We review the Canon EOS Rebel XSi (EOS 450D / EOS Kiss Digital X2), the first new mid-range model from the maker, and ask how well does it perform against strong rivals in a seemingly overcrowded market?
Canon’s market share in entry-level and pro-grade DSLR’s is impressive but rivals have been equally successful with pitching mid-range models for enthusiasts. Despite the introduction of the magnesium alloy-bodied 10-megapixel EOS 40D, this important market segment is an area that Canon hasn’t done that well with since the EOS 20D. Looking to leverage on the success of Canon’s hugely popular EOS Rebel XTi (EOS 400D), and subsequently replaced by the EOS Rebel XS (EOS 1000D), the maker’s EOS XSi (450D) slots neatly between the two. Rather than downgrading features from the 40D, as the name suggests the EOS XSi is more like a XTi on steroids.
Boasting a higher resolution sensor than either model, the EOS XSi has a 12.2-megapixel CMOS imager with automated dust cleaning, 14-bit colour for a finer range of tones, and a new, larger 3.0-inch (230k dot) LCD with Live View. Although the EOS XSi can be bought body only, so you can add it to a existing Canon system or choose from any of the maker’s lenses, a newly introduced image stabilised EF-S 18-55mm IS kit lens makes for a well-rounded package.
While the EOS XSi shares more than a passing resemblance to the entry-level offering the body has a larger viewfinder image, up from 0.81x to 0.87x. It’s not quite as large the image found on the EOS 40D but it’s a significant improvement nonetheless. Other features usually found on more expensive Canon models include ISO settings in the viewfinder, spot metering (although it’s a none too-narrow 4-percent) and both the Highlight Tone Priority and Auto Lighting Optimizer options introduced originally on the maker's pro-level EOS 1D models. Although we found the effect very subtle these last two features attempt, respectively, to improve highlight detail while adjusting brightness and contrast locally.
The EOS XSi is also the first DSLR from the maker to adopt the smaller SD/SDHC card format. While this is likely to make those trading up from a compact feel more comfortable, it’s another card to find if you’re already using Canon DSLR’s. Build quality mimics that of the plastic-shelled XS (and earlier XTi), it’s pretty good but nothing like that of the magnesium outer used for semi-pro EOS 40D. We also found the EOS XSi to be pretty small but that makes it handy for traveling and a new vertical grip can always be added when you need a little extra heft to help balance larger lenses.
We thought the layout of the controls easy to work from, and the re-located ISO button, now found close the forward command dial is an improvement. We also liked the new larger screen, even if the scale looks slightly at odds with the rest of the body. If you don’t like the black on white data panel, three additional colour schemes can tone it down some. Unlike the interface of Nikon and Olympus models, though, features are selected from sub-menus after locating the appropriate button. But you can’t use the forward control dial to make selections they have to be made from the four-way controller instead. This and the fact a lot of the cameras features are set using custom settings makes it a little clunky. But, the pre-programmable My Menus screen can store your most used options, and this, once set-up, can be a big plus.
Sadly, the EOS XSi still lacks the rear command dial used by the maker’s semi-pro and pro-level cameras. This means manual exposure isn’t quite as slick, as you have to hold down the EV compensation button to shift between shutter speeds and aperture values. Despite that, the EV shift button is just a thumb’s reach away making a lot easier than some.
The EOS XSi is the first truly consumer orientated DSLR from the maker to feature Live View. Like other maker’s offerings, with the exception perhaps of Sony’s system, operation is still far away from the quick focusing and ease of use of a compact. As a result we feel the average camera-buyer isn’t likely to find benefit for day-to-day snaps, but for more specialized applications such as macro and still-life work using a tripod it’s a welcome advance. In the new contrast-detection mode, you can focus accurately using the 10x magnification option either using auto or manual focus from any point on the screen. It’s slower in use than the Quick AF Live View mode, which requires the mirror to flip and use the usual AF system, but there’s no blacking-out of the LCD screen and shutter-lag is minimal.
Need for speed
Using the camera held to the eye is a pretty positive experience overall but it is a little cramped compared with a 35mm full-frame viewfinder. The 9-point AF system from the EOS XTi now has a central cross-type sensor for improved accuracy with lenses of f/2.8 or brighter. The diamond-shaped layout and sensitivity means it’s a superior system to most rival offerings at this level, and blazingly fast in operation but we still noticed occasional focus inaccuracies with the new kit lens.
Like all Canon DSLR’s, picture quality is a highlight though cramming more pixels on to the same size sensor does have drawbacks. Sensitivity is limited to a maximum of just ISO1600, a little conservative perhaps but, with good colour and detail, entirely usable for many situations. A custom High ISO noise reduction option reduces the colour speckles further but continuous shooting falls from a respectable 3.5fps to 2fps for the first second dropping to just 1fps thereafter, even when not using high ISO’s. Noise levels at lower ISO’s are, for the most part, well-controlled. But, depending on the conditions, occasional colour speckles can still be seen in the shadows at just ISO 100.
Switching off the Auto Lighting Optimiser can help reduce noise, and works only very subtly in any case. Off by default the Highlight Tone Priority can also introduce some slight noise in the shadows, but it’s a handy, if again subtle, option when wanting to prevent highlights from loosing detail. Overall though, images are highly detailed and especially so when matched with the maker’s premium quality lenses. Not to be outdone, the new 18-55mm image-stabilised kit lens is suitably sharp and a better performer optically at the edges than the previous non-IS version. And, with up to three stops anti-shake compensation available it makes an ideal starter lens.
Ultimately, anyone looking to step up from a digital compact will be hugely impressed with the picture quality. And while there are a couple of handling niggles, there’s still plenty enough here to tempt enthusiasts on a budget. It all adds up to an incredibly well-rounded package and one we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
Canon EOS Rebel XSi (EOS 450D) c/w Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS $679.99 (£489).
www.usa.canon.com, www.canon-europa.com, www.canon.jp
Pros & Cons
Small lightweight body
Effective anti-shake and anti dust systems
Handy live view option
Small handgrip and general handling niggles
Hi-ISO NR lowers burst rate
Some focus inaccuracies
Some handling niggles, but the EOS Rebel XSi would make a solid choice for those trading up from a compact, while at the same time offering more than enough to satisfy the majority of enthusiasts.