Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i: a fifteen megapixel Screamer

After some time exploring the camera, I now have a review of the new Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1i (500D). This camera is the latest in the Digital Rebel series (what I call budget-priced professional consumer models). It is in the range of $ 600 to $ 800, depending on accessories and lenses.

For me, the T1i was a huge leap in megapixels. My first digital camera was the trendsetting 6.3 megapixel original 300D Digital Rebel, which I have used for thousands of photos over the years. It worked great for me and I skipped a lot of updates until the market hit the 15+ megapixel range. So my wonderful wife gave me a great birthday present with this new camera.

I ordered it from Amazon, got it in several days, and started shooting right away. The first thing I had to remember is that the camera kit with the 18-55 EF-S lens did not include a flash media device (it used SDHC cards). Now what was Canon thinking? If I hadn’t remembered to read the fine print, I would have been waiting to snap one before I could take my first photo. This is like buying a car, but it did not include the tires.

Well, with that out of the way, the camera is great. It has a 3 “LCD screen on the back that shows not only your images in review, but the settings you have. In most cases, the T1i offers some pretty good specs, highlighted by the APS-sized CMOS sensor. 15-megapixel C (for Canon’s traditional 1.6x focal length multiplier) and the same user-selectable nine-point autofocus system as the previous XSi. The APS-C sized sensor means it is a “cropped” sensor. “which captures a slightly smaller view than traditional 35mm cameras or large Canon professional cameras that cost in the $ 2,500-plus range.

The camera has received rave reviews for its image quality and I can say that the human photographer is the only weak point in getting a good shot. It has the full range of image sizes, from small.jpg to RAW. I shoot almost entirely in RAW mode (this saves a very large file, but has all the information available to use in Photoshop).

One really great feature is that it records videos too. Although not as robust as the EOS 5D Mark II, which supports 30 fps for its 1080p capture, the T1i’s video still outperforms that of the Nikon D5000 which is limited to 24 fps 720p. Film quality is solid, but I stick with the 30fps 720p and avoid the 1,920×1,080 HD mode because it’s only 20fps and the motion seems a bit choppy. You can invoke AF manually while you’re shooting, which is useful, but remember it’s slow and squeaky. Starting focus creates some jolts, but at least you don’t have to stop, focus, and restart; I definitely prefer to have the option. Like many of the low-end implementations, it uses mono audio (there is no mic input).

I had the opportunity to film a major men’s tennis tournament in October and got great photos of tennis legends Todd Martin, Andre Agassi, and Jimmy Arias (among others). The camera was excellent with less than perfect lighting for night games. I used the Auto ISO setting and stretched the camera settings to be fast enough to capture the action with a very artistic blur of the ball and rackets. Daylight matches allowed me to set the camera to very fast shutter speeds and freeze those yellow tennis balls in mid-flight and players in mid-stroke with their feet off the ground.

That auto ISO setting got me into trouble several weeks later, when I was in the mountains trying to take pictures of fall colors with Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB). I’ve used AEB before and it works great and allows a great opportunity for HDR shot blending later on. However, it stands to reason that if you are shooting in Auto-bracketing you have to turn the Auto ISO Off ballast, all auto settings conflict and create an image that averages everything in its dullest form. Now I know better.

All in all, the Canon T1i is a great camera for the more advanced hobbyist and cost-conscious professionals. I’ll stick with this one until I can figure out how to get one of Canon’s greats. I look forward to many years photographing and learning how to capture the beauty of nature in a digital image.

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