As mentioned before, I ordered a new camera & lens. I wanted something of decent optical quality, small (in relative terms), cheap (again, relative), and flexible. I think have come pretty close to these goals with this camera (Canon Rebel XT aka 350D) and lens (Canon 17-85 IS USM lens) combination.
Rebel XT thoughts –
I like the body size of the camera, but I can see how it would be too small for many. I wasn’t ever comfortable with the camera on a strap, so I ordered a hand strap. I’ll see if that feels better. For packing the camera around I ended up buying a Rezo 20 as a case. It is slightly too large for the rebel, and it doesn’t really fit in my day bag. I need to get a bigger day bag anyway, so I will see if that changes anything.
As the body is small, the viewfinder is smaller than other bodies like the 20D. I found it quite usable, though I’m thinking about buying the extended eye cup. The 1.8″ LCD is decent when turned up, but hardly up to full sun treatment. I haven’t bothered with a screen protector yet, it doesn’t seem like it needs one. Buttons and the dial all seem well placed, and I got used to the positions quickly. The screens display almost all the information you want about the current settings. The glaring exception is ISO speed. To get that you have to press the info button. Not a huge hardship, but it would have been nice to have it with the rest of the status display.
I’ve always been a fan of photos on the sly, so I was a bit worried about the shutter noise. I’m happy to report that while there is a mechanized sound, it is not very loud, and easily ignored. I also love the black body compared with the silver, it is much more discrete.
I wasn’t expecting much out of the flash, but I found it actually fairly useful for fill-in or boosting light if exposed properly. I think I would still like to figure out some sort of bounce/diffuse situation though.
I spent some time playing around with most of the settings, though I tend to keep it on P and make adjustments that way. The auto modes seem to work fairly well, I think the camera would perform just fine if you handed it to someone who wasn’t familiar with photography.
One thing I keep having to remember is that exposure compensation and ISO speed are not reset when you switch off the camera. One thing I wish they had done was an auto ISO setting – you would tell the camera if shutter drops lower than x, increase ISO. Probably not a budget line feature. That said, I am really impressed with the ISO performance of the Rebel XT. 1600 ISO is fairly usable, and 800 is downright amazing. Hand held & lowlight being some of the driving forces for the upgrade, I’m very happy with the results so far.
The color and exposure seem quite good for the most part. Out of the few hundred photos I’ve taken testing the camera out, only one had color saturation issues. The exposure issues were mostly just examples of massive exposure range.
Auto focus on the Rebel XT is contrast based. Once I got used to the focus points, it was pretty easy to use. I found that I had to be careful relying too much on auto focus in low light & low contrast, performance is not the best in these conditions.
Canon 17-85 IS USM lens thoughts –
At an inch longer, a bit wider, and around 2/3 of a pound heavier than the kit lens, the camera definitely has a different feel with this lens attached. It is much more front heavy, but feels fairly natural with the left hand supporting it. I was worried about this lens after many reviews said it was known for chromatic aberration (aka purple fringing). However I had to really try to get CA to show up. I wonder if the SMC on the hoya UV filter helps with this.. I will have to test it out at some point.
The range of the lens is quite nice, approximately 27mm-136mm after the sensor 1.6 crop is figured in. This lets me get some wide angle shots, as well as a decent bit of zoom. Seems about perfect for travel.
At F4 – F5.6, the lens certainly isn’t the fastest on the block. However, I’ve been very impressed with the image stabilization (IS). Canon claims that the IS provides up to 3 stops of compensation. But fooling around with the camera, I found at times I could get away with even more. This doesn’t mean I am going to be able to do any serious night photography without a tripod, but I found it more than adequate for snap shots.
The USM (Ultrasonic Motor) focus on this lens is very quick and quiet. It is easy to switch to manual focus, and the focus ring on the lens is easy to use. The lens also features manual focus override – if auto focus isn’t doing the job, you can override it with the focus ring without worrying about damaging the lens focus motor.
Final thoughts –
So far I’m pretty happy with my purchase. I feel like I have scratched the surface of what the 350D and the 17-85 lens are capable of. I’ve got a handle on the photo basics, but I’m not quite at the all manual stage. Coming from a point and shoot background, I’m sure I have plenty of bad habits to break.