Not Martha

Canon Rebel XSi

I bought a camera! An actual DSLR camera, like a grown up might have. I decided on the Canon Rebel XSi (known to the rest of the world as the Canon EOS 450D). I had been wanting a new camera for a while but couldn’t really justify the purchase until last week, when my point and shoot camera just stopped working. Poor little thing.

Previously I’d been looking at the recently released Canon XS, which is their entry level DSLR. Despite getting good expert reviews it doesn’t seem to have generated much excitement, as you can see from the very few user reviews at Amazon. Many places suggesting the XSi (which is the slightly older brother than the XS and came out in January of 2008) is worth the money for the few slightly better features. So I took a look and discovered that Amazon was selling the XSi for only slightly more than the XS.

update: from the time I started writing this the XS price has gone from $640 to $600, and the XSi price dropped from $660 to $655. A lot of the research I did suggested the price for the XS would drop even further in coming months, and if I didn’t need a camera now I would have waited it out to see how low the XS price might get.

I did a lot of research and what I turned up is that the XS is very much the same camera as the XSi but with a few features that aren’t quite as good. I can say with some confidence that in moving up from a point and shoot I never would have noticed the difference in the features except for one thing, the LCD screen in the XSi is 3 inches whereas it’s 2.5 inches in the XS. I don’t even consider that a deal breaker but while the price difference was so small I went for the XSi. I found two articles that compare the models in a helpfully concise way: Gizmodo and Digicamhelp. The other thing my reading turn up is that when compared to the older entry level model XTi it appears both the XS and the XSi are well-worth-it steps up.

Annoyingly specific notes and a few of my first pictures follow.

A few notes:

  • Display-Off sensor: This is a little sensor that automatically shuts off the LCD screen when the camera is raised to your eye to peer through the viewfinder. The light from the LCD might make it a little harder to see what is going on in the viewfinder. This is not available for the XS, and was the other feature that influenced my purchase of the XSi model instead. It’s awfully nice to have. With the XS you can hit the Display button to turn off the display while your holding the camera up to your eye, but it would be a little fiddly if you found yourself doing it all the time.
  • Live View: The Live View feature in my Canon won’t work as a replacement for a point and shoot. The auto focus doesn’t work in Live View mode, and in general it just isn’t as convenient to use as someone who loves composing pictures in the LCD might hope for. I didn’t find the switch to peering through the view finder painful, even though my point and shoot had one of those insanely useful swivel screens (similar to this model).
  • Image Stabilization: aka shake reduction. Canon only offers in-lens image stabilization in their DSLRs, which ultimately means when I buy lenses in the future they will be more expensive if I get ones with IS. A few other brands have in-camera image stabilization, which I considered quite seriously but in the end decided to go with Canon. I don’t plan on buying many lenses in the future so it wasn’t as important a consideration for me.
  • Choosing Your Brand: This thread at Ask Metafilter offers a good way of looking at this, you are buying into a brand of camera and considering the quality of lenses is as important than the camera body. In the future if you want to upgrade your camera it will be a lot easier if you are able to just buy a new body that will work with your lenses. Now, I realize this advice isn’t so helpful to the newbies like me who know very little about SLR lenses. A newer DSLR question at Ask Metafilter suggests that with lenses in mind you want to focus on Canon and Nikon.

Thing you’ll need:

  • Memory Card: The XSi does not come with a memory card. When sorting through all the options I found this Transcend 8GB card with USB card reader, and it turns out to have been a really good purchase. The camera comes with a USB cord to transfer pictures to your computer, but it is much faster when you pop the card out of your camera and use this card reader to transfer instead. The reader itself is small enough to fit into back of my very crowded desktop computer, not to mention nice and compact for travel. I feel smart for buying this one.

Things I wish I’d bought:

  • UV filter: It’s inexpensive and I keep reading it will help protect your lens from scratches. (update: I have been advised by Eliza Truitt, who knows what she is talking about, that UV filters distort images unless you use a very good one. So, UV filter with care.)
  • Screen Film: The LCD on my camera is really quite large and I’m scared of scratching it with my bumbling, I think this one will be the right size.
  • Camera Bag: The camera feels sturdy, and I have a friend who just totes it around in her purse, but I’m still afraid of traveling without a nice padded bag. This Crumpler 3 Million Dollar Home bag is made for SLRs but doesn’t look like a camera bag. (Thanks so much for those who left comments recommending Crumpler bags!) I also like look of this backpack style bag.
  • Telephoto Zoom Lens: I’d really like to have this for capturing pictures of Scott when he’s playing on stage. (Eliza has some good advice for this as well, she recommends renting a far better (and way more expensive) lens from a Seattle camera shop as an alternative to buying this lens, which is only ok.)

On to the pictures. I’m slowly learning how to use the camera, but here are a few images that turned out well while I was fumbling. Recently I’ve been covering some not so attractive things in my house with woodgrain contact paper, the box below is an Electrasol tin:

· comments [59] · 10-1-2008 · categories:shopping · technology ·

59 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steph // Oct 1, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Megan is SUPER FANCY now!

  • 2 megan // Oct 1, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Hee hee! I just hope I can stop taking three dozen photos of something in the hopes of getting one good enough to use.

  • 3 CB // Oct 1, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Thanks for the review! I have been considering a DSLR for a while now. I’ve heard great things about Nikon and Canon but I am also intrigued with Sony for the IS in camera that you mentioned too. Appreciate your insight :)

  • 4 Rachel // Oct 1, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Ooh, the pics looks great! Congratulations on the fun new purchase!

  • 5 Liz // Oct 1, 2008 at 11:39 am

    I recently acquired my first DSLR camera, too (Olympus Evolt 510 for me). While looking for bags, I was pointed toward the Crumpler Bags camera bags. I love them so far! Their website is difficult to navigate, so I ended up buying mine from Amazon, but the bags are amazing (and don’t scream “I am carrying a big expensive camera”).

  • 6 Kim U // Oct 1, 2008 at 11:41 am

    I’ve had the original Digital Rebel for ~4 years now. I’m jealous of your new purchase, hopefully I’ll be upgrading sometime soon! A UV filter is definitely a must buy – it’s the cheapest way to protect the most expensive part of your camera. A good thing to look at when considering lenses is the weight of the lens. For me personally, some lenses are too heavy to really be usable on a regular basis. A cheap lens that actually performs really well for multiple purposes is the Canon 50 mm f 1/8 lens. I use it a lot for food & craft photography. I have the Crumpler 5 million dollar home – sturdy camera bag that doesn’t look lame. Have fun with your new purchase!

  • 7 Kim U // Oct 1, 2008 at 11:42 am

    LOL! Someone else recommended crumpler while I was typing up my comment! Liz is totally right about their website, it’s painfully awful.

  • 8 megan // Oct 1, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for the Crumpler recommendations!

  • 9 Alex // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Congratulations! I went through a similar process about six months ago (although I chose to go with Nikon instead of Canon, but it was a tough decision, and I was leaning toward Canon for a while there).

    As a new to SLR photographer, I would highly recommend checking out It’s a blog written by a professional photographer about how to light. I’ve learned more reading his thoughts and putting mysyelf through his hoops than any where else except fussing with it myself.

    Oh, and I would also recommend getting a faster lens to shoot Scott (faster meaning a much lower f-stop, like f/2.8 or lower. With shows, the light is really low, and there’s only so much a built in flash can do (plus it’s distracting). With a lower f-stop, you can get more light to the sensor in less time. Canon is great for this because the lens connection is wider than any other camera. I have a 50mm f/1.4 lens that I adore, and even thought I have a 70-200mm f/4-5.6 lens, I never use it, because the picture quality at that wide a stop isn’t as fun either (you miss that beautiful fuzziness that draws attention sharply to the little bit that is in the plane of focus.

    Welcome to the club! Congratulations!!

  • 10 Hannah // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    For camera bags, if you think the backpack style is what you want check out the Lowepro Slingshot. I got one of these for my Nikon D80 and its very easy to use. My favorite thing about it is that you don’t have to take it off completely to get to the camera. You just swing it around!

  • 11 megan // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Alex – Thank you so much for the information on lenses, you helped a lot. This is the sort of thing I don’t know yet and is so basic it can actually be difficult to learn. I’m also glad to learn I inadvertently chose a good camera for taking pictures of shows.

  • 12 EmmaC // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    I’m also moving from point-and-shoot to SLR and am in the research stages! Thanks for this review!

    Just curious – why did you choose the Rebel over something like the 30D or 40D? I’ve been debating Rebel vs. 30D myself. I’m wondering if I might outgrow the Rebel kinda quickly and whether it’s worth ponying up for a more advanced model in the first place.

  • 13 kirida // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I second the strobist nod. Also, I would suggest getting any of the L lenses if you’re going to go telephoto or even the 50mm 1.2 L lens is a wonderful choice for portraits. Those lenses are more expensive but the images are just like butter.

  • 14 megan // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    EmmaC – I chose the Rebel because I don’t expect I’ll want a nicer camera anytime soon. I wanted a camera that would work better than my previous point and shoot, but I don’t have a great deal of passion for photography. Weight and size (I have small hands) were also important to me. If you know you’d love it the 30D looks great, metal construction is definitely something to consider, and the reviews all look happy.

  • 15 John // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    have you tried the lowepro 250 for a backpack? it holds a laptop and a dslr for quick use!,14.htm

  • 16 RilkeanHeart // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Get the backpack style of camera bag. So worth it when you start collecting “glass” & camera doo-dads that you will OF COURSE get over time. It balances the weight & you can carry a laptop, which you will want to have while traveling. We have a LowePro backpack but it feels really boxy. We are very much considering getting that exact Canon backpack to replace it.

  • 17 Jenn // Oct 1, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I purchased the Canon EOS 40D and just LOVE it.

    I purchased the Crumpler bag and just LOVE it. The bag is worth the money!

  • 18 Matt from Urban Pug // Oct 1, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    I just got one of those cameras in August, and it’s great. I also suggest the F/1.8 lens (about 89 bucks on amazon if I recall correctly)

    That little cheap lens lets me shoot indoors w/o the flash, and that makes a huge difference in how my images look. The only downside is that the super low f stop comes with a very narrow depth of field, so you have to worry that all your subjects are the same distance away from you. Also, that lens is a different diameter than the lens that comes with the camera, so you will need to get an additional UV filter.


  • 19 andrea // Oct 1, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    wow, congrats on your new camera. i have just ordered the Rebel Xti myself and invested the rest of $ in lenses as my friends recommended !

  • 20 Corvus // Oct 1, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I’m fighting desperately to contain my envy here. That’s one of my little dreams: “One day, when I’m not a poor college student and have disposable income, I’m going to get a good camera set up and then take every excuse I can to use it.”

  • 21 dana mccauley // Oct 1, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    My husband has the Cannon 40D and he really loves it. He has invested in some good lenses which makes it much more versatile.

  • 22 Erin // Oct 1, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Hi, I just got a DSLR recently – a nikon d40. I was torn, still am a little (but don’t tell my husband that!) between canon and nikon. It almost seems like the mac/pc debate, except the cameras are much more similar. More and more it seems like you’re either a Canon person or a Nikon person. I still have a long way to go in knowing my way around the features and photography in general. It’s a journey. I’ll be curious to see how the Dslr changes your experience of taking pics.

  • 23 megan // Oct 1, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Erin – If it helps I think of Nikon as the brand cool people have :)

  • 24 Lori // Oct 1, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Congratulations on moving up! I have a Canon XT and am still trying to learn all that it can do. I decided to get the Lowepro Slingshot 200 AW. I’m very happy with it. My camera and all of its accoutrement fit nicely and securely with room to grow. It also feels secure on my body, like a another appendage :) I often go hiking or walking around and this feels so out of the way so I’m free to use my hands and am not afraid that I’ll hit anything with the bag. There isn’t much room to carry anything non-camera related. There is room for your phone, money and cards. I look forward to see any tutorials you find online so I can learn with you!

  • 25 Allyson // Oct 1, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    wait!! was that electrisol tin a jetson special edition?

    congrats on the new camera!!

  • 26 Allyson // Oct 1, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    I adore woodgrain contact paper!!

  • 27 ChrisBL // Oct 1, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    I have the Crumpler five million dollar home and love it, but I wish I had gotten a bigger bag. It’s inevitable that you’ll want another lens and maybe a flash — don’t make the same mistake I made!

  • 28 megan // Oct 1, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Allyson – It was a Jetsons tin, it was cute but I found it a bit busy.

  • 29 Steph // Oct 1, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    But Megan, taking 30 pictures of one thing is the joy of having a digital camera!

  • 30 Lilly // Oct 1, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    Dear Megan,
    You have a long way to go to reach “Annoyingly specific” territory.

  • 31 Bean // Oct 1, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    One comment for the lens filter you are thinking of getting: I have Cannon XTi and had used an inexpensive (under $20) UV filer. After a silly accident of having the filer jammed to the lens, I went to the repair shop and the guy recommended to use a “coated UV filter” instead. An inexpensive glass-like filter does give an physical protection, but it flares the brightness which the lens would capture. When you hold the both filter, the coated one and not-coated one together and look at the reflection on it (i.e. the light in the ceiling), not-coated on shows a basically a reflection whereas the coated shows differently otherwise. Comments, Anyone?

  • 32 megan // Oct 1, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    Lilly – I actually meant to write more about nine versus seven AF points and continuous shooting in RAW mode and Highlight Tone Priority, but I ran out of steam!

  • 33 Uyek // Oct 1, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    You seem to be on the dslr yellow brick road already but I just had to chime in with my ALL TIME favourite camera review site:

    It’s gotten me through two unexpected upgrades. I went from point-and-shoot to sub-dslr … hopefully the next jump will be to dslr for grown ups.

    I can’t rave enough about this site. I surf it often in a “window shopping mode.” Very informative … you get the whole range of reviews … from pro photographers to newbie posters but both equally helpful in their intel.

    You seem to have zeroed in on a killer dslr … for those of us still in the vanguard, maybe <a href= site will be helpful.

  • 34 Eliza // Oct 1, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    First of all, congratulations! Good camera choice.

    Second, I’m part of a vocal anti-UV filter minority. Unless you buy the insanely expensive ones, they reduce the quality of the images you take and are very problematic when shooting in backlit scenarios. Use a lens hood instead.

    Third, don’t get that zoom lens. It’s too slow to use at shows. Save your money and just rent something like the awesome cannon 70-200mm 2.8 IS lens or the 85mm 1.4 from Glazers on the weekends you need it.

    Fourth, when you do decide to invest in your next lens, make it a prime (aka non-zoom) lens. They’re faster, a better deal $$-wise, have less image distortion, and once you start shooting with them you’ll want to chuck your zooms in the trash.

    Fifth, no matter how many focus points your camera gives you, the center one will almost always give you the sharpest focus. If you can, disable the other points and learn to focus with the center and then recompose the image. You’ll get sharper results.

  • 35 alice // Oct 2, 2008 at 3:06 am

    I also just bought that camera a few days ago! I am still working my way around how all the settings function. I love it so far :)

  • 36 Steffy // Oct 2, 2008 at 4:10 am

    i’m only going to clap over the fact that you bought a canon and not a nikon. CHEERS!

  • 37 Alex // Oct 2, 2008 at 4:29 am

    Anytime! I didn’t think I was that into photography until I started taking beautiful pictures. I have a feeling it might be the same for you!

    Have fun and experiment! Play around with the A and E modes (I just sort of hang out at A with the lowest possible aperture) You’ll take a lot of ok pictures and some remarkable ones. The more you stick with it, the better your eye gets at seeing the good ones. If you want to check out some of my photography, go to and check out the farmer’s market blog. This is why I got my camera. Anyway, enjoy!

  • 38 Joanna Schmidt // Oct 2, 2008 at 5:11 am

    I LOVE my Canon EOS, although the flash stopped popping up on its own, so I must send it back before the warranty runs out. It takes wonderful photos!

  • 39 Karrey // Oct 2, 2008 at 6:17 am

    I just picked up the Pentax K200D about a month ago, and I love it. I went for Pentax because from everything I read, you got lots of the features of Canon and Nikon without paying a premium for the brand name. Plus, Pentax has decades worth of lenses that can be used on the new digitals.

    I ended up picking a Domke bag instead of a Crumpler. They’re extremely well-made, and made in the USA, and I don’t think it looks like a camerabag, either. I got a brown canvas messenger-style bag.

  • 40 Andrea // Oct 2, 2008 at 7:10 am

    I am so very happy to read your post on the XSi as it’s the camera that I’ve decided I want this year. Now I have a few more things to consider before shelling out the cash – Thank you!

  • 41 Katie // Oct 2, 2008 at 7:46 am

    Thank you so much for all this information! I’ve just decided to buy a nicer camera, and this post just saved me a lot of time. I can’t wait to have beautiful pictures too!

  • 42 Mandy // Oct 2, 2008 at 8:24 am

    sooooo jealous!

  • 43 megan // Oct 2, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Eliza – Thank you so much for all the tips, I have a lot to learn. And, damn, that lens is expensive! Even if I just rented it I’d be terrified of breaking it. I’ll definitely keep it in mind if there is a show that would be worth it.

    Steffy – How come? Is there an aspect to the Canon/Nikon choice I’m unaware of?

    Karrey – I considered the Pentax, and I don’t remember why I eventually decided against it. But it’s nice, metal, weatherproof, all good stuff.

    Thanks to everybody for all the support and suggestions! They help immensely and I really appreciate it.

  • 44 Online Shopping Chick // Oct 2, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Great pictures! We’re in the market for a new camera soon so thanks for sharing your views on this Cannon camera.

  • 45 maryse // Oct 2, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    i also recommend that you get the 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 lens that others have already mentioned. the 1.8 is inexpensive and you’ll use it all of the time.

    as for the UV filter debate. i don’t have filters for any of my lenses except for my very expensive wide angle lens. just be careful with your lenses and you’ll be ok.

  • 46 Sol // Oct 3, 2008 at 4:07 am

    My professional photographer friend once said that while both canon and nikon are great cameras, canon is more for amateurs, and nikon is more for professionals.
    that was his say.

  • 47 megan // Oct 3, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Sol – So, I ended up with the right brand for my purposes :)

  • 48 Laurie // Oct 3, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    Congrats on the new DSLR, I recently purchased one as well (Nikon D50) as an upgrade from my ancient Canon Digial Elf with 2.1 megapix. I was having the Canon/Nikon debate as well and decided on the Nikon because I have friends with lenses that fit the Nikon body so we can share.

  • 49 Kelly Anne // Oct 3, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    I own the XT and love it to little tiny pieces. If you’re looking for your first add-on lens, I suggest the 50 f1.8 that you can get for like… 75 bucks on Amazon. Cheap and sharp, love it.

    Enjoy! Have fun learning to use it and taking photos!

  • 50 Jaymie // Oct 3, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    You finally pushed me over the edge and into the “finally I bought it” sector. I’ve wanted this camera since they first came out, about 4 pixels and $400 ago. I have the original 35mm rebel and LOVE it, but never really use it because of the film aspect. I love film IF I can develop my own, otherwise I want the instant gratification of digital. So after seeing the price you got, and knowing I already have one lens that will work with this, I ponied up and ordered it.

  • 51 Lee // Oct 4, 2008 at 4:26 am

    Wow- excellent comments- really informative!
    I’ve had my Rebel XTi for a year now and we’re still attached at the hip. I’ve just agonised over what additional lens to buy and I found Flickr groups really helped lot. (I got the 50mm f1.8)Just search the specs of the lens in Canon groups and you’ll find plenty of lively debates, advice and lots of pics to compare. Another great site I must pimp is the forum called Digital Photography School. An excellent place to learn the ropes and great for the creative juices.
    Enjoy your camera!
    PS- Great blog btw. ;-P

  • 52 Lerren // Oct 4, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Okay. I use a Nikon, because I like it and it felt better in my hand, but I’ve used nearly every major brand of camera in the past, and hold no grudges.

    As far as bags go, I really love my crumpler “sinking barge” backpack – REALLY flexible as far as usages, and the camera is stored in a “bucket” that can be taken out and put in another bag if needs be (I made one.)

  • 53 Holly // Oct 11, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Just wanted to add a few things… I’ve used 4 Rebels extensively over the past few years and they are great cameras. I have had secondary mirror failure, which is a common problem with the Rebels.

    If you’re prone to accidents, or have the sort of life that is just prone to stuff messing with you, a UV filter could really be a saving grace (I speak from experience). While I would forgo it on, say, an $85 lens (and by the way, the 80mm is a great lil’ lens!) if you invest in any expensive glass it would be a shame to not protect it everyway you can. I sincerely doubt you’ll notice any reduction in your image quality… and even the really expensive UV filters aren’t that expensive all things considered. Consider the splurge on a polarizer, since these can be gems for landscape and harsh light.

    My Lowepro slingshot has gone through South American jungles, mountain ranges, and kids’ birthday parties (that last one being far the most dangerous) with two cameras, several lenses, flash and accessories. Love it, love it.

    Happy shooting — enjoy your wonderful new camera!

  • 54 Nicole // Nov 24, 2008 at 6:00 am

    Hi Megan, I have been considering getting the XSi since two of my friends have it, but wonder if you know the differences between it and the XS, step-down version. I can’t seem to find enough info online to compare the two. I would appreciate you sharing any knowledge you may have on these two items.

    THANKS so much and have a blessed Thanksgiving! Nicole

  • 55 megan // Nov 24, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Nicole – The biggest upgrade from the XS to the XSi is the display off sensor. This is a proximity sensor that turns off the LCD screen when you raise the camera to your eye (or when anything gets close). This means the light from the screen won’t affect what you can see through the viewfinder. In the XS you can pretty easily shut off the screen with a button but it’s up to you to decide how annoying that would get.

    The only other significant difference that I read about was the autofocus system, it’s much better in the XSi. If you want to capture people in motion people on digital photography boards recommend the XSi.

    Here are three links that compare, I hope they help give some ideas: one, two, three.

    When the price difference between the cameras was small it was easy for me to choose the XSi, but the price for the XS has gone down quite a bit since then.

    I really, really love having the auto-off screen proximity sensor and am very glad I got the XSi for that feature.

  • 56 Nicole // Nov 28, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Thank you, Megan. Staples has the camera on sale today, $150.00 off! So, I am thinkin’ I might just have to treat myself to an early Christmas present!

    I appreciate the links, too, I am headed there now.

    Happy Holidays!

  • 57 Nicole // Nov 28, 2008 at 4:58 am

    Man, I am glad that I checked those comparisons. I was about to get snowed at Staples with the price. You can almost get the XSi at any other place for what Staples is selling the XS at, and even on sale.

    Thank YOU for the reviews!

  • 58 kenozorro // Mar 10, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Your website was very helpfull to me, thank you very much!!! so full of information. You are a smart buyer.


  • 59 365 :: april 20, 2010 « the card catalog // Apr 24, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    […] 20, 2010. i got a DSLR camera last friday. after much research and a few tips from friends and favorite blogs, i decided on the canon rebel xsi. even though my weekend was hectic and i literally didn’t […]

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