Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D Review

Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D Review
Note: The Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D has been replaced by the Canon EOS Rebel XTi / 400D.

Canon expects the Digital SLR market to double in less than two years - largely because of the Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D (Reuters). That is a high expectation for a new model. The 300D was a huge hit, and after using the XT, I expect it to be an even bigger hit. Canon has put much of their high end technology into a feature-filled, entry-level-priced DSLR. From fully automatic P&S (Point & Shoot) to fully manual control along with many modes between (including black & white), the XT offers something to both newbies and pros.

As with all of my reviews to date, my experience is based on use of a retail-purchased model.

Speaking very generally, the Canon XT is to the Canon 20D what the Digital Rebel 300D is to the Canon 10D (fewer features, lower price). And generally speaking some more, the Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D is to the Digital Rebel 300D what the Canon 20D is to the Canon 10D (a technology and feature upgrade). The 350D/Rebel XT is a healthy upgrade from and less feature-handicapped than the 300D.

Who are the potential XT owners? P&S owners looking to move up to: focus that can keep up with a moving subject, near instant shutter release, low noise high ISO performance and DSLR performance/features in a compact body. Other 350D owner candidates include ... Film SLR users moving to digital format. Pro and enthusiast photographers who need a compact and affodable backup body. EOS 300D Digital Rebel users looking for more megapixels, better high ISO performance, faster startup/performance and smaller size. Pro photographers who don't need more than the XT provides. And anyone who wants their spouse to have their own Digital SLR.

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT / 350D SLR Camera - Top View

The biggest buzz regarding the XT is about its size. Small. How small is a personal opinion as it is relative to what you are used to. Users of any of Canon's previously introduced Digital SLRs will think the XT is very small. Canon Rebel Film SLR users will feel right at home with the 350D. Enthusiast P&S users will feel comfortable and compact P&S users will think theXT is large. Overall size is of course determined by the lens you have attached. Following are some Canon comparison dimensions (WxHxD) and weights.

PowerShot G6 4.1 x 2.9 x 2.9"(105 x 73 x 73mm)13.4 oz (380g)
PowerShot Pro 1 4.6 x 2.8 x 3.6"(118 x 72 x 90mm)19.2 oz (545g)
Rebel T2 (Film SLR) 5.1 x 3.5 x 2.5"(130 x 90 x 64mm)12.9 oz (365g)
EOS 350D Digital Rebel XT 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6"(127 x 94 x 64mm)17.1 oz (485g)
EOS 450D Digital Rebel XSi 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4"(128.8 x 97.5 x 61.9mm)16.8 oz (475g)
EOS 400D Digital Rebel XTi 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6"(127 x 94 x 65mm)18.0 oz (510g)
EOS 300D Digital Rebel 5.6 x 3.9 x 2.9"(142 x 99 x 72mm)19.7 oz (560g)
EOS 20D 5.6 x 4.2 x 2.8"(144 x 106 x 72mm)24.2 oz (685g)
 
Note: The above comparison between the different camera types is not exactly apples to apples. For example, the PowerShot models include the built-in lens but not other protrusions in their dimensions. But, the figures should be helpful for a general size/weight comparison as should the Canon PowerShot G6, Canon EOS 350D/Digital Rebel XT and Canon EOS 20D comparison picture below. Don't forget - the Digital SLRs still need a lens - and the G6 lens is retracted.

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT / 350D, 20D and PowerShot G6 Size Comparison

To me personally, the XT seems even smaller in comparison than the numbers imply. The 350D/Rebel XT is about 15% smaller than 300D. Besides taking up less space, the small size aids in the 350D's discreteness.

A small viewfinder comes as part of the XT compactness package. Once again, size is relative. Canon 1-series body users will think the 350D viewfinder is tiny. P&S users will think it is nice or even large depending on what they are used to - and much better than electronic viewfinders (in my opinion at least). BTW - P&S photographers - There is no live LCD image preview on a Digital SLR.

Although the XT shares a 1.6x FOVCF and 95% viewfinder with the 20D, it does not share the same viewfinder size. The viewfinder magnification of the 20D is .9x while the XT and 300D Digital Rebel share .8x viewfinder magnification. Although the 20D has a larger viewfinder (a nice feature), viewfinder brightness is similar in comparison. Another difference is that the 20D uses a pentaprism viewfinder design while the XT and the 300D Digital Rebel use a pentamirror. You get a rather small but bright optical SLR viewfinder on the XT.

As Digital SLRs get smaller in body size, there is less room for buttons, controls, displays and - grips. One of the most controversial aspects of the XT is the grip size. And again, the grip size is relative to what you are used to. Photographers used to the Canon 1-Series bodies will find the XT's grip very small. Enthusiast P&S photographers will find the grip similar to what they are used to - although the larger diameter lens may leave less finger tip room than some of the large enthusiast P&S digital cameras. Pocket P&S users will find the grip to be large. You can't dig your fingers into the grip as deeply as with Canon's larger bodies. Simply rotating your right hand around the back of the camera a bit yields a fine grip for a medium-large hand (in my opinion). My pinky comfortably slides under the bottom of the body. Canon has sacrificed some grip volume to achieve their compact design - You can't have a 1-Series-sized grip in a tiny camera.

What I wish Canon would have included on the XT grip is the rubberized material from the 20D's grip. The 300D Digital Rebel has a rubberized grip but it is not as sticky as the 20D's grip.

A downside to the smaller grip is increased difficulty controlling larger lenses while holding only the grip. The lens controls the body instead of vice versa. The solution to this problem is to simply hold the lens barrel for control. The Canon BG-E3 Battery Grip (shown attached below) is an even better solution, but the small overall size is then partially sacrificed. With the BG-E3 attached, the portrait grip is very nicely sized with a good tactile feel. The landscape orientation grip is better than without the BG-E3, but not as nice as the portrait grip. The BG-E3 can be quickly installed/removed to yield the best of both worlds. If you want a larger landscape grip, choose the 20D or the 300D.

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT / 350D SLR Camera and BG-E3 Battery Grip

Regardless of the Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D's size, it is hard to argue with the light weight. With a small lens attached, the 350D/Rebel XT is easy to take with you.

The XT's styling is very attractive and overall fit/finish and build quality is relatively good. It is, of course, not a rugged, weather-sealed Canon 1-Series body, but there is a large cost differential as well. And while it may not be quite as rugged as the 20D, I wouldn't want to drop a 20D either. The slightly rough, matte-finished plastic exterior feels cheap/weak to some, but the build of the 350D Rebel XT does not give me concern (plastic technology is very good today). A quality rubberized grip would go far in creating a higher quality feel.

Buttons and doors do not have the top-of-the-line quality feel of a 1-Series body, but they are not flimsy. On the door topic - do not open the door while the 350D is writing to the CF card or you will loose the pictures being written. I view that feature as a flaw, but I generally don't open the door while the camera is writing anyway (an indicator light on the back makes it plainly visible when this is happening). I can detect very slight body movement when firmly squeezing the XT grip at just right spot. Again, this is not a big issue in my opinion.

The XT's coarse finish marks easily - especially fingernail marks where the lens mount is closest to the grip. The flip side is that these marks easily wipe off.

While much of the buzz is about the XT's small size, I think the 350D/Rebel XT's best attribute is its excellent image quality. The 350D/Rebel XT has inherited Canon's advanced CMOS sensor and processor technology including the Digic II processor from the 1Ds Mark II, 1D Mark II and 20D. Image quality is very similar to the 20D. Keep in mind that the default XT settings bump contrast/saturation/sharpness up a notch from Canon's higher end bodies at their default settings. Many consumers prefer these settings, and they can of course be adjusted to preference. My preference is for Parameter (the menu setting) = Parameter 2 (no out-of-the-camera enhancements) which I then post-process to optimize each individual picture. With pixels sized about 3x larger than P&S digital camera pixels, the Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D delivers excellent image quality. Image quality for the price is very high.

Canon utilizes CMOS sensors in their Digital SLRs stating that CMOS sensors use far less electricity than equivalent CCD sensors. The XT's 22.2 x 14.8mm CMOS sensor is not the same as the one used in the Canon 20D (the 10D and the 300D utilize the same sensor). But, the 20D's extra .2 megapixels is not a differentiator in my opinion and image quality is very similar between the two bodies.

The XT's Auto White Balance performs very well, but like all Canon DSLRs, has trouble with incandescent-only lighting (images will appear too red). Setting the White Balance to a specific or custom setting gives good results when auto white balance is having trouble. I personally miss being able to select a specific K (Kelvin) temperature white balance as possible with the 20D This is one of my personal most-missed features on the 350D/Digital XT.

The XT's image noise levels are similar to the 20D - Excellent. ISO settings of 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 (full-stop increments) are available (the 20D adds 3200 as an extended option).

XT ISO Noise Samples

The above ISO noise sample 100% crops are from a neutral color block that typically shows ISO noise well. These samples were taken in bright sunlight using default settings (contrast/saturation/sharpness = 1). Because ISO noise tends to be higher in the blue channel, you might experience more ISO noise under red-colored lighting (incandescent for example). At the same time, you might notice less noise in less-neutral colored subjects.

Raw (.CR2), JPEG or Raw + JPEG files (separate .CR2 and .JPG files) can be selected in camera. Image file sizes vary, but the XT's Raw files are about 8 MB each and high quality JPEG files are approximately 3 MB each. In-camera storage is CompactFlash Card Type I or II (no SD card storage) and write speeds are over 3x faster than the 300D. Like the 20D, the XT features a USB 2.0 port for high speed image downloading. The 300D has a much slower USB 1 port.

The XT features far more settings and features than most of its users will ever change. What the 350D does not feature is the 300D's crippled firmware (I doubt there will be a firmware hack for this body). Photographers familiar with Canon's digital cameras should need little effort to figure out the XT's controls. I found them mostly intuitive with my Canon background. Canon EOS 300D Digital Rebel owners will be quickly comfortable with the few button changes.

Contrast, saturation, sharpness ... All can be controlled by the photographer.

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT / 350D SLR Camera Back View

Notably missing on the XT is the 20D's QCD (Quick Control Dial - the big round wheel on the back) It was not present on the 300D, but it would have been a nice addition to the 350D. I didn't miss the QCD as much as I expected, though panning through a zoomed image review is slow without it.

In place of the QCD, the 350D/Digital Rebel XT features Cross Keys (arrow keys). What the Cross Keys do provide is quick one-button access to 4 functions not present on other buttons: ISO sensitivity, AF (Autofocus) Mode, Metering Mode and WB (White Balance). Pressing a Cross Key displays the selected menu option - which is on the color LCD. The wheel above the shutter button or the arrow keys allow changes to be made. I don't like that the XT requires the "Set" button to be pressed after changing the ISO sensitivity, Metering Mode, AF Mode setting or White Balance setting after selecting them using the Cross Keys - this is not intuitive to me. And to make matters worse, the selected ISO setting is not displayed on the LCD or in the viewfinder. I shot a series of bright day shots at ISO 400 because I didn't notice the incorrect ISO setting (didn't press the "Set" button after changing ISO sensitivity). Fortunately, ISO 400 is nearly noise free on the 350D.

The Cross Keys provide quick access to the XT menu item being directly referenced. That is good. Unfortunately, the menu is hard to read in bright light. The individual menu items are very dimmed while changing between the various 350D menus. Unless you memorize which settings are under which menus, the settings are very difficult to find while searching for the right menu. Having the common settings on the mono LCD would make them much easier to see in bright sunlight. Dimming the menu options is a bad idea in my opinion. Remember that pressing the Jump button while a menu is displayed will immediately take you to the next menu.

The Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D's color LCD is 1.8" - the same as the 20D. A histogram + image is optionally available with image review (the histogram displays a graph of the brightness of each pixel). It is very useful for determining if the exposure was correctly determined. Unfortunately, the size of both the image review and the histogram is very tiny in this mode. There is no top LCD, but a mono LCD is included on the back for settings display (sans ISO). Incidentally, my 350D sometimes skips a picture when using the Cross Keys for image review navigation.

The XT has 3 user-selectable AF modes - AI Servo, AI focus and One Shot. I regard this as a very nice upgrade from the 300D Digital Rebel which has only AI Focus. The XT is spec'd by Canon to autofocus to the same low light levels as the 300D and the 20D (.5 EV). The 20D has 2 additional focus points (9 vs. 7). I found the 350D/Digital Rebel XT AF performance to be both accurate and quick. Canon states that the 350D AI Servo AF can track a subject approaching at 180+ MPH down to 70 or so feet with a fast-focusing lens (see the white paper in the review links below). I had no trouble in the dark American Museum of Natural History in New York City using a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM Lens attached.

The XT also has 3 user-selectable exposure metering modes - evaluative, partial and center weighted. This is also a nice upgrade from the 300D Digital Rebel.

The XT shutter speeds range from 30 seconds - 1/4000 second plus bulb (the shutter stays open as long as you hold the shutter release down) in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps. The 20D bests these specs by going to 1/8000 second. Shutter speeds this high are typically used to allow a very wide aperture on a bright day - to blur the background or stop very fast action. The 305D/Digital Rebel XT is very quiet - which aids in its steathfulness.

The XT has a shorter shutter release lag time than the 300D (100ms vs. 120ms) but is still slower than the 20D (65ms). Viewfinder blackout time is 170ms (the 20D is 115ms, the 300D is 170ms).

The XT's rated 3 fps (Frames Per Second) high speed drive mode is slightly faster than the 300D's (2.5 fps) but slower than the 20D's 5 fps rating. Some people only use One-Shot mode, others will want the full 5 fps of the 20D. While the 20D can fire off 23 JPEGS at 5 fps, the 350D can shoot 14 at 3 fps. This is still significantly better than the 300D's 4 images at 2.5 fps.

Listen to the XT's shutter sound and frame rate compared to the 20D ...

XT 3 fps Burst
Canon EOS 20D 3 fps Burst

XT Single Shot
Canon EOS 20D Single Shot

A quality issue - I found the Rebel XT's shutter to stick slightly (not return immediately) if I didn't press it in the center. This issue didn't cause me any problems.

New to the Digital Rebel DSLR line are 9 Custom Functions including Mirror Lockup (The 300D has no custom functions, the 20D has 18).

The Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D utilizes the Canon NB-2LH battery - the same one used in the Canon PowerShot S60/S70 P&S cameras - and shares a small cord-free charger (I like this design) with even more Canon digital camera and MiniDV video camera models. Canon's Digic II provides a 35% power reduction over the 300D. Using a reduced-size battery results in a similar-to-the-300D 400 - 600 shot per battery estimate. Battery life depends on many factors including temperature, on-board flash utilization, LCD image reviewing ... In comparison, the 20D battery is good for about 50% more shots.

Power on the XT and start shooting - nearly immediately. Like the 20D, the 350D starts up in .2 seconds. The 300D's 10x longer 2 second startup seems slow in comparison.

Although I don't like on-board flash as a main light, I like its availability more than I used to. It can make a good fill flash - and takes no extra space. Then there are times when you will want to pull out the camera and capture the moment (a snap shot) without worrying about the ultimate lighting setup - and for that purpose, the XT's built-in flash works very well. Of course, if your lens or lens hood blocks the flash, you get a big, dark half moon in the bottom of your picture. The 300D/Digital Rebel XT's built-in flash has been raised higher - to clear larger (wider/longer) lenses and to reduce the red-eye effect. But, the difference from 300D's flash height is only about 5mm. The on-board flash covers down to a 17mm lens angle of view.

A valuable feature new to the Digital Rebel line is FEC (Flash Exposure Compensation) available in the body. The 300D Digital Rebel required one of Canon's external flashes featuring FEC for this functionality. Now, the onboard flash or the relatively inexpensive Canon Speedlite 420EX Flash can be adjusted for flash exposure.

The XT supports Canon's latest flash exposure technology, E-TTL II. A hot shoe is provided for external flashes but no PC Terminal exists for driving external strobes. The Digital Rebel XT's flash synch speed is 1/200, slightly slower than the 20D's 1/250 flash synch speed. The Digital Rebel XT supports High Speed Flash Synch (FP Flash). Direct print support is provided for PictBridge compatible printers.

 
All of Canon's Digital SLRs come with the software necessary to view and post-process digital pictures, and the XT is no exception. While I would rather see Photoshop Elements included (as with the 20D), I suspect Canon saved some money by including Arcsoft Photo Studio instead (I confess that I have not used this software). Canon's Digital Photo Pro is included for RAW file processing (good software in my opinion). Canon's Zoom Browser is also included. Canon is phasing out EOS Viewer Utility (EVU) - it is not included with this model.

 
Which lens? The Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D is available in a kit (with a lens) or as a body only - each in Silver or Black. The EF-S 18-55mm II lens available in the kit is a cosmetic-only update to the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens. It is an inexpensive lens when purchased as part of the kit - a reasonable value and a useful focal length range. In addition to the kits lens, the XT is compatible with all EF and EF-S lenses with a huge selection available. Those looking for the highest image quality should review the Canon Lens Recommendations page. To find a specific version of the XT, search the retailers listed below for "Canon Rebel XT" (the USA version of its name).

Silver Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT / 350D SLR Camera

You will want to put this fine camera in a nice case. I like the Lowepro Toploader Cases, but the Lowepro Rezo TLZ-10 and Lowepro Rezo TLZ-20 provide more compact yet sharp looking padded protection at a lower cost. They are very nice for theXT with a compact lens.

The Canon RC-1 Wireless Remote is another must-have accessory for the Rebel XT.

My conclusion? I think the Canon EOS Rebel XT / 350D is an excellent value. It will be the right camera for many people. And it may be the camera to meet Canon's high Digital SLR sales projection.

Bringing you this site is my full time job (typically 60-80 hours per week). Thus, I depend solely on the commissions received from you using the links on this site to make any purchase. I am grateful for your support! - Bryan

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My Recommended Retailers
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