So you think you're ready for the big leagues? If you think your point-and-shoot rig is restraining your sweet skills, then maybe an upgrade is just what you need. Canon's new entry level dSLR might be just what you're looking for. The EOS Rebel T3i (aka EOS 600D) is a great unit to get you started on a higher level of photography. The T3i is the accolade of 2010's T2i with all the fantastic features of the latter, plus with a string of new highlights. Atop of an 18-megapixel CMOS image sensor, Canon's EOS Integrated Cleaning System, DIGIC 4 processor, Live View shooting mode, 63-zone Dual layer metering system, Full HD (1080p) video mode; Canon supplements the T3i with a new automated Scene Intelligent technology, a hands-on guide offering detailed descriptions of settings, an articulating 3.0-inch LCD, the latest bundled lens options (EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5 - 5.6 IS), and more. With all of these great features, Canon's new entry level EOS Rebel T3i looks to be a great choice for a first dSLR.
With the T3i's new Scene Intelligent Auto technology, not only are the exposure, focus, white balance, and Lighting Optimizer automatically adjusted; but now the Picture Style is analyzed and fine-tuned accordingly. This technology offers perceptive assistance for a novice (or experienced) photographer by automatically tweaking the settings to capture specific scene shots such as a sunset or portrait. Further, by recycling the green icon motif from the T2i, the Scene Intelligent Auto setting can easily be located on the mode dial, and adds a unique boxed-in "A+" design. Once in this auto setting, there is a brief (1-2 second) description of the mode, and then transports the user to the shooting information display (unless you're in Live View mode). From here, you simply start snapping photos without having to worry about making adjustments.
Counterclockwise on the mode dial from the Auto setting, you will find additional exposure options that are very customizable. The T3i offers Program Auto Exposure (AE), Shutter Priority AE, Aperture Priority AE, Manual Exposure, and Auto Depth-of-Field AE- all of which encompass a brief, easy to read description on the LCD as you rotate the dial. With these settings, the operator can control as much, or as little of the exposure process as they feel comfortable with. This, in turn, will correspondingly teach a novice user how different exposure settings generate various effects to the photographs. Additionally, when using P/S/A/M modes the operator has access to a multitude of custom function settings allowing them to custom-build the T3i's photo output to a desired style.
Control Placement for the T3i is a bit confusing to the novice user at first glance, but because of the in-menu short descriptions of each setting which was mentioned earlier, the camera quickly becomes quite operational for the new user. The external buttons are laid out nicely so that you do not have much effort to manipulate them. To save space, like T3i's precursors, there is no rear dial to adjust both the shutter and the aperture in the Manual setting. Instead, the "AV" button must be held in conjunction with rotating the front "shutter speed" control dial to adjust the aperture. This feature is not too much of an inconvenience if you have experience with the T2i; however, it may take some getting used to if you are accustomed to having a rear dial for aperture adjustment. Characteristics such as this allow the T3i to be slightly more compact than other dSLRs - a "winning" quality passed down from the T2i. Also, comparable to its older predecessor, the T3i has a very confident, well-built feel, yet still lightweight compared to higher end dSLRs. Even with its compact size, the T3i entertains an ergonomic button layout which permits a quick change of standard picture settings (ISO, White Balance, Picture Style Mode, etc).
Along with fine-tuning picture settings, the T3i's 3.0-inch Vari-Angle LCD screen allocates many more great features. Resolution is impressive, above average with 1,040,000 dots. This affords a beautiful live image both when framing in Live View mode, or when reviewing captured images and video. The 3.0-inch monitor also allows for a larger font to be displayed, which could be beneficial for a user with failing eyesight. While Canon asserts that the screen is anti-reflective and smudge-resistant, we did notice it collected fingerprints rather easily. We also saw several angles which reflected bright light, however the display's backlight is nice and bright so it never effected our view of the menu, captured images, etc. When the screen is viewed at a perpendicular angle, is easily visible; although, it is slightly more difficult to see at more extreme angles than some other cameras we've tested (even though Canon claims a 170° viewing angle). Besides these slight criticisms, the Vari-Angle LCD is a great added luxury. For low to the ground or overhead shots, the Vari-Angle feature saves the operator from getting into uncomfortable or unsafe positions, yet still allows them to capture that exacting view. Additionally, this also sanctions the perfect self-portrait. These qualities make the T3i's Vari-Angle LCD a major improvement over the Rebel T2i
Take consolation that Canon believes in the "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" method when it comes to the Rebel's menu structure. The T3i utilizes the Rebel's typical layout, which is logically organized, and allows for ease of navigation using either the 4-way controller or the control dial. If you have had experience with Canon models in the past, the T3i menu layout should be contentedly familiar. Moreover, if you are new to Canon's Rebel series, you will quickly find the menu system easily navigable due to its natural arrangement, and convenient pop-up descriptions of the settings. Like the previous T2i, the T3i offers a straightforward menu layout for the experienced or novice user.
Experts know, and novices will discover that one of the advantages of a dSLR camera is the Optical View Finder (OVF), and the T3i is no exception. Like the T2i, the T3i uses a pentamirror OVF (as opposed to pentaprizm). While the eye-level unit still offers a large and clear view of your subject, it is noted on Canon's website that the T3i has approximately a 0.85x magnification; whereas the T2i is equipped with a 0.87x magnification. This slight deviation might cause the range of view on the T3i to be slightly narrower than that of the T2i. Besides this dissimilarity, the T3i OVF maintains the same specifications as its forerunner. The eye-level unit preserves a 19mm eye point, the Vertical/Horizontal has coverage of about 95% of the image capture, and a -3.0 - +1.0 diopter adjustment. It is also worth noting that the rubber eye up is very comfortable, and blocks out most of the ambient light when your face is pressed against it. A good bit of exposure data is displayed in the Heads Up Display (HUD), allowing you to assess exposure info without taking your eye away from the viewfinder, and remain focused on your subject.
Shooting performance from the T3i was excellent for an entry-level dSLR. From power-on until the first shot averaged at 2-3/10 of a second! Waking the camera from Auto power off and capturing the first shot took about 5/10 second. When pre-focusing the camera, shutter lag is almost non-existent, measuring less than 1/10 second, while autofocus shutter lag averaged just 1/10 second using the Auto Selection:9-point AF mode. In single drive mode, the shot to shot varied depending on how I would depress the shutter release. When lifting my finger each time the delay averaged about 4-5/10 of a second between frames. However, by keeping the shutter half-pressed and just pressing it in fully as fast as I could, I was able to acquire shot to shot times of as fast as 2-3/10 of a second between frames. This seemed to continue as I keep mashing the shutter release, with no other buffer slow down; the camera is just fast, what else can we say. The T3i also boasts burst shooting at up to 3.7fps at full resolution. I actually found this to be a bit underrated, as we obtained 4fps pretty consistently. This can be maintained for up to 34 frames when shooting Large/Fine JPEGs according to Canon (or up to 6 frames in RAW), however I say different results. I stopped at 54 frames, with no signs of buffer slow-down; I could have kept going. This is quite impressive for a camera in this class and price range. All of our tests were done using the kit EF-S 18-135mm 3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens at wide angle, SanDisk Extreme Pro (UHS-1) 8GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, ISO Auto, ONE SHOT AF, Automatic point selection, Evaluative metering, Preview on, with all other settings at default. Times may vary depending on photographer response, lighting, camera settings, media used, etc.
Like past models, the T3i is not a speedy performer in Live View mode. Entering LV mode takes about a second before the
live image displays on the LCD, and you are ready to frame a shot. Shutter lag was about 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, however AF was as long a 3.5-4 seconds using the Live
Mode AF setting, depending on several factors; amount of focus change required, lighting, etc. The best time we achieved with Live Mode AF was 1.8 seconds, which was at full wide angle under some good overhead fluorescent lighting. Like we've seen with past models, the camera seemed to "hunt" for focus when in Live
View mode, especially when shooting indoors. When shooting outside it seemed to
perform better, but no where near as fast as when shooting with the OVF. On overcast or rainy days, the system would also hunt for focus. I personally don't see this as a big deal, as I only use Live View when shooting static subjects on a tripod; where not having to bend over and constantly look through the OVF are appreciated. However, for those wanting to use the LCD for a more point-n-shoot type experience, you'll notice right away that the performance is marginal at best.
The fact that the T3i is able to produce beautiful photos is no surprise, due to the fact that it encompasses the same image sensor and processor combination found on its predecessor; along with other EOS models. With 18-megapixels, your printing options are almost endless. Whether you're printing your typical 4x6-inch, or huge poster sized photos, the T3i can deliver. Moreover, you can even make large prints of tight crops, thanks to its abundance of resolution. While the T2i and T3i's exposure options are very similar, like we mentioned earlier the T3i has a more advanced Auto exposure mode with Intelligent Scene Selection. When you use this mode, the T3i operates like the most simple point-n-shoot digicam; you simply frame the shot, and forget the rest. We noticed that the camera's Auto mode was very robust, choosing similar settings to that of those we'd manually choose ourselves. The AE (auto exposure) system was able to produce pleasing exposures in a variety of shooting situations. Whether outside in the bright sunlight or shooting on a dull fall/winter day, the T3i is able to capture crisp images full of fine details. In some situations, you may see some blown out highlights from strong sunlight, however this is very common with most all cameras. Colors are very natural when using the Auto or Standard picture style settings. You have various styles to choose from for specific looks, and you can even customize any of the settings with adjustments for Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, and Color tone. Overall, the T3i's image quality results will please most all users, whether this is your first dSLR or you're a seasoned photog looking for an affordable camera kit.
Like we mentioned earlier, Canon has added a new kit lens option for the T3i, which was reserved for their mid-level dSLRs like the 50/60D in the past. The EF-S 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 IS lens offers a versatile focal range that covers a wide range of photographic needs. We truly enjoyed using this lens with the T3i, as the combination was excellent for most all typical photography, from shooting group shots of friends and family, close ups, or even weddings. I used this unit to shoot an "on air" wedding in dimly lit pub during St. Patrick's day, and was very pleased with its performance. The IS system came in handy, allowing me to use a slightly slower shutter speeds to help keep the ISO as low as possible. Weather wide open, stopped down, wide angle or telephoto, this unit produced nice sharp images. Basically, this is an excellent lens option for the T3i, that will allow you to save money over time for more lenses down the road; if you even need to add any. The T3i's AF performance was also impressive, especially when shooting indoors. When using the built-in flash, it will act as an AF-assist lamp to help the camera achieve focus in lower lighting conditions. The camera is able to focus very quickly, especially when an external speedlite is attached that has an infrared AF-assist lamp. On top of being extremely fast, and versatile in most any lighting, the T3i's 9-point AF system was also quite accurate.
Again, like the T2i, the T3i excels at High ISO photography. From ISO 100 on up to 3200, the T3i is able to produce beautiful photos with rich fine details. Yes, at 1600 and 3200 you can seem some speckling when pixel peeping at 100%, however I would have no problem making large prints from shots taken at either of these settings. The T3i also boasts settings of 6400 and even 12,800 when ISO expansion is enabled in the Custom Functions menu. I was very surprised at the detail that was retained in our ISO 6400 photos. At 100% you can see a good amount of both chroma and luminous noise, however at full screen viewing (25-35% depending on the size of your monitor), the image looks pretty darn good. The maximum ISO 12,800 setting shows obvious noise levels, however images captured at this setting can still be usable for various applications. Moreover, the T3i boasts several High ISO Noise Reduction settings to choose from. The Standard setting works quite well, however you can also choose Low, Strong, or Off (Disable). On our sample photos page you can see our typical M&M man shots at each ISO setting, along with additional ISO 800-12,800 sets using the optional High ISO NR settings.
Canon hasn't changed much, if anything, in the video department with the T3i. This comes at no real surprise though, as Canon's current EOS models offer some of the most robust HDSLR video options around. Like its siblings, the T3i can record 1080p (1920x1080), 720p (1280x720,), or SD/VGA (640x480) video with stereo audio. There are several frame rates available for each setting, with 1080p offering 24, 25 or 30fps options. This allows you to capture video with that specific feel, like a more cinematic look when shooting at 24fps. The T3i retains options for Manual exposure control and full use of
the AF system in movie mode. Canon has also included their Movie Digital Zoom option, which was previously called Movie Crop. Here you can "zoom in" from 3-10x digitally, giving you additional reach over the limits of your optical lens. One new option on the T3i is Video Snapshot. This is a "highlight real" type of mode that records several short video clips from 2 to 8 seconds in length, then merges them into a single video clip in-camera. All of these features make the T3i a worthy option if you're in the market for a HDSLR for recording high-quality video. That said, video quality is great, rivaling that of most any consumer HD camcorder. The only real issues we ran into when recording video was AF speed. Just like when using Live View mode for still photos, the Live AF system is quite sluggish.
The T3i uses the same LP-E8, 7.2v 1120mAh battery pack found in the T2i. Canon claims this unit will allow you to capture up to 550 frames when using the OVF and no flash, or up to 440 frames with the flash used 50% of the time. This is pretty average for an entry-level dSLR, and we feel this pack affords plenty of power for an entire day of shooting; depending on the occasion. I had no problem shooting over 300+ photos at a short wedding, along with several short video clips, and I had plenty of life to spare. If you plan on using Live View, be warned that battery life drops significantly; Canon claims up to 200 shots on a single charge using Live View 100% of the time. For those who like to use either Live View, plan on shooting a lot of video, or just want a more versatile power option, we highly recommend the optional BG-E8 battery grip. This unit holds two LP-E8 batteries, thus doubling your battery life. It also adds vertical controls for comfortable portrait orientation shooting, and even offers the ability for you to run AA batteries in a bind. No matter what your needs are, the T3i has a capable power system to help ensure you always have the juice needed to get those once in a lifetime shots.
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