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Canon EOS Rebel T3 review: Canon EOS Rebel T3

Canon EOS Rebel T3

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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9 min read

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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, which the Canon EOS Rebel T3 replaces, has been around since the summer of 2008 and even Canon must think it's looking a bit dowdy compared with competitors that, though old, aren't quite that old. So Canon spruced up its low-end models a little with the latest imaging and metering systems--and somehow managed to produce a camera that still feels 3 years old.

Canon EOS Rebel T3 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
7.1

Canon EOS Rebel T3

The Good

Unsurprisingly, the <b>Canon EOS Rebel T3</b> delivers excellent photo quality.

The Bad

Average performance, a nothing-but-the-basics feature set and claustrophobic viewfinder leave the camera an uninspiring shooter.

The Bottom Line

Though it's a perfectly fine entry-level camera, there are better options for the money than the Canon EOS Rebel T3.

That's not to say that the T3 is bad; it's not. In fact, the photo quality is quite good for the price, as we've come to expect from Canon. It has excellent midrange (ISO 400-3,200) sensitivity performance. JPEGs get a bit grainy, but remain very usable, up through ISO 800, and start to get soft at ISO 1,600. At ISO 3,200, the JPEG photos don't look terrible, but you can see some color noise and images develop hot pixels. As usual, Canon's JPEG processing is pretty good. I couldn't get much better results from processing the raw versions--I could get different results, but only by trading off dynamic range for color and grain.

Overall, the T3 delivers excellent color reproduction, though in shadowed areas the white balance gets a little too cool. The default Standard Picture Style pushes the saturation and sharpness a bit more than I like, but there are no wholesale hue shifts and the Neutral style works out well if you prefer. Metering and exposure are solid.

In its Standard Picture Style setting (sharpness at +3), the camera plus 18-55mm lens renders very sharp images--possibly a little too sharp. You can dial it back, however. The lens produces nice out-of-focus highlights, and at its widest the distortion isn't too bad. Like most inexpensive lenses, it's pretty susceptible to fringing. I didn't see any purple, however, and it tends to stay on the edges of the frame.

For the most part, the T3 performs like the rest of the budget dSLRs, although its burst speed is worse than the 3-year-old XSi and pretty much at the bottom of its class. Time to turn on and shoot runs about 0.4 second, while focusing and shooting in good light takes 0.3 second; in dim light, that rises to 0.6 second. Typical JPEG shot-to-shot time rounds up to 0.5 second (raw is a bit slower at 0.6 second), and with flash enabled it--surprisingly--stays the same. All of that is pretty typical, perfectly adequate performance for a low-end model. Continuous shooting, though, is a mediocre 2.9 frames per second, which is just as bad as the Nikon D3100. In practice, that's just fast enough to capture kids and pets, but only if they're moving predictably, and with the knowledge that you may occasionally not get the shot. And Live Mode autofocus is as slow as you'd expect.

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 14.7mm 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 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 1,600 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/ 12,800 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 3fps
5 raw/unlimited JPEG
3fps JPEG/2 fps raw
5 raw/830 JPEG
3.5fps
6 raw/53 JPEG
3.5fps
6 raw/53 JPEG
3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
3.7fps
11 raw/34 JPEG
Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag) 95% coverage
0.81x/0.51x
95% coverage
0.80x/0.50x
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
all cross-type; center dual cross to f5.6
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 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 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; 1/160 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 Mono 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 17.5 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

The T3's video capture is pretty limited: 720p, with exposure compensation the only control and no autofocus. That said, the quality is OK; it's suitable for capturing random clips.

Though it's not the heaviest camera in its class, the T3's body is rather clunky. And while I like the rubberized grip, the whole camera feels very cheap and plasticky. The control layout is straightforward and functional. The four navigation buttons bring up ISO sensitivity, drive mode, white balance, and autofocus mode options, whereas exposure compensation, movie record/live mode, menu, Quick Control, playback, and display occupy other buttons around them. All of the buttons are flat with little tactile feedback. The only buttons with any sort of travel are the exposure lock and AF point selector buttons, positioned for thumb-based operation. They still manage to feel mushy.

Lots of people don't mind them, but I dislike the low-end Canon viewfinders. This one in particular is the most claustrophobic I've seen in a long time; it's also got the lowest magnification of any Canon camera in the past few years. It's easy to lose the nine tiny autofocus points against the scene, and I frequently find I've used the wrong point to focus and have to prefocus to light them up in order to find the center point. The T3 lacks spot metering, and I think it's because of the small viewfinder; Canon tends to have large spots for its meter, and the combination of a small viewfinder and a large spot means you're already at the partial meter size, anyway.

Canon EOS Rebel T3 Nikon D3100 Pentax K-x Sony Alpha SLT-A35
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.2-megapixel CMOS 14.2-megapixel CMOS 12.4-megapixel CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
22.2 x 14.7mm 23.6 x 15.8mm 23.5 mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3,200/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 3fps JPEG/2fps raw
5 raw/830 JPEG
3fps
n/a
4.7fps
5 raw/17 JPEG
5.5fps
18 JPEG/6 raw
Viewfinder (magnification/effective magnification) 95% coverage
0.80x/0.50x
95% coverage
0.80x/0.53x
96% coverage
0.85x/0.57x
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Autofocus 9-pt AF
all cross-type; center dual cross to f5.6
11-pt AF
center cross-type
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
Shutter Speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec 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
Metering 63-zone iFCL 420-pixel 3D color matrix 16 segment 49 zone
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 720/25p/30p 1080/24p; 720/30p/25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOV 720/24p Motion JPEG AVI AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12Mbps
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
Manual aperture and shutter in video No Yes No Yes
Audio Mono Mono Mono Stereo; mic input
LCD size 2.7 inches fixed
230,000 pixels
3 inches fixed
230,000 dots
2.7 inches fixed
230,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC/SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
1 x SDXC
Wireless flash No No Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 700 shots 550 shots 1,100 shots (lithium batteries) 420 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 5.1 x 3.9 x 3.1 4.9 x 3.8 x 2.9 4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 17.5 17.7 24.0 16.1
Mfr. Price n/a n/a n/a n/a
$599.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$699.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens) $649.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
Release date March 2011 September 2010 October 2009 August 2011

The LCD also feels small. Since it's not 16:9 aspect, the 2.7-inch size isn't as small as it sounds (it's about as high as a 16:9 3-inch display), but it's another thing that makes the camera feel old. It's also relatively low resolution and difficult to see in direct sunlight.

As I've often complained before, I hate it that you have to use a specific movie mode to shoot video, and I especially hate that it's on the opposite side of the mode dial from the manual modes. For the T3, Canon also made the flash button flat and moved it to the top right side; I had to look up its location in the manual because it was so camouflaged. And you'd think there'd be plenty of room for an SD card slot in the huge grip. Instead, Canon moved it to the bottom, in the battery compartment--a popular but annoying location.

The one bow to modernity seems to be the Feature Guide, which pops up a description of the option in the Shooting Settings display. Creative Auto--it allows you to change aperture (background blur), drive mode, flash, and color "ambience"--is the closest thing Canon offers to a newbie mode. But there's nothing particularly interesting or inspiring in its feature set. Its one advantage over the Nikon D3100 is that it offers bracketing, which you'll need if you want to dabble in HDR, but even that's a bit lackluster: three shots in up to 2-stop increments. (Download the manual for a full accounting of the T3's features and operation.)

Conclusion
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 and comparable photo quality. Nor is the T3 the cheapest model on the market; as far as I can tell, that nod goes to Sony's Alpha DSLR-A390.

If you really want an entry-level Canon, look at the T1i instead. It's not much more expensive, and offers better performance, comparable or better photo quality, a nicer viewfinder, and a similar feature set.

Canon EOS Rebel T3 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
7.1

Canon EOS Rebel T3

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7Image quality 8