Even once you've narrowed a choice down to a specific manufacturer, the decision as to which model to buy can still be complicated and overwhelming. In fact, I'd say it's probably harder to pick the right camera from a particular lineup than it is to decide which manufacturer's wares you like best. Here's my take on Canon's current dSLR offerings and when and whether I think it's worth the extra bucks (or quids) to buy higher up the line.
On a general note, if your budget is tight, and unless there's a specific feature or performance level you need from a particular model, it's usually a good idea to save money on the body and spend it on a better lens.
Still to come: The EOS 7D Mark II.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in a different form in May 2012 and is updated regularly.
If you're on a really tight budget, you don't have many choices. The T3 kit, aka the 1100D, is widely available in the US for about $300. Note that in the UK it's less visible and its successor the T5 (aka the 1200D) is roughly the same price. In Australia I had trouble finding it at all.
If you have just a little more money to spend, I suggest you skip it and get the T3i, which is a better overall camera.
The T5/1200D is still repackaged older technology, but if you can't stomach the thought of buying last year's model or can't find it and want the least expensive model possible, the T5, with a kit price of $450, £290 or AU$570 makes sense.
However, if you can squeeze a little more out of your budget, the T3i/600D kit is really worth the upgrade.
This model is essentially for people looking for something a mite smaller than the standard dSLR, and really only stands out as the best Canon dSLR for people with small hands. At $550 or £450 for the kit, or AU$650 for the body, it's slightly less than you'd pay for the T4i kit (which is still only widely available in the US). It has fewer features, however -- you lose the articulated display, and it has slower continuous-shooting performance and a poorer battery.
For most hobbyists, vacation shooters and non-pro business users: buy the Rebel T3i (kit roughly $550 or £375, or AU$520 for the body). It delivers significantly better performance and photo quality than the T3 and has better features than the T5 -- including excellent video capture, and an articulated LCD.
The T5i is the company's best general consumer model, replacing the
T4i in Canon's product line. They're nearly identical cameras, and if
you can get the T4i for less than the T5i, which is currently going for $700, £550, AU$830, then go for
it. The main thing that significantly differentiates the T4i/T5i from
the cheaper T3i is that autofocus system and a very nice touchscreen
system that's great for shooting video. If you're planning to use
high-quality lenses and manual focus, think about saving a little money
with the T3i.
For better build quality and viewfinder than the T5i or SL1, the 60D still looks like an attractive option given that the price of the body has dropped as low as $700, £450 or so. While it lacks some of the refinements of the Rebel models, the EOS bodies really do feel sturdier than the Rebels, and at about 70 percent of the price of the 70D, it still stands up as a good buy. This may not be an option in Australia, however.
If you need fast performance and advanced autofocus, the 70D delivers for about $1,000, £750 or AU$1,200. It's better all around than the older 60D and offers many advantages over the similarly priced but now-replaced 7D, including better overall performance, an articulated touchscreen and SD-card support.
I'm still working on this one, but I can tell you it's Canon's fastest APS-C model. At $1,800, £1,600 or AU$2,600 for the body, it's frustrating that you have to choose between the full-frame 6D and the 7DM2 at the same price. That said, the 6D is over two years old, so if you might want to wait to see if Canon replaces it with something faster soon.
If you want the least expensive full-frame model, the decision is much easier than it used to be since the older 5D Mark II has gradually faded from sight. Currently $1,900, £1,300 or AU$2,200, it's a fine camera, but has a more consumer-oriented design and feature set than the 5DM3. It has an inferior viewfinder, less durable shutter and single SD card slot. In exchange, however, you gain Wi-Fi and GPS, somewhat better high ISO image quality, and a lighter body in the 6D. It's also disappointingly slow compared to the slightly less expensive 7DM2, and overdue for an update.
EOS 5D Mark III: Best full-frame option for non-sports shooting
For the best general-purpose professional full-frame camera in Canon's line, the 5D Mark III at $3,400, £2,250 or AU$3,900 is probably your pick. It adds a significant boost to its autofocus and continuous-shooting performance over the Mark II and the 6D -- enough that some people who otherwise might have opted for the 1D X needn't. Plus there are sufficient features and changes in the design that it feels like a better model than its predecessor for shooting both stills and video. Firmware updates over the years have added important capabilities too, such as clean HDMI-out.
Though I haven't tested it -- and it's over three years old, so I probably won't -- the 1D X, costing $6,300, £3,500 or AU$7,700, is likely your best bet for the fastest full-frame continuous-shooting possible for a Canon. With a rated speed of 12fps and support for dual UDMA 7 CompactFlash cards, this is Canon's pro sports shooter.