Canon EOS Rebel T3i Road Test

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If you ask a serious or advanced amateur photographer if they can recommend an easy to use, entry-level DSLR that can shoot stills, HD video and offers an impressive list of pro-level features, there’s an excellent chance that Canon’s EOS Rebel will be one of their first suggestions.

Canon’s EOS Rebel T3i, which ships with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II (28.8-88m equivalent) zoom lens is the latest update of the top-tier model of Canon’s Rebel-series DSLRs. The new camera features an 18MP APS-C format CMOS sensor and a DIGIC 4 image processor that allows you to bang out up to 34 JPEGs (in a choice of five compression ratios) or six RAW files at speeds of up to 3.7 frames per second. You also have the option of capturing simultaneous JPEG+RAW image files. The camera’s 18MP CMOS sensor, which has a standard ISO range of 100 to 6400, can be further expanded to ISO 12,800 when shooting under miserable lighting conditions.

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In addition to hi-def stills, Canon’s T3i can also capture Full HD 1080p video with full manual exposure control at a choice of 30 (29.97), 24 (23.976) or 25 frames per second. You also have the option of recording 720p video at a choice of 60 or 50 frames per second. For the audio portion of your clips, the camera’s built-in mic records monaural sound and for those clips that require higher-fidelity stereo sound, the T3i features a stereo input jack. One notable feature on the T3i which should be of particular interest to videophiles is the inclusion of manual audio level control, which allows you to dampen ambient background noise better, that often results from the Auto Gain function found on many HDSLRs.

For composing, reviewing and editing stills and videos, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i features a 3.0”, Vari-Angle Clear View LCD that contains 1,040,000 dots for razor-sharp eyeballing. The T3i is also the first Rebel to feature a swivel-base LCD, which if you plan on shooting video, is a most welcome feature. The resolving power afforded by the screen’s million-plus dot count is icing on the cake.

Differences between the Rebel T3i and its predecessor, the Rebel T2i, includethe abovementioned Vari-Swivel LCD, which is otherwise identical to the LCD on the T2i, improved manual exposure control, a new Intelligent Auto mode (more about this later), enhanced Creative Filters, the ability to control off-camera Canon TTL Speedlites remotely using the camera’s built-in flash, Video Snapshot (see the next paragraph) and an updated kit zoom.

New video-related features include a new Movie Digital Zoom that enables you to zoom into the center of the image area by a factor of 3 to 10x without compromising image quality (Canon’s claim) and a Video Snapshot feature that captures short 2-, 4- or 8-second bursts of video and combines them automatically into a single “video highlights” file for easy playback on your HDTV via the included HDMI cable.

The T31 features an eye-level pentamirror that displays approximately 95% of the total image area. (For viewing 100% of the image area you must use the Vari-Angle LCD). Quick, accurate focusing is courtesy of the T3i’s 9-point AF system, which features a cross-type central AF point and is vertical-line sensitive at f/2.8. The camera also features a depth-of-field preview button, a superimposed viewfinder display and full integration along with full TTL exposure control when used with dedicated Canon Speedlites.

The camera’s exposure system is comprised of a 63-zone metering sensor, which can be used in a choice of four modes; Evaluative, which is linkable to all AF focusing points, Partial Metering (approximately 9% of the center portion of the frame), Spot Metering (about 4% of the center portion of the frame) and Center Weighted. The shutter-speed range of the T3i’s vertical travel, electronically-controlled focal plane shutter is 1/4000–30 seconds, and for fill flash and studio flash applications there’s a top flash sync speed of 1/200-second.

Behind-the-scenes image enhancers include a new Scene Intelligent Auto mode, which manages the camera’s Picture Style Auto, Automatic Lighting, Lighting Optimizer, AWB, AF and AE systems and melds the results of each system’s exposure parameters for optimized still and video capture.

Other features found on the Canon EOS Rebel T3i include an automatic Dust Control system, which includes a fluorine-coated low-pass filter, automatic clean cycles each time the camera powers up and off (or manually on demand) and Dust Deletion software for removing stubborn detritus. And lastly, for newbies and more experienced shooters alike, the Rebel T3i has a built-in Feature Guide that allows you to “look things up” on the camera’s LCD.

One design feature found on the Rebel T3i that should be incorporated into the workflow process of anyone concerned about having their work hijacked on the internet is a Copyright function that embeds a personalized copyright notice into the image header.

We had an opportunity to spend a day with the new Rebel, and despite threatening skies and bouts of precipitation, we shot enough stills and video to offer a few impressions of the camera in use. On a tactile level, the T3i bears little semblance to the original Digital Rebel, as well as more recent incarnations of Canon’s EOS Rebel. The camera fit nicely into my mid-sized hand and should feel equally secure and functional in both larger and smaller hands. For those who like the feel of the T3i but personally prefer a camera that fills the hand a bit more, there’s always the option of adding a Canon Battery Grip E8, which along with additional real estate also features an extra battery bay and a second shutter release and command wheel for comfier vertical shooting.

The fit and finish of the T3i leaves little to be desired, especially for an entry-level camera. The rubberized grip material used on the camera’s molded hand grip felt quite secure, and all of the flaps and doors for batteries, memory cards and cable connections were equally secure and fumble free to open and close on the fly.

The T3i’s 3” Vari-angle LCD is impressively bright and crisp, and thanks to clarity afforded by the display’s million-plus dots, the large icons and alphanumeric characters are extremely easy to read, even under bright lighting conditions. In bright light, the T3i’s 9-point AF system proved to be quite responsive, although under lower, indoor lighting conditions it tended to get rather sluggish, which was assuredly due in part to the slower aperture range (f/3.5-5.6) afforded by the camera’s kit lens.

For video capture, the T3i is a good news/bad news camera in that its crisp, easy-to-view Vari-Angle LCD makes framing video (and stills) at angles other than eye-level a breeze compared to DSLRs with fixed-position, lower-res LCDs. The bad news is that like most DSLRs in its class, you have to manually focus your lens before and during each take, which takes away from the fluidity of the physical process. With practice it quickly becomes second nature, but out-of-the-box it’s a tricky process that requires a bit of time and effort to achieve familiarity and fluency.

It’s also important to note that if you intend to use the Rebel T3i regularly for capturing video of anything other than chasing the kids around the yard and similar “snap-shooting” scenarios, you should budget funds for a higher-fidelity stereo mic for cleaner audio and an HDSLR rig for smoother, jiggle-free video capture.

The Canon EOS Rebel T3i accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards and is compatible with all Canon EF and EF-S lenses.

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