5 Initial Thoughts About the Canon SL1: First Impressions

Canon announced its new compact Rebel SL1 DSLR this past spring. Calling it the “world’s smallest digital SLR,” it was obvious that Canon was looking to give EOS photographers a smaller and lighter platform for their Canon lenses. I’ve long been a Canon user and a fan of the Rebel DSLRs. When I got the chance to play with the SL1 (also known as Canon EOS 100D in Europe) for a couple weeks recently, I thought I would write up a short first-impressions article while Bob Atkins is working on a full review for Photo.net.

Canon SL1 info

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  • World’s smallest and lightest digital SLR (APS-C sized sensor or larger)
  • 18.0 megapixel CMOS (APS-C)
  • Canon DIGIC 5 Image Processor
  • ISO range of 100-12800 (expandable to H: 25600) for stills and 100-6400 (expandable to H: 12800) for video
  • 4.0 fps continuous shooting
  • 9 AF points (including a cross-type f/2.8 center point)
  • Hybrid CMOS AF II for AF Tracking during Live View shooting
  • Full HD Movie Mode with Movie Servo AF
  • 3.0" Touch Screen LCD
  • 7 creative filters
  • Compatible with all lenses in the EF lineup

I used my loaner SL1 the way I would be using one if I owned it. Mostly for family/friends shooting with a bit of “we’re going somewhere pretty and I want to take a light camera kit” tossed in. I used my prime lenses more than my zooms. But I did spend some time with my Canon 17-55/2.8 EF-S, Canon 70-200/2.8 L, and a Sigma 18-35/1.8 to see how the SL1 handled in real-world shooting with larger lenses.


Size

Mirrorless systems are eating into “advanced” DSLR sales, or at least that’s the way it appears to me. In the past this wasn’t as much of a problem, as most of the CMCs were aimed at people moving up from a point and shoot. But now that we are seeing more and more CMC bodies with features and handling designed for the advanced photographer, there are a lot of photographers questioning the wisdom of sticking with a DSLR.

Canon, while it does have a mirrorless camera of it’s own in the EOS M, must be feeling the heat from the popularity of the CMC systems. However, one thing that Canon does have that the mirrorless companies can’t match is a lot of photographers who are heavily invested in its lenses (I include myself here). It’s hard to get too excited about jumping to a completely new camera system when you have $4000 into L glass. So with the SL1, Canon can offer a lighter and smaller body that is compatible with EOS lenses.

And the SL1 is smaller and lighter, there is no doubt about it. Compared to a Canon Rebel T5i body, the SL1 is 6 ounces lighter and loses between a third and a half inch in every dimension. It’s hard to describe with straight numbers, but this is a very small DSLR. It looks much more like a fixed lens “bridge” camera or a Panasonic micro four-thirds DSLR body than an APS-C DSLR.

So Canon has done a good job of shrinking an EOS DSLR into as small of a form factor as possible. Now, will that be enough? After all, the lenses aren’t any smaller. An f/2.8 lens using a specific mount designed to cover an APS-C sensor will be the same size no matter how large or small the body it is attached to is. For what it’s worth, I think that you will see a number of EOS system owners start to seriously consider the SL1 instead of other APS-C systems such as the Sony NEX system. An APS-C sensor mirrorless system isn’t going to offer much in the way of size/weight reduction from the SL1. Add to that the value of staying with a lens system that you already own, and it becomes attractive. I think it will be a harder sell for those photographers who are attracted to the ultra compact micro four-thirds systems.

Handling

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After a few weeks of use, I am surprised to say that, for me, the SL1 handles virtually the same as it’s larger brother in the Rebel line. I have been a fan of the Rebel DSLRs as economical starter or backup bodies for a long time and have owned or used virtually all of them at one time or the other. To me, the SL1’s handling doesn’t suffer much at all due to its size reduction. The controls and layout are very similar and anyone who has used a Rebel should have few problems. Now, the flip side is that, if you are unsatisfied with the way the Rebel DSLRs handle, the SL1 isn’t going to change that for you. Similarly, if you have a hard time getting a good grip on a typical mega-zoom bridge camera, you are likely to find the small size of the SL1 to be frustrating. The grip is very well done and the “ridge” molded under the shutter button allows the SL1 to “stick” to your middle finger in a positive way. But this is a short camera and even women and men with smaller hands won’t find a lot of extra room under their pinky. Photographers with “big paws” may find their pinky hanging off in space. If this is the kind of thing that bothers you, you really should try the SL1 (or at least a similarly sized bridge body) before buying. On the other hand, if large hands cause serious grip problems for you, you should probably stick to full sized DSLRs anyway, as there are few smaller DSLRs or mirrorless systems that are going to be comfortable for you.

I will say that the SL1 was very oddly balanced with some of my larger lenses. This is nothing new, big lenses and light bodies have always clashed a little bit as far as handling and balance are concerned. But I think the SL1 is just about as small and light as I could imagine going with some of my larger lenses. And to be honest, if I were an SL1 owner, I would probably stay away from those larger lenses and rely on some slower zooms and fast primes unless I was in a real pinch. Heavy lenses are doable on the SL1, but it isn’t the most ergonomic shooting platform for using them.

What about a Rebel T5i instead?

If the SL1 is smaller, lighter, cheaper and handles virtually the same as the Rebel T5i, why would anyone bother to buy a T5i? Hand size issues aside, I personally have no idea. I myself would suggest the SL1 over the T5i in almost every instance. Now, to be fair, the T5i does beat out the SL1 in some areas, 40% better battery life, 30% faster continuous shooting, a flip out LCD and in-camera HDR being the most noticeable. But overall, as much as I love great battery life, I have a hard time trading the T5i’s advantages for the size and weight savings of the SL1.

What about mirrorless system?

Let’s assume that we’re talking about someone who already is invested in a Canon EOS system but wants to be able to assemble a smaller kit for traveling or just daily shooting. Does the SL1 tip the scales away from replacing everything with a mirrorless system? As I mentioned before, I think for people who value the APS-C sensor size, it will do just that. The SL1 and a typical lens isn’t that much larger than a NEX camera with a similar lens. That’s not to shortchange the NEX system which has many advantages of its own. Just going on a pure sizing argument, you aren’t losing much in the way of size/weight by going to the NEX system. And while there are people who will debate this point, you aren’t going to be gaining a huge amount as far as image quality either. Both have excellent APS-C sensors coupled with quality image processing engines.

Now, the SL1 loses the argument if you aren’t wedded to an APS-C sensor and size/weight reduction is the main goal. Using the micro four-thirds system as an example, there is a significant size difference between something like the Olympus PEN E-P5 and the SL1. This difference gets even more glaring when you start to look at lenses. Micro four-thirds lenses were purpose designed for mirrorless systems and a sensor size that requires a smaller image circle. There is no way that the retrofocus SLR design of EOS lenses, even those that just cover APS-C, can compete with that. Of course, we do get into a “sensor size” vs. “image quality” argument when you start talking about micro four-thirds vs APS-C comparison. But again, I prefaced this paragraph with the statement that size/weight reduction was the most important factor.

Would I buy one?

Absolutely. If I was looking for a compact or backup DSLR body, I’d have zero problem plunking my own hard earned cash down at the register to do so. The SL1 is a nice DSLR that has brought virtually all of the good parts of a successful camera line (the Rebel t3i/t4i/t5i/etc) to a significantly smaller form factor. In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that my EOS system has been gathering a lot more dust than it used to over the past year or so. I have been pretty taken by the Olympus OM-D and the micro thirds system prime lenses. That having been said, I am invested in the EOS system and I have steadfastly refused to give that up. Perhaps it’s the “pro shooter” in me from back when my camera was directly responsible for putting food on the table. I just can’t let go of my EOS gear. As much as I love using the smaller CMC cameras, there is just something that comes back to me every time I pick up a DSLR. That feeling was no different with the SL1.

Photos taken with the SL1
































Stay tuned for the upcoming full review of the Canon Rebel SL1/EOS 100D.

canon_sl1. From the Canon website: With its combination of lightweight size, ease of use and outstanding image quality, the EOS Rebel SL1 is perfect for users looking for the ideal camera to bring sightseeing on vacation or to capture the everyday. The EOS Rebel SL1 Digital SLR Camera represents a new era in DSLR versatility ultra-portable, full-featured DSLR cameras…

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    • I like the idea of a very compact Canon SLR for the same reasons I like the actual Pentax compacts. Pentax has VERY compact prime lenses to go with their SLR's. The SL1 makes little sense unless Canon can come up with an 18 to 20mm pancake. The lens is there, it's just in the M-series only.  The 40 f 2.8 is delightfully compact and optically excellent, and would be a great companion to the EF 20 or so that doesn't exist.

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    • I guess I must be the odd man out here. I have a hard time with small cameras. I like the larger versions. They seem to fit my hands better. I like space between the controls. I like heft. I like the weight when I'm using a slow shutter speed or panning on a subject. The first thing I do when buying any new camera is add the battery pack, not so much for the extra battery, but to add the inertia when shooting. It just seems to make things smoother when using the tool. When shooting I pull the camera toward my own center of mass. I bring my arms in, I don't go flailing about. Lightness has never seemed an advantage -- even when lugging half a dozen bodies around all day on location. The only time small seemed an advantage was when shooting that candid shot, but then I was never very good at being candid.

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    • Over 25 years of pro photography, I have always preferred a heavy camera in order to steady myself in hand-held shooting. Now, at 75 years of age, I still prefer the heft of the 5DMK2 and 20D with additional battery pack over the G11.

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    • It sounds like a very good option, but what about comparing the SL1 with the Cannon EOS M and the adapter for your SLR lenses?

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    • The SL1 or 100D is a god send to me as movies are a breeze when done with an STM lens. Focusing is quick and silent, the only weakness comes when zooming with this camera. Compared to the 5DMKII the 100D has the edge and follows the target with ease. Other lenses like the 70-200F4 L make too much noise so you have the likes of the kit lenses which are lighter, cheaper and adequate for movie mode. Focusing manually as is required with the 5D, is not necessary, it's just the zoom which is a pain on both cameras.

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    • I have had my SL1 for a couple of weeks now and will be selling my 40D.  I find the new camera to be significantly sharper in the pictures that I take over the 40D which isn't a big surprise, but also find the two kit lens to be pretty good for the price point.  I have 2XL hands and don't find gripping the camera to be an issue for enthusiast usage.  Having a lighter weight is delight and I find myself picking it up much more often to use which to me why I was looking at 4/3 cameras and circling back to this one.  Sometimes I find I get too caught up in the "gadgetitis" of the more expensive cameras when a more ergonomic camera which gets me out there more taking pics is really the issue.  Also if it was stolen, I am not looking at an extremely high priced item lost.

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    • What about the COLOR from this Canon? Most people take color photos. Would not the Fuji X100S, set at Velvia be much better at color, or, even better  simply staying with the 130MP sensor, the Velvia50 as I do, so that I don't have to keep upgrading these digital throwaways? Well, we do have one digi Lumix with Leica optics in the family but that is  to record kitchen cupboard installation, funny signs, the cat yawning etc etc.

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    • If only there'd be a 20mm f/2.8 STM pancake EF-S!
      The Sigma 30mmf/1.4  is a nice normal lens but something slightly wider and slightly less obtrusive would be welcome. 

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    • I'm not unhappy with my elderly t2 i(see no reason to update it to a later model).

      But do like the mirrorless cameras because 1: I can see the image in B&W, when I'm shooting that way, and 2: I can see the image much brighter and clearer in very lo-light situations (compared to the best DSLR viewfinders).

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    • I just replaced my antique Rebel XT (350D) with an SL1. I'm happy with the SL1 and the many improvements it has, but I do have to chuckle at Canon's "smallest and lightest" claims. The SL1 is only very slightly smaller and lighter than the 350D. The 350D was significantly slimmed down from the first Digital Rebel (300D). But it seems the Rebel line of DSLRs have gradually gained weight and bulk over the years. The SL1 puts the camera body back to where it was in 2005. That's not a complaint at all; it means that if you still have a 350D, the SL1 will feel very similar.

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    • If only there'd be a 20mm f/2.8 STM pancake EF-S!

      Your wish is their command: there is now a 24mm f2.8 STM EF-S pancake.

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