same as Live Mode except that faces are automatically targeted)
Connections Connection options include USB 2.0, HDMI video out (using a Type C connector), analog audio/video out and remote input (for Remote Switch RS-60E3 or similar). There is no PC sync socket.

Creative Auto For newcomers to photography, the Rebel T1i includes Creative Auto. This option is meant to give more control over parameters such as white balance and Picture Styles to users who otherwise want the camera to do the work for them. It includes text explanations on the rear LCD of the options that can be adjusted in Creative Auto.

From the Rebel XSi The remainder of the T1i is in most respects identical to the XSi. They both share the same:
  • 95% coverage viewfinder (including standard and optional focusing screens)
  • 35-zone metering (with Evaluative, 9% Partial, 4% Spot and Centre-weighted metering modes)
  • Top shutter speed of 1/4000 and top standard flash sync speed of 1/200 (the Rebel XSi and T1i contain the same shutter and mirror mechanisms, among many other components that are identical in each)
  • Built-in flash with 17mm lens coverage
  • Compatibility with EF and EF-S lenses
  • Power options, including Battery Pack LP-E5 and AC Adapter Kit ACK-E5
  • Accessory options, including Battery Grip BG-E5
The two cameras' dimensions, body style and control positions are also the same (the Rebel T1i is very slightly heavier). In a nutshell, the Rebel T1i is an XSi with a higher-resolution sensor, revamped image processing, HD video capture, HDMI video out and a crisp new rear LCD.

Bundled software

The Rebel T1i will ship with new versions of Canon's various digital photography software programs for Mac and Windows. In addition to support for the new camera's RAW files, Digital Photo Professional 3.6 adds Highlight and Shadow adjustment controls plus two additional lenses - the MP-E 65mm f/2.8 and EF 50mm f/2.5 macros - join the ranks of those supported by the Peripheral Illumination Correction feature. Movie Edit Task 3.2 expands the range of editing functions that can be applied to .mov files created by the 5D Mark II and Rebel T1i, including the extracting of one or more still frames from a video clip. EOS Utility 2.6 gains an improved interface for customizing Picture Styles.

The EOS Digital Solution Disk CD in the box with the Rebel T1i will include the following versions of Canon software:
  • EOS Utility 2.6 (Mac/Windows)
  • Digital Photo Professional 3.6 (Mac/Windows)
  • ImageBrowser 6.2 (Mac) / ZoomBrowser EX 6.3 (Windows)
  • Picture Style Editor 1.5 (Mac/Windows)
  • WFT Utility 3.3 (Mac/Windows)
  • PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac) / PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows)
  • Movie Edit Task 3.2 (Mac/Windows)
Canon's usual practice is to follow up the delivery of a new digital SLR with a web release of software updaters for owners of older cameras, and that's expected to be the case once again. A date for the posting of updaters for the listed applications has not been set.

Price and ship date

The Canon EOS Rebel T1i is to ship in early May 2009 at an expected street price of US$799.99 in the U.S. (US$899.99 in a kit with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS). In the U.S., the Rebel XSi and Rebel XS are not discontinued and are expected to be available for sale for some time.

Thanks to Vincent Laforet, Chuck Westfall, Len Musmeci and Lisette Ranga for their assistance in the preparation of this article.
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