Canon Rebel SLRs have long been the go-to cameras for entry-level photographers. Dating back to the 35mm era, the line has offered family photographers affordable, quality SLRs to capture moments, and served as a starting point for pro photographers just beginning their journey. The latest edition, the Canon EOS Rebel T8i ($749, body only), doesn’t offer a lot of upgrades over the outgoing T7i, and its release comes as the industry shies away from SLRs in favor of newer, better mirrorless designs.
An Aging Concept
The consumer SLR, in film and digital formats, has endured for decades. The Rebel imprint, used by Canon in North America, dates back to 1990. But instead of rethinking the concept for the 30th anniversary year, the T8i is simply a retread of what’s come before.
Aside from the model badge, the T8i looks and feels a lot like the T7i that came before it. It’s a compact, lightweight SLR (4.0 by 5.2 by 3.0 inches HWD, 1.1 pound) with an APS-C format image sensor and compatibility with a huge swath of EF and EF-S lenses from Canon, as well as options from third parties like Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina.
The long history is a double-edged sword—there are plenty of lenses in the market, both used and new, but Canon is concentrating its future efforts on mirrorless designs, and third parties are following suit. I don’t expect to see new lenses for this camera announced in the future.
Canon sells the T8i as a body only for photographers who already own lenses, or bundled with the EF-S 18-55mm F4-5.6 IS STM zoom for $899, a $100 savings versus buying them separately.
Controls a Bit Better
Canon didn’t make a lot of changes to the tech inside the Rebel, but it did tweak the control layout. It’s replaced the four-way directional pad on the rear with a second control dial and AF-ON button. These are controls that enthusiasts like to use to take more manual control over exposure, but won’t make a big difference if you use the camera in an automatic exposure mode.
The other buttons and dials are as expected—there’s a Mode dial on top, along with a switch to turn the camera on for still and switch to video mode. Direct function buttons set the focus area, ISO, white balance, and other sundry functions, and Canon includes its on-screen Q menu for access to other functions .
Canon uses its colorful, user-friendly menus by default. They hide more advanced functions, but give you tips on how to make images with blurred backgrounds, frozen motion, or the like. If you prefer Canon’s denser text-based menus, they’re available too.
The body includes a pop-up flash, but can use dedicated flashes or a wireless commander for off-camera strobes via its hot shoe. The latter is probably a bit of a reach for starters, but if you’re taking a lot of family snaps indoors, getting a more powerful on-camera flash will net better shots. We recommend the Canon Speedlite 470EX-AI ($299) for beginners—it can position its head automatically for softer, bounced light.
Viewfinder and LCD
The T8i is an SLR and with it comes an optical viewfinder. A decade ago its smallish, tunnel vision pentamirror was just what you got with a consumer SLR—if you wanted a better viewfinder, you’d need to spend more on an enthusiast model with a solid glass pentaprism.
Today, we compare it against the EVFs used by competing mirrorless models. While you’ll lose out on an optical view, the OLED viewfinders in cameras like the Sony a6100 are larger to the eye (0.70x) versus the T8i (0.51x). Seeing a larger image makes it easier to nail your shot.
They also show you what your image will look like, complete with any filters you want to add in-camera. And you’ll benefit from consistent brightness—if you use a lens with a narrow f-stop with an SLR, like the bundled 18-55mm F4-5.6 zoom, the viewfinder will be dimmer. With a mirrorless camera, you see a properly exposed preview image even with a kit zoom attached.
You can also use the rear LCD to frame shots. The experience isn’t as seamless as with a mirrorless camera—instead of just taking the camera away from your eye, you’ll need to hit a button. The 3-inch LCD is sharp (1,040k dots), supports touch input, and has a swing-out design so it can face forward for selfies and vlogs.
Connectivity and Power
The Rebel includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for smartphone connectivity. It works with the Canon CameraConnect app, a free download for Android and iOS devices. When connected you can copy photos from the T8i to your phone (for on-the-go sharing) or use your handset as a remote control, complete with a live view from the lens.
The camera sports micro USB and mini HDMI ports, a UHS-I SDXC memory card slot, as well as a 3.5mm microphone input and a 2.5mm connector for a wired remote control. It’s able to work as a webcam for Windows systems, but it isn’t yet supported on Mac systems.
Power is provided by an LP-E17 battery. It’s the same battery from the T6i, T6s, and T7i, and is rated to power the camera for 800 photos. You may get more if you use burst shooting mode, and fewer if you spend a lot of time playing back images, recording video, and using the Wi-Fi features. If you use the optical viewfinder primarily, the battery will get you through a full day of photography without a problem.
A wall charger is included to replenish the LP-E17, and you’ll want to make sure to keep it in your camera bag. Unlike most newer mirrorless models, the T8i doesn’t allow you to charge the battery in-camera via a USB cable.
The T8i doesn’t make any changes to its autofocus system. It carries over the 45-point focus system from the T7i. The points have a fairly wide spread, but with a widescreen aspect ratio that omits coverage from the top and bottom of the frame.
Autofocus locks on quickly, and is effective at tracking moving subjects even when using the camera in its 7fps burst mode—just be sure to set the focus mode to AI Servo to make the camera focus between shots.
It’s as good as you can expect from a consumer SLR, but it’s easy to see where mirrorless cameras have an advantage. You can buy a Fujifilm X-T200 or Sony a6100 for fewer dollars more and enjoy more advanced autofocus with face and eye detection, nearly edge-to-edge coverage, and higher burst rates.
Switching away from the T8i’s optical viewfinder actually gets you smarter autofocus with a wider area of coverage. It’s because Canon is using the same autofocus system it does for mirrorless models like the EOS M50 here—you get face detection, wider coverage, and as speedy performance as through the optical finder. But you lose it all when you raise the T8i to your eye.
Sensor Shows Its Age
The T8i’s 24MP APS-C sensor dates back a few generations. Image quality here is as good as with the T7i. You’ll get JPG shots with crisp detail and accurate color through ISO 3200. The camera will range higher, to ISO 6400, out of the box, and while there’s certainly some loss of detail, photos still look quite good. If you want to snap photos indoors without a flash, using the kit lens, the camera is likely to push this envelope.
You can set it to go higher automatically, as high as ISO 25600, but details are blurred, giving photos the slightly waxy look you get with in-camera noise reduction. If you set it manually, you can use ISO 51200 as an extended option, but image quality takes a big step back.
Enthusiasts may opt to work in Raw format, a standard option with interchangeable lens cameras. Raw images retain a lot more information than JPGs, but require some processing before sharing or printing.
You’ll have leeway to adjust color, contrast, and exposure, and it’s up to your processing software to employ noise reduction. With Adobe Lightroom, our standard for evaluating cameras, photos show strong detail and a tight, fine grain pattern through ISO 6400. Grain is a little rougher at ISO 12800, and very heavy at ISO 25600. At the top ISO 51200, photos are covered by a thick, rough veil of grain.
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Canon has a 32.5MP sensor it uses in some other models, so far the higher-end EOS 90D SLR and the EOS M6 Mark II mirrorless. It offers more resolution, better high-ISO images, and quicker readout—something that’s important for video.
Canon is billing the T8i as a 4K camera, but there are limitations. It supports 4K, but only at 24fps and with a significant crop to the angle of view. It limits the wide angle opportunities for video, especially concerning for vloggers who like to put themselves in frame for handheld shots. If that’s you, think about adding a lens like the EF-S 10-18mm.
It does better for 1080p footage—there’s no crop there. Still, for video, you’ll get more from other cameras. The EOS M6 Mark II records uncropped 4K video, and others, like the Olympus E-M10 Mark III, add in-body stabilization for smoother handheld footage.
Time to Move On
Despite a three-year gap between announcements, there’s not a lot in the Rebel T8i that wasn’t already included in the T7i. The two cameras offer identical image quality and autofocus systems, and aside from a few tweaks, the same body style.
It’s indicative of the changing tides, as research and development resources go into mirrorless systems. And we recommend those cameras more strongly to people who just want the best photographic experience—improved autofocus, newer sensors, and a real-time preview of your photo through the viewfinder help anyone get a better photo, not just pros.
The customer who would buy a Rebel a few years ago is much better suited with a basic mirrorless camera today. If you’ve already got Canon equipment, the EOS M50 is a good one to get on a budget, and the EOS M6 Mark II is a stronger choice for 4K video. Either can use Canon SLR lenses via an adapter, with full autofocus support.
If you’re without a system, the Fujifilm X-T200 and Sony a6100 both run circles around the T8i and cost less. If you want to step up to the midrange, the X-T30 and a6400 are both Editors’ Choice winners, but do cost a bit more.
For photographers who absolutely prefer SLRs, there’s no reason not to spend a bit less on a T7i—it’s still on sale and the T8i doesn’t offer a huge incentive to spend more. The EOS 90D is also an option, with a higher-quality build that’s better suited for shutterbugs and pros, but it also costs more at $1,200 without a lens.