Review: User-friendly Canon T4i boosts performance for both still images and video
Canon surprised and delighted digital photography enthusiasts when it released the first digital Rebel DSLR in 2003—the first DSLR with a sub-$1000 price tag. Since then, the entry-level Rebel line has evolved even while the pricing has remained about the same.
The latest Rebel model, the 18-megapixel Canon EOS T4i, incorporates several significant updates—including a hybrid CMOS sensor, a revamped autofocus system, and enhanced movie options—that not only make the camera a better performer for capturing still images but also increase its value in the video realm.
The T4i is the first touchscreen DSLR you can purchase in kit form with the 18-135mm IS (image-stabilized) STM (stepping motor) lens, which keeps things quiet when shooting video. That kit sells for $1149. Another kit with a standard 18-55mm II IS lens is available for $899. The price for just the body is $800.
Because its predecessor, the Rebel T3i, wasn’t discontinued when the T4i was released, the older camera may still be available at an even lower price. But the T4i is certainly worth the extra cash for those who appreciate the latest DSLR technologies and features.
Build and hardware design
Similar to its predecessor in build and design, the Rebel T4i is relatively compact for a DSLR. The body measures 5.2 by 3.9 by 3.1 inches and weighs 20.3 ounces with the battery and SD/SDHC/SDXC card installed. The grip is slightly larger than the T3i’s, which makes it even easier and more comfortable to hold. Photographers with large hands may find the space between the grip and the lens barrel a little snug, but the T4i is generally a good fit overall.
Unlike mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, true DSLRs like the T4i are equipped with an optical viewfinder. This one is bright and clear, and offers a good range of dioptric adjustment for photographers whose eyesight isn’t 20/20.
Like the T3i, the T4i is equipped with a high-resolution, 1.04-million-dot, 3-inch articulating LCD. Thanks to the high resolution and the ability to angle the screen, the monitor is visible under just about all lighting conditions. Although a handful of mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX-5N and some point-and-shoot models feature touchscreen LCDs, the T4i is the first DSLR to offer this feature. The screen is responsive enough for smartphone and tablet users to feel at home when tapping and swiping and navigating menus. More importantly, users have the option of tapping the LCD to choose a focus point and/or to trigger the shutter in Live View. For those who prefer using the camera’s physical controls, the touch functionality can be disabled.
Controls and features
In many ways, Canon adhered to the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when designing the T4i. Like its predecessor, this DSLR offers the same well-positioned and conveniently arranged external controls with only a couple of minor changes. In fact, the T4i is almost a clone of the older model, so T3i users stepping up to the new model can get up and running right away. While the plethora of controls may intimidate newcomers to Canon or DSLRs in general, the camera is definitely user-friendly, with its built-in descriptions of features and functions, as well as automatic and scene shooting modes.
A good-sized mode dial positioned on the camera’s top right shoulder provides access to the main shooting modes: program AE, shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual exposure. Scene Intelligent Auto, Flash Off, and Creative Auto are supplemented with a handful of scene modes including the new Handheld Night Scene and HDR Backlight Control. The latter two capture and automatically combine multiple shots. Handheld Night Scene shoots and merges four shots to avoid blur when you're photographing in low light. The HDR feature shoots three bracketed images to balance the backlight and the subject matter. Many people may think of HDR as super-saturated images, but the digital technique—which actually dates back to the 1990s—is designed to maintain highlight and shadow details in high-contrast situations.
Canon has added a couple of new effects—Art Bold and Water Color—supplementing its Grainy B&W, Soft Focus, Fish-eye, Toy Camera, and Miniature Creative filters. These effects are applied after the image capture, but you can make minor adjustments to the intensity of the effect before saving the adjusted image as a separate file.
Dedicated buttons for ISO, manual AF point selection, exposure compensation, and a four-way controller (white balance, autofocus, picture style, and drive mode) are logically arranged and within easy reach. A Quick-menu button provides convenient on-screen setting changes on the fly.
Some of the T4i’s new features are hidden under the hood but become evident during the shooting process. For example, a new hybrid CMOS sensor, like the one used in Canon’s mirrorless EOS M, utilizes both phase and contrast detection AF (autofocus) to lock focus. In order to use Live View for stills or to shoot video, the T4i flips up its mirror and, like mirrorless cameras, uses contrast detection AF. The latter is slower than phase detection AF, which is what the camera uses when you capture DSLR images using the viewfinder. With the T4i’s hybrid sensor, the camera can access both AF types, improving the speed and accuracy of the autofocus. As expected, though, autofocus in Live View isn't as fast as it is when you're shooting through the viewfinder. Still, the T4i’s performance is quite good. And it can capture up to 5 frames per second in continuous-shooting mode.
Still image quality is excellent. Colors are rendered naturally, but you can easily tweak them via the camera’s various Picture Styles such as Landscape (which boosts blues and greens, and increases sharpness) or Portrait (for slightly softer images, with the option to adjust skin tones). Accurate exposures are the norm, although the camera sometimes faltered in high-contrast scenes, blowing out highlights—which is where the HDR Backlight feature comes in handy. The HDR feature, like any multishot mode, works best when the camera is mounted on a tripod, but that was not always a convenient option.
Detail capture was more than respectable with the 18-135mm kit's lens. Stepping up to a higher-end lens might give you even better results, but most test images were sharp when the autofocus worked properly. Keep in mind that the flash must be raised for the T4i’s AF illuminator to work, which I think is a design misstep.
Canon bumped up the ISO range to 100 to 12800—expandable to 25600. The T4i handled image noise well at lower ISO settings, delivering relatively clean photos up to about ISO 800. You can push it to ISO 1600, and, in a pinch, you can use ISO 3200, but higher ISOs created more image noise than expected.
In low-light/high-ISO conditions, I prefer to shoot in Raw format with noise reduction turned off, and then deal with image noise in post-processing. However, everyone (and each image) has a different level of tolerance for noise versus the softening effects of noise reduction. The T4i offers a long-exposure noise reduction, as well as several options for when you're shooting at high ISO settings. Those options include Off, Low, Medium, and High, as well as a multishot mode that captures a burst of four shots and merges them into a single JPEG image. The options all work relatively well, although the multishot mode is best enabled when you're shooting on a tripod.
Because DSLR video capture has become more popular, Canon updated the T4i with built-in stereo microphones, a wind filter, the ability to manually adjust sound levels, and a choice of autofocus options including subject tracking. Audio recording was good, but for the best sound, I recommend an external microphone. Not surprisingly, there’s no headphone jack like those found on higher-end DSLRs, but you can adjust sound recording up to 64 levels via the camera menu.
You can capture video in full HD at 1920-by-1080 (30 fps or 24 fps), 1280-by-720 (60 fps), and VGA 640-by-480 (30 fps), all in .mov/H.264. Manual-exposure, although not shutter-priority or aperture-priority mode, is available; you can apply Picture Styles as well. Touchscreen functionality during video capture includes focal-point selection and exposure-compensation adjustment, both of which are useful as long as they're applied with a gentle touch and don't disturb the camera's stability.
If you plan to shoot video with the Rebel T4i, the 18-135mm STM lens is a must. First, it combines with the camera’s Movie Servo AF system to provide relatively smooth continuous autofocus. Thanks to its stepping motor design, the lens zooms silently, so the usual zoom and focus noise doesn’t interfere with your soundtrack. And the lens provides image stabilization during video capture.
Of course, the most important thing is T4i’s video quality—and it’s quite good, with true colors and generally accurate exposure. The wind filter doesn’t eliminate all or even most of the whooshing sound on a moderately windy day. Continuous AF worked reasonably well under most conditions, but its tracking capabilities were inconsistent.
The Canon Rebel T4i is a user-friendly yet relatively advanced DSLR, with helpful tips for beginners and plenty of controls and features for more experienced photographers. Above-average image quality, good performance, improved autofocus, and enhanced video options—including the new 18-135mm STM lens—as well as other upgrades, will certainly attract photo enthusiasts and may provide the impetus for T3i owners to step up to the latest model in the Rebel line.
Photos by Theano Nikitas. All rights reserved.