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Tutorial: Canon Rebel XT Series Camera

By Scot Hacker, Jeremy Rue

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Canon Rebel side angleThe Canon Rebel family of cameras is the first level of SLRs the company makes. They generally run between $600 to $1,000 depending on the kits and accessories. The camera caters to a wide audience by including automatic options for beginners as well as highly customizable settings for more professional photographers.

As of early 2009, Canon makes three models of its Rebel family: EOS Rebel XSi, Rebel XTi and Rebel XS. The primary differences separating these cameras are some of the technical specifications, such as number of megapixels, and features, like live viewing of the image on the LCD screen on the back.

This tutorial will focus exclusively on the Canon Rebel XT model of camera.

Basic Setup

The Canon Rebel camera is a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, which means it uses a mirror inside the camera body to reflect the image up through a prism into the viewfinder where your eye can see it.

This also means that there is no "live preview" of the image on the back LCD screen. You will only see the image after you take the picture.

The lens of the camera is removable, and can be switched out with other Canon EOS lenses that are compatible with this camera. There is also a switch on the lens itself allowing the user to switch between auto-focus (AF) and manual focus (MF). Most users will want to always use auto-focus unless a particular situation makes it hard for the sensors to properly achieve focus.

Canon Rebel lens switch

Make sure the switch on the barrel of the lens is set to AF.

Underneath the camera is the battery compartment. Use the switch lever to open the battery door. It's important to install the battery with the metal contacts facing inward and to never force a battery if it does not fit.

Battery door for the Canon Rebel

The side of the camera slides open to reveal a door where you can insert a compact flash memory card. It is important to insert the memory card with the label facing toward the back of the camera. Inserting the card the wrong way will damage the camera and will result in needed repair. As with all electronic equipment, never force something if it doesn't seem to fit correctly.

Picture of inserting a CF card into a Rebel camera

On the top of the camera, there are several switches and dials. Next to the primary mode dial is the on and off switch. It is important to turn off the camera when you are not using it to preserve battery life and to prevent accidental pictures.

Main mode dial on Canon Rebel camera

The main mode dial also specifies which mode the camera is using to take pictures. Note that the GREEN RECTANGLE is automatic mode, and will take care of all of the settings for you, so all you have to do is point the camera and press the shutter button to take a picture. This SLR essentially becomes a pseudo point-and-shoot camera.

Modes above the green rectangle are considered advanced modes. They include the Program (P) mode, Time Value (Tv) mode, Aperture Value (Av) mode, Manual (M) mode and Auto Depth-of-Field bracketing (A-DEP) mode. Most beginners should not use these modes until they fully understand the fundamentals of photography, and how the exposure values combines shutter speeds and aperture values.

The modes below the green rectangle are basic automatic modes. Each of these settings is a preset that allows you to shoot photos for a certain environment without having to manually adjust the camera yourself. To use one of the modes, simply move the dial over to the desired mode, and take a picture.

Portrait mode icon

Portrait mode is specified by an icon of a woman's head. This mode will automatically adjust the camera for portraits by using larger aperture to throw the background out of focus. Good portraits generally do not have the background in focus in order to make the main subject, who is in focus, stand out more.

Scenic mode icon

Scenic mode is specified by an icon of a mountain range. This mode automatically adjusts the camera for shooting pictures of landscapes, or wide shots of an entire scene. It uses small aperture openings in attempt to make everything – objects both near and far – in focus. The flash will also not activate when in scenic mode.

Macro mode icon

Macro mode is specified by an icon of a flower. This mode is designed for adjusting the camera to take pictures of objects at close range. The auto-focus will have better responsiveness to objects that are closer, and the camera will attempt to use settings in preparation for pictures where the camera is physically close to the subject.

Action mode icon

Action mode is specified by an icon of a person running. This mode will use faster shutter speeds in an attempt to stop action. Use this mode if you are photographing sports in bright sunlight, or any action scenes where the lighting is good.

Night shot mode

Night shot mode is specified by an icon of a person in front of a star. This mode is unusual in that it's intended for a very specific scenario. Use this mode when you are photographing people at night in front of lit objects. However, you will need to use a stabilization device, like a tripod, to prevent blurring. This mode will keep the shutter open longer after the flash has burst, in order to bring up the brightness of lit objects in the background. Good examples of night mode include people in front of Christmas lights, subjects in front of lighted buildings at night, or situations where there is little movement, but it is still necessary to use a flash.

No-Flash mode is the last mode on the dial. (not pictured) The no-flash mode is identical to the green rectangle except that the flash will not automatically pop up. Use the no-flash mode in situations where flash photography is not allowed or would be a disturbance to the subjects involved.

Taking a Picture

Before taking a picture make sure you:

  1. have the camera turned on,
  2. have inserted a CF memory card with space for pictures,
  3. have the switch on the lens set to AF (auto-focus) and
  4. have an appropriate mode set on the main mode dial.

To properly hold the camera, place your left hand under the lens. This helps stabilize the camera, while allowing you to adjust the zoom and focus.

Hannah Hart holding Canon Rebel as a demonstration of how to hold a camera

Shutter button

The main shutter button is actually two buttons in one. You can press the main shutter button half-way down which activates the focus mechanism. It will also pop open and arm the flash (if needed) and gauge the proper exposure needed to capture the picture.

Assistant Hannah Hart demonstrating how to press the shutter button

You should always be pressing the shutter button half-way down to "arm" the camera before taking a picture. If you decide to take a picture of a different angle or subject, then release the shutter button and press it halfway down again on your new subject. Holding the shutter button halfway down also locks your exposure and focus on the primary subject you've chosen. This also allows you to selectively focus the camera on subjects that might not be the dominant element or in the center of the frame.

Also be aware that when you press the shutter button halfway down, you may hear a loud "click" sound of the flash popping up. This can fool some people into thinking that a picture was taken. You must press the button all the way down in order to capture a picture.

Navigating the Menus

There are several menus in the Canon Rebel camera. The scope of this tutorial is for basic photographers just learning the camera, so we will only show some key features in the menu system.

There are several buttons on the back of the camera. For a basic user, only about four of them are really important to know about.

button layout of the back of the Canon Rebel camera

To activate the menu, press the menu button on the back of the camera while the unit is on. This camera has two main menus: one for advanced users, and a basic menu for beginners. The menu that displays will depend on which mode you're in on the main dial. If you are in the green rectangle or below (basic modes), you will see a different menu than if you were in the P mode or above (advanced modes).

Basic main menu on Canon Rebel camera

Advanced main menu on Canon Rebel

The image on top is a basic menu, and the image below it is an advanced menu with more options and more ability to customize the camera. Also notice that each menu mode can have different settings that do not affect the operations of the other camera mode.

Quality and Size Settings

The main option in the main menu we want to focus on is the Quality/Size setting. In the basic camera operation, there are six quality/size settings to choose from.

Canon Rebel size menu simple

Quality is denoted by the curved shape to the immediate left of each letter. The three options on the left side with a smooth curve indicate high quality, while the three rough curves on the right side indicate medium quality.

Rebel menu with descriptions explaining size differences

Size is indicated by each letter. "L" for large, "M" for medium and "S" for small. The exact pixel dimensions will also be displayed on the right side of the screen.

Showing small size in Canon Rebel menu

In general, if you plan to ever print out your pictures on paper, we recommend only using the high quality large setting. If you plan to only shoot for the Web, and you are absolutely certain that you will never need to print out these images, then you have the option to use either high quality small, or medium quality small. The reason is that the Web doesn't need very large images. In fact, the majority of images on the web are less than 600 pixels, and even with the small setting the Canon Rebel captures images that are over 1,700 pixels!

This table will give an estimate of how many photos you should expect to store on a 512 megabyte card (small by today's standards).

Image storage capacity for 512 MB CF card
Resolution Compression Images
L format 3456 x 2304 Fine 137
L format 3456 x 2304 Medium 277
M format 2496 x 1664 Fine 237
M format 2496 x 1664 Medium 452
S format 1728 x 1152 Fine 410
S format 1728 x 1152 Medium 780
RAW @ 3456 x 2304 None 57

Formatting the Card

If you ever wish to erase your memory card completely, you should format the card using the camera menus. Formatting is a way to completely erase your card. You should be careful, because sometimes formatting the card may prevent recovery of pictures (which sometimes can be done when accidentally deleting an image).

Canon Rebel tools menu number 1

In the menu system, go to the very top and scroll over to the tools menu one. (Icon of an adjustable wrench and mallet.) Scroll down to Format and press the set button.

Format menu in Canon Rebel camera

It will ask you to confirm format.

There is another option we recommend setting, and that is Shoot w/o card. This prevents the camera from being able to take a picture without a memory card. If you allow the camera to take pictures without a memory card, you risk the chance of going out in the field an photographing without a memory card (similar to shooting pictures without film in the camera). Turn this setting to off.

Back Display

The back display has lots of information, most of which doesn't really concern a basic user. This tutorial will cover a few quick aspects of the menu.

Back LCD display on Canon Rebel

About this Tutorial

This tutorial was written by Jeremy Rue.

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