Canon's budget digital Rebels have been one step ahead of their inexpensive DSLR competition for years. The Rebel's latest incarnation, the Canon EOS Rebel T4i, builds on that tradition with innovations you won't find on even the most expensive DSLRs. It brings touchscreen controls and new beginner-friendly video features to an already great camera. But it'll cost you.
For the money, last year's T3i is a fabulous camera. It's a popular shooter, but compared to the T2i that came out in 2010, it didn't bring a whole lot of new features to the table. Sure, it has a swivel screen borrowed from the more expensive 60D, which makes shooting video easier. But other than that there isn't any other reason to splurge on the T3i when you can find T2is for cheap.
On paper the T4i's upgrades make it worth your extra dollar: A gorgeous new touchscreen, continuous autofocus in video mode, on-board stereo microphones, and improved photos thanks to a new image processor.
From the point of view of usability the T4i's capacitive glass touchscreen is a major boon to beginners who are used to smartphones. One of the drawbacks of the relatively compact bodies on cheaper DSLRs is that you just can't stuff that many buttons onto them, which means that many adjustments are buried behind menus. The touchscreen liberates you from confusing button navigation, allowing you to reach out and point to the adjustments you want to make.
Powerful autofocus for video is an overdue feature for the beginner Rebel line. You see, for regular people the mere ability to shoot great video doesn't mean much. Until now, the DSLR has been a clunky video camera for beginners. Professionals and enthusiasts have been getting excellent results from DSLRs for years, but videographers rely on manual focus to get their shots. If you're at a birthday party, you want to move the camera from your kid to the cake to the presents and have the shot snap instantly into focus without touching buttons or the lens. That's the promise of the T4i's new Movie Servo AF setting. Canon's accomplished a tricky technical feat that requires a revamped superfast AF sensor system, but here's what you need to know: Shooting HD video with the T4i might be as close as a DSLR has come to using an easy camcorder.
With continuous autofocus in mind, Canon brings a new line of "STM" (stepping motor) lenses, which are specifically designed for shooting video with the camera's Movie Servo AF mode. They're precisely tuned to the T4i's AF so that they're fast and precise, and they're designed to be silent. Canon says this will produce video that's not marred by annoyingly slow focus or the sound of an autofocus motor. (Canon will also release a new 40mm pancake lens pictured throughout this post, which turns your DSLR into a slim package great for street photographers.)
While we're on the topic of sound, the T4i upgrades the T3i's mono mic to a built-in stereo mic setup. Want more? An external mic jack is still there.
As for the camera's guts, the T4i gets the incremental bump you'd expect. The camera still sports an 18-megapixel, APS-C sensor, but the sensor's technology has been ramped up so that the camera can shoot at up to ISO 12,800 compared to ISO 6400 on the T3i. That means you'll get better photos in the dark of night or in situations like sports games in which you want to be able to freeze fast-moving action. The HD video recording specs are unchanged: 1080p at 24 or 30fps, 720p at 50 and 60 fps.
As we'd expect, the T4i is powered by the Digic 5 image processor that Canon introduced last year. You'll instantly notice that the T4i can now shoot at up to 5 frames per second compared to 3.7 frames on the T3i. The new processor also improves the camera's automatic white balance and high-ISO noise-reduction in certain settings.
Bottom line: Taking better photos should be easier than ever. The Digic 5 will help reproduce the color you see in real life in your photos, and the processor will scrape some of the graininess when you shoot in a dark bar.
With all these improvements the only thing that gives us pause is the T4i's price tag. The standard package with an 18-55 zoom kit lens runs $850. But Canon is pushing its new "video" package hard. For $1200 you get the T4i with the new 18-135mm STM lens. That's pretty steep considering the Nikon D3200, the T4i's main competitor, comes in at just $700 with an 18-55mm kit.
Overall, the Canon EOS Rebel T4i seems like a very exciting upgrade. Obviously, we've yet to actually take the camera off paper and out into the world, so we've got no idea what it can really do. We'll find out whether the T4i is as formidable as it sounds and if it's worth the premium price when it's available at the end of June. [Canon USA]