When swimming long distances to keep up with pelagic animals, every bit of weight and drag in the water counts. The diminutive size of the Canon T2i makes it a pleasure for diving and is small enough for carry-on luggage.
The launch of the Canon T2i earlier this year heralded a new level of performance in the entry level Canon SLR lineup. On the world market this camera is also known as the 550D or Kiss X4. With advanced video settings and a sensor nearly identical to that of Canon's flagship prosumer model, the Canon 7D, the T2i represents the company's most advanced camera body to date in the entry level, and perhaps the best camera in its class. Unlike the Canon T1i, which featured limitations in its video frame rates (only 20 frames at 1080p), the T2i features full HD resolution with two different frame rates at 1080p (24 and 30 frames), and an additional option to shoot at a higher frame rate (60 frames) at 720p for slow motion effects. The Canon T2i's 18 megapixel still images have nearly the same quality as those from its bigger brother, the 7D.
As with the Canon 7D, the T2i's APS-C sensor gives the best of all worlds to the under-water photographer and videographer as it allows the use of the superb Tokina 10-17mm fisheye zoom, along with the rest of Canon's excellent lenses. It's even possible to use new "insect eye" INON Micro Semi-Fisheye Relay Lens with the Canon EF-S 60mm macro lens and a special port.
Since this camera is the most exciting SLR offered from Canon this year, we were eager to get it in the water, taking it with us to various locations across the globe for testing.
Canon T2i by Ikelite, Sea & Sea, Aquatica, and Nauticam"/>
Underwater housings for the Canon T2i include (from left to right) Ikelite T2i, Sea & Sea T2i, Nauticam T2i, and Aquatica T2i.
Underwater Housings for the T2i
As of this writing, we offer underwater housings for the Canon T2i from Ikelite, Sea & Sea, Aquatica, and Nauticam. The Ikelite T2i is a customized version of their standard polycarbonite housing, with access to all controls at an attractive price point. The Ikelite housing also features its own TTL circuitry for automatic flash calculation when using Ikelite strobes.
The Sea & Sea T2i is also a plastic underwater housing, but in a more streamlined form factor. The housing includes a hand strap, handy for snorkeling and surf photography, and its tiny form factor is a perfect match for such applications. However, an additional tray must be added to the housing for use with strobes, as there is no space for them to attach directly to the housing, and this cost should be factored into the total package price.
The Aquatica T2i is a very compact housing following the style of their anodized aluminum housings for recent SLRs. Ergonomics were clearly a priority, as Aquatica has refined and improved controls from their previous Canon housings, starting with an oversized zoom knob, easily accessible without removing one's hands from the left handle. The housing has well-placed levers for focus and playback. The ISO control is accessed by your right thumb and can be reached without moving your hand from the right grip. This makes quick ISO changes very easy to do. The large button for recording video fits comfortably within reach of the right thumb, again without need to remove one's hand from the handle. All of these details make the housing a joy to operate, even when wearing thick gloves in cold water. While the Ikelite and Sea & Sea housings are rated to a depth of 200 ft, Aquatica shines in this area for technical applications with a depth rating of 300 ft, and an optional upgrade to 450 ft upon request. Aquatica have also redesigned their zoom gear mechanism. By pulling the housing gear away from the lens, the camera with lens and gear attached slide easily into the housing making installation a breeze. With the oversized buttons, easy access controls, and camera installation improvements, this is the most ergonomic and easiest to assemble housing Aquatica has produced to date.
The right-side controls of the Aquatica T2i feel uncluttered and easy to identify at a glance, which is a nice feature if you don't use your housing on a regular basis. The big red record button is great for video shooters new to SLR control layouts. Another bonus for video shooters is the thumb activated ISO lever which give the Aquatica T2i great ergonomics for manual exposure in video mode.
Canon T2i - zoom gear"/>
With the T2i, Aquatica has made camera installation easier with "pull-out" features on their zoom gear and lens release knobs. Simply click out the controls to make camera installation easy when zoom gears are installed on the lens.
Nauticam continues its path of innovation in its new Nauticam T2i housing, including past features such as its ingenious port-locking system and "piano key" style buttons, and builds on them by incorporating a brand new latch system that streamlines the housing. With the same comfortable handles offered on its more expensive counterparts, Natuicam offers the option of mounting strobes to either the housing itself, or the handles. Like the Aquatica housing, Nauticam offers excellent ergonomics in an elegant anodized aluminum finish, that is compact, and easy to both travel and swim with. The Nauticam is also ready for deep diving, with a depth rating of 300 feet.
The right-side controls of the Nauticam T2i are easy to reach, but not easy to identify at a glance. However, after regular use we found the controls quick and easy on the fingers. The top positioned ISO lever is reachable from the handles for manual exposure in video mode.
Canon T2i - new housing latch detail"/>
New flip and lock housing latches on the Nauticam T2i are easy to use and kind to your fingers. Our favorite design elements are the auto-aligning controls that don't require the user to match up camera switches and housing controls prior to installation.
One of the main advantages of the T2i is its compact size and light weight, which allowed manufacturers to develop tiny housings. The size differential, especially when paired with a compact port, such as the Aquatica 4 inch dome port, Aquatica 6 inch dome port or Zen 100mm dome port, is significant when compared to their bigger brethren. The Tokina 10-17mm fisheye zoom is ideally suited for these small domes due to the extreme close focusing capability and great depth of field, and makes for a great setup when shooting a variety of underwater wide-angle subjects.
Canon T2i underwater housing - Nauticam T2i packed in a Lowe Roller x200"/>
Canon T2i underwater housing - Nauticam T2i complete travel system"/>
Both the Nauticam T2i and Aquatica T2i (complete with dual strobes, focus light, and laptop) easily pack into a rolling carry-on bag such as the Lowepro Roller X200 or the PorterCase PCi cart case.
Not only is the T2i's small size an excellent benefit for travel, allowing an entire system to be packed in a carry-on case, but it also makes a significant difference in the water. As mentioned previously, the entire Canon lens catalog is compatible with the T2i, including wide angle lenses such as the Canon EF-S 10-22mm, though a larger dome port (at least 8 inches in diameter) is recommended for use with rectilinear zooms to keep the corners sharp. A variety of macro lenses such as the Canon EF-S 60mm are well suited for use with the T2i's 1.6 crop size sensor.
Both Zen and Aquatica offer ultra compact 4-inch dome ports custom designed for the Tokina 10-17mm. The grouper image above was taken with the Aquatica 4 inch dome port and exhibits surprisingly sharp corners for such a small dome.
Fiber Optic TTL
One of the big advantages of modern housings is the return of TTL (automatic flash adjustment) via optical sync, and this feature is included on the T2i housings from Sea & Sea, Aquatica and Nauticam. Using strobes which are triggered by the camera's pop-up flash via fibre optic link, the T2i is capable of extremely accurate TTL exposures. This can be a godsend to macro shooters especially, and fibre optic cables also avoid any risk of flooding electronic bulkheads and cables.
Even with tricky exposures like dark subjects on light backgrounds, optical TTL (automatic) strobe lighting is stunningly accurate with the Canon T2i making macro photography fun and easy for new photographers.
However, optical TTL strobe sync is not without its downsides, namely that it requires waiting for the camera's built-in flash to recycle before the next photo can be taken. Not all older strobes can be used with optical triggering. Some users may prefer the quicker recycle time and wider compatibility of a dedicated electronic strobe connection. This is the default option for the Ikelite housing, as well as an optional add-on for the Sea & Sea, Aquatica and Nauticam housings.
Fiber optic housing connectors: Light from the pop-up flash on the camera is transmitted through fiber optics to control your external underwater strobes.
Canon continues its video SLR revolution by including complete video functionality. Unlike its predecessor, the Canon T1i, the T2i video mode is not restrained by slow frame rates. Like flagship Canon 5D II, the T2i offers full 1080p resolution at frame rates of 24p, 25p and 30p. And like its sibling the 7D, the T2i also offers an additional frame rate of 60p when shooting at the reduced resolution of 720p. Shooting at a higher frame rate, and then reducing the speed in post production can yield some very interesting slow motion effects.
Unlike the quick flip lever on the Canon 7D, the Canon T2i requires a long rotation of the mode dial to enter movie mode
The T2i features a dedicated video mode, accessible by turning the mode dial to the movie selection. Unlike the 7D, movie mode options are not accessible through the menu system unless the video mode is enabled. This can be a point of confusion, and not as convenient to switch into video mode, as the dial must be turned a long way in order to shoot video, as opposed to simply flipping a single switch to enter video mode on the 7D at any time.
That small point aside, the video mode delivers excellent results at lower ISOs, on par with the 7D which is quite stunning. At higher ISOs, the 7D shows a slight edge in lower noise, probably thanks to its dual Digic4 processors showing their muscle (the T2i only has a single processor). Even so, the video from the T2i is hands down better in quality than any consumer HD camcorder on the market today.
Both the Aquatica T2i and Nauticam T2i are not much larger than a Fisheye G11 housing making them a dream mini-pro system for compact travel.
Is the T2i a better choice than an advanced compact?
Users who are interested in the Canon T2i may also be considering advanced compact cameras such as the newly released Canon G12 or the emerging class of mirrorless cameras including the Olympus PEN and Sony NEX. Does the T2i's performance justify the additional investment? The answer comes down to image quality, lens versatility and performance. Simply put, users of the Canon T2i are more likely to come home with a greater number of "keepers" due to the camera's ease of adjusting settings, responsiveness when tracking action, and superior management of noise at higher ISOs. While the mirrorless compacts like the PEN and NEX offer some intriguing possibilities in terms of extreme portability, the Canon T2i is only slightly larger, and yet represents a much more professional system. The ability to use superb and versatile optics like the Tokina 10-17mm lens and multiple options for macro (most of which focus down to 1:1 life size) are just a few of the factors that separate this SLR from its compact cousins. Tracking subjects is handled much better using an optical viewfinder rather than an LCD display, another distinct advantage of the T2i. Finally for shooters interested in capturing video in addition to stills, there is no comparison as the Canon T2i offers full 1080p resolution, whereas the Sony NEX manages only 1080i, and the PEN is only capable of 720p. The T2i and complementary lenses represent a system that will deliver exceptional results for years to come. However going to a T2i system will come at a higher cost, and only the person making the purchase can truly decide if the extra cost is within their budget.
Is the T2i good enough for me? Should I step up to a 7D?
While the T2i represents an incredible value for the entry level user, advanced shooters might consider moving up to the 7D. While the T2i has the highest resolution screen of any camera in Canon's lineup aside from the new announced Canon 60D, there are other important differences between the T2i and its bigger brother. These are primarily in the areas of performance, ergonomics and construction. Notably, autofocus performance and frame rate for shooting stills are two areas where the 7D is far superior to the T2i. In terms of ergonomics, the 7D features both front and rear mode dials, which can be used for controlling both shutter speed and aperture in manual mode. The T2i has only one dial, and the user must toggle a switch in order to change. The T2i also sheds the top LCD featured on the 7D, as there is no space for it on this tiny body. Underwater however, this has less relevance, as it is easy enough to use the information display on the main LCD.
The Canon T2i performs great at ISO 400, but is pushed to its limit at ISO 800. Background blues in this ISO 800 shark image will print well, but would not survive heavy handed post processing. T2i users will need to make accurate exposures when shooting ISO 400 and higher.
Of greater consequence are the limited ISO options, only allowing full stop changes at 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, whereas the 7D offers third of a stop changes for fine tuning when adjusting exposure - especially critical while shooting video. The T2i flash sync speed also tops out at 1/200 of a second instead of 1/250 on the 7D, a minor but potentially crucial difference when photographing fast moving subjects or trying to capture a tight sunball. For outdoor shooters, the 7D also offers superior weatherproofing for exceptional durability. Shooters who will be switching between video and photo will find the 7D easier to switch between modes since the 7D has a dedicated video/photo toggle switch.
Switching to video on the T2i is performed on the main mode dial. Unfortunately, movie mode is positioned at the opposite end of the dial from the typical photo modes of M and Av making quick photo to video switching difficult. You can shoot stills while in movie mode on the T2i, but the flash will not fire.
But all of this comes at a cost. The novice SLR shooter can save anywhere from $1000 to $1700 on the camera with a housing, depending on the housing brand, by choosing the T2i over the 7D, a significant savings for limited budgets.
The video and photo quality you get from the Canon T2i is stunning for a price point of only $800. This camera represents a sweet spot in entry level digital SLRs; pro performance at an incredible price. Never before have we seen such a feature rich camera in this class. Not only does the T2i offer great value for shooters looking to move up from a compact camera into an SLR, it is one of the most compact rigs currently available, a boon to travelers and open-water shooters looking for a streamlined travel rig. The fact that the T2i out shoots any Sony or Canon camcorder and is on par with the Canon 7D (even the Canon 5D II in bright conditions), is compelling reason for videographers to give it a serious look as well.