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The Canon EOS Rebel T3 / 1100D

and why it's my favorite DSLR in 2013

(... yes, you read that right.)


Update

(2015)


The T3 was and is a great little camera.  If you want what may be the best deal going, get the updated version of the T3, which is the Rebel T5 (18 megapixel).   Get it bundled with two lenses here.

You can still get the T3 used (get yours here).  Still worth getting in 2015?  Read the review and find out. 


Introduction


This is mostly a film photography website.   However,  I've said many times that I use and enjoy digital cameras;  they're just a different kind of artistic tool, having their own set of qualities.

Right now, the digital camera I enjoy most is the Canon Rebel T3.  I'm here to tell you why.



Some Pros and Cons


First of all, let's get the "cons" out of the way before we get into the "pros".  Here, in my opinion, are the only major downsides to the Rebel T3, which is known in Europe as the 1100D:

- The resolution and high-ISO performance are slightly less than on the T3i and T4i (a.k.a. the 600D and 650D).

- The viewfinder is small and covers only 95% of the scene that will be captured.

- The shutter on these entry-level units won't last for quite as many shots as the ones on high-end DSLR's.

- Unlike the T3i and T4i, the T3 can't command wireless flash units.

There they are:  only a few significant "cons" that I can think of, and none of them is really that big a deal for general use.  The shutter ought to last for at least 50,000 actuations, even assuming the lowest-end shutter design for a Canon DSLR. 

I could mention the "plastic-y" finish (the T3 is not rubberized), but I wouldn't consider it much of drawback.  I could mention that the T3 can't do 1080px video, but at least it can do 720px HD.  I could also mention that according to DxOMark, the T3 has only 21.9 bits of effective JPG color depth, but in practice it doesn't matter that much.  If you're shooting something where color is of the utmost importance, you should be shooting in RAW anyway.   As you'll see in that article, the real usefulness of high color depth is so you can make big adjustments without ruining a photo.

By the way, about that small viewfinder:  you're going to have the same problem with any of the entry- to mid-level DSLR's.  Only in the upper price range do you start to get cameras that have spacious viewfinders and more than 95% coverage.  After a while of using the Rebel T3, you ought to be able to get used to the viewfinder.  Eventually you'll get a feel for how much of the actual picture is cut off.  

Let's now talk about the very positive traits of the Canon Rebel T3 / 1100D.

- It costs less than other DSLR's
This is Canon's entry-level DSLR.  (Update 2016:  The newest equivalent is the Rebel T6.  Get one here..) 

- The power-on time is VERY fast.  That means you're not standing there waiting for the camera to go through some  power-up routine while you're anxiously missing an important shot (been there, done that).  The camera is ready to go just  1/10th of a second from hitting that power switch.   I don't even know of any other cameras that are ready to shoot that quickly, except my 35mm film camera.   One thing you should know:  the LCD screen takes more than a full second to start displaying anything, but you can ignore it.  I found that this camera was ready to take pictures well before anything showed up on the screen.  If you have it set the way you want before you turn it off, you can start taking pictures immediately when you switch it back on.  You'll be glad you have that feature when you see Sasquatch loping through your campsite one day.  You'll get the shot, while your buddies are still waiting for their cameras to power up.

- The battery life is outstanding.  How many cameras do you know that can get 800 shots out of one battery charging?  Now, I don't know that you'll get the full 800 every time, but I do know that the battery just seems to keep working and working.   This thing can take a lot of pictures between charges.

- It's very light.  I've seen people who were practically hunched over from the weight of their full-frame DSLR's.  Big cameras can be a real drag.  That won't happen with the Canon T3.  It weighs only slightly more than 1 lb.   Coupled with the long battery life, this makes the T3 a good camera for long hikes (as long as you realize it isn't weatherproof). 

- Fast autofocus.   You can also turn off the beep on the Canon so the lock-on is silent.  Get yourself a USM lens, and the autofocus is even quieter.   The T3 has 9-point autofocus, which some people  take for granted as we head into 2013, but the T3's autofocus system is actually pretty sophisticated. 

- Invisible autofocus light!  The Nikon D5100's autofocus light is really bright and shines right in the person's eyes.  Some of your subjects are not going to like that very much.  No, actually, all of your subjects are not going to like that very much.  (I haven't bothered to see if it can be turned off, but right out of the box, it's a major nuisance.)  The T3, on the other hand, uses an infra-red autofocus light.  It's far less obtrusive, and it doesn't give your subject a migraine while you're trying to take a picture.  Yay for Canon!

- Low shutter lag!  At only 110 milliseconds, it's got considerably less shutter lag than the more expensive 600D and 650D (270 to 280 milliseconds or thereabouts).  High shutter lag can lead to missed shots:  from the time you press the shutter to the time it actually works, someone could blink or change their expression.  When you get used to a film camera that has practically zero shutter lag, and you step into a DSLR where the shutter lag is nearly three-tenths of a second, you tend to notice that.  The T3 has a low enough shutter lag that I can switch back and forth between it and a film camera and it seems natural.   Naturally I would like a shutter lag of zero, but digital no gots.  The T3 is about as good as I've seen, especially for the money.

- Good performance at high ISO.  It's quite serviceable all the way up through ISO 3200.  I don't use 6400 too much, but if you find yourself needing speeds like that, consider getting a faster lens anyway.  One of the first things I'd suggest if you're going to get any Canon DSLR is the EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens.  (Don't let the extreme bokeh snobs talk you out of it.  It's a good lens... but if you want even better, get this one.)    The T3's noise handling compares favorably to other cameras in its class, and not that badly against higher-priced ones.

Regarding image quality, any edge the T3i (600D) and T4i (650D) might have over the T3 is minor.  In fact, you probably won't notice.  The 650D, with its high-megapixel count, required a new generation of processor to handle all that information and deal with the added noise.  Maybe the end result is a slightly lower amount of noise than you'd get with the T3 / 1100D, but it's at a substantially higher price.



A late afternoon in December, right around sunset.

Canon Rebel T3
18-55mm kit lens
ISO 400
JPG mode


There is a certain threshold where the equipment becomes good enough to yield good images, and the T3 / 1100D is well above that threshold. 

Want another feature in the "plus" column?  How about...

Good Buttons!!!  The T3 has the buttons in the right places.  They're big enough that you don't need a toothpick to press 'em, and they do a lot of the important functions that a pro needs to access.  Ha, you're laughing;  this is supposed to be a "beginner" camera.  Don't let that fool you. 

I really like where they put the "Menu" and "Play" buttons.  The controls on this camera are great, they're simple, and I like 'em.  By the way, I've probably said eighty times that I don't like touchscreens, and I'm really glad this camera has no touchscreen.  Pawing a screen until it becomes greasy and nasty, especially when you need to see what's on that same screen, just isn't my cup of tea.   This is a full-time camera, not an iPhone.   I know Canon introduced a touchscreen on the 650D / T4i, but I hope they don't settle on that idea for the long haul.  

The menus on the T3 are pretty intuitive, except for the one that leads to Highlight Tone Priority (HTP).  The first thing you should do when you get this camera is go straight to item #5 in the Custom Functions menu and set HTP to "enable".  This improves the digital camera's highlight response so it doesn't act quite as grossly horrid as digital cameras usually do with highlights

The Rebel T3 was introduced in February 2011.  Even though that's two-plus years, I see this as a good buying strategy now.  That's because digital camera advancements are starting to slow down:  not because of any lack of processing power, but because of physics.  Stuffing more megapixels onto an APS-C sensor is starting to yield diminishing returns, simply because it's hard to offset the increased noise and the reduced light-gathering ability of each pixel.  The huge leaps and bounds that were made in image quality since 1999 have given way to smaller, incremental improvements now.  I'd say 2008 was about the year that slowdown really started to happen, but that's just my own observation.  Whatever year it was, we're starting to reach the point where megapixel increases are actually introducing more noise than the processing improvements can correct.  Consider for example the Nikon D3100 vs. the D3200;  the 3100 is by far the better low-light camera.   

The T3 with its 12.2 megapixels is still in or near what I consider the optimal range for a digital camera.  Once you're up around that region, which I'd place at about 10 megapixels, image quality does not increase that much when you increase the pixel count.  Sure, the resolving power increases, but it's an uphill battle against noise.  The only certain way to get more image quality out of higher pixel counts is to increase the sensor size, which nobody's going to do unless they can get more money for the camera.  (Canon was talking about an "entry level" full-frame DSLR, but it would still be $2,000... ) 

Since you're probably not going to be making eight-foot-wide enlargements, the T3 / 1100D has plenty of resolution.  With art, the overall impression is far more important than being able to resolve the words on a newspaper from a quarter mile away.  




Canon Rebel T3
18-55mm kit lens
ISO 200
RAW mode


The Rebel T3 can easily stand up alongside other DSLR's in the $500-$800 price range.  The difference in image quality between it and the higher-end models is definitely not zero, but then again it's not as enormous as some people would have you believe.   Sometimes there's a noticeable difference between stuff that was shot on a full-frame DSLR vs. an APS-C, but sometimes not.   (At small print resolutions, it's mostly "not").   The main thing separating them is the lens, which can be changed.  The mid- and upper-range models come with better lenses right from the get-go, leading many consumers to think they're actually getting much better cameras than they are.  Once again, the lens can be swapped out.  Another thing-- and this is often overlooked-- is that the kinds of people who buy full-frame DSLR's also tend to be good at post processing.   Beginners, who make up much of the entry-level DSLR market, often have no idea what can be accomplished with a good piece of software.  

With the T3 you probably won't even need to do much de-noising unless you're shooting at 6400.  With Highlight Tone Priority enabled (Custom Function menu), there is a little extra noise in the shadows, but it's nothing major.  Click on the image below to view full-size.

Click to view full-size image

Auto white-balance;  ISO 1600;  HTP "On";  JPG mode
This is pretty much straight from the camera.


The best thing to do would have been to white balance on the saucer.  I didn't bother with it for this photo.  It was just to show a typical scene at ISO 1600. 

Here's the picture with a bit of post-processing:

Click to view full size image

I'm going to make a little digression here.  Don't get stuck in the rut of chasing after noiseless images.  This is not a new phenomenon.  Back in the film-only days, photographers spent more and more money on bigger formats in their quest to have grain-free images.  The next thing you know, you're into a 12x20 view camera and an impossibly heavy tripod, and then you're researching ways to make a special vacuum holder to get the film to stay flat.  Probably ten grand later, you're able to take a few pictures.  Chasing after noiseless photography is a money pit.   There are no truly "noiseless" images, just closer (and more expensive) approximations to it.  

The Canon T3 has low noise, and it also has a whole set of other good features.   What you're really getting in the upper-level DSLR cameras is a bigger viewfinder, more viewfinder coverage, faster continuous shooting speeds, and a few other features that are not directly related to image quality.  Yes, there are definite image improvements if you move up to a full-frame DSLR, but anything else in the APS-C category is not going to be that much better than the Rebel T3.  Slightly better, perhaps, but not a quantum leap.

The EOS Rebel T3 has a lot to offer.  Even if money were no object, I'd still want one because it's so light and handy.   (Update 2016:  Canon's newest "cheap DSLR" equivalent is the Rebel T6.  Get one here..) 

Like any other digital camera, the T3 will clip highlights if you don't control the lighting and exposure;  but as long as you dial everything in right, it will not disappoint.  

Most of the pictures on this page have had a little bit of post-processing, except for that first picture of the coffee cup.   What's important is that the Rebel T3 yields good enough base images to make post-processing worthwhile.   That puts it right up there with any other DSLR I can think of.




Canon Rebel T3
18-55mm kit lens
ISO 3200
JPG mode


I'll say it again:  don't dismiss the T3.  It can yield pro-quality results if you do your part. 

Whether you're buying your first DSLR or your fourth, it pays to ask yourself what features are really important to you in a camera.  Are you willing to pay substantially more for a rubberized body and slightly better color depth in JPG mode?  Is an external mic jack worth $150 more to you?   Do you need the 1080px movie resolution that you'd get with a T3i or T4i?  Those are the kinds of questions to be asking.  I've considered them, and the T3 is my answer for everything I need except astrophotography.  (Update:  if you disable Long Exposure Noise Reduction, it's pretty good for astro.)   I shoot stills primarily, so I don't need the mic jack or the 1080p;  and the extra color depth is not really an issue, since I can just shoot RAW if I need more color.  One other thing I really like about the T3 is that its low price makes it more afforable to get a spare for events.  (You could have the most expensive camera in the world, but if your one camera quits and you have no backup, then what?)  I'd consider getting the spare T3 with its own kit lens so you have a fully-working backup. 




Canon Rebel T3
18-55mm kit lens
ISO 1600
JPG mode



What more can I say?  The Canon EOS Rebel T3 / 1100D is a winner, and I like almost everything about it.  You can buy one through this link (Amazon).  If you use these links to buy your cameras & gear, it really helps me keep this site on-line.



Canon Rebel T3
18-55mm kit lens
ISO 1600
RAW mode


Whatever you do, make sure to get the Rebel T3 with the "IS" (Image Stabilization) lens.  Some earlier versions of the T3 out there do not have the image-stabilized lens, but you'll most likely encounter those only on the used market.   If you buy new through the links on this page, you should be getting the correct model.

For the price of a T3, I don't see how you could go wrong with this camera.  (Update:  As of 2016, I'd get the T6, which replaces the T3 and the T5.)

  

If you found this article helpful, please help me out, too.  The easiest way is to use the links to buy your stuff.    Your support really helps me keep this site going.


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