Winter Oaks. Rancho Cañada del Oro, California. January 21, 2006. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell.
I follow and occasionally comment on discussions at a few photography sites. I frequently see questions from people trying to decide whether the Canon 350 XT (a.k.a. the “Digital Rebel” and the 350D) is good enough for them, and I have posted replies more than once. After retyping the same answer quite a few times, I thought I’d post a summary here and just link to it from here on.
I purchased my 350 XT in March of 2005. After poring over the specifications of competing cameras I had narrowed my choice to either the Canon 20D or the 350 XT. Cost was not the main issue, though I’m happy to save money if I can do so and still get the quality and features I want. Here are some of the factors that influenced my decision to purchase the 350 XT. (Note: What I write about the 20D will apply for the most part to the 30D as well.)
- Image qualityis indistinguishable from that of the 20D. The sensors on the two cameras are essentially the same. (To be accurate, the 350 XT does use slightly fewer pixels – equivalent to losing a couple of rows of pixels around the very edge and completely inconsequential.)
- Size and weightof the 350 XT are more appropriate for the kind of photography that I do most often – hiking, backpacking, and otherwise doing photography on foot. The 350 XT weighs about a half pound less than the 20D and is noticably smaller. Some people say that the smaller body of the 350 XT is a disadvantage and claim to find it uncomfortable. I have relatively large hands and, frankly, I don’t even think about the camera being too small when I use it – this is a non-issue for me.
- Build qualityis fine. The 350 XT does make greater use of plastic but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Plastic scratches; metal bends. Plastic is not automatically a sign of shoddy construction, and plastic is often the most appropriate material. In any case, I use my camera in relatively demanding situations – crammed in a pack while backpacking, for example – and I haven’t had any problems related to the build quality of the camera.
- The interface is finefor me and the type of shooting I do. One could argue that the 20D has a more flexible interface, but I find the 350 XT to be pretty flexible, too, now that I have thoroughly learned the camera. (I do wish that Canon would put a mirror lock-up button on their cameras!)
- Burst modeis capable enough for me. I don’t use this feature that much, but it is sufficiently powerful for me most of the time when I do. (Here is an example.) I will admit that those who rely on this feature a lot might prefer the 20D or, better yet, the 30D. The 350 XT burst speed is generally fast enough for me, but I can quickly fill the buffer shooting RAW images, and I sometimes have to wait for it to clear.
- The cost differencebetween the 350 XT and the arguably somewhat better 20D (and 30D) is too great to be worth it for me. As I write this (May 2006) the price of the 350 XT body is about half that of the 20D, but the 20D is not “twice as good” for the kind of photography I do.
- Investing money in lensesmakes more sense than investing it in dSLR bodies. I believe that most serious photographers will want to replace current dSLR bodies on about an 24 month cycle, given the rapid rate of improvements in these products. (Another way to look at it: other factors aside, it is worth upgrading when the number of pixels doubles at a reasonable price point.) All of this is a long way of saying that I regard this camera body as a short-term investment. On the other hand, I expect to keep my high quality lenses for many years and transfer them to better bodies as they become available. The price differential between the 350 XT and the 20D/30D is great enough to by an excellent prime (such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4) or even one of the less-expensive Canon “L” zooms (such as the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L or the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L).
So, there you have it. When I purchased the 350 XT I was fairly confident I was making the right choice, though I couldn’t be sure until I used it. A year and a few months later I am even more convinced that this was the right choice, and I’m still pleased with this camera.
By the way, all of the photography on this site (as of this writing in July 2006) was done with my 350 XT, so take a look – there a plenty of examples here of what you can do with this camera. You can find links to specific photo categories in the sidebar, or start at the home page.
(All of this does not mean that I’m not already thinking about the camera that will replace my 350 XT though. I haven’t made any decisions yet, but I lean toward making my next purchase when a relatively light (5D size) Canon 16-megapixel body with a full-frame sensor becomes available at a price I can afford.)
Update – Nov. 9, 2006: The 350D is still going strong. Canon has recently introduced the 400D (or RebelXTi), a 10 MP upgraded version of the 350D/RebelXT that also has some new dust-removal features. If I were purchasing a crop sensor Canon DSLR body today I would almost certainly get this new model. Although the difference between 8MP and 10MP is not as big as it might seem, it is a bit of an advantage, and reports are that Canon has pulled it off without adding noise or otherwise reducing image quality. In many other ways, what I have written above concerning the 350D should also apply to the 400D/XTi.
Update – April 23, 2008: Camera models continue to evolve quickly and now Canon has updated the Rebel series (now know as “Rebels” rather than “Digital Rebels”) with the newest model being the XSi, a 12 MP crop sensor body that carries on the design philosophy of the earlier Digital Rebels but adds significantly enhanced features. While the technical details of the 350D/XT described above are quite different than those of the newer model, much of what I wrote relative to a comparison of the Rebel series to the X0D series is still relevant. (At the time of this writing, the 350D/XT is still available, often at some very low prices. If you are budget constrained it is still a camera worthy of your consideration.)
Update – July 28, 2008: It appears that new 350D/XT cameras are no longer readily available from a number of the popular online sources – though you still may be able to find a few on sale, and they are still available used.
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Winter Skyline. Seattle, Washington. January 6, 2006. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.