Digital cameras have come a long way in the last ten years. They used to fall into two categories - expensive, professional digital SLRs and point and shoot cameras.
Point and shoot cameras (followed by camera phones) offered a revolutionary degree of convenience. People could carry cameras anywhere, take as many pictures as they wanted, and not worry about silly things like film and developing. But, while the pictures may have been ok, these cameras lacked the level of control that SLR cameras have offered real photographers for decades.
The last few years have seen a melding of these two lines, however. Camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon have developed entry level lines of digital SLR cameras that offer the control of a traditional SLR without the price tag of a professional level dSLR like the Canon 5D.
The Canon EOS Rebel series, from the Canon t1i to the Canon t4i, has offered an increasing level of quality and control to hobbyist and semiprofessional photographers. Let's take a quick look at how the line has evolved and and how far Canon's entry level cameras have come.
Step One (May 2009): Canon EOS Rebel t1i / 500D
In 2009, Canon released the Canon t1i. This was a new entry level digital SLR that offered a great improvement in resolution and other features over older dSLRs like the Canon XT.
The Canon t1i was also the first digital SLR camera that I ever purchased. I bought it that fall, in October 2009, and I loved it. What made the camera so great?
First, the Canon t1i captured images in an extremely high resolution. It shot at 15.1 megapixels, which was far more than its predecessors. This high resolution made it a great choice for people who intended to print enlargements or use their photos in printed designs like books.
The Canon t1i also sported high ISO settings - up to 3,200. While there was a decent amount of noise, an image taken at 3,200 ISO was still quite pleasing and usable given a sufficient amount of light. This made it much easier to take well exposed photos in low light settings.
Finally, the Canon t1i was one of the first dSLRs to take high definition video. It lacked a few key features, like manual controls and standard frame rates. However, this was a huge step in the direction of dSLR cameras a hi quality camcorders.
Step Two (March 2010): Canon EOS Rebel t2i / 550D
The next year, Canon set a precedent for rapidly released, slightly upgraded camera models. Less than a year after the Canon t1i hit the shelves, the Canon t2i was out. I was a little upset that I had only owned my camera for a few months. Although I would have liked to have a t2i, it wasn't worth shelling out money for an upgrade.
The Canon t2i offered a few improvements over the original Canon EOS Rebel camera. The resolution was higher - 18 megapixels. 15 megapixels was already pretty high, and the improvement wasn't really necessary. It's also become the top end for the entry level cameras. Canon hasn't raised the resolution since the Canon t2i.
More importantly, the t2i offered some great improvements for video. It introduced new framerates (like standard 30 fps and 60 fps) for video. It also gave videographers the ability to hook up an external microphone.
Oh, and the standard ISO setting increased to 6400. Last year, I did end up purchasing a Canon t2i to use at school and I love this setting. I find myself using it a lot at indoor sporting events like basketball games, and the extra stop is awesome.
Step Three (March 2011): Canon EOS Rebel t3i / 600D
And but a year later, Canon released another iteration of its Canon EOS Rebel series. The Canon t3i offered a modest set of improvements over the Canon t2i, and again it wasn't really worth an upgrade. For people just jumping on the ship, though, it was a pretty nifty camera.
The image sensor and processor were the same. Therefore, the resolution, ISO settings, and noise reduction capabilities were the same as the Canon t2i. It also offered the same range of settings for video.
The key improvement with the Canon t3i involved flash control. The pop-up flash built into the camera now acted as a commander flash for Canon's e-TTL system. Using just the camera and pop-up flash, you could remotely trigger a whole set of flashes to take intricately lit portraits and photos. Without this feature, you would have needed either an expensive flash (i.e. a Canon 580 EX) or an expensive tranceiver.
Another minor addition was the articulating screen. The LCD screen folded out from the back of the camera, and you could swivel it to view it at different angles. This is a somewhat useful feature for videographers, but as a photographer I find it silly.
Video Autofocus in the Canon t4i
Step Four (June 2012): Canon EOS Rebel t4i / 650D
Which brings us to the present. In summer 2012, Canon released the latest camera in it's Rebel line up - the Canon EOS Rebel t4i. Whereas the Canon t2i and Canon t3i offered some minor improvements, the Canon t4i is a big step forward.
The most important difference is that the Canon t4i is built on Canon's new DIGIC 5 processor. This processes images faster, increasing the noise reduction capabilities and the frame rate in continuous mode. The camera can take photos about 50% faster than any other Canon Rebel camera, and the standard ISO rating is now 12,800. I wish I had one of these, so I could shoot at 12,800 at a basketball game. That would be amazing.
Other minor improvements include a touch screen LCD, manual controls in video, and auto focus while recording video. There's also a modified cross-type autofocus system. I'd be interested to try it out and see how it works, since focus speed and accuracy is one thing I don't love about the Canon t2i. Sometimes I have trouble when shooting high speed sports.
At this point, if you're shopping for a camera you should be comparing the Canon t3i and Canon t4i. The Canon t2i and t1i are both outdated, and you won't find them for sale except in second hand markets. Depending on how you use the camera, though, you might find that the Canon t3i offers a cheaper, acceptable alternative to the Canon t4i.
Step Five (April 2013): Canon EOS Rebel t5i / 700D
Early in 2013, Canon announced the latest member of it's EOS Rebel line of dSLR cameras. The Canon t5i is slated to be released at the end of April 2013.
And what does it bring to the table...? Well, not much.
It's virtually identical to the Canon t4i. There are some minor UI adjustments (the mode dial now turns 360 degrees). The camera now has a 3x to 10x digital zoom, which is helpful for video. The finish is a little different, so it looks nicer. Otherwise, there aren't really any new features or different specifications from the Canon t4i.
The one thing that is different is that it ships with a new Canon 18-55mm STM lens. This is going to replace the older 18-55mm lens, and it incorporates the new stepper motor autofocus introduced with the Canon t4i.
For more on this newest addition to the Canon line, try this article comparing the Canon t5i vs t4i.
When Did You Join the Canon Rebel Line?
Interesting question. Canon has set a pace for itself that suggests there's going to be a new camera coming out next year. Every year since 2009, they've introduced a new model in the Canon Rebel line.
However, chances are it will be a minor upgrade. Only the Canon t4i involved a major upgrade with a new image processor, but there isn't much left to improve. Before that, people had been suggesting that the line had run its course, but Canon proved them wrong.
So, perhaps time will tell. Surely, Canon will come up with something to improve so they can release and promote a new camera. What is, however, is anybody's guess.
Min Jiang on January 04, 2017:
Canon Rebel series didn't start from T1i. It was way before digital cameras came to market. I had my first EOS Rebel as 35mm film camera back in 1991, and that wasn't the begining of Rebel series either.
Marlien on January 10, 2015:
Plnasieg to find someone who can think like that