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CNET First Look
Canon EOS Rebel T3iFor the money, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i is a great choice for dSLR videographers--though the cheaper T2i can still suffice if you don't need the articulated LCD--and it's a solid choice for creative still shooters. But though the image quality and general...
-Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor for CNET, and this is the Canon EOS Rebel T3i. If you didn't think the 60D was overpriced when it shipped, you might now. The Rebel T3i, it's younger and cheaper sibling, offers the same basic camera with some corners cut. Most notably, it's got not as good a construction and it's got a stunted burst shooting speed. You can think of it also as a slightly more expensive T2i with the addition of an articulated LCD, and a few features for the auto-always crowd. Either way, the T3i remains a solid, if somewhat unexciting, follow-up to its predecessor, although one that seems to cater more to video files than still shooters. With a few exceptions, the T3i's body and interface are almost identical to the T2i's. It's slightly heavier (but not larger) thanks to the bright flip-and-twist LCD. It feels sturdy. And though the rubberized grip feels a little cheap, the camera's still comfortable to hold and shoot single-handed, and it can stand up to the weight of a good professional lens. I've never been a huge fan of the Rebel Series' view finder, and this one has actually slightly lower magnification than previous models. Canon carries over the control layout and user interface from the T2i, although it's moved the display button to the top and replaced it with info. Camera operation is straight forward. On the back, there are direct-access controls for frequently used settings like exposure compensation, white balance, drive mode, etc., and you can also change these settings including metering, flash, image quality, and a few others via a typical Quick Control screen. My one quibble here is that the buttons all feel a bit too flat. The mode dial includes the usual set of manual, semi-manual, automatic, and scene modes. As with the 60D however, I find the placement of the movie mode, which is at the opposite of the dial from the advanced modes, an insanely frustrating thing to use. I've actually missed video opportunities by having to scroll around from shutter priority mode to video. Ironically, this design is more suited to pros who never take it off that setting than to the consumers to whom this camera is ostensibly targeted. Canon's version of an easy mode, Creative Auto, operates via what it calls "ambience selection." Things like standard, vivid, soft, warm, intense, cool, brighter, darker, duh, duh, duh, duh, for which you can set it to one of 3 levels. The scene modes also utilize the ambience selection options, making them a little more flexible than normal automatic modes. While Canon offers quite a bit for video shooters, it doesn't have much beyond the basics to inspire or streamline shooting for still photographers. It supplies basic Eye-Fi wireless integration. You can enable or disable the card, and the camera provides connection strength information. For bracketing, you're still limited to 3 shots and a range of 2 stops around the center, although the complete range does go up to 7 stops on either direction. It also supports wireless flash, but there's no way to save custom settings, customized menus. There's no creative features like time lapse or multiple exposure shooting. You get the point. Furthermore, as resolutions get really higher, I mean, this is 18 megapixels, the ability to shoot RAW plus small or medium JPEG as opposed to a full-sized file, it just isn't a pro necessity anymore. It's for consumers, too, especially if you plan to transmit wirelessly. That would be a really nice option here, but there are no compromises on video or still-photo quality. Overall, the T3i has an excellent noise profile. JPEGs look really clean up to ISO 400, and even at ISO 800, you really have to scrutinize to see the beginnings of detail degradation. By ISO 1600, the noise becomes more apparent but still not too bad. At ISO 1600, I couldn't obtain an unambiguously better result processing RAW files. On all other counts, the photos look good on their default settings, though my favorite setting with Canon models is the neutral with sharpening bumped up a few notches. Colors look both relatively accurate and saturated, metering and exposures are consistent and predictable, and the dynamic range is broad enough to allow a reasonable amount of highlight and shadow recovery. As usual, the video looks really good. There's some moire but not a lot of rolling shutter, and moving edges look surprisingly sharp. It offers the same great set of frame rates and manual exposure controls as the 60D, including highlight tone priority for fine-tuning high-key exposures. But the built-in microphone is mono, it sounds surprisingly good, and there's a wind filter along with the same 64-level sound controls that are in the 60D. The camera's performance remains fast overall but, like the T2i, it's burst shooting lags the crowd. At about 3-1/2 frames per second, both are what I consider the slowest acceptable continuous shooting speed for a DSLR. For the money, the T3i is a great choice for DSLR photographers, though the cheaper T2i can still suffice if you don't need the articulated LCD, and it's a solid one for creative still-shooters. But while the image quality and general shooting performance are top notch, if you're upgrading to shoot sports, kids, and pets, the T3i may not be able to keep up. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Canon EOS Rebel T3i.