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Canon’s just-announced 12.2-megapixel EOS Rebel XSi is a digital Rebel through and through — lightweight, compact, and packed with an impressive feature set. It borrows and adapts a number of high-end EOS SLR functions and adds a few tricks of its own:

• There’s a 3-inch 230K dot LCD like the 1Ds Mark III.
• It’s the first Rebel with a Digic III processor.
• There’s 14-bit A/D conversion.
• Highlight Tone Priority settings come to the Rebel line.
• It’s got a 4% spot meter (hooray!)
• On-the-fly Lighting Optimization Technology can tweak photos in-camera to help challenging lighting situations.
• The burst rate jumps to 3.5 fps for 6 RAW or 45 JPEGS.
• It’s the first EOS to take only SD cards — no CF cards here!
• Like the EOS 1D Mark III, EOS 40D, and 1Ds Mark III, it has Live View Mode — but this is the best yet!
• Of course it’s got a self-cleaning sensor.

Will there be a rebellion among enthusiasts because it swaps the CF card slot of every other EOS camera for only an SD slot? We don’t think so. It was a long time ago that most compact and EVF digital cameras migrated to the SD format, and for the beginner looking to move up to the SLR experience, it makes sense. And SDHC card capacities are quickly outpacing CF card storage sizes. We’re seeing 32GB Class 6 SDHC cards come into market, and that’s enough for a whole vacation’s worth of top-quality JPEGs and possibly even RAW+JPEG. And a Class 6 SDHC card (60/MB second transfer speed) can more than keep up with the camera’s processor at this level of camera. And SDHC cards are smaller than CFs, so it takes up less of the volume of the camera.

For example, even with the new Image-Stabilized 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens (7.3 oz) attached, the Rebel XSi with an SDHC card and an LP-E5 battery weighs in at 1 lb 10 oz. The 10.2MP EOS Rebel XTi with the older, non-stabilized 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 (6.7 oz) NB-2LH weighs in at 1 lb 11.7 oz. So, the new Rebel XSi manages to both add features and functionality, and trims down a touch.

But don’t worry XTi fans, the Rebel XTi isn’t going anywhere. But it is dropping a bit in price — $599 list. And it’s now the new entry-level Rebel. Yes, the Rebel XT is remaindered. And the Rebel XTi is still quite an impressive price leader for the EOS line.

What we’re most excited about with the new Canon EOS XSi is the two flavors of Live View focusing. Live Mode is Contrast-based and like it sounds, works without any viewfinder blackout. The focus point can be selected from all but the very edges of the frame, all in real time, without any blackout while the mirror flips about. Quick Mode is, as it sounds, generally quicker, and works off the phase detection AF points, and does involve a momentary LCD blackout, but when it pops back on, the shot is nice and sharply previewed. Final specs on the Live View autofocus functionality via EOS Utility when the XSi is tethered to a computer aren’t yet available, but we expect to see some flavor of remote focusing via computer interface.

Yes, it’s a Rebel through and through, but these upstarts keep getting more and more mature with each generation. It’s got a more textured grip like its pro-line siblings, and finally there’s a dedicated ISO button sitting right in front of the mode dial. Thank you Canon! The rear button layout has been rearranged a bit on the XSi to accommodate that big LCD, but it’s a Rebel, and quite possibly the best one yet.

We can’t wait to get a full production model on the testing bench for our full Lab Test. Keep an eye on and upcoming issues of Popular Photography magazine for our full report.