The Canon EOS Rebel XS costs $200 less than its Editors’ Choice–winning sibling, the EOS Rebel XSi, but the only real differences are in its lower resolution and smaller LCD. Indeed, the XS takes beautiful photos, works quickly, and is easy to use. Thanks to its simple interface, we particularly recommend it to DSLR newbies.
The Rebel XS is almost identical in looks to the sloping-shouldered XSi. The hand groove leaves plenty of rooms for the fingers, and we like the ergonomic indentation for the thumb. The XS feels light; at the same time, though, its heavier counterparts have a more solid, professional feel.
The Rebel XS has a simple arrangement of buttons: a hot shoe on top, a mode dial, and an ISO button. On the back are Menu, Display, Exposure, White Balance, Playback, and Delete buttons, and two for zooming in playback. The five-way navigational pad’s outer buttons double as autofocus, self-timer/continuous shooting, metering, and picture style buttons. To activate the pop-up flash, press the button on the left side, next to the lens.
The big buttons (and the fairly large font below each) make the Rebel XS look like a more novice-friendly camera than the Nikon D40 or the Olympus Evolt E-520. In fact, the simple design belies some sophisticated architecture: it has an automatic sensor-cleaning system, which the D40 doesn’t.
The 2.5-inch LCD is smaller than those on the XSi and Olympus Evolt E-520, which are 2.7 inches. Nevertheless, it’s bright and sharp, and we were able to comfortably review photos on it. And given the $200 price difference between the Rebel XS and XSi, we appreciate that the small LCD is one of few trade-offs. Like the XSi, it’s available in black and silver, and takes SD and SDHC Cards up to 32GB.
The Rebel XS has clean menus, from which users can adjust various settings. However, users can also change some settings by pressing the corresponding buttons on the back of the camera, which often made the Rebel XS more convenient to use than the D40. The Rebel XS has fewer options in its menu, even in Manual mode, which could be a bummer for nonbeginners.
As with the Rebel XSi, enabling Live View on the XS was complicated. You have to drill into the menu system, and even then you can’t use Live View in Auto, no-flash, or any of the scene modes; you have to be in Manual or Program (precisely the modes Live View shooters—namely, novices—will avoid). To activate Live View you have to half-press the shutter and then Set. We wish there were a dedicated Live View button as is there is on the E-520.
It’s just as well that Live View is difficult to access. The lens couldn’t focus on objects as far away as it could when the viewfinder was enabled. At least the on-screen action looked more fluid than it did on the E-520’s LCD.
Like other cameras in its class, the Rebel XS’ Live View created a four-second shot-to-shot lag, including a pause as the screen goes dark. Without Live View, there was virtually no shutter lag.
Our test shots with the Rebel XS were lovely; at times the quality was comparable to the D40’s. Particularly in no-flash mode, we enjoyed the accurate, but pleasant colors, and the natural exposure. Although the D40’s close-up shots showed a more dramatic contrast between the sharp subject and blurry background, the Macro shots we took using the Rebel XS of flowers and aging stone statues still looked gorgeous.
Although our low-light portraits showed pleasing, natural-looking light, our subjects’ faces didn’t pop, as they did in the photos we took with the D40. We were disappointed to see that the ISO only goes up to 1600, compared with 3200 on the D40.
Of the three cameras, the Rebel XS felt the fastest in continuous shooting mode. Yet the quality of these action shots ranked in the middle. On the whole they were sharp (the Olympus Evolt E-520’s were almost all blurry), but they lacked the artistic panache of the D40’s, which did a better job highlighting our fast-moving subjects.
For instance, in the series of shots we took of rollerbladers, the skaters didn’t look blurry, but neither did the background; it looks like a moment frozen in time, appropriately, but not a sports photograph. With the D40, we had more shots where the subject was perfectly sharp but the background was slightly blurry, which made the subject look as if they were in motion. However, the Rebel XS otherwise had the best all-around speed, in both continuous shooting and in focusing.
Startup and Battery Life
The Rebel XS was also quick to start up, although not as fast as the D40. It’s a bit slow to shut down, but that’s because the sensor-cleaning system, which uses ultrasonic vibration to remove dust from the sensor, is doing its job. (It automatically cleans the sensor when you power the camera on or off, but you can manually activate it too.) After taking well over a hundred photos, we still had three bars of battery life.
If ever a camera could overtake the D40 in the budget DSLR category, it’s the Canon EOS Rebel XS. It offers fast speeds, an easier interface, higher resolution, an automatic sensor-cleaning system, and often-comparable (and always good) image quality. The D40 still has better all-around image quality, but the Rebel XS is nonetheless impressive, and its interface might even be better suited to DSLR novices.