Review: Canon Digital Rebel XT and SL1

I have reviewed a lot of film gear on my little photo blog, but it would be lacking if I didn’t spread a litle bit of digital love.  Having been succeeded by the newer, lighter and even more powerful Canon SL2, there were tons of online deals for the Canon SL1 body, which is very powerful in its own right.  At $349.99 before applying accumulated Best Buy rewards points, it was a bargain to behold. The Canon Digital Rebel XT that I purchased in 2004 was beginning to show its age, so after such a long period of time (12 years) I felt like it was time to upgrade.  Considering the average lifecyle of a desktop computer in American corporate industry is 3 to 5 years (and the lifespan of the operating system is 10, go figure), this is quite a long time.

I have tons of lenses and other Canon gear already, so I didn’t see a need to buy a “kit” which comes with (yet another) zoom lens. Though image stabilization would be nice, I think I can probably find a lens that features this much cheaper on the used market. I have never bought a “non-kit” lens new, except for a 50mm that I got in 2002 from B&H Photo severely marked down.  That’s another blog post altogether, but the short of it is that there are so many bargains to be had buying old used lenses that I just haven’t found a need to get one new.  The whole reason I chose to go with Canon with digital photography in the early 2000’s in the first place was that I already had invested time and energy in Canon’s film products, and I wanted to keep reusing the lenses that I felt comfortable with. This decision has ended up paying huge photographic dividends, so I have no regrets about it.

In reviewing I thought it’d be more interesting to compare the two.  Things change a lot in a decade.  So, what has changed?

Pictured is the SL1 body, purchased in 2016 to commemorate my 40th birthday (left) and the original Digital Rebel XT with its included “EF-S” kit lens, purchased in early 2004 (right).

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The first thing I thought to compare is the weight.  With the XT weighing in at a hefty 19 ounces with its kit lens attached, I expected the SL1 to be lighter than that, especially considering it is much more compact and comfortable to hold.  The SL1 weighs in at an even more hefty 22 ounces with a “kit lens” attached.  In comparison, the Pentax Spotmatic and K-series bodies from the 1970’s weigh in at around two pounds each with a 50mm lens attached. Given 40 years and a lot of plastic difference, I would expect the SL1 to be a lot more than 10 ounces short of the weight of the venerable 1970’s era SLR camera. Perhaps glass is heavy? I’m not sure how to explain that one.

Second thing I thought to compare was storage media – the XT takes Compact Flash media, which being huge never really lived up to its name. The SL1 takes the much newer, much tinier, and if you will excuse the pun, more “flashier” Secure Digital “SD” card.

The “kit lens” that comes with the SL1, which I chose not to purchase, is somewhat better including image stabilization.

On the back side, the display screen is very much improved being much larger and having touch capabilities, so you can easily select menu options and so on.

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The layout of the top controls and the different shooting modes have changed very little since the introduction of the EOS line of cameras in 1988.

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The one thing that the entire internet makes a big deal over is the fact that the SL1 does video.  A digital SLR that does video.  Amazing!  Amazingly useless.  Unless you have a very, very good lens attached that can refocus very quickly and quietly, which if you have read this far you know I don’t, you’re not going to get anything worth watching.  Aside from that photography and cinematography are different animals altogether.

The biggest improvement is the photo quality.  The sensors have improved exponentially, reasulting in photos with much less “digital noise” and much higher resolution than I have ever seen. Not to start another megapixel measurement argument, but the leap from 8 Digital XT megapixels to 18 SL1 megapixels is astounding. Digital cameras have improved by leaps and bounds over the past 10-15 years in every brand.

All in all, upgrading is most definitely worthwhile.  Do they make me want to abandon film, as Adorama seems to suggest in their newly viral “5 reasons why I am never going back to film” article that has all of facebook in an uproar? Not at all.  Film and digital are both mediums.  They both offer a lot of great value to the photo enthusiast.  You wouldn’t approach a painter and tell them that those oil paints they’re using were antiquated decades ago and they should use acrylics would you?  You wouldn’t approach a musician and ask why they’re playing an antiquated acoustic guitar instead of a newer, more cutting edge electric would you? Of course not.  Different formats offer different value, and there’s no reason why they can’t all be appreciated.

Here’s a parting thought – in this age where shootings at schools and places of work seem to have our flags at a permanent state of half mass, we should shoot photos, not each other.

And if you care to see some images from both of these cameras –

SL1

Daily Photo – “Curious Husky”

Daily Photo – “Resurrection”

Daily Photo – “Robin Landing II”

Daily Photo – “Robin Landing”

XT

Daily Photo – “Petunias”

Daily Photo – “Night Fever”

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