Canon Digital Rebel XT DLSR Camera: Why I'm Very Happy With This Camera

(Posted 5/13/2007) - I recently decided it was time to replace my film SLR camera with a Digital SLR. I've owned a digital fixed-lense zoom camera (Kodak DX7590) which has SLR like features for about 4 years and love its photo-quality. But it suffers from shutter-lag, between shot processing delay, and an inability to swap lenses (every lense brings its own personality to a photographic scene).

I researched all the major DSLR brands (Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Minolta-Sony, Olympus, and Pentax-Samsung) and each has feature sets, lense combinations, and pricing that make them viable candidates. In the end it was the collection of SLR lenses that I'd purchased for my Nikon SLR, and the particular characteristics of the Canon lense mount that determined my choice.

Read on for this photographer's take on the joys of reusing your old lenses with a new digital SLR body.

The Nikon F-mount is a venerable physical attachment system that has been around for many decades. The late 70's lenses that I bought for my Nikon SLR use NA/I (Aperture Indexing) with manual focus, which was a precurser to the Nikon Auto-Focus (D, G, and S) lenses. I liked the characteristics of my SLR lenses and wanted to reuse them on a new DSLR body. I actually enjoy focusing my shots in well lit situations, so not having AF was not a show stopper.

I researched the Nikon D50 (and D40) DSLR bodies and quickly discovered that neither of these great cameras would support light-metering for non-AF Nikon lenses! The least expensive Nikon body that would support my Nikon lenses was the D200 (at $1400)! Scratch Nikon from my candidate list.

I found that Canon and Olympus supported metering through any lense that would physically mount, but due to protocol incompatibility (lack of communication between lense and camera body via microprocessor) the bodies would not provide focus-confirmation on non-native AF lenses. Focus-confirmation is indicated with an LED and/or tone when optimal contrast is detected in the image field.

Another consideration was the effective increase in lense focal-distance. Since digital image sensors in all entry level DSLRs are smaller than the traditional SLR-film frame, there is a 'blow-up' effect on the image at the sensor. Old SLR lenses project an image that is bigger than the sensor area. New 'digital' lenses project an image that matches the area of the sensor (requires less glass and allows better sharpness for a given price point, in general). But the snag is that these 'digital lenses' will be useless when the manufacturers of digital image sensors ultimately adopt the 35mm film size as their standard. The Olympus factor was 2x while the Canon factor was 1.6x. The lower blow-up factor puts less demand (in terms of line-pairs/mm resolution) on my SLR lenses, so I eliminated the Olympus camera from my list.

By this point I'd read all the reviews on the Canon 350D (Digital Rebel XT) and had also found out that it was the most flexible in terms of supporting 3rd party lenses adapted to its mount. I bought the camera, which in North America is kitted with a very inexpensive wide-angle zoom lense (18-55mm/f3.5-5.6 EF-S digital lense - effectively 29-88mm in SLR terms).

This is a great little carry-around zoom lense which produces sharp, medium-contrast pictures. I will not be able to use this lense when I move to a DSLR full-frame body, but that will be more than 5 years into the future and I'm sure using it a lot right now!

As for reusing my old Nikon mount lenses, I ordered a stainless steel lense adaptor (made in Japan) from a Hong Kong camera dealer and waited for 3-weeks for the $15 thingy to arrive. It attached painlessly to my old Nikon mount lenses and allows me to mount them on my Canon camera (maintaining full focus range, with light metering still working). I worried that I would not be able to get enough contrast through the Canon viewfinder to focus (since all AF DSLR's in the under $2000 class have given up on split-screen focus aides). But, the Canon viewer is bright and sharp and sufficient for normal light focusing of my Tele-zoom and primes.

I suspect I will ultimately buy an AF-confirmation (chipped) lense adaptor for low-light shots with my widest (f1.8) Nikon prime lense. These adaptors have recently come upon the market specifically for Canon DSLR's and mimic a wide-aperture, 50mm lense when communicating with the camera body so that the camera focus-confirmation indicators can be used instead of one's eyeball to know when you've got the best contrast (focus).

At this point I've taken about 600 pictures with my bag of lenses and the Canon body. I'm extremely happy with the user interface, the build quality, and the ergonomics of the camera. Since I'm a 'manual' picture taking kinda guy (that's what I grew up on); I turned off picture review and don't demand much preview processing on the part of the camera processor. I'm still shooting on my first battery charge and it has a ways to go before it needs to be rejuiced.

I've switched lenses a half-dozen times so far (in clean conditions) and am not seeing any motes in my pictures. I plan to do sensor swabbing on a 6-month basis as a precaution to avoid static build up of crap on the image sensor.

Here are some sample shots, taken with the kit-digital wide-angle zoom lense (18-55mm) and with my Nikon SLR manual tele-zoom (80-200mm). Click on the images to see 1000 pixel wide versions. The camera takes native 3450 x 2300 pixel images; these pictures have been resized for the web. All pictures have had image tones adjusted to my taste -- so don't necessarily blame the lense if you don't like the 'look.'

Left-image is close-up, f5.6 - 55mm (about 1 ft away). The right image is Strider the Wonder dog wondering why I'm taking pictures instead of throwing his ball.

Another closeup with the wide-angle zoom. Even a Dandelion looks good up close. On the right is a wide-angle (18mm) tone-curve adjusted picture of sundown at Village Green, Glen Ellyn, IL.

These two shots demonstrate the Nikon Tele-zoom using manual focus. On the left a Sparrow from about 40 ft, at f4/200mm. On the right is a f5.6/80mm shot of Strider (again wondering why I'm taking pictures instead of playing with him).

Finally, a close up shot using the Nikon Tele-zoom at full magnification from about 4 feet of a Dandelion in its end-game. On the right is Strider catching a Frisbee taken with the Wide-Angle zoom.