Canon today has unveiled the Digital Rebel XT, a 3 fps, 7.96 million image pixel entry-level digital SLR.
The new model, which is better-specified than the original Digital Rebel in practically every respect, is clearly designed to be both more full-featured and a more worthy competitor to the Nikon D70.
Resolution, start-up time, shutter lag, burst rate, burst depth, mirror blackout time, autofocus options, metering options, write speed to camera media, power consumption, configurability through Custom Functions - all these areas are improved over the Digital Rebel. And all this is packaged in a body that's smaller and lighter too.
Based on its specifications, the Digital Rebel XT will fall short of offering the performance of the EOS 20D, which has become our benchmark for what an entry-level pro digital SLR should be. But the Digital Rebel XT, which is to be marketed as the Kiss Digital N in Japan and EOS 350D in most other regions outside North America, may have just enough digital goodness to serve as a backup or second body for some Canon pro shooters. Especially if the image quality is up to Canon's ever-increasing high standard, as it's likely to be.
Digital Rebel XT
The Digital Rebel will not disappear with the introduction of the Digital Rebel XT. The two models will co-exist in Canon's digital SLR lineup, with manufacturing of the Digital Rebel to continue alongside the Digital Rebel XT. The main differentiator between the two will be price; Canon's goal is to obviously to put enough of a cost difference between the two models to make the original Digital Rebel an attractive option for consumers who will buy on price over features. Even when both cameras are to be well under US$1000 for the body alone.
By the time the Digital Rebel XT ships in March 2005, estimated street prices in the U.S. for both it and the original Digital Rebel are expected to be:
- Digital Rebel XT US$899
- Digital Rebel XT with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II US$999
- Digital Rebel with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 US$799
Note: The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II that is to ship with the Digital Rebel XT is only changed cosmetically from the original version of this lens (the zoom ring is slightly different). The Digital Rebel will continue be sold with the original version of this lens, and it will not be possible to purchase it in a body-only configuration in the U.S.
Comparing to the current selling price of the Digital Rebel is a bit tricky, at least in the U.S., because of ongoing rebate offers. It seems likely, however, that the actual purchase price for the Digital Rebel will be cheaper than it is today, perhaps considerably, while the cost of the Digital Rebel XT will be close to that of the Digital Rebel when it first launched.
No matter how you slice it, it looks like the Digital Rebel XT may provide a fair whack of digital camera for the money, while the particularly price-sensitive consumer will be able to buy a digital SLR in the form of the Digital Rebel for less than they've ever been able to before.
Update, March 3, 2005: New information from Canon USA suggests that the plans for the original Digital Rebel have changed since our January 2005 briefing on the subject. The camera is now out of production, and while Canon USA has purposely secured enough units of this model to have inventory through approximately the first half of 2005, other regions may see their inventory dry up sooner than that. Canon Canada, for example, has already removed the original Digital Rebel from the March 2005 order sheets distributed to dealers.
Canon Digital Rebel XT Major Features
Probably the most significant change of interest to a working shooter considering the purchase of a Digital Rebel XT is the sensor. Canon looks to be establishing a baseline of about 8 million image pixels across its digital SLR lineup, with 3 of the 4 cameras they've introduced in the past year recording just over or just under this number of pixels per photo.
The Canon-designed and manufactured CMOS sensor in the Digital Rebel XT is similar in design to that of the EOS 20D, utilizes the same 3-stage noise reduction system, has the same 6.4µm pixel pitch, same microlens design atop each pixel and the same bayer pattern filter array and low-pass optical filter across the entire sensor.
The Digital Rebel XT's sensor is physically smaller, however at 22.2 x 14.8mm vs the 20D's sensor at 22.5 x 15.0mm. As a result, the total number of pixels on the sensor, and the number of pixels stuffed into each photo, is slightly less. The Digital Rebel XT produces 7.96 million image pixel photos, the 20D, 8.19 million image pixel photos. The picture quality, however, is expected to be nearly identical between the two cameras.
The slightly smaller sensor means a slightly reduced angle of view as well, though it's likely that few photographers will notice the difference. Canon's official field view magnification factor remains at 1.6x for the new camera. No concrete reason has been given for the slight shrinkage in sensor size, though one possible explanation may lie in the fact that the sensor and associated electronics had to fit inside the physically smaller body of the Digital Rebel XT.
To keep complexity and manufacturing costs down, the Digital Rebel XT reads out data across 2 channels, compared to the 20D's 4-channel readout. Capture is 12-bits per colour, processed to 8-bits per colour or 16-bits per colour depending on file format.
Other Digital Rebel XT major features include:
- A body that's both smaller and lighter than the original Digital Rebel. This makes the Digital Rebel XT the smallest and lightest Canon digital SLR to date. The camera will be available in both silver and black from the outset
- 0.2 second camera startup time, 100ms shutter lag and 175ms mirror blackout time; all three specifications are an improvement over the Digital Rebel (the startup time is about 10x better)
3 fps firing rate
The same 7-point autofocus system as the Digital Rebel and the EOS 10D, though with claimed faster focus acquisition owing to the use of the DIGIC II imaging engine in the new model. The centre AF point acts as a cross-type sensor with lenses whose maximum aperture are f/5.6 or faster. Realistically, autofocus is likely to be a weak point in this camera, especially when compared to the EOS 20D, though the Digital Rebel XT allows the user to choose between One Shot, AI Servo and AI Focus modes (the Digital Rebel offers only AI Focus). It's also possible to configure the camera for rear AE Lock button focusing
- The shutter is derived from that of the EOS 20D, though its capabilities have been detuned somewhat. The Digital Rebel XT has a top shutter speed of 1/4,000 and a standard top flash sync speed of 1/200 (plus full TTL flash at up to 1/4000 with a compatible EX-series Speedlite set to High Speed Sync). It's not possible to cheat the flash sync well above the standard top flash sync speed with non-dedicated strobes
- An ISO range of 100-1600 in 1 step increments
- 35-zone Evaluative metering of ambient light; centre-weighted metering and partial (not spot) metering is also available. All three metering modes are user-selectable, unlike the Digital Rebel. The ambient metering sensor is the same as that found in the EOS 20D, Digital Rebel and several other film and digital SLR cameras past and present in Canon's lineup
- Flash exposure metering using all 35 of the metering segments; the TTL flash calculation uses a revised algorithm introduced in the EOS-1D Mark II, called E-TTL II, for improved flash exposure consistency even when the scene is predominantly light or dark, and even when focusing and recomposing
- A built-in popup flash with coverage to 17mm and flash exposure compensation (+/-2 stops). The popup flash sits up 5.5mm higher than the original Digital Rebel when extended, which should make it possible, for example, to use the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L (without the hood) through much (but not all) of its zoom range without seeing a shadow from the end of the lens barrel intruding into the photo. When the Speedlite 580EX is used, the flash head automatically zooms to cover the field of view of the attached lens on the Digital Rebel XT (as opposed to the field of view of the attached lens if it were on a 35mm film camera). Flash colour temperature information is also communicated to the Digital Rebel XT and forms part of the Auto White Balance calculation
- The Digital Rebel XT is powered by a different battery than the Digital Rebel. To bring the size and weight of the new camera down, Canon opted to switch to the smaller NB-2LH pack that powers several of its Powershot cameras, including the S60. Utilizing the removable, rechargeable, 720 mAH Lithium Ion battery, coupled with the 35% greater power efficiency in the Digital Rebel XT, means that the official specification for the number of frames per charge, at 600 (no flash use) is the same as the original Digital Rebel and BP-511
- No built-in microphone for recording sound annotations; none present in the optional Battery Grip BG-E3 either
- The viewfinder is similar overall to the Digital Rebel, complete with the red-dot LEDs inside each AF square. A new-design Precision Matte focusing screen, similar to the EOS 20D, should add up to a brighter viewfinder than the Digital Rebel, though the Digital Rebel XT's pentamirror design will also mean that the viewfinder image will likely be slightly darker than the EOS 20D
- The control layout on the back of the camera is similar to the Digital Rebel, but not identical. Each of the four Cross Keys now serve as a shortcut button for quick access to the setting of ISO, autofocus mode, white balance and metering mode; the four Cross Keys can also be used to select the AF area, without first pressing the AF Point Selector button (C.Fn 1-4 must be set to enable this). Like the Digital Rebel, there is no dedicated control for changing the aperture on the Digital Rebel XT when in manual exposure mode. To change the aperture requires pressing the rear Aperture Value button and turning the Main Dial. There is also a dedicated direct printing button
- The Digital Rebel XT accepts both EF and EF-S lenses, including the EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens announced today
- An orientation sensor indicates whether the camera is horizontal or vertical (90° left or 90° right) at the time the picture is taken; the image file is tagged with this information.
- The Digital Rebel XT is the latest Canon digital SLR to incorporate Canon's DIGIC II imaging processing engine
- File format options are JPEG (2 levels of compression and three different resolution settings), RAW .CR2 format and simultaneous RAW + JPEG. The RAW and JPEG versions of a photo are recorded as separate files on the CompactFlash card; the only RAW+JPEG combo available is RAW+Large Fine JPEG
- Maximum file resolution, when the camera is set to RAW .CR2 or Large JPEG, is 3456 x 2304 pixels (about 7.96MP). Two reduced resolution JPEG settings are also included: Medium is 2496 x 1664 pixels (about 4.15MP); Small is 1728 x 1152 pixels (about 1.99MP). Full resolution image data is resampled down to achieve the reduced resolution settings. Two different amounts of JPEG compression can be selected for each resolution setting: Fine and Normal
- 14 frame Large/Fine JPEG buffer; 5 frame maximum RAW .CR2 or 4 frame maximum RAW+JPEG buffer
- Similar to the EOS 20D, the Digital Rebel XT offers Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation and Color Tone processing parameters. Each of the four processing parameters can be adjusted by the user, in 5 increments. Four combinations of processing parameters, called Parameter Sets, may be configured by the user (one is dedicated to black and white). There are also two canned processing parameter sets, called Parameter 1 and Parameter 2. These sets are carried over from the Digital Rebel and 20D, where Parameter 1 is a combination that boosts Contrast, Sharpness and Saturation up one notch from the default. Parameter 2 sets all four parameters to their defaults. It's not possible to turn sharpening off completely in the Digital Rebel XT, though it is possible when processing RAW CR2 files through Canon's bundled software
- Auto White Balance (AWB) range is 3000K to 7000K; AWB is calculated exclusively based on data from the image sensor. The camera also includes 6 manual White Balance settings for standard light sources, plus Custom. There is no Kelvin colour temperature selector in the Digital Rebel XT. White Balance Compensation allows for adjustment of blue/amber bias and magenta/green bias, in +/-9 steps. A new menu option enables the setting of White Balance Compensation and White Balance Bracketing using a cool and useful grid-style interface, similar to the 20D
- The Digital Rebel XT will optionally convert photos to black and white in the camera, and provides a useful range of filter- and darkroom-simulation options in the B/W Parameter Set
- It's possible to choose either sRGB or Adobe RGB as the output colour space for JPEGs, separate from the colour look established in the parameter settings
- The camera includes a single CompactFlash Type I/II slot; cards load from the side. Throughput to the card slot is promised to be 3.5 times faster than the Digital Rebel, and is expected to be comparable to the fairly speedy 20D in this regard. The camera is FAT12/16/32 compatible, and will therefore accept cards whose capacities exceed 2GB (in addition to lower capacities)
- A USB 2.0 port (operating at USB 2.0 speeds) with a mini-B connector for tethered operation. Direct printing without a computer is possible (CP Direct, Direct Photo and PictBridge protocols supported)
- Video out supports NTSC or PAL
- GPS is not an option
- Playback is via a 1.8", 118,000-dot TFT LCD with white LED backlighting; brightness is adjustable. Though the Digital Rebel XT's rear LCD utilizes the same monitor component as found in the Digital Rebel, it has been tuned to give truer brightness
- EXIF 2.2.1 and DCF 2.0 file specifications are supported. This enables photos processed either into the supported sRGB or Adobe RGB colour spaces to be marked accordingly (through a clunky method that does not use ICC profiles and requires viewing software that also supports EXIF 2.2.1 and DCF 2.0, such as Photoshop CS)
- 9 Custom Functions are included, all of which are derived from the 18 found in the EOS 20D. This enables the selection in the Digital Rebel XT of long exposure noise reduction, autofocus engagement via the rear AE Lock button, mirror lock-up, 1/3 or 1/2 step exposure increments and more
- The Digital Rebel XT is to be bundled with 3 CDs. One holds the user manuals for the camera and software (no printed manuals will be included), another contains Digital Photo Professional 1.6. The third, EOS Digital Solutions Disk 10, contains other Canon software including ZoomBrowser EX 5.1, ImageBrowser 5.1, CameraWindow 5.1, PhotoRecord 2.2, RAW Image Task 2.0, EOS Capture 1.3, PhotoStitch 3.1, TWAIN and WIA drivers and ArcSoft PhotoStudio 5.5. EOS Viewer Utility is not included, and will not be developed from this point forward (its core capabilities have been wrapped into applications on the EOS Digital Solutions Disk 10). Digital Photo Professional 1.6 adds support for the RAW formats from the Digital Rebel XT and EOS D60 (the D30 is the only SLR not to be supported by Digital Photo Professional), improves thumbnail display speed by 5-6x (though at the expense of thumbnail clarity apparently) and adds a Stamp tool for cloning out dust spots. Digital Photo Professional 1.6 is also expected to be posted for download as a free update for other Canon digital SLR owners sometime after the Digital Rebel XT ships
- The optional Battery Grip BG-E3 accepts up to two Canon NB-2LH batteries or six AA's
- The optional AC Adapter Kit ACK-700 enables the camera to powered by an AC outlet
Based on its feature set, the Digital Rebel XT promises to be a much more responsive, useful and pro-friendly camera than the original Digital Rebel. It is to ship in March 2005 worldwide.
Four photos taken with the camera, as well as an overview and specifications, have been posted by Canon. Canon USA has also granted us permission to post for download a 26-page technology brief they have prepared on the EOS Digital Rebel XT. The document, entitled EOS Digital Rebel XT White Paper, provides in-depth descriptions of many features of the new digital SLR from Canon.
Thanks to Chuck Westfall, Geoff Coalter and Peter Burian for their assistance in the preparation of this article.