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Canon revolutionized the digital SLR market almost a decade ago with its release of the first DSLR priced under $1,000. Now, with the new EOS Rebel SL1, Canon has introduced the smallest and lightest DSLR on the market — a camera that will not only challenge other entry-level DSLRs, but will compete with some mirrorless models as well. But is it as consumer-friendly as it seems?
The 18-megapixel SL1 is built around a new CMOS APS-C size sensor, Canon's DIGIC 5 image processor, and a 9-point autofocus system, which implements the new Hybrid CMOS AF II sensor. This configuration provides expanded AF coverage across the frame when shooting in Live View (stills or video), and allows subjects that would otherwise fall outside the AF area to be picked up. Canon reports that the SL1's focus area is 80% larger than other models, which makes for faster focusing speed. The SL1 also boasts 4fps continuous shooting — just a little slower than the new Canon EOS T5i's 5fps burst speed.
Like the Canon T5i and the T4i, the SL1 is equipped with a 3" touchscreen monitor, although it's fixed instead of vari-angle to keep the body more compact. But photographers can still use 2-finger touch gestures for zooming, scrolling through images, activating focus points, and more.
Additional features include manual, semi-manual, and automatic exposure modes, automatic and creative options, plus full HD video and an external microphone jack. The camera is offered in a kit with the latest EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens, which offers a smooth zoom that shouldn't be audible when shooting video. There's plenty of ISO flexibility for low light shooting with a native light sensitivity range of 100-12800 as well. (For really dark conditions, the ISO can be expanded to 25600.) And new to this camera is the Effect Shot mode, which automatically saves two snapshots of the same image — one with an effect and one without. Scene modes are also available.
But it's the Rebel SL1's small size and light weight that set it apart from other entry-level DSLRs and some mirrorless models. It measures 4.6" x 3.57" x 2.74" and the body alone weighs just 14.36 oz. (without a battery or memory card). Canon estimates that the SL1 is about 25% smaller and 28% lighter than the T4i.
The SL1 is a hot contender in the entry-level DSLR market, notably for its compact size and weight, but also for its expanded AF system. However, its specifications and features are otherwise rather standard.
The bigger question, however, is how the SL1 compares to mirrorless cameras, which are typically marketed to consumers who want slimmer devices. Physically, the SL1 is smaller than some mirrorless cameras on the market — like the Panasonic G5 and GH3 — but it's larger than others, including Canon's own EOS-M and Sony NEX models. Olympus' OMD-EM5 is a little smaller than the SL1 but weighs about the same. While some people stepping up to interchangeable lens cameras may prefer more compact mirrorless models, others — particularly those with larger hands — may find the SL1 more comfortable to hold and operate.
Another factor most burgeoning photographers must consider is physical sensor size. Some mirrorless models like the Sony NEX, Samsung NX, and even Canon's EOS-M offer APS-C size sensors like the SL1 (which are associated with better image quality and low light performance), others like the tiny Pentax Q10 and the Nikon 1 Series cameras have much smaller sensors. So the SL1 only has an edge on certain models within the mirrorless category.
However, there are several ways in which we believe the SL1 wins over mirrorless. Its shooting performance is better overall and specifically in autofocus mode, thanks to its phase detection AF. Continuous shooting at full resolution with autofocus is fairly competitive, too, and makes the SL1 great for shooting action. Moreover, having a true optical viewfinder is a coveted feature and a selling point for a number of consumers. (If and when mirrorless cameras have a viewfinder, it's usually an electronic viewfinder or a third-party rangefinder type viewfinder, which aren't as useful.)
And, finally, when it comes to lens selection and accessories, the SL1 offers more versatility than mirrorless cameras. Although manufacturers and third-party companies have expanded the number of lenses and adapters for a growing number of mirrorless models, the SL1 accepts all Canon EF and EF-S lenses, giving consumers the widest range of options.
At $799 MSRP, the SL1 is priced about $300 above the retail cost of some of the latest mirrorless options. That said, it provides greater photographic flexibility, which may be crucial to an above-average photo enthusiast — all while still maintaining that tiny profile. Of course, it won't stick to retail price for long, so if the SL1 has piqued your interest, set up an email deal alert now.