Canon Rebel T3i Review
Takes some great features from other Canon SLRs, but with few innovations of its own.
The Canon Rebel T3i (also known as the Canon 600D or Kiss X5 in certain parts of the world) enters the fray just beneath Canon's recently-released 60D.
Rather than changing into a flashy new outfit, though, the T3i sticks with the same articulated LCD, 18MP sensor, and integrated wireless strobe control as the 60D. Instead, this new Canon distinguishes itself with a slimmer profile, less heft, and more beginner-friendly features—all at a slightly lower price of $899. We suspect that the T3i's performance will fall along similar lines as its close relatives, given the spec sheet similarities, but only a spin through the lab will show for sure.
Design & Usability
Overall, the T3i is an attractive blend of ease-of-use and fine control.
The T3i is enjoyable to shoot with due to its light weight and robust grip. The plastic and aluminum body does feel slightly cheap compared to models like the Canon 60D, however. An articulated 3-inch LCD is phenomenal, especially if you're shooting video or looking to get a shot at a new and different angle. This is the same 1040k-dot swivel-LCD that made its debut on the Canon 60D. Live view AF performance is poor though, and direct sunlight hampers viewing, so take advantage of the optical viewfinder, which covers about 95% of the frame with roughly 0.85% magnification and helpful corrective features.
The control layout on the T3i is just complex enough to offer a challenge to beginners without feeling intimidating. Controls are well-labeled and conveniently placed, but the tabbed, color-coded menu design is a bit convoluted, with several key shooting options stashed deep in the menu. Quick menu gives access to a number of settings while in live view, and buttons for focus/exposure lock and focus assistance are easily accessible too. The focus assistance button selects an AF point in normal shooting and zooms in digitally up to 10x during live view to make focusing easier.
From wireless control over flash to fully manual HD video, the T3i's menu is packed with features, and beginners won't be left behind.
We'll begin outlining some notable features with a quick look at hardware. The T3i features Canon's EOS system, arguably the most beginner-friendly lens system on the market, so both EF and EF-S lenses are compatible. There are about 60 current lenses that will work fine with the Canon T3i, ranging from $100 up to several thousand dollars. In the T3i, you will find the same 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor as on the Canon 7D, T2i, and 60D. Quite simply, since this sensor is packed with 18 megapixels, you can do a lot. If your goal is to print A4-size images and smaller, you can effectively crop out half your image and still get reasonable results. The T3i has the same built-in, 12-foot flash as the T2i before it, and it inherited the 60D’s ability to control flash wirelessly.
In the way of shooting and creative control, the T3i comes with a variety of common shooting modes available on its dial, ranging from full manual control to a variety of helpful auto modes. A creative auto mode will do some of the heavy lifting for the user, but it allows for some adjustments to things such as background detail, image tone, drive mode, and flash mode—all in a simple-to-understand manner that allows for a surprising amount of fine control without needing to know terms such as aperture. A set of picture effects modes, filters, and color modes add some spice to the menu too, and there's 1080/30p recording for the video fans out there. The video mode allows for full manual control over aperture, shutter speed, and ISO during video recording, and auto mode is of course available too.
The T3i dressed itself in Canon hand-me-downs, resulting in solid performance but nothing we haven't seen before.
Overall image quality was strong in some points and weak in others. With three other cameras in the Canon family that feature this same 18MP APS-C sensor system, there really isn't much that surprised us about the T3i. It showed incremental improvements in its ability to handle noise in still images and video, with slightly improved dynamic range. We also found that in long exposures, Canon improved color accuracy and reduced noise—likely by more effectively dissipating heat from the sensor to reduce interference.
Resolution, however, was sub-par (with the 18-135 lens), with images suffering from very little contrast at the smallest apertures. Colors were very accurate overall, yet the automatic mode tended to over-saturate a bit. Images showed over six stops of dynamic range through ISO 800, with results quickly falling off thereafter. Highlight tone priority and auto lighting optimizer options can help retain detail in the brightest and darkest areas, though, and shooting in RAW also helps.
The Canon T3i utilizes a nine-point autofocus system with a single cross-type center point. This system was snappy for most everyday snapshots, but not always perfectly accurate. Live view reverts to the contrast detection system, though, which is rather slow and inaccurate—a troublesome trend with Canon DSLRs. Image stabilization on the 18-135mm kit lens was effective, especially in high-shake scenarios, such as walking. To conclude, 1080/30p video recording earned solid sharpness results and attractively rendered motion, but autofocus remains painfully slow and auto mode tends to under-expose.
Canon's T3i is a tried and fairly true recipe.
One word comes to mind when discussing the Canon Rebel T3i: safe. The old T2i was certainly a reliable formula, and there's always the danger of spoiling a recipe by changing it too much, so Canon stuck with the same old spices. Canon remains the name to beat in the entry-level DSLR game, but the T3i faces competition that the T2i was never confronted with.
The T3i is something short of shiny and new. Its major enhancement is its articulated LCD screen and the ability to control wireless flashes directly from the camera. Shooters will have to decide if those features are worth the extra money. If you already own a T1i or T2i, then the 60D is likely the more appealing upgrade here. If you’re a beginner looking for a lightweight DSLR with solid video credentials, then the T3i is a fine choice. It is an easy camera to pick up and grow with—though you’ll want to invest in some better lenses to go with it.
We can definitely recommend the T3i for video quality, solid handling, EOS EF lens compatibility, and image quality. There are some issues with menu organization, slow live view autofocus, and the quality of the 18-135mm kit lens, but these don’t necessarily outweigh the positives of shooting with the T3i.
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