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.
Look and Feel
While it's steadily been getting larger over the years, the Rebel T3i is still a fairly compact digital SLR. Its body is matte black plastic on the outside, and there's a stainless steel frame on the inside. That gives it a fairly solid feel, and that goes for all of the camera's ports and doors. One thing I don't like about the finish on the camera is that it tends to scratch very easily, leaving a white residue behind. Thankfully, you can just wipe it away.
The T3i doesn't have a huge right hand grip, though it has a rubberized finish that makes it fairly easy to hold onto. Controls are well-placed and generally perform just one function.
The Rebel T2i (left) versus the T3i
Images courtesy of Canon USA
The only real place you'll notice a difference between the Rebel T2i and T3i is when you look at their back views. The T3i, of course, has a new swiveling LCD display, which adds a little extra bulk to the camera. It also loses the eye sensor that was on the T2i, which turned off the LCD info display when you used the viewfinder (that function is now handled by a button). The button design has also changed slightly on the Rebel T3i.
Now, here's a look at how the Rebel T3i compares to other entry-level digital SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras in terms of size and weight:
The first thing to see is that, as I just mentioned, the Rebel T3i is both larger and heavier than its predecessor -- no doubt due to the swiveling LCD. Compared to other D-SLRs, the T3i is on the large side, with only the Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 coming in above it. Naturally, the two mirrorless ILCs are quite a bit smaller and lighter.
Ready to tour the Rebel T3i now? So am I, so let's get started!
The first thing to talk about is the Rebel T3i's lens mount, which supports both EF and EF-S lenses. The red dot at the 12 o'clock position is where you line up EF lenses, while the smaller EF-S lenses attach to the white square at around 1 o'clock. Whichever type of lens you use, the 1.6X focal length conversion ratio is the same. Thus, that 18 - 55 mm kit lens has a field of view of 28.8 - 88 mm. Since the camera doesn't have built-in image stabilization like some of its peers, you'll need to buy a lens with that useful feature -- thankfully, Canon makes a lot of them. To release an attached lens, simply press the button located to the right of the lens mount.
The Rebel T3i has the same EOS Integrated Cleaning System as its predecessor. The first line of defense is an anti-static coating on the sensor, which helps to repel dust. Any does that does collect will probably fall off when the camera sends ultrasonic vibrations through the sensor when you turn the camera on or off. If you still have dust after all that, then you can create a "Dust Delete Data" file, which you import into the Digital Photography Professional software. The camera will then automatically remove those dust spots from your images.
Directly above the lens mount is the Rebel's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The flash has a guide number of 13 meters at ISO 100, which is unchanged since the Rebel T1i. This is as powerful of a built-in flash as you'll find on an entry-level digital SLR. Should you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that I'll discuss in a moment. One major addition to the T3i is support for wireless flash control, which allows you to have two sets of off-camera Speedlites.
The flash is also used as the camera's AF-assist lamp, firing quick bursts of light to help the camera lock focus. This system is quite effective, though the light can be distracting to your subject. If you don't actually want to take a flash picture, you can simply close the flash after focusing is complete. Do note that the AF-assist lamp is not available in the contrast detect live view modes.
Over on the grip, you'll find the receiver for the optional wireless remote, with the shutter release button above it. Next to the shutter release button is the redeye reduction / self-timer lamp.
Here's a look at the most significant new feature on the Rebel T3i: it's rotating LCD display. This feature, first found on the EOS-60D, allows you to take pictures with the camera above or below you (or take self-portraits) with ease. The LCD rotates a total of 270 degrees, from facing your subject all the way around to facing the ground. It can also go in the traditional position seen below, or closed entirely.
Here's the LCD in the traditional position. As far as I know, the screen itself is unchanged from the one on the Rebel T2i, aside from the ability to rotate. The screen packs an incredible 1.04 million pixels, and sharpness is leaps and bounds above the LCDs on most cameras in this class. The screen also has a 3:2 aspect ratio, compared to the 4:3 displays found on most D-SLRs. Outdoor visibility is good, but not spectacular.
|The live view can be pretty crowded, if you want||The Quick Menu can be used to adjust certain settings in live view|
As you'd expect, the LCD isn't just for reviewing photos you've taken and navigating menus -- you can also use it for composing your photos. This "live view" feature -- unchanged since the Rebel T2i -- lets you preview exposure (complete with histogram), white balance, color, and focus . Things can get a little crowded, especially if you have the histogram turned on, but you can hit the Display button to reduce how much is shown. An overlay-style menu is needed to adjust certain settings, as the four-way controller is now used for setting the focus point. Press the Quick Menu button and you can adjust the AF and drive mode, white balance, Picture Style, Auto Lighting Optimizer, image size/quality, and flash setting.
Zoomed-in 10X in live view
As you'd expect, the view on the LCD is very sharp, which comes in especially handy when you're zoomed in for manual focus. You can enlarge the frame by 5X or 10X and then move around it, to make sure your subject is precisely focused. As I just mentioned, outdoor visibility is just okay. Low light visibility is better, with the screen "gaining up" nicely in those situations.
There are three focus modes to choose from when using live view: live, live w/face detection, and quick. The first two use the camera's CMOS sensor for contrast detect autofocus, which is very slow -- you'll usually wait for two or three seconds before the camera locks focus. If you've chosen the face detection option, the camera will highlight a face that it finds, and if there is more than one, there will be little arrows on the side of the box. You can then use the four-way controller to move between each of the selected faces.
The other live view AF mode -- and my personal favorite -- is called Quick AF. This flips the mirror down (which turns off live view for a moment), uses the camera's AF sensor to focus, flips the mirror back up, and returns to the live view. Focusing is much faster, if you don't mind the brief live view blackout. This mode is the only one that allows you to use the Rebel T3i's AF-assist lamp in live view.
Whichever AF mode you choose, focusing is as simple as halfway-pressing the shutter release button -- just like on your point-and-shoot camera.
The shooting info screen -- and how you can change settings by using the Quick Control button
When you're using the viewfinder to compose your photos, the LCD turns into an information display. Not only does it display all relevant shooting information -- you can also adjust whatever you see here by pressing the Quick Control button and using the four-way controller.
Now let's get back to the tour. The Rebel T3i's optical viewfinder is slightly smaller than the one on its predecessor, with a magnification of 0.85x (versus 0.87x). Frame coverage remains at 95%. The nine focus points on the screen are illuminated with red dots, which are easy to see outdoors. Below the field-of-view is a line of green data that shows AE/AF lock, shutter speed and aperture, shots remaining, ISO speed, and more. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction dial that's on the top-right of the viewfinder.
To the left of the viewfinder are buttons for entering the Menu and toggling the information displayed on the LCD. Jumping to the opposite side, we find the dedicated live view / movie recording button. In all of the shooting modes except for movie mode, pressing this button will activate live view. In movie mode, you'll press this button once to start recording, and again to stop.
Continuing to the right, we find buttons for AE/AF lock and focus point selection. The focus point selection button lets you choose which of the nine focus points in the frame on which to focus. These two buttons are also used for zooming in and out in both live view and playback mode. Just under those buttons is the Rebel T3i's speaker.
Moving closer to the LCD now, the first button of note is for adjusting the aperture (Av) or exposure compensation. Since the T3i has just one control dial (on the top), you'll have to hold down this button to adjust the aperture when you're in manual mode. Underneath that is the Quick Control button, which opens that shortcut menu that I showed you earlier. When you're connected to a printer, this button will handle Direct Printing duties.
Next up is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:
- Up - White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom)
- Down - Picture Style (Auto, standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, user defined 1/2/3)
- Left - Drive (Single, continuous, 10 sec self-timer/remote, 2 sec self-timer, continuous self-timer)
- Right - AF (One shot, AI focus, AI servo)
- Center - Set
Before I tell you about those features, I should point out that those things I Just listed only work when shooting with the viewfinder. To access those settings in live view, you need to use the Quick Menu. At first glance, the Rebel T3i has some pretty standard-looking white balance controls, but there's more to see later when we get to the menus. The usual presets are here, plus a custom spot that lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting. There's no way to set the color temperature, though.
|The T3's Picture Styles||Adjusting the sharpness of the portrait Picture Style|
The Picture Style feature is more-or-less unchanged compared to the Rebel T2i. A Picture Style is a set of image parameters such as sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone. In monochrome mode, you can also select filter (yellow, orange, red, green) and toning (sepia, blue, purple, green) effects. There are several preset Picture Styles -- including a new auto (scene-based) style -- and you can adjust each of them to your heart's content. There are also three custom Picture Styles that you can use. If that's still not enough, you can create a Style on your Mac or PC and copy it over to the camera.
That brings us to the Rebel T3i's continuous shooting mode, which should be the same as its predecessor. Let's take a look:
The Rebel T3i won't win any awards for its burst rate or the amount of photos you can take sequentially, but then again, this is an entry-level camera. I was able to get the advertised speeds this time, compared to the T2i where things were a bit slower. Of course, this time I was using the fastest memory card known to man, which writes at 45MB/sec. When the camera does fill up its buffer, it doesn't stop shooting -- it just slows down considerably. If you're using the burst mode with live view, the screen will go black after the first photo.
The only other option I want to mention in the Drive menu is continuous self-timer. This unique feature lets you select how many photos the camera takes after an initial 10 second delay.
What are those three AF modes all about? One shot AF is what most of you are used to: press the shutter release halfway, and the camera locks the focus. AI servo will track a moving subject, even with the shutter release halfway-pressed. The AI focus option will select from either of those, depending on what's happening in the scene.
Completing our look at the back of the Rebel T3i, the last two buttons of note are for entering playback mode or deleting a photo.
The first thing to see on the top of the Rebel T3i is its hot shoe. As you'd expect, the camera works best with Canon's EX-series Speedlites, which take advantage of its E-TTL II metering system. These flashes also allow you to control their settings right from the camera, and you can use any shutter speed that you'd like. If you're not using a Canon flash, you'll probably have to set its exposure manually. You're also limited to a maximum sync speed of 1/200 sec, and you cannot use it with live view. As I mentioned earlier, the Rebel T3i now has the ability to control wireless flashes -- up to two sets worth.
The Rebel T3i describes each item on the mode dial as you rotate it
To the right of the hot shoe is the camera's hot shoe, which has the power switch underneath it. The mode dial is packed full of options, which include:
There are two auto modes on the Rebel T3i. The first is the new Scene Intelligent Auto (A+) mode. In this mode, the camera will analyze the scene, and select the appropriate settings. The camera doesn't actually tell you what scene was chosen, as far as I can tell. If you want to manually select a scene mode, there are just five to choose from, though thankfully they're the most common ones.
|The simplified info screen on the LCD while in Creative Auto mode||Adjusting the aperture... I mean background blur|
If you want something sort of in-between automatic and manual, then give the Creative Auto mode a try. This mode lets you adjust both color and depth-of-field without having to know what Picture Styles or aperture are. Instead, the camera calls these things "ambiance" and "background", which should make a lot more sense to beginners.
As for manual exposure controls, the Rebel T3i offers the usual options. You can set the aperture, shutter speed, or both. There's also a bulb mode for long exposures, though do yourself a favor and get the shutter release cable, unless you have incredible finger endurance.
Above the mode dial are the Display and ISO buttons. The Display button used to be where the Info button is now, and its function has changed from toggling the information shown on the LCD to simply turning the display on and off. In other words, it replaces the now-gone eye sensor. The ISO button will let you select from Auto, or a range of 100 - 12,800 (high). The Auto range will vary, depending on what shooting mode you're using.
Just north of the Display and ISO buttons is the T3i's sole control dial, which you'll use for adjusting exposure settings, selecting a focus point, navigating through menus, or jumping through photos you've taken. Above that is the camera's shutter release button.
The first thing to point out in this side view of the Rebel T3i are the AF/MF and image stabilizer switches on the 18 - 135 mm kit lens (the other kit lens has the same things).
Moving to the right, you'll find the flash release and depth-of-field preview buttons.
At the far right, under a pair of rubber covers, are the Rebel T3i's I/O ports. They include:
- Remote control
- External mic input
- A/V + USB output
The 18 - 135 mm kit lens is at the wide-angle position here.
On the opposite side you'll find the SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of average quality.
The 18-135 lens is looking pretty huge at its full telephoto position.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the Rebel T3i. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount -- in line with the lens, of course -- and the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is also of average quality, and pops off fairly easily, which is something you need to do in order to attach the optional battery grip.
The included LP-E8 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.
Using the Canon EOS Rebel T3i
Flip the power switch and the Rebel T3i is ready to take photos immediately. The dust reduction system silently runs for about two or three seconds, though you can interrupt it at any time by pressing the shutter release button.
Autofocus speeds depend mainly on two things: whether you're using live view, and what lens is attached. When shooting with the optical viewfinder and 18 - 135 mm kit lens (which is what Canon sent along with my T3i), the camera locked focused quickly. Expect delays of 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.4 - 0.8 seconds at telephoto. In low light, the camera uses its built-in flash to illuminate your subject (which can be blinding), and focus times are typically around a second.
Focus performance is a much different story when using live view. I hate to say it Mr. Canon, but your cameras probably have the slowest contrast detect autofocus of any digital SLR. If you're using either of the "live" AF modes, you'll wait for one, two, or even three seconds for the camera to lock focus. Low light focusing is nearly impossible, due in large part to the fact that you can't use the AF-assist lamp. For a better live view focusing experience, switch to "Quick AF", which uses the camera's regular AF system (including the AF illuminator). You'll lose the live view while the camera is focusing, but the performance is much closer to what you get when using the viewfinder.
There isn't any shutter lag when shooting with the viewfinder, though there is tiny delay when using any of the live view modes.
Shot-to-shot delays are minimal, as you'd expect. You can just keep firing away, at least until the buffer fills up (which happens fairly quickly in RAW+JPEG mode). Adding the flash into the mix did not noticeable increase the shot-to-shot times.
You can delete a picture as it's being saved to the memory card by pressing the -- get ready -- delete photo button!
Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the Rebel T3i:
I've kept the above table as brief as possible, highlighting only the default 3:2 aspect ratio. You can also shoot at 4:3, 16:9, or 1:1, if you desire, but only in live view mode. The Rebel T3i can take RAW images alone, or with a Large/Fine JPEG. I explained the benefits of the RAW format earlier in this review.
The menu system is unchanged since the Rebel T2i, which makes it attractive and easy to navigate. Despite the addition of some beginner friendly features in other parts of the T3i's user interface, the menus lack any kind of help screen. The menus are divided up into various tabs, covering shooting, playback, setup/custom, and My Menu options. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of options in the T3i's menu system (in the still shooting modes):
My Menu settings
Hopefully I've explained most of the menu options in the table above. Here are a few items that deserve some further explanation.
The AE bracketing feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The exposure interval can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV. If you've got a large memory card, this is a good way to ensure properly exposed photos every time. You'll see in a moment that the Rebel T3i can also bracket for white balance.
The Auto Lighting Optimizer feature brightens the dark areas of your photos. It's set to "standard" by default, and other options include low, strong, and off. Since Rebel T3i's sensor and image processor haven't changed since the T2i, I'm going to use the examples from that camera to illustrate this feature:
View Full Size Image
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The first thing you might want to do is to compare the "Off" and the default "Standard" settings -- you can see that the Rebel is brightening things up straight out of the box. The high setting brightens things a bit more, though it's not over the top.
A somewhat related feature is highlight tone priority, which is buried in the custom settings menu. As its name implies, this feature (which is off by default) improves highlight detail. The catch is that the ISO is set to 200, which isn't a big deal on a digital SLR. Let's see how this feature performed in the real world, again using the Rebel T2i's examples:
|Highlight tone priority off||Highlight tone priority on|
It's pretty clear that you get back some detail in the brighter parts of the Campanile with the highlight tone priority feature turned on. The image as a whole got darker, though, so you may end up needing to use the ALO feature that I just described to get some of it back.
WB shift and bracketing (at the same time, no less)
I already told you that the Rebel T3i has a custom white balance option that lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting. You can fine-tune that (or any of the white balance presets), as you can see in the screenshot above. You can also bracket for white balance in the same way that you do for exposure. And, if you want, you can do both at the same time!
I'm going to take a break from menus for a while, getting back to movie and playback options a bit later. For now, let's do our photos tests. All of these were taken with the F3.5-5.6, 18 - 135 mm kit lens.
I've got no complaints about how the Rebel T3i handled our macro test subject. The figurine is sharp, yet still has the smooth appearance that one comes to expect from a Canon D-SLR. Colors look good, and I don't see any signs of noise.
The minimum focusing distance on any D-SLR depends on what lens your using. For both of the available kit lenses (18-55 and 18-135), that distance is 25 cm. If you want to get closer, you may want to consider buying a dedicated macro lens.
Usually I get out my 70-200 F4L IS lens whenever I test a Canon D-SLR, but this time I decided to see how the kit lens would fare, seeing how most Rebel owners aren't going to drop $1350 on a telephoto lens. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. The photo taken with the 18 - 135 mm kit lens is soft (especially toward the edges of the frame), and loaded with purple fringing (click here to see how the Rebel T2i and the aforementioned 70-200 did with the same scene). Aside from those lens-related issues, the camera did take in plenty of light, as you'd expect given its full manual controls. The scene is a bit brown (something I also saw in my indoor church shot), and you'll find some highlight clipping in places, too.
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the Rebel T3i performs at higher sensitivities:
ISO 12800 (H)
Everything is very clean through ISO 400. At ISO 800 you can start to see just a bit of detail loss, but that shouldn't prevent you from making a midsize or large print at that sensitivity. Noise becomes more obvious at ISO 1600, reducing your print sizes a bit. The edges of the buildings start to fade in the background at ISO 3200, so this is probably a good place to stop, or switch to RAW (see below). The two highest sensitivities are too noisy to be usable, at least as JPEGs.
Alright, let's see if we can't clean up the ISO 3200 and 6400 images by shooting RAW and doing some easy post-processing in Photoshop:
The first thing you'll probably notice about the RAW conversions is how much highlight detail you get back. The blown out US Bank sign is a lot more readable now, though the purple fringing caused by the lens is still visible. The RAW conversions do have a lot more noise, but after a trip through NeatImage and some sharpening, the results are much better than the original JPEGs.
We'll check the T3i's noise performance in normal lighting in a moment.
I've always had trouble with redeye on the Rebel-series cameras, and the T3i continues that tradition. If you ask me, I think it's because Canon relies on a pretty weak redeye reduction lamp on the front of the camera (rather than the flash) to shrink your subject's pupils. Unfortunately, there's no tool to remove redeye in playback mode, so you'll have to fix this annoyance on your computer.
There's pretty strong barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 135 mm kit lens. You can see the effects of this distortion by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. While this lens doesn't have an issue with vignetting (and I'm sure the peripheral illumination correction feature has something to do with that), you will encounter some corner blurring. You'll experience many of the same issues on the 18 - 55 mm kit lens (see the Rebel T2i review for more).
And now it's time for our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare the results of this test with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Since this is such a high resolution camera, only a small part of the image is shown in the crops below, so be sure to view the full size images as well! And with that, let's take a look at the T3i's high ISO performance in normal lighting:
You won't find a hint of noise until you reach ISO 1600. Even then, there's very little to talk about. Noise becomes more apparent at ISO 3200 and there's a drop in color saturation, but still, very usable. Even ISO 6400 can be used for small prints. As for the ISO 12800 photo, I'd probably pass on that. Unless... you shoot RAW.
Below you can see the ISO 6400 and 12800 photos as both original JPEGs and as RAW conversions (with and without post-processing). You already saw how spending a few minutes in Photoshop can improve the Rebel's image quality in low light -- now here's what you can do in better lighting:
There's not much to say -- there's a big improvement to be had by shooting RAW at high ISOs and doing some easy post-processing on your computer. You still won't be printing posters of that ISO 12800 photo, but its still noticeably better than the original JPEG!
Overall, I was very pleased with the image quality on the Rebel T3i, just as I was with the T2i that came before it. As with any digital SLR, photo quality is only as good as the lens you're using, and neither of the kit lenses will win any awards for sharpness. Exposure was accurate most of the time, though you will encounter some highlight clipping from time-to-time. Colors look nice and saturated -- no complaints there. The Rebel produces very "smooth" looking photos, and kit lenses make things look a little soft. You can try using an aperture around F8, or just increase the in-camera sharpening to improve things a bit. As the previous test illustrated, the T3i keeps noise away for a very long time, so there's no need to avoid high sensitivities (and again, you'll get the best results by using the RAW format at high ISOs). Purple fringing was an issue at times with the 18 - 135 mm kit lens, and not so much with the 18-55.
Now it's time for you to take a look at our Rebel T3i photo gallery. View the photos, perhaps print a few, and then decide if the quality meets your needs!
The movie mode on the Rebel T3i is mostly the same as it was on the T2i. You can record Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 (at 24 or 30 frames/sec) with monaural sound. If you want stereo sound, you can attach a microphone to the port on the side of the camera. You can keep recording for up to 30 minutes or 4GB, whichever comes first. As you might imagine, at the 1080p30 setting you'll hit the file size limit in a lot less time than 30 minutes -- 11 minutes, to be exact.
If you don't need to shoot at 1080p, there are a few other resolutions available, including 1280 x 720 and 640 x 480, both of which have a frame rate of 60 fps.
The Rebel can shoot movies automatically, or with manual controls. If you turn on manual controls you can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, or ISO. You can also manually adjust the microphone level, or turn on a wind filter. One thing the Rebel can't do is focus continuously while recording a movie. You can use the shutter release button to get the camera to focus (though you'll see and hear it "hunting" on your video) or you can just do it manually.
As with most cameras, you can take a still image while the camera is recording video. Two other features of note are movie digital zoom, which gives you use 3X to 10X of extra zoom power, though video quality may be degraded if you use too much of it. Another feature is called Video Snapshot, which lets you take short (2, 4, or 8 second) videos which you can later compile into an album.
Canon uses the H.264 codec for the Rebel T3i's videos. While that's better than Motion JPEG, it still eats up 330MB worth of your memory card for every minute of HD video. Thus, you'll want a large and fast (Class 6 or higher) memory card if you'll be taking a lot of Full HD videos.
I have a pair of action-packed sample movies, both of which were taken at the 1080p30 setting. For each you can view the original movie, or a downsized 720p version that'll download a lot quicker. Enjoy!
The Rebel T3i's playback mode has a more elaborate playback mode than that of its predecessor. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom. The slideshow feature now supports filtering, transitions, and background music (which you can copy over from your Mac or PC).
In addition to moving through photos one at a time, you can use the command dial to "jump" through photos in groups of 10 or 100, by date, rating, or file format (movie or still).
Photos can be rotated and resized, but not cropped (unless you're connected to a printer, which is also when a redeye correction tool becomes available). As I hinted at in the previous paragraph, you can rate photos on a scale of one to five stars, which helps you find your favorite pictures with ease. Movie editing consists of a function to remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip.
A new feature on the Rebel T3i is called Creative Filters, which should look pretty familiar, as most other D-SLR and interchangeable lens cameras have something like this these days. There are five filters to choose from, including grainy black & white, soft focus, fisheye, toy camera effect, and miniature effect. For many of these you can adjust how strong the filter effect is.
By default, the Rebel T3i doesn't tell you much about your photos, but if you press the Display button, you'll see a lot more, including your choice of histograms.
The camera moves through photos instantly, as you'd expect on a D-SLR.
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
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!