Canon 350D Rebel XT ReviewThe Canon Rebel XT (EOS 350D) is Canon's replacement to the 300D Digital Rebel. As an owner of the Canon 10D digital SLR, I have been watching the latest developments hoping to replace my aging camera. First, why would I (or you) choose the 350D over the 20D? For me, the primary factors were the small size, light weight, and price. As someone that plans to carry the camera for extended time periods on hikes, and other travels, the Canon 350D, seemed to be a better choice.
FeaturesI won't go into the details about all the features of this camera, however, I'll highlight the features I consider most important. The Canon Rebel 350D XT has an 8 megapixel CMOS sensor, a slight improvement over the Canon Rebel 300D and Canon 10D's 6 megapixel sensor. The 350D also now has mirror lockup (unlike its predecessor, the 300D). With a weight of 1.2 pounds (540g) with the battery, it is one of the lightest digital SLRs available. The 350D also supports newer EF-S lenses in addition to the standard EF lenses. EF-S lenses have a shorter space between the lens and the sensor. Finally, one other significant feature is support for E-TTL II flashes, which has improved metering algorithms and which make use of distance information provided by the lens (if the lens is designed to communicate distance information to the camera). One feature that I really wish for is a faster flash sync speed- the 350D supports speeds up to 1/200s, far too slow and behind the competition (the Nikon D70 supports 1/500s sync speeds).
The Canon 350D is wonderfully light weight and compact in size. Below is a comparison of the Rebel XT with the Canon EOS 10D and Minolta dImage A2. As you can see, it is substantially smaller than the Canon 10D. And it's also substantially lighter- carrying around the Canon Rebel XT and a light lens is quite nice compared to the 10D, which feels like carrying a brick.
The Canon Rebel XT has a pop-up flash that pops up higher than the older 300D flash, which should help it produce less redeye in flashed pictures of people, a nice improvement.
PerformanceI'm happy to say that in use, the 350D performs extremely well. It turns on almost instantly, wakes up almost instantly, has an imperceptible shutter delay, and feels fast and snappy in use. This is a huge improvement over my older Canon 10D. In addition, uploading pictures over the USB cable is noticeably faster than the 10D. Shooting continuously, it can do approximately 3 frames per second for 14 JPEG images in a row or 4 RAW images in a row. In use, the camera is moderately quiet- the shutter is definitely quieter than the rather noisy Canon 20D, but, slightly louder than the Canon 10D.
Image QualityImage quality is quite high and image noise seem to be well controlled, with ISO 100 to ISO 400 being excellent. ISO 800 is very good, and ISO 1600 is also quite usable. Although the 350D does not have an ISO 3200 like the Canon 10D, you can simulate the effect by taking a raw picture, underexposing your image by 1 stop and compensating in Photoshop or any other raw image converter. Below are some 100% crops taken on the Rebel 350D XT and the Canon 10D for comparison. All tests were done tripod mounted using the default shooting parameters. The Rebel XT pictures were taken using a Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 lens at f/5.6. The Canon 10D pictures were taken with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens at f/5.6 interpolated up to 8 megapixels using Photoshop's bicubic interpolation (they are slightly less sharp most likely because the crops were not as close to the center as the Rebel XT images).
ErgonomicsThis is the weakest point with the Rebel 350D. Canon has designed the most uncomfortable hand grip of any digital camera I have ever used (and I've used many digital cameras)- it's not so bad that I would not recommend the camera, but, it's a disappointing flaw in a nearly perfect package. The problem with their design is, there is a ledge below the shutter button that puts pressure on your fingers, and, this is extremely noticeable when using heavier camera lenses. For lighter lenses and short periods of use, it is ok. Those with large hands might find the grip poorly suited for their hands, so, I suggest you try one in real life and decide for yourself. Did Canon deliberately cripple the ergonomics so it would not compete with the more expensive 20D? That's a question you'll have to ask them and complain to them about. The other ergonomic issue has to deal with making selections- it is very awkward to adjust aperture and shutter speed in manual mode and to do exposure compensation- the 350D really needs an extra dial. Another glaring flaw is that the ISO speed is not displayed on the LCD display- why would they leave this critical exposure information off is beyond me. The menuing system is designed strangely to not light up until you move the cursor down into the menu- annoying because it is hard to see what is in the menu until you actually enter it- the full menu SHOULD be visible directly. For those that use the camera in purely automatic mode, some of these design problems might not be too much of an issue. None of these issues are critical, but are just plain annoying, and I would have expected Canon to do better given their experience in making cameras.
In UseOver the course of a month of use, taking about a thousand pictures, I find that it is very fast and responsive. I love the light weight and compactness. The noise at high ISOs, like 800 and 1600 is quite low. I find that in extreme contrast situations, there sometimes is not enough dynamic range to capture details in bright and dark areas, though this is a problem common to all digital cameras today, and can be somewhat worked around if you use exposure bracketing. There are a few times where it needs to hunt a while to lock focus, even with L lenses, I'm not sure why (though it occurs rarely, when it does happen, it's annoying). As of this writing, the raw files on the Rebel XT/350D are not supported by Adobe Photoshop CS! They are supported by Photoshop CS2. Hopefully Adobe will correct this rather than forcing everyone to buy a new program.
ConclusionThe Canon 350D is a great digital SLR for certain people. Its compact size, light weight, speed, responsiveness, and excellent image quality make it a nearly ideal entry-level digital SLR and travel camera. Its only flaw is its ergonomics especially for those with heavy lenses and large hands. Despite the flaws in ergonomics, it is a digital SLR camera worth considering.
Recently my Canon Digital Rebel XT was stolen, along with almost all of my lenses. With the freedom to choose a new camera system, I actually chose to replace it with the same model. Despite its ergonomic flaws, I find its size and weight and feature set very appealing.