Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi Digital SLR Camera
At a Glance
Updated 12/23/08: The 12.2-megapixel Canon Digital Rebel XSi, which targets entry-level digital SLR shooters, has all the features that novices expect--as well as an alluring array of advanced options that will appeal to more seasoned photographers. Priced at $800 (with kit lens, price as of 12/10/08), this camera offers a lot of versatility.
When purchased as part of a kit, this model comes with an 18mm-to-55mm IS lens (f/3.5 to 5.6), which provides image stabilization and a respectable 35mm focal length range of 29mm to 88mm. The camera can handle up to 3.5 frames per second in burst mode.
The Digital Rebel XSi has a solid feel, with a textured grip that makes it easy to hold one-handed. A roomy 3-inch live-view LCD sits on the back of the camera, but it isn't a high-resolution LCD as some higher-end digital SLRs have. On top of the camera is a dial that offers the usual portrait, sports, landscape, and macro modes, along with aperture priority, shutter priority, or manual operation. All essential exposure settings display clearly on the bright LCD, and are also visible through the viewfinder; this arrangement allows you to compose and shoot easily, whichever way you prefer.
The Digital Rebel's live-view mode allows you to compose shots on screen and employs the sensor for both image preview and capture duties, so what you see on the screen is what the camera is actually recording. This setup has its benefits, but given the display's limitation of 30 frames per second, the performance of Canon's live view is slower in comparison to the Sony A350's flashy tilt screen, which works in real time (thanks to the inclusion of a second sensor for rendering the live preview). Canon's live view mode lets you zoom in on your image as you're composing it; you also can check on the focus in specific areas, a feature I appreciated when out in the field.
Essential camera settings are quick and easy to change, but I found accessing some of the more advanced options daunting. Though many features await you in the Custom Functions menus, they require some drilling to get to. The good news is that Canon has incorporated the useful My Menu feature from the EOS 40D, which lets you group and save your frequently used settings. If you prefer a little extra insurance, shoot with bracketing enabled, either for white balance or for exposure.
Another feature on the mode dial, A-Dep, is particularly useful when you're taking pictures of small groups. A-Dep assesses the scene in three spots and adjusts the depth of field so that your subjects are all in focus. Advanced shooters will appreciate that the Rebel has spot metering and highlight tone priority in its arsenal; the latter lets you retain a bit more detail in highlights, though you lose ISO 100 when you do so. A noise-reduction mode helps control noise at high ISOs.
I found the Digital Rebel XSi's Picture Styles genuinely effective; Landscape, for example, greens up foliage. Other in-camera adjustment parameters include saturation, contrast, sharpness, and monochrome adjustments that allow you to customize the look of black-and-white images.
In tests, pictures were sharp (the XSi did very well among our current field of cameras in this area) and well exposed (another area where this model came out ahead). Images showed very little noise in shadows and minimal artifacting along high-contrast edges.
The Canon Digital Rebel XSi stands out as a versatile digital SLR that is easily navigable on the surface but also offers powerful options, some that you may never even get to. Once you get the hang of the basics, this camera has the depth to take things further.