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Canon EOS Rebel T3i Review

How Does it Compare?

The Canon EOS Rebel T3i (also known as the EOS-600D) is a very capable entry-level digital SLR. In most respects, it's not a huge leap over its predecessor, though the rotating LCD is definitely a great addition. The camera offers very good photo quality (especially if you attach some quality glass), generally snappy performance, a host of features for beginners and enthusiasts alike, and Full HD video recording. Downsides include soft images with the two available kit lenses, occasional highlight clipping and redeye, slow contrast detect AF in live view, and below average continuous shooting and battery life numbers. Despite a few flaws, the Rebel T3i is a nice choice for those just starting out with digital SLRs, or those moving up from older Rebel models.

The Rebel T3i is a fairly compact digital SLR with a matte black composite shell that sits over a stainless steel frame. The camera is generally well put together, though I found that the body scratches very easily (though you can usually just wipe away the scratch). The body is a bit slippery, but thankfully Canon has a midsize, rubberized grip for your right hand. Controls are easy to access, with a good selection of direct buttons. The T3i features the exact same 18.0 Megapixel CMOS sensor, EF/EF-S lens mount, and dust reduction system as its predecessor. On the back of the camera is its most exciting new addition: a flip-out, rotating 3-inch LCD display. The "guts" of the LCD are the same as they were on the T2i (1.04 million pixels, 3:2 ratio, decent outdoor visibility), with the added bonus of being able to compose photos from nearly any angle. The optical viewfinder is not the same as the one on the T2i -- it's smaller and lacks the eye sensor that automatically turns off the LCD info display. A less obvious change to the camera is that the built-in flash can now be used to control two sets of wireless flashes -- a much-needed addition to the Rebel line. The camera supports numerous accessories, including wired and wireless remotes, plus a battery grip that offers double the battery life (and AA support).

As with its predecessor, the Rebel T3i has a nice mix of features for both beginners and more advanced users. Beginners can choose from a new Scene Intelligent Auto mode (which doesn't actually tell you what scene it's using) or a Creative Auto mode (which lets you adjust "ambiance" or "background blur" with ease). Canon has added some help screens to make things a bit easier to figure out, though the main menu was unfortunately not invited to the party. In terms of manual controls, you've got the usual exposure controls, manual white balance fine-tuning and bracketing, and support for the RAW image format. Naturally, the camera supports live view, though autofocus performance is quite poor, unless you're using the Quick AF option (which is not the default). The Rebel has the same Full HD movie mode as its predecessor, and is able to record 1080p30 video with monaural sound. You have full manual controls at your disposal (including audio level control), plus a wind filter. One thing the camera cannot do is focus continuously while you're recording videos.

While generally solid, the Rebel T3i could use some improvements in a few performance-related areas. The camera starts up as soon as you flip the power switch, so you can take photos instantly. Focus times are very good when using the viewfinder, and quite the opposite when using live view with contrast detect autofocus. If you like waiting 1 - 3 seconds for the camera to lock focus then, by all means, use either of the "Live AF" modes in live view. If you want focus times closer to what you'd get when shooting with the viewfinder, switch to Quick AF instead. Low light focusing times hover around a second with the viewfinder (be sure to pop up the flash to use it as an AF illuminator) to "hopeless" when using the Live AF modes in live view. On a more positive note, shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. The Rebel T3i won't win any awards for its continuous shooting mode, which takes 6 RAW or 18 JPEGs at just 3.7 frames/second. Battery life was also below average, so you might want to pick up a spare (or the battery grip).

Photo quality was very good, though you'll get the most out of the camera by using higher quality lenses than what come in the box (and that goes for all D-SLRs, not just this one). Exposure was generally spot-on, though don't be surprised if you see some highlight clipping every now and then (the highlight tone priority feature can reduce it). Colors were nice and vivid, though several of the photos taken in unusual lighting had a brownish cast to them. Photos taken with the kit lenses are on the soft side, with noticeable corner blurring, especially on the 18-135. To improve overall image sharpness, try setting the aperture to around F8, or just crank up the in-camera sharpness setting. The Rebel T3i keeps noise at bay for quite a long time. You won't have any problems with noise until ISO 1600 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light. If you want to get better results at high sensitivities, try shooting RAW and running the photos through noise reduction software. Purple fringing is usually a lens-related thing, and was moderate at times with the 18 - 135 mm kit lens. Redeye also continues to be an issue on this latest Rebel, and there's no way to remove it in playback mode.

Overall, I liked the Canon EOS Rebel T3i, and it remains a top choice for those looking for a capable yet budget-friendly camera. While I don't think most Rebel T2i owners are going to be rushing out to buy one, it's a nice upgrade for those with older Rebel models. Just don't forget to save some money for some nice lenses to go along with it!

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (with a decent lens)
  • Low noise through ISO 1600 in low light, ISO 3200 in normal light
  • Flip-out, rotating LCD display with 1.04 million pixels and decent outdoor visibility
  • Fast startup, focus (with viewfinder), shot-to-shot speeds
  • Full manual controls, with support for RAW image format
  • Creative Auto mode lets beginners adjust depth-of-field and Picture Style with ease
  • Auto Lighting Optimizer brightens shadows; highlight tone priority improves highlight detail
  • Full HD movie recording with full manual controls (including audio level adjustment) and wind filter
  • Built-in wireless flash control
  • Impressive software bundle includes remote capture software
  • Optional battery grip (that supports AA batteries, too)
  • HDMI and external microphone ports

What I didn't care for:

  • Images on the soft side, and kit lenses only make matters worse
  • Redeye a problem; no way to remove it in playback mode
  • Very slow contrast detect autofocus in live view
  • Unremarkable continuous shooting mode
  • No full-time autofocus in movie mode
  • Below average battery life
  • Body gets scratched very easily

Some other D-SLRs to consider include the Nikon D5100, Pentax K-r, and Sony Alpha DSLR-A580. The mirrorless Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and Samsung NX11 are also worth a look.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Rebel T3i and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photo quality looks in our Rebel T3i photo gallery!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.