Among the first DSLRs to include HD video recording, Canon's EOS Rebel T1i (now $799) won a high rating from us, thanks to both its moving and still image quality, as well as its easy interface. The T2i ($899) improves on that, upgrading from 720p video to full HD and increasing the burst shooting rate from 3.4 to 3.7 frames per second. Best of all, the image quality is stunning enough to impress both beginner and intermediate photographers.
Design and User Interface
The T2i has a lightweight (1.6 pound) plastic body that feels well made. The rubber-coated hand grip is deep enough that it's easy to grasp this camera single handedly. More experienced users can use the Manual mode dial on top of the camera, but newer photographers will find the relative lack of buttons and controls comforting. On top, there's also an ISO button, a context-sensitive dial (say, for adjusting exposure), and of course, the power switch and shutter.
On the back side of the T2i is a bright 3-inch LCD with a high resolution of 1.04 million dots, which served us well in direct sunlight. Along the camera's right side are buttons for Exposure, Playback, Delete, Menu, Display, and Video Recording. A five-way navigational pad doubles as white balance, self-timer, autofocus, and metering controls. One thing we might change: The red blinking lights in the optical viewfinder could have appeared larger when we focused on something; as is, the points are a bit too subtle.
While the T2i has the look and feel of an entry-level DSLR, such as the $549 EOS XS, it's more advanced in every respect. The XS has lower 10-MP resolution and a previous generation image processor, as well as a smaller 2.5-inch LCD screen and ISO up to 1,600. Also, it doesn't record video, which the T2i does in full HD.
Image Quality and Speed
The T2i has an 18-MP CMOS sensor, the same one found in the $1,699 EOS 7D. The sensor is self-cleaning, just as in the older Rebel XSi. Whether we shot in a basement room with little natural light or outside in direct sunlight, we were stunned by the vibrant colors and the depth of field. Our Portrait and Macro shots taken with the included 18-55mm lens were among our favorite test shots.
In low light, the T2i fared well, although we wanted to see a little more shadow detail. For example, in a shot of a friend standing in front of a window in an otherwise dim room, her face appeared in shadow while the background appeared somewhat washed out. In instances like this, we wish the camera had a High Dynamic Range setting, like the Sony Alpha NEX-3. Although the standard ISO settings go up to 6,400, you can boost the T2i's to 12,800 (this is pretty standard; the $699 Nikon D3100 has the same ISO specs). While the camera's burst shooting rate of 3.7 fps isn't as fast as the $899 Nikon D90's rate of 4.7 fps, the T2i was quick to autofocus, and we noticed little shutter lag. A good test for that: snapping unobstructed shots on a New York City street as tourists and other passers-by walked down the sidewalk and into the frame.
Like the T1i, the T2i shoots HD video, but the resolution has been increased to 1080p from 720p (users can shoot at 30 fps, 25 fps, or 24 fps). Although we loved the level of detail, as well as the sound quality, the weaknesses of DSLR video in general still apply. These include the inability to autofocus while filming; if you try to twist your lens's zoom ring while recording, the picture will become blurry. Also, without a tripod, it's hard to hold the camera steady, making footage appear shaky.
Canon's EOS T2i ($899 with an 18-55mm lens) strikes a couple of nice balances: It's easy enough for novices to use but contains enough manual features to satisfy intermediate users looking to get more out of their cameras. More importantly, whether you adjust the settings or leave the camera on Auto, the image quality is so gorgeous the T2i is bound to impress even users who have been shooting for a while. For people looking for a DSLR with HD video recording capabilities and a few more manual options than an entry-level DSLR (such as the EOS XS or Editors' Choice-winning Nikon D3000), the T2i is an excellent choice.