18MP sensor | Hybrid CMOS AF II system | 3.0-inch touchscreen

I'm afraid I didn't even hesitate. Though I've reviewed some fine cameras this year, when we started discussing our choices for Gear of the Year, I immediately chose the little camera then nestled in my bag: The Canon Rebel SL1, also known as the 100D and Kiss X7 elsewhere in the world. As a longtime reviewer, my choice is partly about the achievement the camera represents for end users, but also how I use the camera in my own life.

Canon SL1 - What I love:

  • Small body is easier than ever to bring along, so I do.
  • Snappy yet subtle shutter sound doesn't disturb subjects and sounds cool rather than cheap.
  • Touchscreen interface works better than most, making the quick menu truly quick.
  • Usable live view autofocus system offers more options for creative shots.
  • Low light performance is excellent for indoor and night shots, where family activities are common.
  • Focus tracking in video mode is effective, making movie mode that much more useful.

As I mentioned, other cameras I used this year also earned my admiration, including the Fujifilm X-E1, Olympus E-M1, Sony A7R, and Canon's own 70D, whose autofocus surpasses the performance of the little SL1. But it's getting SLR performance in a small package that's significant about the SL1. With the 40mm STM attached, that goes to extremes, at least for the SLR category, fitting into the same space I usually reserve for medium zoom lenses in my bag.

While I sometimes use longer zoom lenses for shooting outdoor events, I usually have either the 40mm STM mounted, which is not much thicker than a body cap, or the excellent 50mm F1.4. The 40mm is equivalent to a 64mm lens, and the 50mm is like an 80mm lens on this APS-C camera. Short telephotos are actually great for the type of shooting I like to do, which is portraits, but that's not all I like to do. 

What's missing to make the Canon SL1 the perfect 'street shooter' is a reasonably fast 22mm lens, which would equate to a 35mm lens. A 31mm lens would also come close to a 50mm lens on a full frame camera. These have too long been missing from Canon's lineup, so here's hoping they do something about this soon. 

For more general-purpose photography, the 18-55mm kit lens focuses fast, is reasonably small and image-stabilized, and I'd recommend it for most shooters. My wife picked up the camera for the first time and used the SL1 to grab this shot of my kid showing off her sandy hands over the summer. She liked its small size and how easy it was to quickly frame and fire through the viewfinder.

With the 40mm STM pancake lens, the Canon SL1 is a super small SLR with the equivalent of a 64mm lens. That may be a little long for some, but my affinity for portraits makes it just fine. The combo occupies the space normally reserved for medium zoom lenses. That's the SL1 in the lower left pocket, while the 70D is shown from the top with the 18-135mm lens mounted for comparison.

Controls on the Canon SL1 are small, but still usable, such that when the battery of my other camera died on a recent portrait shoot, it wasn't hard to quickly adapt to the SL1 and keep shooting: All the control I needed was there, and though I had to go into the menu to make a few changes, and of course change lenses, it went quickly and the camera worked like a charm.

I also use Micro Four Thirds cameras for my on-the-go family photography, but since I've had the SL1 around, my mirrorless camera has been sitting unused. I have more lenses that work with the SL1, which is the main reason, not any shortcoming of the MFT cameras. If I have a larger SLR along, the SL1 makes a great second camera, reducing lens swaps and taking up little space.

And because Canon hasn't changed the resolution of its APS-C lineup significantly (much to the chagrin of some fans), the little SL1 still performs as well as we'd expect in terms of image quality, delivering good detail in low light settings common to family events.

Where the SL1 excels, though, is in its live view and movie autofocus. The SL1 handled live view shooting better than other SLRs I'd used previous to the 70D, and as I demonstrated in my review, the SL1 can also track focus admirably thanks to its Hybrid AF II autofocus system. That alone makes having video on an SLR valuable: Working autofocus allows you to stop thinking about focus and instead focus on following your subject.

I'm not one who has trouble framing with cameras that only feature an LCD, but I have to admit it's nice to have an optical viewfinder in such a small camera, one that works with my modest set of SLR lenses, yet fits in a small space. As such, I have no problem recommending the Canon SL1/100D to family photographers. Its simplified feature set is nevertheless quite complete, having just what I need in a body I can keep handy without too much fuss. Good stuff.

This is part 5 in a series of articles where DPReview staff will be highlighting their personal standout products of the year.

Canon Rebel SL1/100D sample gallery

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