[Imaging Week] As Canon’s DSLR line of product increasingly comes under higher pressure from mirrorless camera from Sony or Olympus, Canon has explored a couple of ways to counter the competition without cannibalizing its own product line (too much). It’s fair to say that the first attempt with a mirrorless EOS M has been a “flop” at best, and our own review of the Canon EOS M shows that the poor auto-focus performance pretty much doomed that product. However, the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 potentially represents a much more successful path because it downsizes the EOS DSLR format (both size and weight) significantly, without losing the speed and image quality that one could get from a full-on DSLR in that price range.
When I first saw the announcement of the Canon EOS Rebel SL1, I wasn’t really “blown away” by its dimensions, because on paper, they don’t look so different from the Rebel-class of cameras. However, I have to say that after playing with one, I realized that it “feels” significantly smaller and lighter than its EOS 700D/Ti5 cousin. There is definitely some value for someone who wants to have an ultra-compact DSLR, or a second DSLR that is discreet but good enough to do the job, and flexible enough to use the wealth of accessories and lenses that the EOS eco-system has to offer.
Despite being (relatively) small, I found that the ergonomics of the EOS Rebel SL1 worked (for me), and the whole setup felt very much like handling your typical Canon Rebel camera, expect smaller and lighter. Canon was presenting this camera under the best possible light because they had connected a small pancake-type fixed 40mm f2.8 lens (which I believe is a great kit lens). If you want more flexibility, I believe that most non-metal lenses would be a good fit for those who prioritize a lightweight setup. The zooming capability would come at the expense of a lower profile.
Because this camera has a hardware platform that is similar to the Canon EOS 700D/T5i, it feels like using a recent Rebel camera. The overall performance (autofocus, general speed) is much better when compared to the Canon EOS M because it can use the phase detection for still photo shooting, and also better than many of the mirrorless systems that we’re using in the office, including the Sony NEX-5N and NEX-F3.
This will largely depends on the lens that you choose to use, but the photo quality is very decent, and can be compared with what you would get with recent Canon Rebel cameras (quality needs to be relative to the price of course). In terms of pure sensor performance (especially for low-light conditions), Canon may have a hard time when compared to Sony in this price range, but in the end, the large availability of Canon-compatible EF lenses should be an advantage in many situations, and so far that is the biggest weakness of the mirrorless systems.
Not a camera for everyone
I realize that this is not a camera for everyone, and I’m sure that opinions will diverge since it has been designed to address one specific thing: providing an ultra-compact DSLR. It would probably work best for folks who want the auto-focus performance of a medium-range DSLR in a more discreet format. That could also be a secondary camera for situations where size and weight matter more than absolute imaging performance.
Let’s be clear about one thing: it’s not pocketable, but frankly, neither are any of the mirror-less systems that I’ve been using for the past few years. In my experience, if I want something in my pocket, a smartphone would probably be my first choice. In the end, YOU will have to think about how you would use a camera like this.
While the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 does not stem the mirrorless threat (or maybe mildly so at best), it does provide an interesting solution for a subset of the DSLR market. I think that Canon should really stop worrying about cannibalizing its EOS range of product and fix the auto-focus and feature-set of the EOS-M if they are to successfully counter the rise of mirrorless cameras. On one hand, the EOS Rebel SL1 provides the smallest form-factor ever for a fully featured Canon DSLR camera (including the large array of 3rd party lenses), but on the other hand, the size reduction will be ultimately limited by the EF lens form factor, and the volume occupied by the EOS Rebel SL1 is still significantly bigger than mirrorless designs. Is the EOS Rebel SL1 small enough? Tell us what you think.