Canon EOS Rebel T3i Review
Originally Posted: April 26, 2011
Last Updated: April 26, 2011
The EOS Rebel T3i (from $799, body only) is Canon's "high-end" entry-level camera, which sits above the recently announced Rebel T3 and last year's Rebel T2i. It's a whole lot like the Rebel T2i, with the biggest difference being the new flip-out, rotating LCD display on the T3i (which was borrowed from the midrange EOS-60D). Other changes include a new Scene Intelligent Auto (A+) mode, wireless flash control (and it's about time), more special effects, and a new 18 - 55 mm kit lens.
Otherwise, the T3i retains the same 18 Megapixel CMOS sensor, DIGIC 4 image processor, 3-inch / 1.04 million pixel LCD, AF and metering system, and burst/movie modes of its predecessor.
Still confused? Hopefully the chart below, which compares the Rebel T2i and T2i, will help to clear things up for you:
Remember, those are just the changes -- everything else on the Rebel T3i is the same as it was on the T2i. I mentioned earlier that the 18 - 55 mm kit lens is new -- it's now a Mark II model. The changes are only skin deep, though, as all of the optics are identical to those of its predecessor.
Ready to learn more about the EOS Rebel T3i? Then keep on reading -- our review starts right now!
Since the two cameras are so similar, portions of the Rebel T2i review have been reused here. The EOS Rebel T3i is also known as the EOS-600D and Kiss X5 Digital in some countries.
What's in the Box?
There are officially three kits for the Rebel T3i: one with the body only ($799), a second with the aforementioned F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm Mk II IS lens ($899), and a third with an F3.5-5.6, 18 - 105 mm IS lens ($1099). I wouldn't be surprised to see some kind of two lens kit (with bag and memory card) at stores like Costco sometime in the near future, either. Anyhow, here's what you'll find in the box for the official kits:
- The 18.0 effective Megapixel EOS Rebel T3i camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm EF-S Mk II IS lens [18-55 lens kit only]
- F3.5-5.6, 18 - 135 mm EF-S IS lens [18-135 lens kit only]
- LP-E8 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solution software
- 323 page camera manual (printed)
If you bought either of the lens kits, then you're ready to start taking photos as soon as you get yourself a memory card (see below). If not, you can use any Canon EF or EF-S lens, with a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio. As I mentioned in the introduction to this review, the 18 -55 Mk II lens is only cosmetically different than its predecessor. I can't comment on build quality since I didn't try this lens, but image quality is decent, though expect some occasional corner blurring. The 18 - 135 mm lens isn't the sharpest thing out there, and it has issues with both corner blurring and purple fringing.
As is always the case with digital SLRs, there's no built-in memory on the Rebel T3i, nor is there a memory card included. That means that, unless you already have one, you'll want to pick up an SD, SDHC, or SDXC card right away. I'd suggest a 4GB card at the very minimum, and movie enthusiasts should go at least twice as large. Buying a high speed card (Class 6 or higher) is strongly recommended.
The Rebel T3i uses the same LP-E8 lithium-ion battery as the T2i. This battery contains contains 8.1 Wh of energy, which is average for a D-SLR. Here's how the T3i compares to other entry-level D-SLRs in the battery life department:
First thing's first: for some bizarre reason, the Rebel T3i's battery life is about 7% lower than its predecessor, despite using the same sensor, image processor, and (presumably) LCD. If you ignore the two interchangeable lens cameras for a moment, the Rebel T3i's battery numbers are the worst of any D-SLR on the list. Obviously, the live view-only Panasonic and Samsung cameras have lower numbers, but if you use live view 100% of the time with the Rebel, you'll only get 180 shots on a single charge!
With the exception of the Pentax K-r, which can use AA batteries via an optional adapter, all of the cameras on the above list use proprietary lithium-ion batteries. These batteries tend to be pricey (a spare LP-E8 will cost at least $50), and you can't grab something "off-the-shelf" to get you through the day. That said, if you pick up the optional battery grip (shown below), you will be able to use AA batteries to power the Rebel T3i.
The Rebel T3i atop its optional battery grip
Photo courtesy of Canon USA
And above you can see a photo of the optional BG-E8 battery grip, which is the same model that the Rebel T2i used. This holds two LP-E8 or six AA batteries, for up to double the battery life. As you'd expect, this grip also includes extra controls for shooting in the portrait orientation.
When it's time to charge the LP-E8, just pop it into the included charger. This is a pretty fast charger, taking about two hours to perform a full charge in most conditions. My charger came with a power cord, though yours may plug directly into the wall.
Digital SLRs support a ton of accessories, and the table below covers just a fraction of those available for the Rebel T3i:
And those are just the most interesting of the accessories! There are plenty more, including numerous viewfinder add-ons and a pair of macro lights.
EOS Utility - Main Screen
Canon includes version 24 of their EOS Digital Solutions Disk with the Rebel T3i. The first application that you'll probably bump into is EOS Utility, which is sort of a gateway to all the other software programs. Here you can download photos from your camera, use remote capture, adjust camera settings, create Picture Styles, or transfer background music to the camera (for use with the slideshow feature).
EOS Utility - Selecting Photos to Download
If you choose to select and download images to your computer, you'll get the screen you see above. Once photos are transferred to your computer, you have two ways of viewing and editing them.
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
The "consumer-friendly" option for viewing images is ImageBrowser (for Mac) and ZoomBrowser (for Windows). On the main screen, you get the usual thumbnail view, with quick access to image e-mailing, printing, editing, and slideshows.
Double-click on a JPEG image and you'll bring up the photo in its own window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment feature, for those who want something simple. The Browser software can be used to view RAW images, but that's about it. If you want to edit them, you'll need to use the next product.
Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X
Digital Photo Professional is Canon's RAW editing application. The main screen isn't too much different from Image/ZoomBrowser, with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail + shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.
RAW editing in DPP
The RAW editing tools in DPP are quite robust. Basic properties you can edit include exposure, white balance, the tone curve, Picture Style, saturation, and sharpness. In addition to adjusting the basics that I described above, DPP also lets you tweak color tone, saturation, the tone curve, both luminance and chrominance noise, and lens aberration (such as distortion, vignetting, and purple fringing).
If you want to edit the camera's RAW images with Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, you'll be pleased to hear that they are fully supported, assuming that you have Camera Raw 6.4 or newer.
So what is RAW, anyway? RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. Thus, you can adjust settings like white balance and exposure without damaging the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size (compared to JPEG), fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG.
Remote camera control, complete with live view
Back when I mentioned EOS Utility, I said that it supports remote capture, so here's some more detail on this handy feature. This software you control the camera right from your computer, with access to most camera settings. The live view feature is fully supported, complete with a histogram, composition grid, and the ability to enlarge the frame and manually tweak focus. Photos are saved directly to your computer, though they can be stored on the camera too, if you wish. You can also take movies using Remote Capture, though the files are initially stored on the camera. When you're done recording, the software will allow you to copy the video files over to your Mac or PC.
Remote Capture also lets you set up the My Menu feature (more on that later), and it can also be used to send Picture Styles that you've created to the camera. The Picture Style editor (another piece of software) lets you open up a RAW image, adjust color, the tone curve, contrast, and sharpness, and then save the results as a new Style.
One last software product to mention is PhotoStitch. This helps you combine multiple photos into a single panorama.
Inside the box you'll find a lengthy, printed manual. The first 304 or so pages are quite detailed, but not very user-friendly. Beginners will want to look at the Quick Reference Guide, which starts all the way on page 305, for information about the camera's controls, menus, and basic functions. Documentation for the software bundle is included on a CD-ROM disc.