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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Canon Rebel EOS T2i (550D) Review- A Rebel That Spoiled Future Rebels

Canon EOS Rebel T2i (550D) Review- A Rebel That Spoiled Future Rebels
July 2016, Carl Garrard
Always a fan of smaller yet capable DSLR's its hard to argue for a better option than Canon's Rebel series. Sure, you can find features in some other brands that aren't available in the Rebels, but as an all rounder option with features that count, Rebels are best sellers for many reasons. My 6D is probably the best all round full frame DSLR out there for the price, but I still desire something smaller, lighter, and with a crop factor that gives me certain advantages. In short, I wanted a smaller DSLR to compliment my 6D, that gave me the best compact DSLR camera for the price. Enter then my choice for the Canon Rebel EOS T2i (or 550D). With so many newer models out there, why would I chose the T2i when there are eight newer models released since? That answer can be best summed up as personal preference for a more simple design, but it's more than that as I will outline in this review.

Canon's EOS Rebel T2i (550D) - On Amazon (Multiple Sellers)

Canon EOS Rebel T2i (550D) Review -Introduction

Canon's EOS Rebel T2i (550D) broke new ground in 2010 when it was introduced. At the time it was the highest resolution DSLR in its class/price and had arguably one of the, if not the, best overall sensor at the time. With similar guts as the Canon EOS 7D enthusiast grade DSLR, it was packed full of technology for a much more excellent price. At the time, the T2i was so far ahead of its peers as an all in one package (as the Rebel line had always been), and it looked unlikely that other manufacturers would catch up.

I remember thinking that the T2i would be a camera that would not date easily, and boy I was right. Even today, nearly six years later, the T2i's specifications and performance have held up quite well and it remains a bargain DSLR on the market. It appears that it's still a popular option too, as many other owners of the T2i prefer it over successor models.

For quick review, the T2i/550D specifications include the following: 1080p auto focusing video up to 30fps, live view w/two types of auto focus, 18mp resolution, 3.7fps continuous shooting, the biggest Rebel viewfinder (tied with the SL1), wireless flash capability, and many more features that a larger and more expensive DSLR would normally have all for about $250-350.00 dollars on today's market. I'm not so sure Canon realize just how future proof the T2i was going to be when they designed it, but I'm sure it's been a big challenge for Canon to come out with appealing successor models since.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i (550D) Review-Why I chose the T2i/550D

While many newer successors of the T2i/550D have a tilt screen and other additions and (arguably) better capabilities, I actually prefer a simpler and smaller DSLR with a high quality fixed screen. Having a preference for a more simple shooting experience means I suffer from less choice paralysis and lose less shots trying to fiddle about with a more complicated camera. Thus, I'm used to using fixed screens and prefer them. Besides, the newer excellent screens that have been on DSLRS since 2010 or so give excellent viewing angles and resolution.

Large with a proper aspect ratio, the multi-coated LCD screen is large, clear, and works great in bright light and at many viewing angles. It's hard to get better on even the newest DSLRs.

Another advantage is that fixed screens tend to be a bit larger with a proper 3:2 ratio that matches the standard image output and layout of most sensors themselves. It always made me wonder why camera makers included a 4:3 ratio screen, just as they did on the T1i. Probably the cheaper part to buy at the time.

Clean and organized with easy to use controls, the T2i is a pleasure to use- which can't often be said for many camera designs. I love the rear curved contour on the entire back panel which gives a very secure purchase for the shooting hand. The rear rubber thumb grip area is just right.

This results in a cleaner design with a less cramped rear panel , and that translates into more room for your hand and better handling. Ultimately that is what is most important to me. I wanted a smaller DSLR that embraces the full frame Canon 6D's less-is-more, handling first, design philosophy. With this said there are other important reasons for my choice in the T2I.

Price is one compelling reason. I didn't want to spend much on a DSLR of this type, since it will likely be used as a stop gap camera. I wanted a capable smaller DSLR that wasn't a financial burden that I didn't have worry about so much when shooting with it. A used T2i in like new condition is very inexpensive, yet you still a lot of performance and sacrifice very little compared to the newer models, practically speaking.

Other reasons include the fact that you still get full HD video (with autofocus), live view, a nice sensor (that remain unchanged for years and many successor models), a decent viewfinder (.87x vs .80-.82x on lessor/newer models for example), and many other features that trickled down into the newer models.

Canon's T2i was designed so well that I believe Canon has really struggled to justify newer models since, hence the title of this article. Canon keeps churning out new models regardless. I find that the T2i remains the real grandfather of all modern digital Rebels and in some ways it may never be a better camera with that badge on it.

Canon's EOS Rebel T2i (550D) - Current Pricing, Yep It's an Ad

Canon EOS Rebel T2i (550D) Review- Compelling Features

There is an appeal in a small light capable DSLR that is hard to put to words. My Canon 6D is the most compact full frame DSLR option out there, and I love it to death. There are times I don't want the extra weight/size of it, but don't want to bring a compact camera either. The SL1 I've bought and owned but the grip and cramped controls meant it wasn't the optimal stop gap between a good compact and my full frame 6D. The T2i is perfect in size and weight, and still offers excellent comfortable handling and shooting. It seems to be the best compromise without buying the larger and more expensive Rebels on the market.

The T2i sports a better grip and a little more room for controls over the SL1, while still retaining a compact DSLR form factor.

With the G9X, T2i, and 6D, I have a trio of cameras that are extremely capable, very familiar, and pretty much cover most of my photographic challenges. Add that they are all very affordable for what you get and  seem to offer arguably the best bang for the buck in each of their class.

Canon's EOS Rebel T2i (550D) - Current Pricing, Oh You Want To Look Don't You?

New (ish) EF-S Lenses

Along with my purchase of the T2i is the 24mm EFS pancake lens. This gives me roughly a 38.5 mm equivalent field of view (a nice compromise between 35/40mm, with 40mm being my favorite). For general snapshots, its a lightweight quiet and small lens with a bright aperture, great for street shooting or general landscape photography. It's even decent at close up or indoor/family shots too. I prefer this prime lens over attaching an all too common 18-55mm kit lens.

The 24mm EF-s is a perfect mate for the T2i when you want a compact versatile prime to shoot with. It's sharp at all f/stops and has good optical characteristics when you stop down to f/4 and beyond. This is when vignetting nearly disappears and color fringing is minimized, you'll see a bit of both wide open though.

Another advantage of the T2i is the crop factor. This gives me an advantage when using my 70-300mm zoom lens, which is basically like adding a 1.6x extender to my full frame 6D. For wildlife photography, it gives me just enough reach to get close up shots,. The sensor is good enough to ramp up to ISO 800 comfortably, which will still yield professional level images and gives me a fast shutter speed needed for wildlife photography. Of course the crop factor has advantages and disadvantages, but that's where my 6D makes up the other half. It's a nice compliment to that camera for this reason alone.

Canon's EOS Rebel T2i (550D) - Current Pricing, Like Today's Prices n stuff

Optical Finders Are Becoming Rare

Finding a solution for a small capable DSLR with a decent optical viewfinder these days can be quite complicated, only Canon make the SL1 with such a decent finder. When weighing all brands and models though I was left with only a couple of choices. One being the topic of this article, and the other from a brand to which I do not have a full lens line up for, nor does it offer the amount of lenses that Canon does. Since judging the two bodies was a toss up, it was an easy choice (and more affordable one) to chose the T2i simply because I have a few EF lenses that are compatible. Choosing the T2i thus was a pretty easy choice.

Optical viewfinders in smaller DSLRs tend to be functional, but not great. The T2i's viewfinder is in this category but, the nice thing is that of the Rebel's it's got the highest magnification of them all at .87x magnification- which is tied ironically with the SL1 (an even smaller DSLR which I really liked).

Adding the Canon MG-Ef 1.2x  magnification eye cup brings that number to a 1.04x magnification equivalent, without vignetting the corners of your view (unless you wear eyeglasses). This is no Canon 6D viewfinder in terms of brightness and size when you add it, but for a "compact" DSLR, its quite a large and spacious view now. Keep in mind that the finder without with the MGEf bests even Canons high end T6S Rebel, the latest (and most expensive) Rebel to date.

The MGEf Magnifier accomplishes two tasks, it makes the view much larger and gives you space between the camera and your nose. It helps to block out a little more light surrounding the finder too, but not much more than the standard eyepiece

The magnifier is roughly $25-$30.00 and fits many Rebel camera models, so its a good future proof investment. That said, a T2i with that magnifier makes a very capable companion with an optical finder, and you still have a great live view LCD for ultra critical manual focus to rely on!

Am I making an argument for a $250.00 DSLR yet, or not? (If you buy used...)

Canon's EOS Rebel T2i (550D) - Current Pricing as Opposed to Old and Moldy Pricing

Canon EOS Rebel T2i (550D) Review- Using the T2i/550D

Handling on the T2i is one of my favorites traits. It's small and light, but very well built for the price. Controls are placed excellently, and clutter is kept to a bare minimum. Although customization of its controls is kept to a minimum, Canon did a good job on deciding where they ought to be.

It's much like using the dwarfish SL1 only with a better grip and a little more space for your hand to use controls. While I like the SL1 quite a bit (I miss the touch screen), I find that when comparing the two, I prefer the T2i for its slight increase and size, and its control layout.

A larger HDMI  port, mic port (for external video mics), and USB port are contained under a flimsy rubber flap, the only flimsy part of the T2i that I noticed. On the left the DOF preview button is below the lens release button, and above that is the flash button. Not complicated and a better location for the DOF preview button imho.

Until the T1/2i, I found that Canon Rebel DSLR's had uncomfortable grips that were not deep enough even for small hands. It took what seemed like forever for Canon to get a decent grip on a Rebel. I'm still not completely satisfied with the T2i's grip, but it's much better than predecessor's and definitely better than the SL1's. Again, compromise for smaller cameras.

It just feels more comfortable to use on a daily basis. There's no denying the compactness of the SL1 however, but I feel that the T2i is a perfect compromise between my G9X and 6D cameras in terms of size and handling. It's right smack in the middle in just about every way, and doesn't feel dated in design even seven years after its introduction.

Technically, the processor does a pretty good job at keeping up. It's no speed demon like the newer cameras, but it keeps up just fine for most situations. Raw recording will slow it down a bit in the buffer and review process, but that's really the only areas I found the T2i to show any sign taxing the processor, which was pretty rare in fact.

Image quality I am used too. Having owned the 7D, T3i, and SL1, I am very familiar with this sensor as all pretty much share the exact same one. Canon does a fine job on the Jpegs, and being able to custom tailor them while recording a simultaneous raw file makes them even more useful. Having the ability to turn off the noise reduction completely, fine tune sharpness, contrast, color, and saturation give control to the photographer as it ought to be.

ISO 100  f/4 w24mm STF, out of camera. Lots of range and excellent detail in Jpegs. I choose a low sharpening and off setting for noise reduction. I also ramp contrast down one notch on my camera settings. I prefer less processing than more in some settings.

Using the highlight tone priority is both an advantage and disadvantage. While you will save highlights and arguably a bit of dynamic range (especially so in raw), you do so at the expense of losing the ability to choose ISO 100 and the Hi 12,800 setting. This implies that ISO 100 and 12,800 are "push" settings and not true ISO settings. Also, you cannot use auto lighting optimizer while this function is set.

Raw files look great at the ISO settings used most, like 100 for example. Up to 3200 are quite good though. If  you want to push your shadows or shoot at higher ISO values, be careful to expose correctly and/or do not push your shadows too far (for reasons mentioned below). Overall I find with careful exposure that the raw files have adequate dynamic range for most scenes and otherwise are capable of fantastic image quality.

ISO 3200 no noise reduction or sharpening applied in ACR/Raw. This time no banding.
Note: You occasionally will notice banding- a trait of most Canon camera's that has in my opinion always been a black eye for them and seldom discussed enough (I think many play favorite to Canon and I won't name names). However, Canon seems to be finally ridding itself of this issue, the 6D and Powershot cameras do not suffer from this phenomenon. I haven't looked into the new 24mp APS-C sensors that have found their way in the 80D or T6i/s series cameras yet, but I will keep an eye here. that said it's circumstantial and you may not see the banding in your images depending on how you expose and/or process your raw files.

Banding, pulled up from a raw file, this is an extreme range of light as I spot metered the moon when it was almost dark outside.
Here I took a shot while spot metering on the moon. I did this because I wanted to pull those shadows up real far in post, so I could demonstrate the banding. This is an extreme case of me lifting shadows almost 4 full stops. This is not what normal shooting conditions will dictate, its only done to give an example of the banding pattern that exists deep in the shadows in raw files. Depending on your scene, you may or may not ever see banding.

When you do everything right though, the T2i is full of detail, excellent color, and a pure image that is worthy of a very large print. It's not 6D great, but its not expected to be, yet pretty darn close and great for professional work.

480mm equivalent with Tamron 70-300mm SP DI VC lens f/5.6 ISO 100. Detail is extraordinary.

Canon's EOS Rebel T2i (550D) - Current Pricing Take A Look

My List of Favorite Traits

  • Nice viewfinder (especially when you add the MG-Ef eyepiece magnifier)
  • Excellent grip for its class/size (much better than the SL1)
  • Just the right size/weight for it's class
  • Excellent implementation and location of the controls
  • Beautiful and clear rear LCD panel (3:2 ratio makes a big difference)
  • Exposure compensation goes beyond -2/+2 to -5/+5
  • Accurate contrast detection AF
  • Hyper accurate live view metering
  • Well implemented live view mode w/properly placed LV toggle button
  • Larger HDMI port
  • Jpeg settings are individually customizeable even when shooting raw
  • Off setting for noise reduction
  • Very decent video capabilities
  • Ability to shoot a still image during video recording
  • Sturdy build quality overall
  • Buttons are nicely sized
  • Attention to detail in body shape, gaps, comfort to photographer
  • Eye Sensor
  • Effective dust reduction
  • Low noise, entire ISO range (even extended range) is useful
  • No shutter shock or vibration to add to blurriness to images
  • Excellent Jpeg engine and processing (emphasis to keep detail)
  • Overall intuitive and easy to use camera, doesn't get in your way of the shot, probably the best thing about the T2i on this list
  • Raw files can be superb 
  • Bang for buck factor very high

Areas To Watch

  • Image Banding occurs when lifting shadows in raw, or shooting high ISO's
  • Total dynamic range is a bit tight in raw
  • Highlight tone priority removes ISO 100, 12,800
  • Average low light focusing w/center AF point
  • AF assist lamp requires use of pop up flash, which requires the camera to be on

Canon EOS Rebel T2i (550D) Review- Conclusion

It's hard not to like the T2i, or even admire it at times. Canon's T2i was ahead of its time in 2010 and remains an excellent affordable DSLR for a wide range of uses and users. It's price for performance would be difficult to beat, and in some ways it still out performs some of the newer models. With the exception of the SL1, almost all Rebels introduced after it have been arguably just that, newer, but not really better. For those who like a tilt screen and marginally higher specs in some ways, I guess the T3i/T4i/T5i/T6i could have a spec or two that would be practically appealing, but really, you have to hand it to Canon and the T2i for being forward thinking.

The only moderate criticism I'll level at the T2i is in its sensor. The newer generation 24mp sensor found in the Canon 80d finally breaks some dynamic range limitation barriers that Canon set for itself for as long as I can remember- based on my readings. Image banding (at higher ISO's) and dynamic range have long been a weak spot for Canon in its sensor designs (excepting the Canon 6D's which is remarkable) when compared to makers of other sensors like Sony for example. That said, there's criticism and real life.

With about 11.5- 12 stops of dynamic range in the raw files at base ISO, the T2i can just about handle the extreme range of light that I personally require. You can eek out a bit more DR by using Highlight Tone Priority. The thing is, you just may have to pay very close attention to exposure. It would certainly be nice to have more raw latitude for quite a few reasons. Image quality otherwise is very good to excellent, and by no means would I use the T2i if I didn't think it wasn't capable of professional quality images. There's more to liking a camera than nitpicking sensor output too.

But the best quality of the T2i has got to be how well thought out and put together it is. From menu to buttons, holding and operating, the T2i is a fun and engaging camera to use that will reward you with excellent images. If you do not like optical finders, there are zillions of choices out on the market. But for those of us who like smaller capable DSLRs with an optical finder, the T2i remains an available and affordable choice that should please many different and demanding shooters. Adding the MG-Ef magnifier is highly recommended if you do not wear glasses.

If sports are your thing, I wouldn't pick the T2i first, but I also would not hesitate to use it either when you need too. High frame rates don't necessarily make a sports camera good.

Overall the T2i is a great bang for the buck. At $200-300$ (used), it's so fun and intuitive to use, and yet it's also quite capable. Likely it's hard to find a better deal on the market for a true DSLR that still has all the modern conveniences of HD video and live view etc.. I highly recommend it, especially if you have money invested in a Canon system already.

-Carl Garrard

Canon's EOS Rebel T2i (550D) - Current Price Ranges on Amazon


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