Canon Digital Rebel XT Review

This new Rebel XT has set a new standard for consumer digital single lens reflex cameras.
This new Rebel XT has set a new standard for consumer digital single lens reflex cameras.
This new Rebel XT has set a new standard for consumer digital single lens reflex cameras.


  • One of the best and most affordable D-SLRs available


  • Smallish LCD screen tends to wipe out in strong sunlight


In 2003, Canon opened the floodgates for affordable digital single lens reflex (D-SLR) cameras with the 6-megapixel Digital Rebel, the first digital camera with an interchangeable lens for under $1,000 dollars.  Now, the company has blown away the competition with the introduction of the new 8 MP Digital Rebel XT.  I know Nikon fans will groan but this fact is hard to deny, even with the introduction of the slightly enhanced 6 MP Nikon 70s.  Although you can still purchase the Rebel for $799 with a lens, we strongly urge you to spend the extra money for the XT ($999 with the lens).  Not only is picture quality improved, thanks to new circuitry dubbed DIGIC II by Canon, but the D-SLR operates much faster and the battery lasts longer.  Response time is almost instantaneous from the time you focus to saving the image to the card.  It’s very close to the more expensive and highly rated Canon EOS 20D, which costs hundreds more.  The new camera is not only more potent, it weighs slightly less than the Digital Rebel (17.1 ounces versus 19.7).  In case you couldn’t tell, we really loved this camera.  For the record, the new 6MP Pentax *ist DL is the lightest D-SLR at 16.6 ounces and it’s due in July.  For an extra half-ounce, we’ll definitely choose the XT.

Features And Design

The mostly plastic Rebel XT–available in silver or black finish–has the traditional film SLR shape, geared to two-handed shooting; your right holds the grip, with the shutter button positioned conveniently as a jog wheel to help you browse through the camera settings.  Your left hand steadies the camera and adjusts the zoom lens.  Controls on the back are very logically placed, with large type identifying the specific use such as Menu, Info, Delete and so on.  Adjustments can be made using the Set button, which is surrounded by four arrow keys that let you drill down to change ISO, white balance, and auto focus settings.

The viewfinder has a rubber-coated cup for comfort and a diopter to make adjustments for your eyesight.  There’s also a narrow LCD screen that shows the camera’s current settings.  Beneath that is a 1.8-inch LCD screen for reviewing your images.  Unlike typical digicams, D-SLR LCD screens are only used for playback, not framing your shots.  And there is no Movie mode; these babies are for taking high-quality stills.  A “hot shoe” is available to connect optional Canon flashes.  The memory card and battery slot doors snap closed with reassuring clicks.

The menus on the Rebel XT are very straightforward.  It’s simple to set the clock for step one, then move deeper into the basic camera setup.  The default resolution is 3456 x 2304 pixels in Large Fine JPEG mode and you can easily adjust it to a more compressed Normal mode, as well as Medium (2496 x 1664) or Small (1728 x 1152).  By adjusting image size, you can cram more photos onto your card.  Like all good D-SLRs, the Rebel XT has a RAW mode with no compression at all.  RAW files are great to work with, particularly if you plan to make large prints and do a lot of editing with such programs as Adobe PhotoShop CS.

Moving beyond resolution, there’s Red Eye On and Off, an optional beep reminder, LCD brightness and so on.  The more “photographic” adjustments surround the Set key and are just as simple to change.  You simply scroll through the options and press the Set key at the desired position.  This is a basic, no-frills design, but it works well.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Image Courtesy of Canon

Setup And Use

The Rebel XT is a breeze to set up and operate.  The box includes everything you need to start shooting other than a CompactFlash memory card.  After a short time of taking things out of their respective wrapping and charging the battery, we were ready to hit the streets.

Like all D-SLRs, no memory card is supplied.  For the Rebel XT, we suggest you buy a 1 GB high-speed card, since it improves write times and overall response time.  We picked up a 1 GB SanDisk Ultra II card for $89 at Costco with a write speed of 9 megabits per second and 10 Mbps for reading.  The results were lightning fast with virtually no lag whatsoever.  It reminded me of the old Nikon motor drive 35mm cameras I used years ago.

In the carton is a standard neck strap with bold EOS Digital and Canon logos on it.  If you don’t feel like being a walking billboard, you can opt for a different one for a few dollars.  There are USB and video cables for transferring images to your computer or viewing them on a TV screen.  Also included are an in-depth 172-page owner’s manual as well as a rechargeable battery and charger.  The battery is rated for 600 shots without a flash using Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA) standards (400 with the flash enabled half the time).  There are also three disks with the required software including an EOS Digital Solution Disk, an EOS Digital Software Instruction Manual, and ArcSoft PhotoStudio editing software.  If you purchase the kit, a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is included.  Due to the digital factor found on all D-SLRs (since the size of the imaging device is different than the size of a frame of 35mm film), the lens has a true focal length of 29mm-90mm.  This is not quite what you’re used to with traditional point-and-shoot cameras that typically range between 35mm-105mm, but it’s pretty close.  Naturally, Canon would love to sell you a shelf-full of interchangeable EF and EF-S series lenses, but that’s another story.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Image Courtesy of Canon


Once we loaded the memory card, slipped in the battery and made our basic adjustments (we shot in the Large JPEG mode), it was time to take some photos.  Setting the camera to Auto, we simply walked around the house, taking snaps of blooming flowers, fuzzy cats, trees and more.  The camera functioned like a dream.  Pressing the shutter halfway focused the camera and with another press, the image was captured.  Not only was the speed a joy, our results were dead-on with rich, accurate colors and very little distortion or purple fringing.  Even when pushing the ISO, noise was not that apparent until we hit 800 (1600 is the max).  We used the Burst mode (at three frames per second) to capture our cat jumping.  The battery delivered the power as advertised, but if you’re going on a long trip an extra is recommended.  Since it uses a proprietary lithium ion battery, you simply can’t pop in some AAs and keep shooting.  Be aware.

We imagine most photographers will keep the camera in full Auto mode but Canon (and other manufacturers) offers a ton of options including seven Program AE settings and manual adjustments for aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO, white balance and everything else a shutter bug would dive into headlong like a pool on a summer day.  For those who don’t want to bother with tweaky manual settings, Program AE is a simple alternative.  You have a choice for Portrait, Landscape, Close-up (macro), Sports (high-speed shutter), Night Portrait and Flash Off.  These are the situations in which photographers find themselves most of the time and the camera makes the proper adjustments for you.  You simply turn the dial on the top of the camera to the appropriate position and you’re set.  Turning the dial a bit more brings you to what Canon calls the “Creative Zone” for aperture- and shutter-priority modes, but we prefer to call it the “Tweak Zone.” As someone who grew up on the legendary Nikon F2 35mm camera, I’m all for making adjustments galore, but now I’d rather let the camera do the work for me–especially when the results are so good.  The camera has a robust flash and an AF Assist mode for taking accurate shots of dimly lit scenes.  The AF Assist pre-flash is like a mini lightshow, so don’t expect to get many candid shots!

I have a 12-in-1 card reader, so checking out my snaps on the computer was simple.  If you don’t use a reader, the camera connects via a USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection for speedy downloads (something you need when handling 8MB files!)  As noted, the Rebel XT comes with an extensive software bundle including a RAW file converter.  The ArcSoft Photo Studio 5.5 is actually a very nice editing program that lets you really fine-tune your images.


  • Superior 8-megapixel resolution
  • Excellent ergonomics and heft
  • As easy to operate as can be
  • Manual adjustments galore
  • Amazing battery life


  • No CompactFlash card supplied
  • LCD screen is small (1.8 inches) and wipes out in bright light

Photography news: Careful, self-driving cars can ruin your camera sensor

In this week's photography news, learn how self-driving cars destroyed a digital camera via lasers. Find out how many patents Canon filed for in 2018. Read about what Tamron lenses are available for the Nikon Z6.

These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera just isn't giving you the results you're looking for, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses -- something no phone…

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation.

The best mirrorless cameras pack all the power of a DSLR, minus the bulk

Mirrorless cameras offer a lot of photography firepower, inside a compact body. Explore the best mirrorless cameras, from the pro-level to the beginner-friendly shooters, in this guide.