Canon Rebel XS and t4i together

Canon t4i vs t5i and upgrading to a new DSLR

Golden Gate Bridge

One of the earliest images I captured with my first DSLR.

A bit more than five years ago, just before my then-fiance-now-wife and I went on a trip to California together, she surprised me with a new Canon Rebel XS. I had been photographing back in high school and some in college, and had largely walked away from it, letting the industry pass me by. Recently, though, I’d started carrying her point-and-shoot around and it had gotten my curiosity up. I was really, really excited.

  • That camera lasted me five years and many, many trips. Before our recent trip to Europe, I decided to upgrade for several reasons:
  • The sensors of newer cameras provide less noise and higher quality.
  • Newer sensors are capable of dramatically higher ISOs.
  • Speed! Faster processing, faster burst shooting and faster autofocus. The burst speed of the XS was killing me.
  • Bigger screens on the back of new cameras.
  • More megapixels. Bigger prints.

And, importantly, I felt like I had learned enough to make use of the new features. My composition has improved, the range of events I was shooting had expanded and I was doing more for other people than just for myself. That all justified higher quality equipment.

But I still made a deal with myself that if I was going to go out and get this new camera, I was going to commit to improving my photography and increasing my output. (Hence, this blog.)

I did a tremendous amount of research—I still hadn’t really kept up with all the advancements in the field, as I tend to be a gadget geek and didn’t want to tempt myself. Between my price range and immediate needs, I identified three cameras (still firmly in Canon’s consumer line) that could fit the bill:

Canon Rebel t4i
untitled shoot_110914-17The coolest thing about the t4i? The articulating, touch screen LCD. Touch screens have been one of the biggest innovations in consumer technology in the last ten years, and I was honestly surprised to find that so few Canons have it implemented. The screen has come in use, too…almost anything I take on a tripod makes heavy use of the touch screen, and the live view and articulated arm were key in getting this angle.

But it also met the basics: next generation autofocus (when compared to the XS), a reasonable number of MPs and an incredible ISO range. Generally, the reviews I read indicated the sensor did a great job at minimizing noise at high ISOs and the burst speed was acceptable (and going from an XS, “acceptable” is a fair improvement).

Canon Rebel t5i 
I’ll make this quick, and if you’ve done much research, you know why: the t5i was panned by reviewers. There are almost no differences between the t4i and the t5i. The t5i has moderately more processing horsepower, which allows some live preview functionality and, some said, an increase in burst speed, but other than that, there’s almost nothing to differentiate from the t4i.

And if you do some research, people were mad at Canon about it.

Canon SL1 
This is a really interesting niche DSLR. Canon has equipped the SL1 with internals almost identical to the t4/5, but done an incredible job of miniaturizing them. The SL1 is, for a “true DSLR” (as opposed to a mirrorless camera), tiny and very light. With a two-week trip to Europe looming, this was very intriguing.

The other thing that’s interesting about researching the SL1 is that you’ll find opinions vary dramatically. Some love it and think it’s the way all DSLRs are going, while others couldn’t figure out why Canon bothered.

Ultimately, I decided against the SL1 because I was worried about extensibility. If you think of the camera as a technology platform, form factor becomes quite important to cameras, and I didn’t want to limit the usefulness of my new platform by purchasing a version intended for a niche audience.

Really, it came down to the t4i vs t5i, but then…it doesn’t really, does it?

I decided to focus on finding a t4i in my price range while keeping an eye on the t5is. I also intended to buy a used camera—there’s loads of good used equipment out there and I have no driving reason to demand a brand-new camera. I set up a couple Google Alerts and used shopping sites to notify me of sales, but ultimately purchased a used, body-only t4i from a reseller on Amazon. I was thrilled—the camera arrived in mint condition, worked perfectly and was ultimately around 60% less than a new t5i.

If you’re at stage where you think you’re ready to upgrade, consider why. What are the limits you’re running into? I wanted to do more action photography and more night photography; there were clear advantages to upgrading in terms of ISO, autofocus and burst speed. I also wanted to do bigger prints, and I was curious if the bigger, better, touchy-feely screens would give me new shooting opportunities. Ultimately, if it was only one or two of these items, I wouldn’t have upgraded, but, combined, it seemed like the right decision.

And, two final notes: 1) I kept my XS as my backup camera, and still use and maintain it. 2) If you’re an intermediate or beginner photographer and do decide now’s the right time to get a new or your first DSLR…don’t get a t5i, you’ll pay an unnecessary premium.

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