Canon gently updates its entry-level dSLR and accessories lineup

For the first time in ages, the company announces a new model at the bottom of its dSLR line, the EOS Rebel T3, along with a modest update to the T2i at the top, an iteration of its kit lens, and two enhanced low-end flash units.

The Canon EOS Rebel equipped with the new 18-55mm IS II kit lens. Lori Grunin/CNET

With today's product announcements, Canon bookends its sub-$1,000 dSLR lineup with two new models--the entry-level EOS Rebel T3 and the slightly more advanced T3i--as well as introduces an updated version of its 18-55mm kit staple lens and two enhanced low-end Speedlite flash units. Rather than introduce new dSLR models at bargain-basement prices as Pentax and Sony tend to do, Canon traditionally lets its slightly higher-end models gradually fall in price until they're the de facto entry-level models. But its current starter, the EOS Rebel XS, and which the T3 will replace, has been around since the summer of 2008 and even Canon must think it's looking a bit dowdy compared with competitors that, while old, aren't quite that old. Especially since the more expensive Nikon D3100 has overtaken it in sales. The T2i, however, is still quite competitive and selling well; Canon plans to keep that model in its line at a cheaper price.

With the cameras, Canon is also rolling out an update to its current 18-55mm IS kit lens; the new IS II version basically adds a potential extra stop of image stabilization, from a maximum of 3 stops to 4.

Here's an overview of Canon's sub-$1,000 lineup, including the outgoing Rebel XS.

  Canon EOS Rebel XS Canon EOS Rebel T3 Canon EOS Rebel XSi Canon EOS Rebel T1i Canon EOS Rebel T2i Canon EOS Rebel T3i
Sensor (effective resolution) 10.1- megapixel CMOS 12.2- megapixel CMOS 12.2- megapixel CMOS 15.1- megapixel CMOS 18- megapixel CMOS 18- megapixel CMOS
22.2 x 14.8mm 22.2 x 14.8mm (est) 22.2 x 14.8mm 22.3 x 14.9mm 22.3 x 14.9mm 22.3 x 14.9mm
Image processor version Digic III Digic 4 Digic III Digic 4 Digic 4 Digic 4
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 1,600 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 1600 ISO 100 - ISO 3200/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 12,800 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3 fps
5 raw/unlimited JPEG
3 fps JPEG/2 fps raw
n/a
3.5 fps
6 raw/53 JPEG
3.5 fps
6 raw/53 JPEG
3.7 fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
3.7 fps
11 raw/34 JPEG
Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag) 95% coverage
0.81x/0.51x
95% coverage
0.8x/0.5x
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
Autofocus 7-pt AF
n/a
9-pt AF
center cross-type
9-pt AF
center cross-type
9-pt AF
center cross-type
9-pt AF
center cross-type to f2.8
9-pt AF
center cross-type to f2.8
Shutter speed 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync n/a
Metering 35 zones 63-zone iFCL 35 zones 35 zones 63-zone iFCL 63-zone iFCL
Live view Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Video None H.264 QuickTime MOV 720/25p/30p None H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/20p; 720/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/50p/ 60p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/50p/ 60p
Manual aperture and shutter in video n/a No n/a No Yes Yes
Audio n/a n/a n/a Mono Mono; mic input Mono; mic input
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
LCD size 2.5 inches fixed
230,000 pixels
2.7 inches fixed
230,000 pixels
2 inches fixed
230,000 pixels
3 inches fixed
920,000 pixels
3 inches fixed
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
Memory slots 1 x SDHC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDHC 1 x SDHC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash No No No No No Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 500 shots 700 shots 500 shots 400 shots 550 shots 440 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4 5.1 x 3.9 x 3.1 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0
Body operating weight (ounces) 17.6 18.5 (est) 18.5 18.6 18.6 18.6 (est)
Mfr. price n/a n/a n/a $549 (est; body only) $699.99 (est; body only) $799.99 (body only)
$549.99 (with 18-55 IS lens) $599.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$649.99 (with 18-55mm IS lens) $799.99 (with 18-55mm IS lens) $899.99 (with 18-55mm IS lens) $899.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
n/a n/a n/a n/a $980 (est; with 18-135mm IS lens) $1,099.99 (with 18-135mm IS lens)
Release date August 2008 March 2011 April 2008 April 2009 March 2010 March 2011
EOS Rebel T3 Canon USA

Given this lineup, I can't imagine the XSi hanging around for too much longer either, at least not at its current price. The T3 looks like a moderately updated version of it, albeit with video, a slightly larger LCD and what looks like purposefully limited continuous-shooting performance. And the lack of a 24p mode for that camera seems an odd choice, unless the goal is to force people--most likely starving film students--up to the more expensive T2i.

As for the T3i, it's more or less identical to the T2i with the addition of an articulated LCD and a few features for the auto-always crowd. Interestingly, there's now a Movie Digital Zoom capability, which may (or may not) provide the ability to crop into a 1,920x1,080 window in the middle of the sensor, which can help prevent artifacts like moire when shooting video (if it doesn't work that way, it's usually a don't-use feature). Canon also incorporates the Video Snapshot feature from its camcorders and some in-camera special-effects filters. Canon also claims automatic mode works better. Like everyone else. But it hasn't said anything about tweaked low-light performance at midrange ISO sensitivities, which is also in great demand.

Here's how the T3i compares to some similarly priced competitors:

  Canon EOS Rebel T3i Pentax K-r Sony Alpha SLT-A55 Sony Alpha DSLR-A580
Sensor (effective resolution) 18-megapixel CMOS 12.4-megapixel CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 23.6 mm x 15.8mm 23.5 mm x 15.6mm 23.5 mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400/25,600 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 1600/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800/25,600 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3.7 fps
11 raw/34 JPEG
6 fps
n/a raw/25 JPEG
6 fps (10fps with auto exposure)
20 raw/35 JPEG
5 fps (7fps with auto exposure)
22 raw/45 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/ effective magnification) Optical
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
Optical
96% coverage
0.85x/0.57x
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.2 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Optical
n/a
95% coverage
0.80x/0.53x
Autofocus 9-pt AF
center cross-type to f2.8
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX)
15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection AF
3 cross-type
Shutter speed n/a 1/6000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 16 segment 1200 zone 1200 zone
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/25p/30p; 720/50p/60p 720/25p Motion JPEG AVI
AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Mono; mic input Mono Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes n/a Yes Yes
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift Sensor shift
LCD size 3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC/SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 440 shots 560 shots (NiMH batteries) 330 shots 1050 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3 5.4 x 4.1 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 18.6 (est) 20.4 17.8 24 (est)
Mfr. price $799.99 (body only) n/a $749.99 (body only) $799.99 (body only)
$899.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$749.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $849.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $899.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$1,099.99 (with 18-135mm IS lens) n/a n/a n/a
Release date March 2011 October 2010 September 2010 November 2010

In a lot of ways, the T3i is too little too late compared with its main competitors. Burst speed performance is key for a lot of upgraders, generally for shooting sports and pets, and the camera still uses a years-old autofocus system. The 18-megapixel resolution simply doesn't matter in comparison to those. On the flip side, the T3i's video capabilities look like it will be the entry-level model of choice for shooting video; AVCHD remains a major pain in the posterior to deal with for creative shooting because it only supports interlaced video at 1080 and the standard bit rate is capped at 21 megabits per second (some manufacturers provide a proprietary 24 Mbps 24p mode). In contrast, Canon's H.264 QuickTime video tends to run around 44Mbps rates.

The T3 also falls short in several respects. Here's where it fits in its market segment:

  Canon EOS Rebel T3 Nikon D3000 Pentax K-x
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.2-megapixel CMOS 10.2-megapixel CCD 12.4-megapixel CMOS
22.2 x 14.8mm (est) 23.6 x 15.8mm 23.5 mm x 15.6mm
Focal length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 3200 ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3 fps JPEG/2 fps raw
n/a
3fps
n/a
4.7 fps
5 raw/17 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/effective magnification) 95% coverage
0.8x/0.5x
95% coverage
0.80x/0.53x
96% coverage
0.85x/0.57x
Autofocus 9-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
Shutter speed 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/6000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 420-pixel 3D color matrix 16 segment
Live View Yes Yes No Yes
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 720/25p/30p None 720/24p Motion JPEG AVI
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift
LCD size 2.7 inches fixed
230,000 pixels
3 inches fixed
230,000 pixels
2.7 inches fixed
230,000 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDHC 1 x SDXC/SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
Wireless flash No No Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 700 shots 500 shots 1,100 shots (lithium batteries)
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.1 x 3.9 x 3.1 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.5 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7
Body operating weight (ounces) 18.5 (est) 18.8 24.0
Mfr. Price n/a n/a n/a
$599.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$549.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $649.95 (with 18-55mm lens)
Release date March 2011 July 2009 October 2009

Though I'd technically place the D3000 as the T3's main competitor, for roughly $100 more (depending upon where the T3's street price falls to) you can get the D3100 kit or the Pentax K-x, both of which offer significant performance advantages and newer autofocus systems, while the D3100 has a larger (though lower resolution) LCD. Nor is it the cheapest model on the market; that nod goes to Sony's Alpha DLSR-A290. Though limited, the video capabilities still outdo the others, if only for the fact that it uses a real video codec.

Neither one of the new dSLRs blow me away, though they'll probably do well simply because they're fundamentally the same as a pair of very good current models.

But Canon seems a bit more adventurous with the new flashes. The 320EX includes a built-in LED light for shooting video; a nice idea as long as you're not shooting people, because those things are painfully blinding. It can tilt, but not swivel, for bouncing, and can remotely trigger the shutter for any Canon camera with wireless flash support. The 270EX II replaces the 270EX, adding the same remote trigger support, and both units can work as wireless slaves. The Speedlite 320EX ($249.99) is slated to ship in April and the 270EX II ($169.99) is scheduled for March.

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