After many years of shooting with Nikon's, I've finally given in and purchased a Canon - the new Canon T2i/550D. Overall, I'm very happy with my Nikon's, but they've really dropped the ball on video, and I've been waiting for over a year for them to catch up with no luck. So, I've pulled the trigger on the new flagship Rebel camera for some video projects and to get a better feel for Canon cameras and lenses. Below are some of my thoughts and opinions so far on the T2i, coming from my perspective as a Nikon user, as well as some samples.
I don't think there are any huge surprises here. The thing is really small and feels like what I expect from a low-end DSLR. It feels too small in my hand and is just too light for my taste. However, to its credit, I will say that Canon has come a long way on its Rebel bodies. When I was first getting into photography and was in the market for a low-end DSLR, I was completely turned off by the really cheap flimsy plastic feel and look of the old Canon Rebels. The T2i doesn't feel or look inherently cheap to me. It's not the build quality of a professional camera, but I don't expect it to be.
I can't speak to how it compares to other Canon bodies since I'm not familiar with them, but overall, the controls are pretty easy to work with and figure out - no real complaints there. I find myself doing a lot more menu hunting to do things that are simple and quick on my Nikon's, but it's clear that they're trying to craft a decent user experience with this camera. I'm having a really difficult time adjusting to using the main LCD screen to view camera settings versus on a top display. I end up using live view more often because of this, and the whole experience reminds me more of a point and shoot than a DSLR.
Video and Time Lapse
Video and time lapse are the main reasons I bought this camera. After doing a lot of reading and watching a lot of tests, I was convinced that the video offerings of the T2i were very similar to that of the 7D. Since I don't have a 7D or 5D, I can't make that call myself, but I am very pleased with the video quality. I need to do more testing and work with this, but the video workflow seems pretty simple and the quality is amazing for a camera of this price range.
I've been doing DSLR time lapses off and on for a few years, and have been spending more time on it lately. My Nikon D300 is a pretty poor time lapse camera. The flicker it produces in many situations is really bad, and in many cases, difficult to impossible to fully remove. I don't know exactly why this is - it happens with any and all combination of settings, including 100% full manual with maximum aperture on every lens I own. I have to assume it's due to exposure timing being slightly off or something like that. The Canon T2i, on the other hand, handle this much better. The Canon's allow me to use the lens twist method to lock aperture, and it appears to have less wild fluctuations in luminance like my Nikon often does.
Below is a video containing a sample time lapse I shot on my D300 and my T2i. These were shot on different days at different times with different focal lengths, but the scene is similar and I think it gives a decent idea of how the cameras perform for time lapse. These are both night to day time lapses - notoriously difficult to pull off without lots of flicker or other issues. I shot these both in aperture priority and auto white balance - using maximum aperture on the D300, and the lens twist method on the T2i.
I shoot in RAW, so I use auto white balance in the hope that the camera will get it right and I won't have to fix that in post, but that rarely happens. I'm actually pretty impressed with how decent the T2i was with getting white balance and exposure right. There is some obvious flicker in the T2i time lapse (part of which may be related to some in-camera settings that I didn't know about when this was shot - I seem to be getting better results on my most recent attempts), but a good bit of it is pretty controlled - the flicker is occurring as the exposure is changing while the scene lightens and darkens. This makes it a LOT easier to correct than the wild fluctuations that my D300 exhibits.
Overall, I'm very impressed with the T2i's time lapse capabilities - I'm getting good quality 5K footage with manageable flicker. The one area that I'm disappointed with the T2i is with its buffer. I'm using a Class 6 SDHC card, which is apparently not fast enough for anything greater than a shot every 3 seconds without eventually filling up the buffer. I hope this will be correctible with a faster and better card, as it's kind of a bummer coming from the large pile of fast CF cards and increased burst rate that I'm used to with a higher-end camera.
I'm shooting with a simple 18-55mm kit lens at the moment. These cameras are still pretty tough to find, and the kit is all I could get my hands on. For all the bad things that can be said about this cheap kit lens, just like the Nikon 18-55mm kit lens, it produces pretty sharp images in the right conditions. The distortion is awful, and the CA is worse than my old Nikon 18-55mm kit lens, but all in all, I am impressed with the image quality produced with such a cheap lens given its cost. I'm really impressed with the overall sharpness and quality of the 18MP image with the unforgiving kit lens! You'll be much better off with better glass, but if your budget is very limited and the kit is all you can find, it's usable to an extent.
When I first got the camera, I changed a few obvious settings and went about shooting some test shots. I was a bit shocked to see the amount of artifacting and noise present in an image at ISO100. See this example below:
For most people, this is not noticeable. But I shoot a lot of stock, which has very stringent image quality standards, and this kind of artifacting and noise in an ISO100 photo would just not cut it without some post processing or downsizing. After I sat down and read through the manual a bit, I realized that the default picture mode applies some in-camera sharpening to the RAW (ugh!). After turning that off, the results were much better (see examples below).
Below are some side-by-side comparisons between the D300 and the T2i. I even dug out my old Nikon 18-55mm kit lens to try and provide a slightly more even comparison. All images are straight out of the camera, converted to jpeg.
Canon T2i (18mm, 1/160, f/11, ISO200)
Nikon D300 (18mm, 1/160, f/11, ISO200)
ISO200, 1/160, f/11
ISO800, 1/500, f/11
ISO1600, 1/1000, f/11
ISO3200, 1/2000, f/11
There's two important things to note here:
Especially considering the much larger resolution of the T2i, I think it is performing quite well at high ISOs - definitely a step above my D300 - but certainly not on par with Nikon's newer high end cameras (D700, D3, etc.). It's also clear that the Canon kit lens has more chromatic aberration than my 5+ year old model of the Nikon kit lens.
Overall, I'm really impressed with the Canon T2i. For people on a budget who are working with video it really is a great value. For what's important to me, it stomps all of its competition in the low-end DSLR sector. There are some definite differences between it and the 7D (build quality and weather sealing, micro focus adjustment, better burst rate, and more fine-grained ISO control to name a view), but the T2i is quite a capable camera.
I'd really love to not have to work with two completely different systems just to meet my needs, but both Nikon and Canon are lacking in certain areas (Are you listening, Nikon? I really hope so. Please improve your video and megapixel offerings!)
In my opinion, Nikon blows Canon out of the water in certain areas:
But, Canon is clearly the winner of the video war, and has made significant progress at breaking the megapixel barrier while still delivering acceptable image quality (without having to drop $8,000 for a D3x). I'm not the type that really cares about who can pack the most ridiculous number of pixels into their sensor, but because I produce a lot of stock and panoramics, image size is very important to me. So, for now, I'll deal with the expenses and hassles of two different camera systems until one can deliver a single solution that fits all my needs. Which one will it be? We'll see.
I hope you've found some sort of benefit from all of this information. I realize I am unqualified to compare the T2i to other Canon cameras, which is what most people will be looking for, but hopefully this information will be beneficial to some.
If you're looking for the Canon T2i, check out Calumet Photographic. I am NOT an affiliate and make no money off of this, but Calumet seems to be frequently receiving T2i's, body only and kit, displays live inventory for all their stores, and have been good to deal with in my experience.