Performance and use
The Canon EOS Rebel T3i has an 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, the most potent the company offers without stepping into pro ranks like the full-frame EOS 5D Mark II (around $2,500 body only). Unless you’re covering a living room wall with gigantic prints, 18 megapixels is more than enough for most shutterbugs. We adjusted the camera to the highest setting (5164 x 3456 pixels), shooting in RAW+JPEG. Burst mode was engaged (roughly 3.7 frames per second) with grid lines enabled. We attached the supplied 18-135mm zoom, which has the 35mm equivalent rating of 28.8-216mm so it’s fairly wide angle with a bit of telephoto reach. Then it was time to start capturing the first inklings of spring — yes, with even some color from the first crocus of the season. There was plenty of color indoors with cut flowers, orange cats and so on. We also took the T3i into NYC for some touristy night-and-day scenes. Once we made a dent in the 16GB card, we reviewed the material on a 50-inch plasma, made 8 x 10 prints and closely examined the images on the monitor.
Let’s comment on handling before getting into the results. This is an enjoyable camera to shoot. It focuses quickly and has a quick response. It has nine focus points with one cross-type. We hate to mention it again, but our most recent favorite DSLR — the D7000 – -has 39 AF points and nine are cross-type. Granted, the Nikon costs $1,200 for the body alone, but it’s really a much better camera. The T3i’s menu system is easy to follow and since it’s targeted to first-time DSLR buyers, descriptions appear on the LCD to describe what aperture-priority is, for example, when you dial into that mode. Speaking of the screen, it’s great, and although we couldn’t really see the difference between the D7000’s 921K pixels and Canon’s 1.04MP, color was excellent and we had no problems shooting in direct sunlight. The ability to twist the screen as you move into different positions is one of this camera’s great strengths and tops the Nikon.
Our overall impression of the stills captured by the Rebel T3i was a good one. Colors were very accurate including close-ups of orange and purple flowers. Detail was excellent, particularly architectural lines of Manhattan skyscrapers. The 3.7 fps burst mode caught taxis speeding down Fifth Avenue and their yellow colors were spot-on. We did encounter one puzzling situation when you tried to shoot in burst mode in A+ auto — you can’t do it, it’s only single shot. This seems bizarre as most shutterbugs will primarily use this setting. You have to switch to Program AE or another manual-type setting. Noise — or lack thereof — is another plus with this camera. We shot our usual target subject up to ISO 6400 and even at 100-percent blowup it was still useable. In other words, you’ll have few problems taking photos in very low light, as the files were very clean at ISO 800 with more speckles entering the scene as you bumped it up. For the most part, stills get high marks, although the AF system had difficulty with the uneven surface of a flower. Guess there’s a reason you might consider paying more for a more sophisticated system. And in typical Canon fashion, white balance tends to run slightly warm in the auto setting. Results are best if you manually adjust it.
As for videos, regular Digital Trends readers know our stance: DSLRs using contrast phase detection simply can’t focus automatically like phase detection DSLRs and all camcorders. With that complaint out front and center, we have to say the T3i takes high-quality 1080p HD videos at 30 fps. They’re far superior to Nikon’s 24 fps movies. Still you’ll be fiddling with the focus ring to get sharp results and the mic picks up noise from the zoom mechanism. The quality is top-notch though.
We have no problem whatsoever recommending the Canon Rebel T3i. It’s not as robust as the Nikon D7000, but then again it’s $400 less if you opt for similar 18-135mm kit lenses. The Nikon is really geared for the adventurous shutterbug who really wants to dig deeply into the camera’s capabilities. The EOS Rebel T3i is more for the DSLR newbie who wants great picture quality right off the bat, with room to start exploring further, if they want. With its sterling picture quality, eminently usable vari-angle screen and solid 1080p HD videos, you really can’t go wrong.
- Fine 18-megapixel images
- Excellent 3-inch vari-angle LCD
- Full HD video at 30 fps
- 3.7 fps at full resolution
- Tends to run warm indoors
- Video is good but focusing is cumbersome
- No burst mode in A+ auto