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Canon EOS Rebel T3i Review
Friday, August 03, 2012
Canon T3iCanon has revolutionized the digital SLR market by continuing to flood the market with affordable entry-level cameras that add more and more features with each new release. The latest iteration of the Digital Rebel family, Canon's entry-level brand, is the T3i, or as it is referred to in foreign markets, the 600D. The most obvious difference between the T3i and its predecessor, the T3, is the addition of an articulated LCD screen. It should be noted that the T3 remains in Canon's lineup at a slightly lower price point.

There's more here than just a swivel screen, however. The T3i also inherits the 'creatve filters' from its big brother, the 60D. These are special effects that can be applied to images such as fisheye, toy camera, etc.

The new A+ shooting mode will intelligently select one of the many scene modes to fit the shooting conditions. This makes the T3i an extremely user-friendly camera for beginners or novices. Anyone can pick up the T3i, switch the mode dial to A+, then simply aim and shoot. Let the camera take over and use its computer to figure out all of the settings.

DSLR cameras have distinct advantages over other formats such as pocket digital cameras.

  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Higher quality lenses
  • Extensive Manual controls
  • RAW file capabilities
  • Accessories (external flash, microphones, etc.)

However, all of this additional power and capability comes at a price. DSLRs tend to be larger and heavier than pocket digital cameras. And, depending on the lens you select, can be significantly bulkier and heavier. As DSLRs go, Canon has done a great job of making the T3i fairly compact and using high-impact plastics, fairly light. So, if you require the features of a DSLR, the T3i is about as compact and light as you will find.

We tested the T3i with our own 17-85mm Canon zoom lens. Admittedly, this is not the best lens in the Canon lineup, but it is the best one we had on hand and probably a slight step up from the kit lens. If you are planning to invest the money in a DSLR, it is important to note that the quality of the lens is going to make more difference in the quality of your photos than the camera itself. A modest entry-level DSLR like the T3i with a kick-ass lens will get better results than a Canon 5D with a cheap lens.

When it comes to shooting video, the T3i offers full HD recording via a dedicated position on the camera's mode dial. Manual control is available in movie mode. A new digital zoom function offers 3 to 10x magnification through a unique image cropping routine.
The 'Video Snapshot' allows you to create movies that are stitched together from a series of short 'takes'. Basically, it limits movie recording to 2, 4 or 8 seconds, then replays them as a sequence. The theory is that you can create multi-shot movies in camera without having to edit your video on a computer.

The T3i continues to boast an 18 megapixel CMOS sensor with a range of SO 100-6400 (expandable to 12800). The same 9-point auto focus and 63-zone metering is retained from the T3.

All-in-all, the T3i is much more than a typical entry-level DSLR. It has enough to hold the interest of true enthusiasts while not intimidating novices. Basically, this is a camera that will grow along with you as your skills and needs grow.

DESIGN AND HANDLING


The T3i feels very comfortable in the hand thanks in part to a new grip design. The most notable design feature is the articulated screen which allows you to rotate and swing out the screen from the back of the camera. This is very handy when shooting video from over your head or down low. You can rotate the screen 180 degrees for the purpose of self-video recording (using a tripod). The only way to frame video is using the Live View LCD screen. When you switch the mode dial to Movie Mode, the viewfinder "turns off" and the Live View screen springs to life. You can also use the Live View to frame and shoot photos by pressing the Live View button next to the viewfinder.

Canon T3i
One of the highlights of the T3i is the articulated screen

The T3i's smaller footprint and light weight can make it feel top or front heavy when fitted with a longer, heavier lens. Nevertheless, this is a small price to pay for having a compact, inexpensive, full-featured DSLR.

The back of the T3i is virtually identical to the T3. The camera is designed to offer a lot of control using the right thumb and forefinger only. Most buttons are within easy reach of your right thumb.

The aforementioned Live View button next to the viewfinder actually has two functions. When shooting photos, it toggles between the Live View LCD monitor and the viewfinder. When in Movie Mode, the button becomes the Record/Pause button.

Canon EOS Rebel T3iPERFORMANCE

The T3i/600D is a fast camera. Press a button and instantly the camera responds. You will not find yourself waiting on the camera. The only noticeable lag time is when you switch to/from Live View mode. If you require super fast continuous burst shooting, the 60D might be a better choice. The 3.6 fps burst mode is not exactly blindingly fast, but for most people it will suffice. This is not a huge issue for travel photography, so we don't place a heavy emphasis on it. Generally, continuous shooting is more important for those photographing sporting events.

The same can be said of the T3i's auto focus. It is respectable, but not as good at tracking moving subjects as Canon's higher-end models. AF is fast when using the viewfinder, not so much when in Live View. When in Live View, the camera chatters, grinds and complains noisily as it takes a few seconds to acquire focus. Eventually, it will focus properly, but it is far from elegant. In defense of the T3i, we experienced the same problem with Live View focus on the much more expensive 60D.

If there is one area where I would like to see an improvement in the next version of Canon's entry-level DSLR it would be the Live View focusing for shooting video.

SHOOTING VIDEO

Movie Mode is invoked via the main Mode Dial on top of the T3i. When you select Movie Mode, the mirror audibly flips up and the Live View screen jumps to life. The image on the LCD is cropped to the aspect ratio of the selected format. To begin recording video, simply press the Record/Pause/Live View button next to the viewfinder. When shooting video, you can focus manually or there is a 'Live Mode' AF that can be used by half-pressing the shutter button. However, focusing in Movie Mode is the T3i's weakest link. The AF system employed by the T3i is just too slow and cumbersome to make this a serious movie-making camera for novices. Other manufacturers have employed much faster focusing methods in recent years that make the T3i look antiquated by comparison. As a result, you are better off using the manual focus/pre-focus technique when shooting your video scenes.

The biggest advantage the T3i/600D offers for video shooting is the articulated screen, which is much better than the fixed screen on the T3 or earlier models. You also have the stereo microphone jack allowing you to get acceptable sound while recording without having to resort to the built in mic.

WHAT I LIKE:


  • Q-Menu offers access to extensive shooting settings
  • External mic jack
  • Articulated LCD screen
  • Good quality 1080p/720p video
  • Excellent image quality
  • Good battery life
  • Lightweight and compact

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Slow Auto Focus in Live Mode
  • No in-camera RAW conversion
  • Slow auto focus in Movie Mode

SUMMARY

Even though the T3i feels like a camera that is on the verge of breakthrough technology, it lacks some competitors' features in key areas. Nevertheless, there is more to like about the T3i than dislike. Canon's Rebel series is one of the best selling brands in the world for a reason. One thing for sure, the T3i offers most of the features and capabilities of the more expensive "big brother" 60D at a price point that even a beginner can approach with ease. I think if my emphasis was on shooting video, I would lean more toward Panasonic's GH2. However, for shooting stills, it is hard to beat Canon's range of lenses. This camera really is better suited for photo duties, which it performs flawlessly.

The bottom line is the T3i is an excellent value and will serve your travel photography needs very well. You get great full auto features and enough manual control to satisfy semi-pros. And, you get Canon's reputation for quality.

SAMPLE PHOTOS
Click on the thumbnails below to see a full-size JPEG.





taken while shooting video










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