Operation and controls

Top of camera controls

On the top of the Rebel SL1 all controls are located on the right side of the camera. Immediately behind the shutter button is the main control dial that's used directly to change the primary exposure setting (program shift, shutter speed, or aperture), or other settings in concert with the various buttons. Next there's the ISO button, which is extremely well-placed for operation with the camera to your eye; you simply press it then spin the dial to change the value, which is displayed in the optical viewfinder.

The main power switch surrounds the mode dial. Flicking it beyond the ON position to the movie camera icon puts the camera into movie mode. The mode dial is the same as that on the Rebel SL1, but the SCN icon covers six modes rather than three (Kids, Food, Candlelight, Night Portrait, Handheld Night Scene, and HDR Backlight Control). The dial rotates 360 degrees with no hard stop, a welcome feature we saw earlier from Canon on the EOS 6D.

Rear Controls

The rest of the Rebel SL1's major shooting controls are on the back, arranged for operation by your thumb. Next to the viewfinder is a dual purpose button that initiates live view in stills shooting mode and video recording when the camera is set to movie mode.

In a break from their traditional horizontal layout, the AF point and AF/AE lock buttons are arranged vertically along the right edge of the camera body. While we understand that such a significant size reduction necessitates changes in the control layout, we do find the location of the AF/AE lock button a bit awkward to reach with your thumb when holding the camera in the shooting position. Fortunately, you can swap the functionality of these two buttons, setting the top button to AF lock, if you prefer. These buttons also do double duty as magnification controls during playback.

The dual purpose Q/SET button brings up an interactive control screen while shooting, allowing you to change camera parameters that can't necessarily be accessed directly through external buttons. It also brings overlaid option menus in Live View and Playback modes and is used to confirm settings and options in the menu system. Surrounding the Q/SET button is a 4-way controller that's used for such things as changing the focus point, navigating menus and scrolling around images in playback. Gone are the dedicated Drive mode, WB, and Picture Style buttons, but these features can be accessed very quickly via the Q menu.

Front of camera controls

The front of the Rebel SL1/100D has just two controls, both on one side of the lens throat. The flash button is used to pop-up the built-in unit, and below the lens release is the depth of field preview button that stops down the lens to show the effect of the aperture on the final image. This is particularly useful in live view, with its bright clear image.

The most immediately compelling feature of the Rebel SL1 is of course its small form factor. A redesign of internal components has allowed Canon to produce a miniaturized APS-C DSLR that is surprisingly close in size to the company's mirrorless model, the EOS M. What's equally as impressive, though, is how much the Rebel SL1 operates and behaves like any other recent generation Rebel-series camera. Indeed, it gives up very little in functionality to the co-announced Rebel T5i, which, though not an overly large camera by any stretch, is still significantly bulkier than the SL1.

The Rebel SL1/EOS 100D (center) shares much of the operational control of the co-announced Rebel T5i/EOS 700D (left) in a smaller package, while offering a deep handgrip, viewfinder and built-in flash that the EOS M (right) lacks. All three cameras use Canon's 18MP APS-C sensor and DIGIC 5 processor.

The camera's significant size reduction fortunately doesn't come at the expense of greatly reduced operability. The SL1 packs no fewer than nine external buttons on the rear of the camera, plus a 4-way controller. A reasonably bright viewfinder provides image magnification that is on par with entry-level DSLR competitors. Some compromises have to be made to size reduction, of course.

Overall, the Rebel SL1 owes much of its operational performance and behavior to previous Rebel-series cameras. This is no surprise, as Canon is typically conservative with iterations of its popular entry-level lineup. The fact that the Rebel SL1 can retain so much of the Rebel heritage at such a dramatic reduction of size and weight is a testament to some clever under-the-hood engineering. Has Canon managed to pull off an equivalent Rebel-shooting experience in a DSLR that is sized to give mirrorless models a run for their money? See our User Experience Still photography and Live View and Movie pages to find out.