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The Canon EOS Digital Rebel: a US$899 digital SLR  
Wednesday, August 20, 2003 | by Rob Galbraith

Canon has taken the next step in bringing digital SLR photography to the masses. The EOS Digital Rebel, announced today, plops the core digital features of the EOS 10D into a downscale SLR body that is loosely derived from the EOS Rebel Ti/300V film camera.

Though there are some key functionality differences that make the 10D a better choice as a digital entry point for Canon pro shooters, the US$899 (yes, US$899) price in the US for the new camera will almost certainly make pros take a long, hard look at whether the EOS Digital Rebel can meet at least some of their digital shooting needs.

canon_eos300d_front2.jpg

Canon EOS Digital Rebel Feature Highlights and 10D Feature Comparison

  • The 22.7 x 15.1mm CMOS sensor and Canon DIGIC processor (as well as the image processing algorithms programmed into it) are identical to the EOS 10D. Canon promises that photos from the Digital Rebel will be indistinguishable from the 10D also. Only the manufacturing process for the sensor is different, allowing for higher sensor yields and therefore a lower cost per sensor (apparently without a reduction in the manufacturing quality of each sensor).

  • Because the sensor and image processing is the same as the 10D, most of the key image quality and image size specifications are the same too. The focal length cropping factor (relative to 35mm film) is 1.6x. Full resolution image size is identical at 3072 x 2048 pixels. The EOS Digital Rebel offers the same range of Parameters - Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness and Color Tone - each adjustable in 5 increments. There are now two default Parameter Sets, Parameter 1 and Parameter 2; Parameter 1, which is selected out-of-the-box, bumps up Contrast and Saturation to +1 and Sharpening to +2 for a punchier look than the 10D by default. As with the 10D, the user can create other Parameter Set combinations in the camera (3 in all), as well as choose Adobe RGB (and lose the ability to adjust the Parameters, same as the 10D).

  • The basic white balance options, which are comprised of Auto, Custom and six manual white balance settings, are the same. Auto WB is derived from an analysis of the image data only. There is no Kelvin white balance control as there is in the 10D.

  • File format options are mostly the same: The Digital Rebel offers JPEG as the primary file format, at three different resolution levels - 3072 x 2048 (Large), 2048 x 1360 (Medium) and 1536 x 1024 (Small) - and two different levels of compression, Fine and Normal. RAW is also available, using the same .CRW format as the 10D. Stored inside the RAW file is a Medium resolution, Fine-compression JPEG. It isn't possible to choose the resolution and compression of the JPEG, as it is in the 10D. The folder structure on the CompactFlash card (the camera supports Type I/II, including cards over 2GB), where a new folder is created every 100 photos, parallels the 10D.

  • The Digital Rebel's ISO range runs from 100-1600 in 1 stop increments. The 10D's H (ISO 3200) setting isn't available on the Digital Rebel.

  • The Digital Rebel's processing buffer tops out at 4 frames, regardless of file format or ISO, compared to 9 in the 10D. Shooting rate is 2.5 fps.

  • Ambient metering and E-TTL flash metering performance is promised to be identical, owing to the Digital Rebel's use of the same metering components as the 10D, with the same algorithms driving them. The Digital Rebel, however, lacks a control for changing the ambient metering pattern. When shooting in automatic exposure modes such as Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority or Program, Evaluative Metering is active by default. It's possible to temporarily switch to Partial Metering by pressing the AE-Lock button, but it's not possible to choose Centre-Weighted Averaging at all. Centre-Weighted Averaging is active, however, when the Digital Rebel is set to Manual exposure; again, Partial Metering can be made active temporarily with the AE-Lock button, but Evaluative can't be chosen.

  • The Digital Rebel features a top shutter speed of 1/4000, and a top standard flash sync speed of 1/200. These specifications are identical to the 10D, which is not surprising, since both models share the same shutter mechanism. Shutter speeds are choosable in 1/3 step increments.

  • The Digital Rebel incorporates the same 7-point autofocus module as the 10D, and is promised to have the same overall autofocus performance too. There's one significant difference, however: the Digital Rebel doesn't allow for the selection of AF mode. While you can choose between manual focus and autofocus (by flipping the AF/M switch on any Canon EF lens), in the exposure modes of most use to serious shooters - Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Program and Manual - the Digital Rebel chooses between One Shot AF and AI Servo AF automatically on the fly, in a mode called AI Focus. If you'd prefer to choose one or the other yourself, then you'll need a different camera. The only way to lock down the focus mode is to choose one of the camera's Basic Zones: Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait or Flash Off. With the camera set to Sports, for example, the AF mode is fixed on AI Servo; in Portrait, it's One Shot. Unfortunately, the Basic Zone settings, which are geared for neophyte amateur shooters, impose other compromises, such as no control over the camera's image processing Parameter Sets. So, it's doubtful that they will be a usable AF mode selection workaround in most cases. If there is one key feature difference between the Digital Rebel and 10D that will see serious Canon shooters step up to the 10D, it's this one.

  • The viewfinder utilizes what Canon calls a pentamirror design, instead of a pentaprism. The primary difference between the view through a 10D and Digital Rebel will be a slightly darker viewfinder image in the Digital Rebel. The Digital Rebel includes a diopter adjustment control. In addition, the active AF area is marked with a red dot in the middle, like the Rebel Ti, instead of the AF area box illuminating, like the 10D.

  • The 10D, not a large SLR by any means, is noticeably bulkier than the Digital Rebel. A photo of the two cameras side by side on the Japanese news site ASCII24 shows the relative size difference. The polycarbonate body Digital Rebel is also lighter, at 19.7 oz (558g) without a battery. By comparison, the magnesium alloy 10D weighs in at 27.9 oz (791g) without a battery.

  • The control layout on the back of the camera shares little in common with the 10D. While the buttons down the left hand edge are similar, the Quick Control Dial of the 10D has been replaced by Cross Keys, Canon's term for a four button selector (with a Set button in the middle). When the rear LCD is off, two of the four Cross Keys control ISO and white balance. In addition, the LCD display traditionally found on the top of the camera has been moved to the back, above the rear LCD monitor. It appears to display all the same information as the 10D's top LCD display, except for focus mode.

canon_eos300d_back.jpg

  • No Quick Control Dial means the Digital Rebel lacks a dedicated control for adjusting the aperture. Much as they did with the DCS 3 digital camera back in the last millenium, Canon has implemented a workaround of sorts: in Manual exposure mode, for example, pressing the Av +/- button while simultaneously turning the Main Dial changes the f-stop setting. In our brief time with the camera, we found this method for adjusting the aperture to be less clunky that it might seem.

  • As with the 10D, when reviewing photos on the camera's 118,000-dot, 1.8 inch rear TFT-LCD monitor, it's possible to move between frames even when an image is magnified, while also keeping the magnification the same from frame to frame. This is a handy way to check expressions or other critical details in a sequence of photos with similar composition.

  • The Digital Rebel lacks a PC sync socket for use with external studio strobes and the like. It also utilizes a remote socket that, while the same as the remote socket on the Rebel Ti, doesn't allow for use of any Canon's pro-level N3 or T3 series wired or wireless accessories. For the E3-type socket on the Digital Rebel, Canon makes a rudimentary wired remote release, the Remote Switch RS-60E3. The camera also supports the use of the RC-1 infrared remote controller (which we used often, and found indispensable, back in the days of the Canon EOS 10s) and the newer RC-5.

  • The built-in flash towers over the camera. We've always found the tiny flashes built into some SLR cameras to be of limited use, because of their propensity for casting a shadow into the photo unless the lens is particularly short or narrow in diameter (which describes very few pro lenses, even wide angles). The Digital Rebel's built-in flash, when open and ready to fire, sits much higher than that of the 10D, which might make it possible to use it with a greater variety of lenses.

  • Setting the camera's Custom Functions won't take long: there are none. This means it won't be possible to turn the AE Lock/FE Lock button into the AF start button, among other functionality differences. By comparison, the 10D includes 17 Custom Functions.

  • The Digital Rebel includes a USB 1.1 port and NTSC/PAL video out port.

  • The BP-511/BP-512 battery pack used by the 10D also powers the Digital Rebel.

  • A new battery grip, the BG-E1, will be available for the Digital Rebel as an extra cost accessory. It will include slots for two BP-511 packs and incorporates a shutter release, Main Dial, AE Lock/FE Lock button, AF point selector and exposure compensation control.

Canon also took the wraps off two new lenses, neither of which are aimed at pros. One is of interest, however, because it's designed to work only on the Digital Rebel. The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 has a shorter back focus than a traditional Canon EF lens, and protrudes further into the camera's mirror box. This allowed for a dramatic reduction in the lens' size, weight and manufacturing cost, says Canon, though the company promises that it will be of equivalent optical quality to a lens like the EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM.

Interestingly, the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 that ships in Japan will be slightly different than most or all other regions worldwide. In Canon's home market, the lens will include an internal ultrasonic focus motor (USM); elsewhere, it won't. Canon USA's Chuck Westfall indicates that the actual performance difference - focus speed as well as the sound the lens makes when focusing - between the USM and non-USM versions is slight.

To accommodate this lens, Canon designed the Digital Rebel's mirror to flip up and back during operation, to prevent it from slapping the rear of the new lens. The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 will not be available for purchase separately, only in a kit with the Digital Rebel for about US$100 more than the body-only price.

Canon also announced the EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM, a reworked version of the lens they first introduced in 1996 with their APS film camera, the EOS IX. Also unveiled today are two new macro accessories, Extension Tube EF 12 II and Extension EF 25 II. The lens mount on each has been redesigned to physically enable them to work with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (without breaking compatibility with existing EF lenses that are capable of accepting these extension tubes).

The EOS Digital Rebel (called the KISS Digital in Japan and EOS 300D everywhere else but North America) is expected to ship in volume in mid-September at a minimum advertised price (MAP) of US$899 for the body (plus charger, battery and basic accessories) or US$999 with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. The street price is expected to fall closely in line with the MAP at reputable digital SLR dealers. A price on the BG-E1 grip has not been announced.

Canon's BeBit digital web site has a complete overview of the Digital Rebel, including specifications and three full-resolution downloadable photos taken with the camera, in both JPEG and TIFF (processed from RAW) formats. Canon USA's information on the new camera includes links to the Digital Rebel user guide as well as a 10 page brochure.

Thanks to Chuck Westfall of Canon USA for his assistance in the preparation of this article.

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