The Canon Rebel T2i (aka 550D outside the US) is the follow-up entry-level DSLR to the great Rebel T1i. Even though the T2i follows just one year after the release of the T1i, it is not the typical, incremental upgrade you might expect. The Rebel T2i packs a whole lot of firepower for both still and video shooters. To see whether the performance matches up to the spec sheet, read on.
Canon Rebel T2i Key Specs and Features
18MP CMOS APS-C Sensor
Canon has been incrementally increasing the resolution of the Rebel series image sensors since the product line was introduced.
- 2003: Rebel – 6.3MP
- 2005: Rebel XT – 8MP
- 2006: Rebel XTi – 10.1MP
- 2008: Rebel XSi – 12.2MP
- 2009: Rebel T1i – 15.1MP
- 2010: Rebel T2i – 18MP
At each interval, the resolution has seemed sufficient for an entry-level DSLR. Now, a sub-$1000 DSLR has much more than we could have asked for in resolution at 18MP, which matches Canon’s prosumer 7D.
The Rebel T2i’s sensor is the same 1.6x crop format as prior Rebel-series cameras, which makes for narrower angles of view that appear as longer focal lengths (e.g., a 300mm lens looks and feels like a 480mm lens on the Rebel T2i because of the smaller sensor as compared to a full frame or 35mm camera).
Canon Rebel T2i Video Capabilities
- 1080p Full HD shooting (1920 x 1080) at 30p (29.97), 24p (23.976), and 25p.
- 720p HD shooting (1280 x 720) at 60p (59.94) and 50p
- Standard-def (640 x 480): 60p (59.94) and 50p
Surprisingly, the Rebel T2i features video capture on par with the higher-end Canon 7D. In addition to the broad choice of frame rates and resolution settings, the Rebel T2i allows you to add an external microphone for stereo sound capture.
Additionally, the Rebel T2i adds a Movie Crop Mode. Setting the camera to this mode effectively extends the telephoto range of your zoom by a 7x magnification. While it is limited to VGA resolution, for the sake of an example, it essentially turns a 300mm lens into a 2100mm lens (or 3360mm when accounting for the 1.6x crop factor of the Rebel T2i). Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re shooting on a sturdy tripod for in this mode.
For a demonstration of how this Movie Crop Mode works, see the below video. As you’ll see, I’ve taken into account the 7x magnification, as well as the starting 1.6x crop factor for the Rebel T2i in providing equivalent focal lengths.
Like the Rebel T1i, the video mode is enabled via the mode dial. Setting the Rebel T2i to video mode brings up the live display on the rear LCD. You can start and stop recording via a well-placed record button near the viewfinder on the rear of the camera. The record button is placed for easy access via your right thumb.
The Rebel T2i’s video exposure can be set to full auto or full manual exposure. When in manual mode, you control everything – shutter, aperture and ISO settings.
ISO 100-12800 (w/ expansion)
The Rebel T2i covers a sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,800. The native sensitivity settings can be adjusted from ISO 100-6400, while the ISO 12,800 setting becomes available when it is enabled through a custom function. You can adjust the ISO speed in 1-stop increments from ISO 100-12,800.
When shooting in Full Auto modes, the ISO is adjusted automatically. Auto ISO is an available setting in Program, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority and Manual modes. When Auto ISO is enabled, the Rebel T2i will choose an appropriate ISO setting between ISO 100 and ISO 6400. Additionally, the Rebel T2i allows you to set a maximum ISO setting for use in Auto ISO mode. You can cap the ISO setting as low as ISO 400 and as high as ISO 6400, which is something that many more expensive DSLRs are not able to do.
DIGIC 4 Image Processor
The DIGIC 4 processor aids in noise reduction and is also found in the Canon Rebel T1i, 7D (dual processors), 50D and 5D Mark II DSLRs. All these cameras that feature the DIGIC 4 processor are now known for outstanding noise reduction, even with their increased resolution over past generation cameras. The DIGIC 4 also aids in the 14-bit analog-to-digital conversion and provides the ability to process 1080p HD video.
3.7 fps Frame Rate
Somehow, Canon managed to increase resolution and increase the frame rate over the Rebel T1i, which offers a 3.4 fps frame rate. Unfortunately, however, the buffer dropped from 9 RAW images in a burst on the T1i down to 6 RAW images in a burst on the T2i. The JPEG buffer also dropped from 170 large/fine images on the T1i down to 34 on the T2i.
The JPEG buffer hit isn’t as bad as the decrease the T2i takes in RAW image bursts. When shooting sports, or even shots of your kids running about, a burst of 6 frames goes by pretty quick.
9-Point AF Sensors w/ Cross-type Center Sensor
The Rebel T2i continues with the tradition in the Rebel series by utilizing 9 AF points. The center AF point is a high-precision, cross-type sensor when a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or larger is attached.
When shooting in basic modes, all AF points are active and the camera will generally focus on the closest object. When in P, Av, Tv or M modes, you can select individual focus points to assist with composition and framing.
TTL 63-zone Metering System
The Rebel T2i inherits from the 7D a 63-zone dual layer metering sensor. In addition to measuring the amount of light in a scene, this new system takes color and luminosity into account as well.
The Rebel T2i gives you 4 metering modes – evaluative, center-weighted average, partial, and spot metering. Partial metering covers 9% of the viewfinder at the center of the frame. Spot metering covers 4% of the viewfinder at the center of the frame (it’s a 2.3% spot on the 7D). You cannot shift the spot metering location to any other focus point, which makes the use of the AE lock button essential when spot metering subjects outside the center of the frame. Only the EOS 1-series is capable of moving the spot meter circle to active focus points other than the center AF point.
3-inch 3:2 Aspect Ratio LCD w/ 1.04 Million Pixels
Yet another improvement in the Rebel T2i is the inclusion of the 3″ LCD that has a 3:2 aspect ration, which is the same format as the camera’s sensor. In hindsight, it is surprising that this feature has not been implemented yet. Since we use Live View and chimp on the screen at prior captures so much, it seems like a 3:2 aspect ration would have been implemented in cameras several generations back. What makes the LCD even better is the brilliant clarity delivered by the 1.04 million dot resolution.
+/- 5 EV Exposure Compensation
The Rebel T2i gets a boost in exposure compensation settings with adjustments of +/- 5 EV now possible. Previous models only allowed +/- 2 EV exposure compensation.
The Rebel T2i is the first DSLR that is compatible with the new SDXC card format, which offers a maximum theoretical storage capacity of 2TB. At the time of this review, the largest capacities we are seeing are in the 64GB range. Note that SDHC cards have a maximum format capacity of 32GB (of course, the T2i is compatible with older SD and SDHC formats).
Along with the growth in capacity, SDXC also provides an increase in file transfer speed. The SDXC specification calls for transfer speeds between 104MB/sec and 300MB/sec. The starting point of 104MB/sec is faster than any current CF cards, including the recently released 600x speed cards with transfer rates in the neighborhood of 90MB/sec. Granted, the SDXC transfer speed numbers are only theoretical speeds, but still promising for the future potential.
Eye-Fi Card Recognition
Eye-Fi cards allow wireless transmission of images from the camera by means of a Wi-Fi transmitter built into the SD card itself. The Rebel T2i is capable of displaying Eye-Fi cards’ connection status and error notes.
Canon Rebel T2i Handling and Ergonomics
As far as ergonomics are concerned, I am not a fan of smaller DSLRs. I like a larger grip like you will find on a Canon 50D, 7D or 5D Mark II. With that disclaimer out of the way, everything seems to be in pretty good place on the camera as was the case with more recent Rebel models. If you have held a Rebel XSi or a Rebel T1i, the new T2i will be no mystery to you.
The menus are quickly accessible and, for the most part, relatively intuitive to navigate. I wish there were more functions available via direct buttons or dials on the T2i; however, I am reminded that this is an entry-level DSLR, which does not need a plethora of customization options at your finger tips. The big features like ISO, white balance and autofocus mode settings are available by pushing a single button.
Canon has smartly place a quick access button within easy reach of the users thumb. By pressing this button, labeled ‘Q’, the Rebel T2i delivers the quick access menu on the rear LCD, which allows you to navigate around the standard info display and make changes by using a combo of the 4-way arrow buttons and scroll wheel. As a result, most of the key functions are accessible via a couple of button presses. In practice, this feature works well and is easy to learn as you become more and more acquainted with the camera. Overall, Canon does a fair job of making the camera simple for beginners, yet easily customizable for more involved shooters.
While Live View on the Rebel T2i is accessible and relatively easy to use, it is still not very practical to use in most ordinary shooting situations. There are three different autofocusing modes in the Live View setting. All three have their disadvantages. Rather than going into great detail about how they work, I’ll leave it to the point – Live View is slow and clunky. If you want a DSLR camera that you can hold away from your body and shoot using the LCD screen, buy the Sony A330.
Sony has the best Live View system of any DSLR camera that I have tested. It’s fast, effective and intuitive – something I can’t say for the Rebel T2i. The only time that I have found the Rebel T2i’s Live View system worth using is in macro photography and focus prior to beginning video capture.
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens
Overall, the inclusion of the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens with the Rebel T2i kit is a proper choice. This is the same kit lens as was included the Rebel T1i and XSi, thus my evaluation and Image Stabilization sample images remain the same.
Canon claims that the kit lens is capable of improving hand-holdability by 4 stops. This means that if you could hand-hold a non-IS lens at a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second without any discernible camera shake in your image, then you should be able to hand-hold the 18-55mm IS lens at the same focal length at a shutter speed of 1/4 of a second without any discernible camera shake in your image. Of course, this doesn’t really help you if you have a moving subject, in which case your shutter speed needs to be fast enough to “stop” the motion.
For anyone stepping up to a DSLR, or maybe trading in an older Digital Rebel, the kit lens works quite well. The EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens improves upon the much older non-IS version with better image quality and, of course, the inclusion of Image Stabilization. More seasoned photographers may wish for something with better build quality or improved glass as is found in Canon L series lenses. If you aren’t sure what’s right for you, chances are that the new kit lens will do just fine.
If you’ve never seen the effects of Image Stabilization, take a look at the images below. Again, these sample images came from my previous evaluation with the Rebel XSi. (Note, I cropped the center portion of the full images.)
Handheld @ 55mm and 1/15 sec Shutter Speed – IS turned OFF
Handheld @ 55mm and 1/15 sec Shutter Speed – IS turned ON
Canon Rebel T2i Performance
The Rebel T2i performs about on par with other cameras in the Rebel series. It is more than competent for entry-level shooters; however, more advanced enthusiasts will be left wanting a little more.
Like the Rebel T1i, I have no complaints in the autofocus department for the Rebel T2i. It is quick and snappy with the variety of lenses that I used on it, including the 18-55mm kit lens. Kudos to Canon for the 9-point autofocus system that offers a center cross-type sensor for increased AF sensitivity and accuracy when the center AF point is selected. This is usually where I have the camera set and encountered no problems with locking on to my subject throughout a variety of lighting situations, including indoor available light scenarios.
If you are a novice user and shooting JPEG images in some of the auto modes, things like burst rate and capacity will most likely not affect you. However, if you are an enthusiast who shoots in RAW or RAW+JPEG, the 6 frame buffer for RAW images will quickly grow old. Even the 9 frame burst on the Rebel T1i was workable; however, attempting to grab action sequences when capped at a 6 frame burst can yield disappointing results.
For users stepping up from a point and shoot camera, the Rebel T2i’s burst most and shutter response will be lighting fast compared to what they are accustomed to. However, while the 3.7 fps frame rate is certainly snappy for an entry-level camera, enthusiasts may want to have a closer look at the 50D (6.3 fps) or the 7D (8 fps).
The viewfinder is competent, but not overly impressive. It’s still much smaller than what you will find on more advanced models. Most entry-level users will not mind this; however, those who are accustomed to a prosumer DSLR body will find the Rebel T2i’s viewfinder a bit on the small side.
Canon Rebel T2i Video Performance
Autofocus during video capture remains unworkable thanks to the slow and clunky contrast AF. In fact, Canon even provides an option in the T2i’s menu system that allows you to disable AF during video capture. Video autofocus modes are suited for pre-focusing prior to the start of recording, which works well so long as you remain stationary. Effective focusing during video capture must be performed manually, which means serious video shooters will need to spring for a quality follow focus to make the Rebel T2i work as a mobile video camera.
Recording time is limited by memory capacity. 4GB is the magic number in the T2i. If you are recording a single file that reaches the 4GB file size mark, then the camera will automatically stop recording. If you have a larger card in the camera, you can simply hit record again to restart the recording.
A 4GB card offers the following approximate recording times:
- 1080p for 12 minutes
- 720p for 18 minutes
- 640×480 for 24 minutes
A 16GB cards nets the following approximate recording times:
- 1080p for 49 minutes
- 720p for 1 hour 13 minutes
- 640×480 for 1 hour 39 minutes
When recording for extended periods of time, you can feel the heat through the camera’s plastic though. Canon warns that extended video recording can result in degraded image quality – so be warned.
The Rebel T2i appears to chew up about twice as much memory than the Nikon D5000 when shooting video at 720p – roughly 220 MB per minute on the T2i as compared to around 100 MB per minute on the D5000.
With the addition of the pro-caliber recording options and external mic support, the Rebel T2i becomes a powerful (and very portable) video option. However, it is not a camcorder replacement, which is unfortunately what many consumers will expect when they see the video labels and specs on store shelves. Using the Rebel T2i as a video camera requires patience and thought in a number of areas – not the least of which is stabilization.
In part, the form factor of the Rebel T2i makes it rather difficult to hand hold when recording video, which leads to a shaky-cam effect on the output video. As a result, a tripod or other stabilization method is almost a necessity.
Next up, autofocus is out of the question during video capture. If you are using autofocus on the Rebel T2i, you should be using it for pre-focusing prior to starting the video capture. If it is necessary to change the focus plane during video capture, the only viable way to do so is by manually adjusting the focus. Due to the short throw of lens focus rings on Canon lenses, this becomes very difficult. Additionally, even with the excellent LCD on the back of the camera, it is difficult to determine when proper focus has been achieve with the naked eye. As a result, a loupe device like the Zacuto Z-Finder is a must. Unfortunately, at the time of this review, there do not appear to be any such loupe device available which are designed to accommodate the 3:2 aspect ratio of the Rebel T2i.
As you can start to see, pulling the Rebel T2i out of the box and using it as a video camera is not a very practical thing to do. There’s no doubt that the Rebel T2i is a very capable video camera; however, making proper use of its potential will require additional patience and proper accessories.
To see an example of how great the Rebel T2i can look, check out the below video from James Barber.
Canon Rebel T2i Image Quality and ISO Performance
The Rebel T2i’s 18-megapixel sensor lends itself to stellar image quality. I really have no complaints in this category. I think many enthusiast photographers will find themselves in a conundrum when trying to decide whether to go with the Canon 7D or Canon Rebel T2i. If you don’t need some of the more advanced features found on the Canon 7D, it’s hard to justify the extra dollars spent over the Rebel T2i. In practical usage, it is unlikely that you will be able to discern images taken with the 7D or Rebel T2i on the basis of image quality.
The ISO performance on the Rebel T2i is great. Remembering that the Rebel T2i is an entry-level camera, I think most of the target market will be able to capture their images all the way up to ISO 6400 and be very pleased with the results. I used the Rebel T2i on a recent trip to Disneyworld and shot with available light using the EF 50mm f/1.4 lens and ISO 6400 in some of the shows where flash was not allowed. The results were more than good enough for our family album, which is where the camera is likely to see most of its work for most people. If you combine the high ISO with RAW image capture and the noise reduction in Adobe Lightroom 3, the results are astounding.
Below, I have included a number of sample images at various settings for your inspection. These images were processed from RAW files in Lightroom 3 beta 2. Feel free to download these image samples by right-clicking on the image and choosing “Save link as…” from the menu dialog.
Below are several crops taken at a 100% view from images shot with the Rebel T2i, followed by links to the original files. Note that these RAW files were converted in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software, which is included with the Rebel T2i.
Canon Rebel T2i ISO 100
Canon Rebel T2i ISO 200
Canon Rebel T2i ISO 400
Canon Rebel T2i ISO 800
Canon Rebel T2i ISO 1600
Canon Rebel T2i ISO 3200
Canon Rebel T2i ISO 6400
Canon Rebel T2i ISO 12800
Canon Rebel T2i Accessories
Canon LP-E8 Battery: The Rebel T2i uses a new rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Users upgrading from older Rebel cameras will not be able to use their old spare batteries in the new camera.
Canon BG-E8 Battery Grip: If you want a vertical grip for controls that are more comfortable when shooting in portrait orientation, the BG-E8 is the grip for the Rebel T2i.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM: This is my personal favorite lens as a mate for the Canon Rebel T2i. Due to the crop factor, it has a field of view equivalent to 80mm on Rebel T2i, which makes it an excellent portrait lens. If you are on a budget the super cheap EF 50mm f/1.8 makes a great companion as well.
Canon 580EX II or 430EX II: These hot shoe flashes attach to the top of the camera and have a bounce head for bouncing the light off of white ceilings. This creates a softer light and offers more power than is available from the pop-up flash on the camera.
Memory Cards: The Rebel T2i uses SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards. Due to the file sizes from the 18MP sensor, you should pick up a rather large memory card card. An 8GB SanDisk Extreme III card should do the trick. If you want to go future proof and big storage, you could spring for an SDXC card, though that may be a little overkill for this camera.
Canon Rebel T2i Books and Resources
I think you should probably read your camera’s manual and the Bryan Peterson book recommended below before you decide upon an additional guide for your camera; however, I know that there are some who prefer to follow a step-by-step walk through of your camera’s features. As a result, I’ve listed a few offerings from popular publishers that may be up your alley. I encourage you to read the reviews on Amazon and elsewhere before you decide on which resource is right for you.
- Canon EOS Rebel T2i/550D Digital Field Guide
- Magic Lantern Guides: Canon EOS Rebel T2i/EOS 550D
- Magic Lantern Guides: Canon EOS Rebel T2i/EOS 550D Multimedia Workshop
- Canon EOS Rebel T2i / 550D: From Snapshots to Great Shots
- Canon EOS Rebel T2i/550D For Dummies
- Canon EOS Rebel T2i / EOS 550D Digital Camera CheatSheet
As expected, Canon has taken its entry-level DSLR series to new heights. For someone who is looking to step up from a point and shoot camera, the Rebel T2i is very enticing. It also provides a gentle learning curve with very basic settings, while offering advanced capabilities for more experienced photographers.
The flexibility in shooting both still images and video with the Rebel T2i is as good as it gets in the entry-level market. Pixel peepers may find marginally better noise control in much lower resolution cameras; however, the robust RAW files from the Rebel T2i allow you to take it up to high ISO settings for remarkable low light shooting.
The Rebel T1i passes the torch to the T2i as the best Rebel yet. I can easily offer a high recommendation for this capable, yet sophisticated, entry-level DSLR.
Finally, if you’ve never used a DSLR before (or even if you have and you don’t fully “get it”), I recommend that you pick up a copy of Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure with your new camera. It is a priceless guide to learning and growing with any DSLR. At around $15, it’ll be the best bang for your buck that you ever spend on photography.
Where to Buy the Canon Rebel T2i
The Canon Rebel T2i is available from B&H Photo at the following link:
By making your photography purchases at B&H Photo through these links, you are helping Photography Bay to continue bring quality camera tests, news and reviews. Thanks for your continued support.