/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Canon EOS Rebel T3i review: Canon EOS Rebel T3i

LoriGruninNewHeadshot.jpg

If you didn't think the 60D was overpriced when it shipped, you will now. The Canon EOS Rebel T3i (aka the EOS 600D), the 60D's younger and cheaper sibling, offers the same basic camera with some corners cut--most notably a slightly less well-constructed body and a (purposely?) stunted burst shooting speed. You can also think of it 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 unexciting follow-up to its predecessor, although one that seems to cater more to videophiles than still shooters.

Canon EOS Rebel T3i (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
7.8

Canon EOS Rebel T3i

The Good

The <b>Canon EOS Rebel T3i</b> delivers excellent video capabilities and image and video quality.

The Bad

If you shoot both still and video, the T3i's controls can be frustrating to operate, and it's not terribly fast for burst shooting sports, kids, or pets.

The Bottom Line

For 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 shooting performance are top-notch, if you're upgrading to capture sports, kids, or pets, the T3i may not be able to keep up.

That's not to say it compromises on still photo quality. Overall, the T3i has an excellent noise profile, unsurprisingly similar to that of the 60D's. JPEGs look very clean up through ISO 400, and even at ISO 800 you really have to scrutinize to see the beginnings of detail degradation; at ISO 1,600 the noise becomes more obvious but still isn't too bad.

ISO 400 is sort of my tipping-point sensitivity; to shoot action outdoors, I generally have to bump up the setting to at least ISO 400 in order to reach a sufficiently fast shutter speed. And because few consumer cameras are fast enough at shooting burst raw+JPEG, the in-camera JPEG processing has to be decent as well. The T3i fared pretty well under these conditions. Overall, I consider shots at this setting good enough to use, but I still wish I would have been able to shoot raw to clean them up.

Canon's JPEG processing remains very good. Even at ISO 1,600 I couldn't obtain unambiguously better results processing the raw--Canon seems to optimize for exposure at the expense of sharpness, and I couldn't get sharper results without losing some shadow detail (you may do better). At ISO 3,200 I was able to achieve a significant reduction in color noise without losing too much shadow detail. And by ISO 6,400, I started to see hot pixels as a side-effect of the in-camera noise reduction (those white spots) in the JPEGs.

On all other counts the photos looked good on the default settings, though my favored setting with Canon models is 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 very good. There's some moiré, but not a lot of rolling shutter, and moving edges look surprisingly sharp. At its highest quality, it seems to deliver an average bit rate of roughly 45Mbps. 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. Though the built-in microphone is mono, it sounds surprisingly good, and there's a wind filter along with the same 64-level sound controls. Canon also incorporates the Video Snapshot feature from its camcorders--it lets you snap up to 8-second clips--and some in-camera special-effects filters, too.

Canon EOS Rebel T1i Canon EOS Rebel T2i Canon EOS Rebel T3i Canon EOS 60D
Sensor (effective resolution) 15.1-megapixel CMOS 18-megapixel CMOS 18-megapixel CMOS 18-megapixel CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 22.3 x 14.9mm 22.3 x 14.9mm 22.3 mm x 14.9mm
Image processor version Digic 4 Digic 4 Digic 4 Digic 4
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/ 12,800 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3.5fps
6 raw/53 JPEG
3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
3.7 fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
5.3fps
16 raw/58 JPEG
Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag) 95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95% coverage
0.87x/0.54x
95% coverage
0.85x/0.53x
96% coverage
0.95x/0.59x
Autofocus 9-pt AF
center cross-type
9-pt AF
center cross-type to f2.8
9-pt AF
center cross-type to f2.8
9-pt AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.8
Shutter Speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Metering 35 zones 63-zone iFCL 63-zone iFCL 63-zone iFCL
Video 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 H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p
Manual aperture and shutter in video No Yes Yes Yes
Audio Mono Mono; mic input Mono; mic input Mono; mic input
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/12m 4GB/12m 4GB/11m 4GB/12m
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical
LCD size 3 inches fixed
920,000 pixels
3 inches fixed
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
Memory slots 1 x SDHC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless flash No No Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 400 shots 550 shots 470 shots 1,100 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.4 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.0 5.7 x 4.1 x 3.1
Body operating weight (ounces) 18.6 18.6 20 27
Mfr. Price $549 (est; body only) $699.99 (est; body only) $799.99 (body only) $1,099.99 (body only)
$799.99 (with 18-55mm IS lens) $899.99 (with 18-55mm IS lens) $899.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$1,399.99 (with 18-135mm lens)
n/a $980 (est; with 18-135mm IS lens) $1,099.99 (with 18-135mm IS lens) n/a
Release date April 2009 March 2010 March 2011 November 2010

I'm not as fond of the new 18-55mm IS II lens as the old kit lens; unfortunately, I didn't have the old lens available to do direct comparisons, but the new lens seemed to have more issues with fringing than the old. The new lens claims an extra stop of image stabilization, but I didn't find it more effective (of course, it's always possible that I'm a year shakier). The 18-55mm kit lens displays visible but not terrible asymmetric barrel distortion at its widest. In shots with the previous version of the lens, the distortion looks more symmetrical, but I don't have exact comparison shots--they put up scaffolding months ago, which prevents me from replicating my test shot.

The camera's performance remains fast, but, surprisingly, in some cases not quite as fast as its predecessor's. It powers on, focuses, and shoots in about 0.3 second, with a fast 0.3-second shot lag in good lighting and solid 0.6-second in dim (a tad slower than the T2i). JPEG shot-to-shot time is also good at about 0.4 second; raw takes a little longer at about 0.5 second. Adding flash bumps that up by another couple tenths of a second. Its burst rate is essentially equal to the T2i's, but both are at what I consider the slowest acceptable continuous-shooting speed for a dSLR and slower than less-expensive competitors like the Nikon D5000 or the Pentax K-x.

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 texture rubberized grip feels kind of cheap, the camera is comfortable to hold and shoot single-handed, and can stand up to the weight of a good lens. I've never been a huge fan of the Rebel series' viewfinder, and this one is actually a slightly lower magnification than previous models. I don't know that I noticed the difference, but there are better ones out there. Also, I don't like the tiny, too-briefly-flashing AF points.

Canon carries over the control layout and user interface from the T2i, although it has moved the Display button to the top and replaced it with Info. Camera operation is straightforward. On the back there are direct-access controls for Live View/video recording, exposure compensation, white balance, autofocus method (single, AI focus and AI servo), drive mode, Picture Style, AE/AF lock, and focus area (single-point manual or all-points auto). You can also change these settings, plus metering, flash, image quality, and a few others, via the 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, semimanual, automatic, and scene modes. It doesn't lock, which may bother some folks (though not me). As with the 60D, however, I find the placement of the movie mode--at the opposite side of the dial from the advanced modes--insanely frustrating. 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 plan to use the camera as a cheap video dSLR and never take it off the video setting than to the consumers at whom it's ostensibly targeted.

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 x 15.8mm 23.5 x 15.6mm 23.5 x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6,400/25,600 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 1,600/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800/25,600 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
6fps
n/a raw/25 JPEG
6fps (10fps with auto exposure)
20 raw/35 JPEG
5fps (7fps with auto exposure)
22 raw/45 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/ effective magnification) Optical
95% coverage
0.85x/0.53x
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 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 16 segment 1,200 zone 1,200 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
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/12 minutes 4GB/25 minutes 2GB/9 minutes 2GB/14 minutes
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) 470 shots 560 shots (NiMH batteries) 330 shots 1,050 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) 20 20.4 (est) 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

Canon's version of an easy mode, Creative Auto, operates via what it calls "ambience selection"--Standard, Vivid, Soft, Warm, Intense, Cool, Brighter, Darker, and Monochrome--for which you can set it to one of three levels. The scene modes also utilize the ambience selection options, making them a little more flexible.

While Canon offers quite a few options for video shooters, it doesn't have much beyond the basics to inspire or streamline shooting for still photographers. The T3i 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 a three-shot bracket and a range of two stops around the center, though the complete range goes up to seven stops in either direction. And it supports wireless flash. But there's no way to save custom settings, no creative features like time-lapse or multiple-exposure shooting or filters (only a handful of postprocessing effects). Furthermore, with increasing resolutions, the ability to shoot raw plus small or medium JPEG--as opposed to full size--isn't just a pro necessity anymore, especially if you plan to transmit wirelessly. For a complete account of the T3i's features and operation, you can download the PDF manual.

Conclusion
For the money, the T3i is a great choice for dSLR videographers--though the cheaper T2i can still suffice if you don't need the articulated LCD--and is a solid choice for creative still shooters. But while the image quality and general shooting performance are top-notch, if you're upgrading to shoot sports, kids, or pets, the T3i may not be able to keep up.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)

Canon EOS Rebel T2i
0.3
0.6
0.5
0.5
0.3

Pentax K-x
0.7
0.6
0.4
0.5
0.3

Canon EOS 60D
0.2
0.6
0.5
0.5
0.3

Canon EOS Rebel T3i
0.3
0.5
0.4
0.6
0.3

Nikon D5000
0.2
0.5
0.5
0.7
0.3

Sony Alpha SLT-A55V
0.5
0.7
0.6
0.7
0.3

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Canon EOS Rebel T3i (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
7.8

Canon EOS Rebel T3i

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8