Canon EOS Rebel T1i First Hands On: 50D’s Sensor, 1080p Vids, $899 (!!)

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The rumors were true. Canon has crammed the $1500 50D’s sensor and 5D-Mark-II-like 1080p video capture into an $899 entry-level Rebel. We ran it through its paces for a few hours, and it’s awesome.

So what we have here is almost the exact sensor from the 50D—a 15.1 megapixel CMOS with sensitivities up to ISO 12,800 at its top-end H2 boost setting. And almost the exact same HD capture from the 5D Mark II—the only change is that 1080p video is captured at 20fps, down from the 5D Mark II’s 30fps. You can step down to 720p video at 30fps, though, for the same buttery smoothness we’ve seen on the 5D Mark II. Other aspects of the video capture mode have actually been improved over the 5D Mark II, which we’ll get to in a second.
But as far as the specs go, it’s almost a pure hybrid of the 50D and 5D Mark II, two cameras that are decidedly more pro-leaning, positioned into the top-end of their entry-level Rebels (above the XS and XSi). Crazy stuff:

• H.264 video capture @ 1080p/20fps and 720p/30fps with mono sound

• DIGIC 4 processor

• Nine-point autofocusing

• 3.4fps burst shooting for 170 JPEGs or 9 RAW files

• The 50D’s lens peripheral illumination correction

• Three-inch, 920,000-dot LCD (same as the 5D Mark II’s)

• Built-in sensor dust removal system

• Live view

• Canon’s “Creative Auto” mode for light exposure tweaks on full-auto

• Saves to SD/SDHC cards (class 6 or higher recommended)

• $899 with kit lens, $799 body only, available early May

We had a few hours to shoot photos and video with a pre-production unit of the EOS Rebel T1i in Manhattan, and here’s our impressions:

Image Quality

I’ve never shot with the 50D, but from what I’ve read, the 50D’s sensor is about as big as Canon can and should push an APS-C sensor, megapixels wise, while still preserving image quality and high-ISO performance. When it came out just seven months or so ago, it was found to be a good performer but not significantly better than the 10-megapixel 40D at high-ISO.

Here, you’re getting effectively the same sensor (Canon says there are a few minor differences that shouldn’t effect output in any significant way) for almost half the cost. So while you still won’t be on the noise-busting level of the full-frame 5D Mark II, you’re going to come mighty close, especially at 1600 and below. Here’s a quick unscientific comparision @ ISO 6400:
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And here’s where things get crazy—the T1i’s video capture mode is almost exactly the same as the 5D Mark II, short of 10 extra frames per second at 1080p made possible by the 5D’s beefier processing power. But still, shooting at 720p will serve most people just fine (and it’s as high as you can go on Nikon’s D90, keep in mind). You do notice the lower framerate at 1080p, especially if you’re panning a shot, but for slow-moving subjects, it’s not significantly jerky. Some people may even prefer the ability to switch-up frame rates.
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But aside from that, everything else from the 5D Mark II is there: the ability to capture stills while video is rolling, the same slow AF system, etc. In fact, the T1i actually makes some improvements over the Mark II—a quick menu summoned via the SET button can change resolution and video settings easily while you’re shooting, and the movie capture mode has conveniently been moved to its own spot on the mode dial, rather than only being accessible via live view.

Here’s our test footage so you can see for yourself (the file below was compressed into a 30fps Flash movie, but you can still see the slight difference in the 20fps 1080p shots):


You can’t imagine Canon moving a lot of 50Ds once this puppy is out—and that camera was just announced at the end of last summer. So you have to expect Canon is up to something in their mid-range line. But with the T1i, Canon has taken a big lead in the HD capture arms race over Nikon, whose only video-capable camera is the mid-range D90 which costs a couple hundred bucks more. The resolution advantage is somewhat moot, as most people will opt for 720p @ 30fps over 1080p @ the jerkier 20fps. But here’s how everything stacks up, money-wise:

Rebel T1i: $899 MSRP with kit EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens, $799 MSRP body only

Nikon D90: $1,149 (street) with kit lens, $889 (street) body only

Canon 50D: $1,389 (street) with kit lens, $1,199 (street) body only

So with the T1i, you get a sizable chunk of the more expensive 50D’s imaging performance plus an arguably better spec-wise video capture mode than the D90—a pretty sweet deal here at an entry-level price where even the MSRP beats the street price of the 50D and D90 both.

We don’t want to get too gushy without giving this camera a serious real-world run-through, but as of now, the only major negative we can see is the ridiculous name. T1i? What? Why Canon USA doesn’t use its handy three-digit designation for the entry-level Rebels like it does in Europe (where the T1i is known as the 500D, matching with two-digits for the mid-range and single-digits for the pros) I will never know. I think Andre Agassi is to blame.

Look for more on this puppy when we’ve had a chance to really sink our teeth in.

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