Canon's latest rebel is the smallest DSLR ever
The whole point of the cameras we call interchangeable-lens compacts (ILCs) was supposed to be their small size. By removing the mirror, manufacturers could shrink camera bodies to heretofore impossible levels of tininess. Now, five years after we gave Panasonic’s Lumix G1 our Camera of the Year award for pioneering that concept, Canon has delivered the EOS Rebel SL1, an 18MP DSLR that is smaller than Panasonic’s current flagship ILC, the Lumix GH3.
Sure, it’s a bit unfair to compare the two, as the Lumix is weather-sealed and decked out with high-end features—and costs about twice as much as this new Rebel. The SL1, clearly an entry-level model, streets for $799 (with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 EF-S IS STM lens); body-only, it sells for $649. But, it goes to show that there is still plenty of room in this world for DSLRs. And this one takes up much less room than most.
To see how big a splash the world’s smallest DSLR could make, we subjected it to the rigors of the Popular Photography Test Lab and extensive field tests.
In the Test Lab
Canon has made its take on the SL1 clear in its television ads: This is the family camera. As such, it should deliver high-quality images with little fuss. And in this sense, we can say that the camera lives up to its promise.
The SL1 earned an Extremely High rating in overall image quality from its lowest sensitivity of ISO 100 through ISO 1600—impressive for such an inexpensive camera, and covering a wide enough range for most family shooting scenarios.
While resolution could be higher, given its 18MP APS-C-sized CMOS sensor, the camera delivered a maximum of 2440 lines per picture height in our test—very close to an Excellent score. It holds onto a lot of that resolving power as the ISO increases: at ISO 1600, 2330 lines; at ISO 6400, 2200 lines. Past that point resolution drops sharply, landing at 1800 lines at the SL1’s top sensitivity of ISO 25,600 (Canon calls it H). The recently released Rebel T5i eked out just slightly more resolution, despite having a similar, if not identical, sensor. In our color accuracy test, it easily earned an Excellent rating with an average Delta E of 7.1.
As is often the case lately, Canon has kept noise well under control. The noise-reduction presets in the Digital Photo Professional RAW conversion software that ships with the camera make control simple. Noise is kept to Low or better from ISO 100 through ISO 1600. It doesn’t reach an Unacceptable level until ISO 12,800, and even at ISO 25,600 it remains lower than that of a lot of cameras.
The SL1’s main phase-detection autofocus system proved very fast and maintained plenty of speed as we dimmed the lights. At the brightest level of our test, it was able to focus and capture an image in a mere 0.38 seconds. It remained under a half-second until the living-room light level of EV 6, where it took 0.52 seconds to lock and fire. The camera was able to focus in less than a second throughout the range of light levels in which Canon states AF will function.
The company rates only the center AF point as effective down to EV –0.5, but in our tests the SL1 managed to focus and shoot in 0.99 seconds at EV –1. We also found that it eventually would focus at EV –2, as well, though the speed varied from just over a second to nearly two, averaging about 1.35 seconds. Given that variability, we didn’t include EV –2 in our official test results.