Here’s the good stuff about the camera!
- Adjustable 3-Inch LCD
- Outstanding image quality, even at ISO 1600
- Wireless flash transmitter for multiple flashes
- Full HD recording options with external mic jack
Here’s the negative stuff.
- Some physical controls are oddly placed
- Auto White Balance struggles in indoor lighting
- Lack of single-button movie recording
Here’s the overall feeling.
The Canon EOS Rebel T3i, with an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS optional kit lens, is a complete picture-taking and moviemaking machine.
Canon Rebel T3i Review: A Great DSLR for Beginners
The Canon EOS Rebel T3i is a complete picture-taking machine, especially when you use it with its 18-135mm, f/3.5-5.6 IS optional kit lens. The latest Rebel features an LCD that you can swing out and position at a variety of angles, as well as full HD video recording, wireless flash control, a respectable continuous-shooting mode, and the same high-resolution sensor as its predecessor, the EOS Rebel T2i.
You can build an entire system around the T3i by purchasing additional lenses, but we encountered no problems handling common shooting situations with the kit 18-135mm zoom lens ($1200 for the kit configuration as of April 29, 2011); that versatile camera/lens combination will serve most hobbyists well. For tighter budgets, a kit with an 18-55mm lens is also available ($900 as of April 29, 2011), and a body-only version of the camera costs $800 (as of April 29, 2011).
Performance-wise, the Canon Rebel T3i is outstanding. It currently resides at the top of our chart of the best DSLR cameras for less than $1000.
At the heart of the EOS T3i is an 18-megapixel APS-C sensor powered by Canon’s Digic-4 processor. It can record images up to 5184 by 3456 pixels. The optical viewfinder provides 95 percent view, and its sharp, adjustable 3-inch LCD shows 100 percent view with 1,040,000 dots of resolution. Data records to SD, SDHC, or SDXC cards.
When you look through the optical viewfinder, you see nine autofocus points. The center AF point is cross-type, and is the most sensitive of the group. When you’re letting the camera’s autofocus system determine the focus for the shot, it has a wide area of coverage, due to the nine sensors detecting objects in the frame. The pop-up flash provides a wide-enough coverage area to properly illuminate subjects with the kit lens attached, plus it serves as the wireless trigger for off-camera flash control with Canon Speedlites. Powering the camera is a rechargeable Canon LP-E8 battery, which is rated for about 550 shots per charge with the LCD powered off and 200 shots per charge with the LCD continuously active.
Maximum continuous-shooting speed is 3.7 frames per second, which compares favorably with the competition. At 18.2 ounces without a lens attached, the T3i feels light but sturdy in the hands, and it’s well balanced with either the 18-55mm lens or the 18-135mm lens mounted. If you’re on the go, this camera won’t weigh you down.
Physically, the T3i isn’t much different from its predecessor, the Canon EOS Rebel T2i, with the exception of the Vari-Angle LCD that swings out from the back of the camera. However, you will find some notable changes inside this latest model from Canon.
Features Worth Noting
When you look at this class of DSLR, which you might describe as “sophisticated entry level,” the T3i stands out for its value-adding features. Not only does it generally take excellent photos, but it also gives you the ability to experiment with off-camera flashes, record HD movies with great audio, and creatively play with images while they’re still in the camera.
Here are a few of the T3i’s highlights.
Built-In wireless flash control: If you have an external Canon flash unit with wireless slave capability, such as the Speedlite 430EX II, you can fire it off-camera with the T3i. You don’t need a separate wireless controller. Options include firing a single off-camera flash, balancing the off-camera flash with the built-in flash on the T3i, or operating multiple external flashes. The upshot is that with just one external flash and the T3i, you have a number of flexible lighting options. This is a powerful feature for a consumer camera, putting pro lighting techniques at your fingertips for an affordable price.
Vari-Angle LCD: The T3i’s adjustable LCD is an excellent design for recording video, and a significant differentiator when compared to the Rebel T2i. You flip open the LCD, and then swing it out. You can angle it up or down, or turn it completely around and fold it against the back of the camera. The resolution is terrific both for Live View capture and playback. When you’re done, simply turn the screen around and secure it face-first against the back of the camera to protect it during transport. The screen’s design encourages capture from assorted angles, helping you make more interesting movies.
Full HD movie recording with controls: On the T3i you can record 1920-by-1080-pixel video at 24, 25, or 30 fps, as well as 1280-by-720 video at 50 or 60 fps, or standard definition 640-by-480 video at 25 or 30 fps. Emerging filmmakers can opt for auto or manual exposure mode while shooting video, and can even choose between auto and manual options for recording audio. The audio is further enhanced thanks to the built-in mini-stereo mic jack for an external microphone; it even has a built-in wind filter.
Video Snapshot function: This feature allows you to record a series of 2-, 4-, or 8-second video clips, after which the T3i combines them into one movie, without your having to do any editing. Each Snapshot saves to an album after you record it, and you have the opportunity to keep or discard the clip. Once you’ve captured sequences, you merely go to playback mode to watch the fast-paced movie you just created. It’s a cool feature that saves you a trip to a desktop video editor. Once you’re finished, disable the Video Snapshot mode to return to regular moviemaking.
Creative Filters mode: After you’ve captured an image, you can continue to play with it via the Creative Filters mode in the playback menu. You have five to choose from: Grainy B/W, Soft Focus, Fish-Eye Effect, Toy Camera Effect, and Miniature Effect. Once you choose an effect, you can apply one of three different strengths. The T3i then processes the image and saves it as a separate file on the memory card.
Setting maximum speed for Auto ISO: Existing-light photographers will appreciate the ability to set the maximum speed for Auto ISO. Without a top limit setting, Auto ISO can sometimes result in noisy photographs. The T3i allows you to set the maximum ISO speed to a level you’re comfortable with, so you can use this feature with confidence.The available range is from 400 to 6400. If you’re conservative about how high the ISO should go, you can choose a setting such as 800 for the top end limit. But because this camera performs so well at higher ISOs, you can easily set the limit to ISO 1600 or 3200 and still get very good image quality.
Copyright Information setting: When you access the Copyright Information tab in the menu, you can set the author’s name and copyright details for every shot that the camera records.
Performance, Image Quality, and Video Quality
With either kit lens (the 18-55mm or the 18-135mm), the Canon T3i provides excellent sharpness and detail. If you’re tempted to upgrade to the 18-135mm kit lens for its extended zoom range (29-216mm in 35mm terms), it’s probably worth the bump in price. But the 18-55mm holds its own nicely against the upgraded zoom in image quality. Don’t expect better pictures with the more expensive kit option–base your decision on zooming range, not picture quality.
Neither kit zoom is a particularly fast lens (maximum aperture ranges from f/3.5 to f/5.6 on both); but even so, the T3i is a reasonable low-light performer. You can push the ISO to 1600, even 3200, and still get good-quality images.
In our lab tests, the T3i performed incredibly well in its test group, earning a word score of Superior in the exposure, color, sharpness, and distortion categories. Click on any of our lab’s test images to view the original files.
As for the video mode, movies live up to the hype. You can produce excellent HD video with terrific audio (provided that you use an external mic) with the T3i. It earned a word score of Very Good for video quality and Good for audio quality.
Here are sample clips that we shot in bright indoor lighting and in low light with the Canon EOS Rebel T3i. For the highest-quality clips, select 1080p from the drop-down menu in the lower-right corner of each player.
The limited amount of physical real estate on the T3i seems to have influenced the location of the control buttons. The Menu and Info buttons are awkwardly placed in the upper-left corner of the back of the camera. They’re not nearly as easy to access in that spot as, for example, on the right side (where the Canon EOS 60D places them).
The T3i would also benefit from the addition of a dedicated movie recording button. Currently you have to rotate the Mode dial to movie mode, and then you can initiate recording with the Live View button on the back of the camera. It would be nice to directly access movie recording for spontaneous moments.
And finally, as with most Canon cameras, Auto White Balance produces an excessively orange cast when the camera is shooting without a flash under tungsten lighting.
The Canon EOS Rebel T3i is a premium entry-level DSLR that captures excellent still images and video. If you don’t need the extended zooming range of the 18-135mm IS kit lens option, you can save yourself a couple hundred dollars with the shorter 18-55mm kit zoom. Both lenses provide terrific image quality, and you can add lenses later as your budget allows.