Q&A: Canon T2i vs T1i

Canon EOS Rebel T2i (550D, Kiss X4)

Every once in a while, I post my answer to a question that I receive by email. This one has to do with choosing between two camera bodies: the Canon T1i and T2i. When I am thinking about buying a camera, the first thing I do is to check out some trusted online sources. These are sites that do this kind of comparative thing all the time. I checked two of my favorite sources before answering the question below. Although the question is about choosing one camera or the other, I also cover the issue of upgrading from the T1i to the T2i.

Q: A friend is looking at the Canon T1i and the T2i camera. I guess the T1i is on sale, is the T2i worth the extra money?

A: That all depends on what your friend needs in a camera.  Some online research will help. Both cameras go by several names so it is important to know these names when doing online research:

Digital Rebel T1i = Canon EOS 500D = Kiss X3 Digital.

Digital Rebel T2i = Canon EOS 550D = Kiss X4 Digital.

There is a comparison of the sensor quality between these two cameras at www.dxomark.com:

Canon EOS 500D vs Canon EOS 550D (T1i vs T2i)

(You can also compare any other camera sensors that are in the DxO database.)

Here’s a screen shot from part of the “Overview”.

Canon EOS 500D and 550D sensor comparison.

Canon 500D and 550D sensor comparison.

The “Overall Score” difference between 63 and 66 (higher is better) isn’t that significant.  Color depth (i.e. “Portrait”) and dynamic range (“Landscape”) are also very close. Based on these numbers, if you took side by side photos with these cameras, using lower ISO settings (100 – 400) and then made prints, I don’t think you would see any noticeable difference in prints up to 8×10 or 11×14 inches in size.  The cameras are very close in image quality.

The difference for the Low-Light ISO scores (630-784) is more significant. Based on these numbers, the T2i (550D) will have better image quality at higher ISO settings (800 and up).  The advantage here goes to the T2i.

DP Review (my favorite technical camera review site) has detailed reviews for both cameras:

Canon EOS 500D

Canon EOS 550 D

The review for the 550D has noise comparison results that confirm what I expected from the number above at the DxOMark site, the 500D is noisier.  Check out this page (down a few inches) which compares the noise levels of four cameras (the Canon 500D, Canon 550D, Nikon D5000, and Pentax K-x):

Noise comparison samples.

As you mouse over the different ISO settings (from 100 to 12,800), the sample patches will change accordingly. The 500D (T1i)  is obviously more noisy than the 550D (T2i) at ISO 800 and higher.

Anyone who shoots in low light levels without flash will get better image quality with the Canon T2i.

The T2i also has the advantage in the movie mode department. Both cameras shoot HD video, but at 1920×1080 the T1i is limited to 20 frames per second (fpc), while the T2i can shoot 1920×1080 at 30 and 24 fpc. The video implementation is also better on the T2i.  The T2i is the winner when it comes to video.

The T2i also wins in the bells and whistles department, including, among other things, better metering, better movie functionality, and a better user interface for some of the camera’s features. You can read about the bells and whistles in the 550D review linked above.

The price difference between the two cameras is about $185. Is the T2i worth the difference?  That all depends. I can’t decide for you, but I can make some observations and you can decide f it is worth it for you.

If you want the best movie functionality, or if you shoot in low light at high ISO speeds, the answer is probably yes.  If one of the newer bells and whistles is very important to you, the answer might be yes.  Keep in mind that a feature that matters a lot to one photographer won’t matter at all to the next.  Photography is still a very personal thing.

If you shoot landscapes or still lifes at low ISO speeds or if you like to do portraits with flash (again at low ISO’s), the T1i will serve you very well.  Why spend money on features you don’t need?  The T1i was considered to be a great camera when it came out, and it still is, and it still shines in low ISO situations.

If you shoot sports in bright light, the improved buffer speed of the T2i (3.7 vs 3.4 fps) isn’t that much of a difference. If there isn’t some other feature in the T2i that you really need, you will probably be very happy with the T1i.  If you shoot sports in low light, think about getting the T2i.

If you already have the Canon T1i, I wouldn’t spend the money to upgrade to a T2i unless the improved movie mode or better image quality at high ISO’s is really important to you.  On the other hand, if you have a Digital Rebel that is 1 or 2 models older than the T1i, it might be time to consider an upgrade.

If you think you need the features of the Canon T2i but are wondering if the extra $185 is worth it, this might help put things in perspective.  If you use the T2i for 5 years, the extra $185 spread out over 5 years is only $3.08 per month or a little over a dime per day. That’s like skipping one fast food meal per month and spending that extra time taking pictures with your new and improved camera!

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Buy a Canon T2i at Amazon.com.

Buy a Canon T1i at Amazon.com.

Amazon has free shipping and you get a great price on either camera. Using either link to make your purchase helps support this site.