Wednesday, August 15, 2012

REVIEW: Canon Rebel T4i with Real World Photos & STM Lenses


The Canon T4i impresses even in the challenging swing test

My first digital SLR was a Rebel, so I have a soft spot for this entry level camera. Through the years it has always impressed me with its innovations that typically are not found on its more advanced siblings until the next generation. With this disclaimer, I was excited to get a chance to review the new Canon T4i to see what lies ahead for our future DSLR’s.

What’s New

You can read here for a complete list of what’s new, but the big highlights are:

Touch screen LCD – Honestly I hated this and disabled it right away. It was so easy to get unwanted key presses that I only see it as being useful for people with tiny fingers with the camera mounted on a tripod.

ISO 12,800 Support – If you are shooting static subjects in reasonable light on a tripod this ISO might be useful to some, but most will find that 1600 is the peak ISO before noise reduction starts crushing detail. The high mode of 25,600 is simply not usable.


ISO 6400 looks worse than ISO 51,200 on the 5D Mark III

Continuous AF during HD Video Recording – I’ll try to cover this more in another article, but here’s where the T4i really impressed me. While the performance isn’t as fast an average camcorder over the last 20 years, it’s usable and much better than anything I’ve used on a DSLR thus far. The new Hybrid AF seemed to shine at picking up new subjects and generally doing the right thing when you pointed to a new subject. It’s certainly the most amateur / mom-friendly video AF system I’ve seen, so this is sure to be a big selling point for this camera.

HDR Backlight Control – This feels like a carryover from the G1X where it’s really just for tripod use only as artifacts were common when handheld as shown here:


A tripod is recommend for the HDR mode

Overall Impressions

This is a classic Rebel in that it is a functional camera that is easy for beginners. It offers lots of ease of use features that make it a real point and shoot DSLR, and features like the Hybrid AF, swivel LCD and stereo sound make it nice camcorder replacement.

The Q menu is excellent and the controls are laid out nicely on the camera. While this camera doesn’t have the safety button for the mode dial, I found that this design never moved (and is actually preferential over the safety button design).

Image Quality


f/5.6 @135 mm, 1/200, ISO 160, No Flash

The dynamic range of this cameras sensor isn’t anything to write home about. It was fine for the last generation, but with all of the stiff competition out there – especially in the mirrorless category (like the NEX-7) – it’s starting to feel outdated with no improvement over the G1X. That said, it’s not terrible – even with the STM kit lens – it’s just wise for prospective owners to not look at the 5D series (5D Mark II Or 5D Mark III) as you’ll start digging into your pocket for an expensive upgrade.


f/5.6 @95 mm, 1/1000, ISO 2000, No Flash

Real World Sample Images

This entire article features in-camera JPEG images with zero modifications. All images are copyright Ron Martinsen with all rights reserved. You may click the images to view the originals, but you may not modify, print, or otherwise consume these images for any purpose – private, commercial, non-profit or otherwise.

Click here to see the fully gallery, but here’s a few examples:


Tough conditions, but the T4i did okay
f/5.6 @50 mm, 1/60, ISO 125, No Flash, AWB, AV +1EV


Shooting blind with AI Servo and the STM kit lens got acceptable results
f/5.6 @18 mm, 1/500, ISO 1600, No Flash


I was impressed with the AI Servo performance of the T4i
f/5.6 @135 mm, 1/500, ISO 800, No Flash


The EF 18-135 IS STM kit lens is pretty decent for beginners
f/5.6 @85 mm, 1/500, ISO 3200, No Flash

ISO Performance & Bookshelf Test

My recommendation is to avoid anything above ISO 1600 on this camera unless it’s absolutely necessary. After 1600 the in-camera JPEG’s start to exhibit quite a bit of lost detail as the in-camera noise reduction tries to clean up the image. The images are usable, but if you’ll be printing at 5x7 or greater you are going to see the issues with this cameras images that are above 1600.


f/8 @100 mm, 15s, ISO 100, No Flash on a tripod using the 70-200mm II lens.
ISO 100 – decent quality and detail, but a little washed out tonal range
Click for original


This is the limit of my comfort level with this camera
f/8 @100 mm, 1s, ISO 1600, No Flash
Click for original


Look at the wood grain on the bookshelf to easily see the detail lost by in-camera
noise reduction, and the shadows show lots of noise
f/8 @100 mm, 1/8, ISO 12800

Flash Woes

The built-in flash is still abysmal compared to Nikon’s entry level DSLR’s, and I was quite shocked to see that this camera didn’t work with my 580EX II flash (but worked fine with the 600EX-RT) when it was mounted to my camera. Here's what I kept getting with the 580EX II in ETTL mode no matter what I tried:


My T4i didn’t like the 580EX II


The 600EX-RT flash worked fine with identical settings
50mm f/1.2L, f/1.6 @50 mm, 1/60, ISO 400

The T4i can trigger remote flashes (not in RT mode though), so like the 7D it works great indoors when triggering Canon speedlites. I had no problems using it to trigger my 580EX II or 600EX-RT when they were configured as infrared slaves, but the EasyWireless feature wasn’t very easy (i.e., the flash failed to fire) in my testing.

40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake Lens

image
Buy now from Adorama or B&H

The all-new 40mm f/2.8 STM (which stands for stepping motor which is supposed to be smooth and silent) is all the rage by a lot of people who have never even held this lens, but honestly I was pretty unimpressed. For starters I expected it to be super quiet when focusing since it is a STM lens, but honestly it is not. In fact, I’d argue that many of my USM lenses are significantly quieter than this lens (you’ll see in future videos).

This lens was good at making a lot of real-time focusing adjustments which make it great for video, but it’s still no camcorder performance. Instead, you have to touch the LCD screen (in single point AF mode for best results) to get it to focus on a new subject, so severe out of focus moments aren’t uncommon. It does a great job of focusing and sometimes gets it right on its own without touch input, but it’s not as fast as old camcorders and it certainly isn’t silent.

Out of 228 photos I’ve taken with this lens so far, here’s the only one that I felt was worth sharing:


T4i, f/5.6 @40 mm, 1/6, ISO 800, No Flash, On Support

Yeah, that one didn’t impress me much either.  This lens just isn’t as sharp as some early reviews lead me to believe, so it felt more like a kit lens than a great prime. It’s a pretty cheap lens to buy (B&H and Adorama), but it feels that way too in practice. The Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R Lens for the X-Pro1 destroys this lens, but its over twice the price so I guess my expectations were too high for this one.

I’ll be doing more testing with this lens on different cameras, so this story isn’t over yet. However, if you are in the market for a T4i then I wouldn’t advise getting this one. If you don’t believe me, then just make sure you buy from a place with a good return policy as I think you’ll change your mind once you see for yourself.

EF 18-135 IS STM Lens


Detail and bokeh were acceptable with the kit STM lens
f/5.6 @85 mm, 1/125, ISO 250, No Flash

This lens impressed me because it was super quiet and fast focusing. It lived up to the STM moniker and made a good impression as a starter lens. While this lens won’t appear on my Which Lens Should I Buy? list, I’d say it’s a great lens for a tight budget – especially if you are short on cash or want to do video. It’s not super sharp and doesn’t have the warmth of better lenses, but it isn’t too shabby.

Conclusion

I still need to do a little more testing, but thus far the Rebel feels a bit like the DSLR version of the G1X. It’s a decent camera that gets the job done, but it feels a little dated and behind the game. I still prefer it over entry level Nikon cameras, but the gap is narrowing with this release.

The T4i video performance is solid and it will create images that will please beginners. That said, there’s a reason why I say “Parents Rejoice” in this 5D Mark III review because the extra ISO performance really does make your life easier as a parent to get those shots in your own real world environments (like kitchens and family rooms).

UPDATE: See part 2 of this review at Canon T4i Review–Part II–Image Quality and Video.

Where to buy

Here’s where I recommend purchasing from:

Order now from B&H
  • Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM
  • Canon Rebel T4i Body Only
  • Canon Rebel T4i w/18-55 IS
  • Canon Rebel T4i w/18-135 IS STM
    ORDER NOW from Adorama
  • Canon T4i Body ONLY
  • Canon Rebel T4i with EF-S 18-55 IS II lens
  • Canon Rebel T4i with EF-s 18-135 IS STM
  • Canon EF 40 F2.8 STM lens
    Other articles you may enjoy

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    6 comments:

    Dan said...

    Hi!

    I really enjoyed your review and comparisons. It became clearer to me that a 5D is really, really not worth the money to me and that a T4i is probably right around my interest and price points.

    I also realized that my eyes could use a bit of training!

    Ron Martinsen said...

    Hi Dan,

    The T4i is a good consumer entry level product, whereas the 5D Mark III is a product that has a lot of features targeted to wedding and event photographers. It sounds like the T4i is the right product for you which is exactly why Canon makes this model and has succeeded with the Rebel series for a very long time.

    Evaluating images and doing comparisons does take a little eye conditioning. I addressed this point in my Which lens should I buy article. Your reaction is normal for someone moving up to a DSLR.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful. I'm sure you'll enjoy the T4i and the eventual upgrade path that you'll follow down the road.

    Be sure to check out my Things You Need AFTER You Buy Your New Camera - Must Have Photography Accessories article.

    Anonymous said...

    I googled "T4i 580ex" as I also had problems with that combination and found your great blog. Turned out that the contacts in the flash shoe of my T4i are lower than on my old camera and the flash does not make full contact. If I bend the flash so that the contacts press down, everything works fine. Hopefully Canon will fix this!

    Adriel said...

    Ran into the same issue with the t4i and a 580ex ii. Annoying.

    Ron Martinsen said...

    Anonymous & Adriel,

    I've reached out to Canon but so far they don't seem to be acknowledging that there is a problem.

    I've forwarded your feedback along with my article results so we'll see what happens.

    Ron

    Monica Reyes said...

    Your review was very helpful! I have been searching for reviews and sample images for the T4i for the last few days, and your blog has helped me make my final decision of getting the T4i. I have a toddler and am glad it passed the "swing test!"

    Thanks for sharing this very helpful review and your images.

    I'll be reading the other photography articles as soon as I purchase the camera.