The Canon Rebel XSi (450D, Kiss X2,) in my opinion, is one of the first cameras in what I consider the “this is where things start getting good” phase of affordable DSRLs. Other cameras released at this time (mid 2007 to mid 2008) were the 40D, 50D, Nikon D300, D90, D60… What sets these cameras apart in my mind? (all this is personal opinion) Prior to this era of cameras, we saw epic leaps and bounds… each new camera saw significant upgrades in quality, usability. After this, the upgrades were more incremental. It’s like the companies decided “Yup, this is how a DSLR should be… let’s fine tune it.” It’s quite affordable these days (Amazon has a few in the low $200s – one of which is KEH “Very Good” for $229)
It’s a lightweight plastic composite body. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. So many people complain that the Rebel series is just a bunch of plastic toys since they don’t have a Magnesium Alloy body… But not everyone needs a crush-proof camera capable of surviving falls, running into things, being mauled by a bear… There absolutely are those who need this, Photojournalists, some event photographers (I know I’ve worked some clubs in Vegas where my 40D was hit by drunk guys and the extra strength of that body was appreciated.) But for many of us, it’s nice to have, but if it doesn’t affect quality, it’s no biggie.
The camera doesn’t have a PC Sync, which its midgrade counterparts have (until the 60D and newer bodies came out, which also are lacking.) PC syncing, however, seems to be less and less commonly used… and those that do use it for studio lighting typically own higher end cameras which have the sync port. It’s mostly a nonissue, IMO, since wireless options like the YongNuo RF-603 being affordable, and the general reliability of modern wireless. For those who want the extra reliability or require the use of a PC cord, a Wein Safe Sync is a great option. Not only does it adapt your hotshoe to allow for PC syncing, it reduces the sync voltage so as to not damage your camera (some older flash units have a high sync voltage, 250v or so, which can damage some DSLRs.)
Misty (2011) Canon XSi – Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC – The Sun
It’s a 12MP camera which means you won’t be able to get the fine details you might get from a more modern camera for retouching… but with regards to printing, it’s usually plenty. 13″ x 8.5″ at 300DPI, even printing double truck for a magazine, you’re at 240 dpi which, while borderline, still falls in the more than acceptable range. I’ve printed 24×36″ posters, and at typical viewing distances they look fantastic.
Megapixel count is just a small factor of image quality, though. And in my opinion, one of the least important. I don’t shoot a lot of low light stuff, so it’s not a metric that I really feel comfortable commenting on too much. I do however, have an example of the XSi pushed to ISO 800, one stop less than its max of ISO 1600. This is where most people agree that the cameras in this generation start to “fall apart.” It’s less sharp, there’s noise, yes… but with a little bit of work, it could be more than acceptable.
And that’s one thing we have to settle for with some of these older cameras… there are situations where they won’t stand up against their modern counterparts… that much is obvious, but do those shortcomings affect us? I don’t really ever shoot past ISO 200, 95% of the time, I’m at 100… this camera being a bit noisier than a new camera when you hit ISO 800 doesn’t matter to me much, and thus, if I had $200 to spend, I could pick one of these up and be completely satisfied in that regard.
Catherine, completely unretouched (no NR) at ISO 800, with a 100% crop. Canon XSi with a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 and YN460II speedlite.
Aside from low light / high ISO issues… the camera is capable of producing beautiful images. Colors are nice and vibrant, contrast is nice and poppy, though these two elements have a lot to do with what lens is used. The images, especially in good lighting situations can be brilliant, and fulfill the needs of anyone just starting out and learning.
I’d rate the autofocus of the XSi as both good and bad. First, the good. It has an integrated autofocus motor, unlike its Nikon counterpart, the Nikon D40 / D3000 (details on that.) which means it will have autofocus capabilities with every Canon EF and EF-S lens. For those on a budget, this can be a big deal when it comes to getting some great lenses. Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 II lens is only $100 and will work fantastically on this camera. Nikon users with a D40 or D3000 (or anything in those series) will need to shell out double for the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G for autofocus… the $100 Nikon 50/1.8D does not have a focus motor, and relies on the body. While not a massively big deal, this does offer a few more options, and requires less research when looking for lenses.
As far as the autofocus performance itself is concerned, it is pretty much what you would expect from an older, entry level DSLR. It has 9 points, with the center being f/2.8 cross point. The center works well enough with 2.8 or faster lenses under most circumstances… but the outer points, and the center with slow lenses will hunt unless you’re in a decently lit area, with a nice contrasty target. It’s adequate for portraits and such, poor AF for low light, events, sports, etc.
Another of Catherine. Canon XSi – Tamron 28-85mm f/2.8 – YN460II Speedlite in a 42″ Softbox Umbrella
I shot with the XSi as my main camera for about 18 months back in 2011/2012 before moving on to a T2i. The only real reason I got that camera was due to me wanting to start toying with video. Even though it was 2 generations newer, there were no real ‘upgrades’ for a person like me. Sure 18MP was nice when it came to retouching, and some magazines were starting to want more than 12MP. Cleaner high ISO was nice, but I rarely ever used it… I would have been completely happy with that XSi.
If your budget will only allow $200 or so for a camera body, definitely give it some consideration. I see them regularly on Craigslist for $200-$250 with an 18-55 IS lens, and like I mentioned above, Amazon has them for $200ish for the body. On a good day, you might be able to score a body only for $150 like I did recently. Other canon rebels, like the T3, T1i and T2i’s are dropping in price as well… I’ve shot with them all, and I’d rate them pretty much the same as the XSi for general use… If you can stretch your budget a little more, the newer bodies will give you more features, but if you can’t stretch it… the XSi is something great to get started with.