|Canon EOS Digital Rebel
or Joe Goes To Japan & Brings Back Some Snapshots
by Joe Farace
Never before in the history of digital imaging has so much misinformation been spread, especially on the Web, about any camera since Canon's introduction of the EOS Digital Rebel. Don't kid yourself; this is a watershed camera in much the same way as the original Canon AE-1, and as the AE-1, was not intended as a replacement for Canon's top-of-the-line cameras. And like the AE-1, the Digital Rebel will find its way into many pro's gear bags as a back up-especially because of it's sub $1000 price, compatibility with Canon lenses and flash, and 6MP image capture.
The other misconception is that the Digital Rebel is just an EOS 10D in a plastic body. That's like saying a Subaru WRX STi is the same as an Imprezza; hell, they look similar don't they? Yes, the DR has a plastic body, but that's as much of the statement is true. Let's look at the similarities: they have the same imaging chip and similar electronics, so the image quality should be as good as the 10D and when using both cameras back to back, I haven't noticed any difference in image quality. What differences have I noticed in the way the two cameras function under professional usage?
While Photographing an American Lemans Series race, I dragged a Digital Rebel around the Laguna Seca racetrack at Monterey California and produced some of the best motor sports images I've ever made. This is certainly due, in part, to the DR's ability to use Canon's fast long and Image Stabilized zoom lenses. I schlepped a Digital Rebel all over Japan attaching lenses from the standard 18-35mm zoom, to a Russian-made 16mm eBay cheapie, to some of my own EF lenses and most of the time (more on this later) it performed perfectly. More importantly, I never missed a shot that I wanted to make during the week I visited Japan.
Standing in the same kind of pouring rain that I shot the Olympus E-1 at the US Grand Prix, (only this time in a damp temple square in Japan) the Digital Rebel occasionally threw error messages at me and had to be shut down and turned back on to reboot the system software. This pattern continued on the following drier day in Kyoto, but then stopped suddenly. When I returned home from Japan, I downloaded the latest Canon firmware for the Digital Rebel and the problem never recurred.
Although made of the same kind of synthetic materials, the Digital Rebel somehow seems more solidly made than a typical Rebel film camera, and I love my Rebel Ti. Some have criticized the Digital Rebel because of its light weight but others may think that's an attribute. It wasn't a big deal to me because the ergonomics and control placement of the camera are superb.
For those shooters who prefer a heftier camera, my suggestion is to order it with the optional BG-E1 battery pack which provides more bulk, a vertical shutter release, and space for an additional battery pack so you will never run out of power during a typical, even atypical, day of shooting. Much as the BG-ED3 battery grip is an indispensable accessory for the Canon EOS D30/D60/10D, I would not buy a Digital Rebel without a BG-E1. It only costs a little more than one hundred bucks and you'll be glad you did. Because the CMOS chip is not as much a battery hog as the CCD, you can shoot all day with a single battery and shoot extensively with two without any concern about running out of battery power even if you spend time editing or chimping images on the LCD screen.
The biggest difference, other than physical construction and some menu choices, between the DR and the 10D is the control layout. The DR controls represent a "Vulcan Mind Meld" between the 10D and the G5 point-and-shoot model. As much as I was prepared to hate these kind of controls, it took me about one minute to get used to them and in one way-the inclusion of a control panel on the back instead of the top of the camera ala Fuji S2-I preferred the DR layout better. Out in the field, I'm always adjusting exposure compensation and found that it was much faster to do by looking at the back of the camera rather than the top. OK, camera settings are visible in the 10D's viewfinder, but everybody has their own way of working and I really liked the back mounted panel on the DR.
If you ever used any kind of Canon SLR you will be comfortable with the Digital Rebel. In fact, I get more confused when switching back and forth between a 10D and D60 than when using either of them and the Digital Rebel. That's probably because the D60 and 10D feel so much alike but have located some controls differently.
In typical Canon fashion, the Digital Rebel can be purchased as a "kit" that includes an 18-55mm EF-S zoom lens that won't fit any other Canon film or digital SLR. The lens, at its widest setting, just covers the 6MP chip, so while it measures 18mm at the widest setting, it only covers an area the equivalent of a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera.
I enjoyed using the DR's proprietary 18-55mm zoom; it was my lens of choice when making scenic images of Japan and was a big help when photographing both cars and models at the Tokyo Motor Show.
While it's an inexpensive (under $100) lens its optical performance was excellent and belied the cheapo price tag. If you don't already have a lens as wide as 18mm, you should definitely order your Digital Rebel with this lens. You can't beat it for the price.
While the DR's built-in flash is not noticeably more or less powerful than the tiny one that built into the 10D, its design places the flash head itself a bit higher making it ideal for use as fill flash both indoors and out.
Under these conditions, I typically set the camera in program mode, pop up the flash and adjust ISO or exposure compensation, which is a delight to use on the DR, until I see something on the 1.8-inch LCD screen that I like.
So what's the scorecard look like? The Canon EOS Digital Rebel wins the price/performance battle by providing the best pixel per dollar for any digital SLR up to this time. Its popularity has got to be the reason Nikon pre-announced the not-as-yet-available D75 with skimpy details except a price that's close, yet higher than the Digital Rebel. It's easy to use for new photographers transitioning from digital point-and-shoots, and just as easy for SLR users, especially Rebel shooters. Is it strong enough to stand up to Pro usage? Probably not for a newspaper or magazine where the photographers don't have to pay for their gear the way you and I do, but I would call it "reasonably rugged." For many pros or aspiring professionals, it will make an excellent back-up camera.
The Digital Rebel is a solidly made camera that is true to its US model name. In Japan, it's the digital KISS, a name that I like even better.
Text and images © 2004 Joe Farace