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No change from the T4i; not necessarily a bad thing
on April 23, 2013
This is a Rebel T4i with a better 18-55 kit lens. It's intended as a drop-in replacement for the T4i, which means it's the same fast, compact stills camera with a touchscreen that simplifies configuration, image review, and the EOS learning curve. There are better movie cameras. Motion tracking for video, while a vast improvement over DSLRs before the T4i, falls short of many mirrorless bodies.
I'm reviewing it from the perspective of a working professional, which means I'm at least as concerned about what it's missing as what it has. If you're new to DSLRs, you're likely to find this camera an immense upgrade in many ways.
Buy it over mirrorless systems and the T2i/T3i if you want faster shooting and tracking with stills and the immediacy of an optical viewfinder. Choose the SL1 for the most petite size, the 60D for a quicker interface and a deeper buffer for raw files, or the 7D for even better motion-tracking. The T4i alone or with the 18-135 STM is equally compelling if it costs less. Image quality is the same between all the crop bodies. Low-light performance improves with the full-frame 6D and above.
9-point AF w/ 1 cross-point
11 raw burst
1/4000 max shutter
+ 18 MP
+ 3.7 fps
+ 1080p/30, 720p/60
+ Movie crop zoom, 7X VGA
+ LCD sharper
+ Metering improved
+ Auto-ISO improved
-- 6 raw burst
+ LCD articulates
+ Movie crop zoom, 3X 1080p
+ JPEG adjustments & scene modes
+ 9-point AF w/ 9 cross-points
+ Hybrid AF for video
+ 5 fps
+ Stereo mic
+ Multi-shot noise reduction
+ Automated 3-shot HDR
-- No movie crop zoom
+ 360-degree mode dial
+ JPEG effects in Live View
+ 18-55 kit zoom w/ STM focus
+ 5.3 fps
+ 16 raw burst
+ AF-on button
+ Top-panel LCD
+ Mode dial lock
+ Viewfinder bigger, brighter
+ 1/8000 max shutter
+ Battery life doubled
-- No touchscreen
-- No hybrid AF for video
-- No multi-shot noise reduction
-- No automated HDR
-- Mono mic
-- Non-STM 18-135 kit lens
All Rebels have three handling characteristics: small grips (for a DSLR), an emphasis on buttons over dials, and many functions intended to be used with the camera away from your face.
Those with petite hands may appreciate the small size. I prefer the larger grips of the 60D and above. There's not much practical difference in portability; the T5i, like the 60D, is too large for a pocket or most purses. It is lighter by a quarter, but if you're really sweating the ounces, a mirrorless system or the SL1 is a better choice.
Certain adjustments are less accessible than with the 60D and 7D. For lack of a thumb wheel, this Rebel requires more buttons held in combination to activate basic functions like exposure compensation. There's no top LCD, so a quick check of your settings or changing the white balance requires booting the rear screen. Likewise, there's no joystick or 8-way pad for direct AF point selection. The higher-tier cameras make it easier to rapidly correct settings without taking your eye from the viewfinder and missing the subject or the moment.
The counterpoint is that showing everything on the rear screen with touch control significantly lowers the EOS learning curve. The touchscreen is capacitive and almost as responsive as a modern smartphone. Adjusting functions (e.g., exposure, white balance, focus points; everything) is as simple as tapping what you want. The camera won't be at the ready when you're manipulating the LCD, but thanks in part to an integrated 'feature guide' that explains most options, you probably won't need to pull out the manual on first acquaintance.
Phone gestures (e.g., pinch zoom, swiping) are now part of the picture review system, which makes checking focus vastly quicker and more flexible than on any other non-touch EOS body. Focus itself is touch-enabled in Live View mode, so you can tap to focus on static subjects anywhere in the frame without ever having to manipulate the 9-point AF system.
There's no weather-sealing in the body or the kit lenses. Don't use either in the rain without a cover. You do get a popup flash, though for lack of direct diffusion or bounce, using it as a main light will lead to harsh, high-contrast results. The rear LCD swivels to the side almost parallel to the body and rotates a full 360 degrees, so you can easily frame self-portraits, or turn it in to face the body for protection in storage.
This sensor is functionally identical to those in the T2i/T3i/T4i/60D/7D/SL1. Noise and dynamic range are the same in raw, though noise in JPEG is a tick cleaner with the T4i and T5i. Expect acceptable results up to ISO 3200. Nikon's D5100 is slightly better, Sony's A65 slightly worse. It's about two solid stops better than a typical point-and-shoot.
Unless you're in a JPEG-only shooting mode (e.g., multi-shot NR, HDR), raw gets the most out of this camera. Post-production creates the bulk of the appeal of many photographs (e.g., Instagram) and JPEG often lacks the requisite flexibility. Raw shooting also lets you defer decisions (e.g., white balance, sharpening, noise reduction, color, distortion, tone curves, and even exposure) that distract from catching whatever moment you're after.
HDR combines 3 shots taken in rapid succession. The automated result preserves highlights in a subtle, natural way, but not with greatly more range than a raw file with Highlight Tone Priority enabled. If you want to do your own processing with a program like SNS-HDR, you'll be adjusting exposures manually because Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) is limited to 3 shots from -2EV to +2EV.
Multi-Shot NR combines 4 shots to create one with less noise. You can set your own starting ISO, but the effects aren't apparent until ISO 800. At high ISO, it's good for about 1.5 stops. If the camera's already on a tripod or you can lean on an IS lens, you might as well lower the ISO and shoot for longer. A limited auto-alignment feature applies to handheld sequences for this feature and the similar 'Handheld Night Scene' shooting mode.
This camera has the same phase-detect AF unit (9 points, all cross-type) and nearly the same framerate (5 fps vs. 5.3 fps) as the 60D. That bodes well for capturing motion. What doesn't is the raw buffer. If you hold the shutter down in continuous mode, it'll take 6 raw, 4 raw + JPEG, or up to 30 JPEGs before slowing down. That's barely a second of continuous raw shooting, much less than with the 60D's 16 raw frames. The difference matters if you're trying to time a particular moment. That aside, this T5i has a reasonably high hit-rate (50%+) with recent USM lenses in moderate to bright conditions. The next performance tier is the 7D, and after that, the 5D III.
I want to point out: DSLRs suffer when shooting stills from the rear screen. Standard SLR design has a mirror and a prism (or additional mirrors) reflect incoming light into both the viewfinder and the fast phase-detect AF array. If you want a live feed to the rear screen, that mirror has to flip up to expose the sensor, so you can't use that array to focus anymore. You're left with a 'contrast detect' system (or in this particular body, a slightly faster amalgam of contrast and phase-detect) that's much, much slower. Expect to use the viewfinder unless your subject is very still.
AS A POINT-AND-SHOOT:
If you set 'green box' mode and pretend this T5i is an oversized point-and-shoot, what implications?
* It makes more noise than a point-and-shoot. The mirror and shutter are definitely audible. Shutter lag can be much lower. Zoom is manual and effectively instant.
* The ergonomics don't work as well for rear-screen shooting. The camera is heavier and more awkward held in front of you, so blur from hand-shake will be more evident.
* Auto-exposure favors narrower apertures, slower shutter speeds, and lower ISOs than might be optimal. Particularly with lenses faster than f/2.8, it's less likely to choose the widest available aperture. Shooting indoors with a 35/2, for example, you're likely to see f/2.8, ISO 1600, and 1/50 instead of f/2 and 1/100.
* It won't use ISOs above 6400. Not that you'd want to, but some scenes may demand a faster shutter.
* Focus consistency and speed will depend on whether you've got an AF point on contrast. There's no great intelligence to AF-point selection, so it'll probably choose the wrong focus point about half the time. With slow lenses like the kit zooms, the error won't matter for the vast majority of shots.
* High-contrast lighting will produce variable results. The camera can't expose the whole scene correctly, so it'll guess what you want. Sometimes it'll guess wrong.
There are other full-auto modes on dial to deal with specific situations. They're useful in a pinch, but less predictable than what you can achieve with the semi-auto modes and the various metering controls.
T5i video is smoother, cleaner, and less contrasty than that of point-and-shoot cameras. As with stills, the right lenses can give you creamy backgrounds and professional-looking subject isolation. The corollary, though, is that focus actually matters. Your first impression reviewing footage is likely to be, "Why is everything always so blurry?"
Fortunately, autofocus in video mode was a major upgrade in the T4i and T5i. Canon DSLRs before the T4i had horribly slow contrast-detect AF that couldn't handle any subject motion at all. Canon's never bothered with manual focusing aids, so custom firmware or trial-and-error with the rear LCD were the only alternatives. Thanks to 'Hybrid AF,' this camera is not totally inept with movement. It doesn't work quickly or precisely with non-STM lenses, it tends to hunt (bringing the scene in and out of focus) with all lenses, it doesn't work well outside of the frame center (where it's assisted by phase-detect sensors) or in low light, and it's incapable of tracking anything faster than a caffeinated sloth. But it's not manual focus.
Realistically, if you want to film your kid playing soccer or running across the kitchen with DSLR quality, you've three options: prefocus, stop the lens down to get more depth-of-field, and try to stay perpendicular to the action; manually focus and accept that things won't be pin-sharp; or choose a mirrorless camera that can keep up.
Canon video is MOV format with H.264 compression. The implementation is inefficient and processing-intensive. You'll want a serious computer (quad-core), lots of space (350 MB/min at 1080p/30), and a decent video editor (e.g., Apple iMovie, Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere Elements). Results improve with correct white balance and a custom tone curve with low contrast, color, and sharpening.
Beware camera shake. Anything over 50mm that isn't stabilized will challenge your ability to record smooth footage. You can fix that later by transcoding to an editable format and using the anti-shake facilities of Premiere, Vegas, or Virtual Dub with Deshaker, but that's a pain and they all crop the frame. This won't be issue until you start moving to primes; the two kit lenses are both stabilized. They're also STM, which means they focus by stepper motors that are (often) quieter and capable of smaller incremental movements than USM.
Certain full-frame stabilized lenses are audible on the audio track, as are the focusing mechanisms of non-STM lenses. You'll also have to contend with dial clicks, finger movement, and wind noise, which obscure what would be fairly mediocre sound quality in the best case. The T5i records CD-quality 48 KHz 16-bit stereo tracks; the fault is with the lack of isolation and baffling with the integrated stereo mic. The simplest, most portable alternative is to attach an external battery-powered mic in a shock mount to the flash hotshoe. The two most popular are around $250 from Rode. Zoom's H1 stereo recorder costs less and can also be camera-mounted.
Both kit lenses excel. The 18-135/3.5-5.6 STM in particular is the best consumer-class kit lens Canon has ever produced. If you upgrade, it'll be for more speed, a different range, or perhaps more contrast, not because it isn't sharp enough.
Some thoughts on future additions:
* Primes are lighter, smaller, cheaper, often available in wider apertures, often optically better, and have less manufacturing variation. They're less convenient, less versatile, updated with new technologies (e.g., stabilization, better lens coatings, weight reductions, faster or more accurate AF) less often, and can cause you to miss shots in fast-paced shooting environments.
* There are different requirements for movie lenses and still lenses. Some lenses are more optimal than others (e.g., less focus breathing, more parfocal, less distortion, smoother operation, distance scale). Primes often fare better.
* An f/2 lens on this body is just fast enough for most indoor use without flash. You'll want a flash for anything slower. A flash can provide more even, pleasing pictures, at the expense of a bulkier, attention-attracting rig.
* Kits with more than three primary lenses can become unwieldy in use. Two is preferable. My walkaround crop kit is a 10-22/3.5-4.5, a 50/1.4, and an 18-135-3.5-5.6 STM.
* Third-party lenses tend to have less upfront cost, better warranties, and more aggressive designs. AF and optical performance is often (but not always) inferior to OEM lenses, quality control is less consistent, and resale values are lower. Value varies by lens model. Some are better than the OEM equivalents (e.g., Tamron 70-300 VC). Some fill holes in the OEM lineup (e.g., Sigma 50-150/2.8 OS, Sigma 30/1.4). And some are lesser substitutes, but still competitive (e.g., Sigma 10-20/4-5.6). Third-party lenses that duplicate the OEM with similar performance may not always be preferable to used copies of the OEM model.
The most economical leap in image quality and subject isolation is the 50/1.8. But beware: this lens will lighten your pockets when you start seeking other lenses with the same effect.
For video, buy SD cards 32 GB or larger. My pair of 16 GB cards have been inadequate for even a one-day event. For stills, two or three 8 GB cards is plenty.
Interface responsiveness isn't much affected by card speed. Faster cards have three advantages: they can shoot longer bursts at 5 FPS, clear the picture buffer more quickly, and record video at the highest quality without risking a speed warning. Buffer depth is 30 JPEG files with a UHS-1 ('Ultra High Speed') SD and 22 with a conventional card, or 6 raw with any card. Buffer cycling times are much lower with UHS-1. In one-shot mode, this difference is invisible; very fast cards would only make sense if you were time-limited on card-to-computer transfers with a USB 3.0, SATA, or Firewire card reader.
If you buy protection filters for your lenses, try Hoya's "DMC PRO1 Clear Protector Digital" line. They have very high light transmission and cause no visible flare. Digital sensors filter UV natively, there's no reason to pay more for that feature. I've written reviews on the relevant Hoya product pages with more details and why you might (or might not) want a filter.
You gain continuous shooting speed, better AF for stills, and a touchscreen. The AF system will be faster and more accurate with wide-aperture lenses, particularly with off-center subjects. The hybrid-AF system is actually usable in slow video scenes, more than could be said for contrast-detect functionality in the T2i and T3i.
It's the same camera save for previewing image effects in Live View. The 18-55 kit lens is now STM. The 18-135 is the same; if the T4i with the 18-135 costs less, I'd choose that.
Of the 60D's many improvements, the hardest to work around is the raw buffer. You get one second at 5fps with the T5i. You get over three with the 60D. The T5i simply isn't a sports camera in raw unless you're judicious with your bursts. Shoot JPEG and it'll keep the pace all day. And shoot movies where anything moves at all and it'll leave the 60D behind in focusing performance.
Interface speed significantly favors the 60D if you're willing to learn the button assignments. Because it requires less button-pressing and the camera rarely needs to come off your face, it's faster than the T5i except for detailed picture review and choosing focus areas in Live View. The 60D actually costs less new, but don't choose the 18-135 kit. That's a non-STM lens much less sharp than the version the T5i includes.
I'm of two minds about this T5i. On the one hand, it's another fine evolution of small DSLRs (or rather, non-evolution; that sentence works if we pretend it's still called T4i). On the other, the question is whether you want a DSLR at all. Many people would fare better with mirrorless (e.g., Sony NEX, Panasonic G/GH) than a Rebel-class DSLR. They're smaller, lighter, and less clunky than the strange amalgam of 'Live View' and traditional mirror shooting that defines most current DSLRs. Focus is unerringly accurate with static subjects and vastly quicker in the movie modes. To their credit, DSLRs like this one have a broader array of narrow-purpose lenses (e.g., macro, tilt-shift, supertelephoto, superfast), far better motion tracking for stills, more subject isolation, faster and better physical controls, and if you spring for full-frame, superior noise performance.
If your priorities favor DSLRs, this isn't a bad one to choose. There's almost no photographic endeavor it can't handle. Higher-spec bodies get you better noise, speed, AF tracking, durability, and so on, but technology has advanced so quickly that if you're even vaguely methodical in shooting style, you're not likely to feel limited by this T5i. Look hard at the T4i and 60D before springing for it, though.
Please leave a comment if you intend to downvote so I can correct the inaccuracy.