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Canon T3 Review

by Shawn Barnett, , Zig Weidelich, and Mike Tomkins
Hands-on Preview Posted: 02/07/2011
Initial Test: 08/07/2011
Review Posted:

A major revamp to their previous Rebel XS entry-level SLR, the new Canon T3 is significantly more advanced than its predecessor, and looks to offer a great choice for both novices and enthusiast users on a budget. It's been about 18 months since the Rebel XS shipped in August of 2008, and although the Rebel T3 now has an even lower price, you get a lot more for your money.

Perhaps most significantly, the Rebel T3 has an increased sensor resolution of twelve megapixels, and also switches to a current-generation DIGIC 4 processor. Together, these allow a much wider ISO sensitivity range of 100 to 6,400 equivalents. There's also a new nine-point autofocus system with a single f/5.6 cross-type point at the center of the array, and a wider working range of EV 0 ~ 18.  The updated AF system sits alongside Canon's current generation 63 segment, dual layer iFCL metering chip, and the company has also gifted the Rebel T3 with an expanded +/-5 EV exposure compensation range, an adjustable Auto Lighting Optimization function, and its useful Highlight Tone Priority mode.

There's also a slightly larger 2.7-inch LCD display, a 720p HD movie mode, and a revamped version of Canon's image-stabilized 18-55mm kit lens. Not all the changes are entirely positive, though. The Rebel T3's pentamirror viewfinder has a narrower dioptric adjustment range of -2.5 to +0.5 diopters, along with ever so slightly decreased 0.80x magnification, and while burst shooting speed is barely changed at 3 frames per second, the manufacturer-specified burst depth has fallen to just 4-5 large/fine JPEG or two Raw frames.

The older Rebel XS model is currently still available on store shelves for a while longer with a discounted price tag that's $50 below the Rebel T3 kit, but we understand that will only be the case until stock runs out. Henceforth, the new Rebel lineup will start with the Canon T3, with step-up models being the Rebel T2i and T3i, both of which offer 18 megapixel resolution.

Canon Rebel T3 User Report

by Dave Etchells, Shawn Barnett, and Mike Tomkins

More than two years after announcing the Rebel XS, Canon has upgraded its entry-level SLR offering with the new Canon Rebel T3. As you might expect given the amount of time that's passed, this is quite an upgrade. Virtually every aspect of the camera has been revamped and improved, while still retaining the compact styling that's made the Rebel models favorites with those looking for compact ease of use.

The Canon T3 is much more than just a compact SLR, though; it's a good quality camera with a rich feature set that just happens to carry an entry-level price. An enhanced menu guide system makes it perhaps the most approachable Canon SLR to date for novice users, yet there are more than enough advanced features to keep more sophisticated users happy. Offering exceptional functionality at an entry-level price, the new Canon T3 will be a great choice for anyone on a budget, whether the proverbial Soccer Mom or serious enthusiast.

Look and Feel. The Canon Rebel series have always been favorites as relatively compact models that provide the benefits of SLR shooting (image quality, fast focusing, low-light ability, etc.) without the bulk of many higher-end SLRs. They're thus favorites of women and others for whom the bulky grips of larger models are problematic, but even advanced shooters like them as an alternative to their larger cameras when faster frame rates or other features of full-sized models aren't needed.

The need to control costs means that entry-level camera models will be largely constructed of plastic, so it's easy to end up with a cheap feeling. The Canon T3 manages to avoid that, striking an excellent compromise between low-cost manufacturing and solid build quality. We always pick up an entry-level camera with a certain amount of apprehension, wondering if it will feel plasticky and cheap in our hands. The Canon T3 definitely doesn't have the solidity of an EOS 60D or 7D, and there's no question that you're handling plastic, but we're happy to report that there's no panel flex or creak, so it doesn't feel hollow or cheap.

The new Canon T3 is slightly larger than the earlier XS that it replaces, measuring about 4mm wider, 2mm taller, and a noticeable 16mm thicker. We don't think that the thicker body will be an issue even for users with smaller hands, and the slightly greater front-to-back distance may be more comfortable to other users. Changes in styling from the earlier XS model are subtle, but the Canon T3's overall look is sleeker and more rounded.

The grip is a bit less contoured than that on the XS, albeit with roughly the same amount of finger room. I find the camera more comfortable to hold with both hands, as my fingertips otherwise end up pressing against the body more than I like. My wife Marti had no such trouble, and found the Canon T3's grip quite comfortable. The top right corner of the camera's rear panel bulges out slightly to provide a thumb rest, making for a more secure feeling when holding the camera one-handed. The back of the camera and the grip area are covered with a smooth, slightly rubbery coating, which also contributes to a more secure feel in the hand. Note the lack of an infrared remote control port on the grip, something the T3i has, but that the XS also lacked.

The top view is really quite clean, as SLRs go. There are now no controls on the Canon T3's left side, where there used to be buttons for both flash-release and depth-of-field preview. The flash release button has been moved to the right side of the top panel, between the power switch and the Control dial. Moving it makes a lot of sense for the first-time SLR owner. Those of us who've owned many will first try the left panel, but it's really not an obvious place to begin with. Though we like the new position, they could have marked it a little more clearly, as it's hard to see in low light, the one place you're going to want to see it. There's no longer a dedicated depth-of-field preview button on the T3; something that Canon probably rightly assumes most consumer users wouldn't use anyway. You can, however, configure the Set button on the rear panel to serve as a depth-of-field preview button. Other controls on the top are the Mode dial, Power switch, Main dial, and shutter release button.

The most obvious change on the back is that the Menu and Display buttons that were on the left side of the viewfinder in the XS have been moved over to the right side, and replaced by the Canon logo. I have to say I'm not keen on this change, as I find it more convenient having those controls under my left thumb: the Canon T3's layout put too much functionality under my right thumb, making my control navigation a bit slower overall. I can see that the larger 2.7-inch LCD on the Canon T3 left no room for the logo under the screen, and sympathize with Canon's need to have a logo showing somewhere, but nonetheless regret this particular move.

Much more welcome is that the ISO button has returned to the rear panel, as a secondary function of the up arrow button, after having been banished to the top panel on the XS. This is a frequently used control, so having it right on the back is much more convenient. The location previously occupied by the dedicated ISO button is now taken over by the relocated popup flash release button.

Another obvious change is that the Canon T3 now has a dedicated Live View/Movie Record button on the back panel. (The earlier XS used the Set button to enter Live View, and had no Movie recording capability.) A Quick Menu button has also been added, for faster access to frequently-changed settings, and the Playback and Delete buttons have been shuffled around.

With two new functions added to the same number of rear-panel buttons, something had to give, so the metering mode and Picture Style settings have been relegated to menu access only.

The settings with dedicated buttons assigned to them (exposure compensation, ISO, AF, WB, and drive mode) are very fluid to use; you just press the button and then rotate the main control dial, which is to be found just behind the shutter button on the top of the grip. Alternatively, for all but exposure compensation, you can cycle through the available options just by pressing the button repeatedly, or by pressing the button and then using the left/right arrow buttons to make your selection.

Sensor and processor. The last Rebel with a 12.2-megapixel sensor was the XSi, and though the Canon T3's sensor outputs the same image size and resolution, its sensor is described as having a total resolution of 12.6-megapixels, a slight increase over the XSi's 12.4-megapixel chip. Perhaps of more significance is another upgrade in the T3's imaging pipeline, however. It uses a newer DIGIC 4 image processor, where the XS and XSi used DIGIC III, a difference that shows up in improved noise suppression and better detail in general (although it does squash fine detail in the difficult-to-render red leaf swatch of our test target, as you'll see in our image quality comparisons towards the end of this review). DIGIC 4 also allows capture of 14-bit RAW images, and the 8-bit JPEGs are created from 14-bit data.

The one area where the Canon T3 comes up noticeably short is in the area of continuous shooting speed and buffer depth. Our testing found the T3 to be capable of 2.94 frames per second when shooting in JPEG mode, 1.96 fps when shooting in Raw format, and a relatively glacial 1.35 fps for Raw+JPEG. That might seem limiting enough, but Raw shooters will find its very small buffer memory to be even more problematic than its shooting speed. Although the tested burst depth of 17 large/fine JPEGs with our hard-to-compress test target seems reasonable, when shooting Raws the T3 slows after only three frames, and for RAW+JPEG a single frame is enough to fill the buffer completely. None of this is likely to be any problem for casual snapshots or landscape photos, but if you expect to shoot a lot of fast-moving action, or are a dedicated Raw shooter, you'll want to look a little higher in Canon's SLR line.

Peripheral illumination correction. Vignetting, a darkening of the corners produced by some lens designs, is reduced via Peripheral Illumination Correction in the Canon T3. Using a database of lenses, the amount of correction is customized for each lens mounted. Selecting the item from the menu brings up a screen where you can see which lens the camera detected, and whether correction data is available. You can then choose to disable the correction if the wrong lens is showing (as sometimes happens with non-Canon lenses), or else re-enable it.

Autofocus. The Canon T3 offers nine-point focusing with a central cross-type f/5.6 focus point, with eight single-axis points. The focusing screen is of the etched variety, with boxes surrounding dots, which light up red to confirm focus.

Metering. The Canon T3 inherits Canon's latest metering system, previously seen in the EOS 7D, T2i, and 60D, but does not include a Spot metering option. It's a 63-zone iFCL sensor, which stands for Intelligent Focus, Color, and Luminance metering. The name hints at how the sensor works: the iFCL chip has a dual-layer design with each layer sensitive to different wavelengths of light, allowing subject color to be taken into account when determining exposure. Information on focusing points is also taken into account in metering calculations.

Auto Lighting Optimizer. The Canon T3's Auto Lighting Optimizer (ALO) option makes local brightness/contrast adjustments to give better shadow detail under contrasty lighting. Three levels are available, plus Off. It's not a strong effect, but worth remembering if you're faced with such conditions.

ISO. The Canon T3's ISO ranges from 100 to 6,400, with no expanded ISO (as is seen on the T3i), though this is still quite an increase over the Canon XS and XSi's maximum of ISO 1,600. Instead of offering exposure compensation from -2.0 to +2.0 EV equivalents, the T3\ offers a much wider +/-5.0EV exposure compensation range.

Creative Auto mode. CA mode gives the more novice user an easy way to adjust the exposure, flash, resolution, drive mode, and Picture Style. Setting aperture and shutter speed are converted to simpler concepts of background blur (blurred or sharp), and exposure level (darker or brighter) with a slider that's adjusted with the Main dial. The more complex exposure decisions remain under the Canon T3's control in CA mode. The exposure slider is the more useful, standing in as a more comprehensible EV adjustment.

Viewfinder. One of our frequent complaints about the lower end of the Rebel line has been their very tight viewfinders. The Canon T3 unfortunately continues this trend, with a viewfinder magnification of only 0.8x, actually just slightly tighter than that of the XS before it. It also has a narrower diopter adjustment range of just -2.5 to +0.5 diopters, down from -3 to +1 diopters in the Rebel XS. Coverage accuracy remains at about 95%, though, which is pretty typical for consumer SLRs. It's a pentamirror design, so isn't as bright as models using a pentaprism, but those are largely restricted to enthusiast and professional models.

The viewfinder status readout is a pretty standard one, retaining the full-time ISO display we saw on the XS, but now with an upgrade to Canon's current standard 9-AF point autofocus system, vs the 7-point one on the XS. The points are arranged in the traditional Canon diamond-shaped array, covering a good portion of the frame.

Feature guide. The Canon T3 is an entry-level model, but many novices might find the array of buttons on its back intimidating. To address this, Canon has implemented a Feature Guide that briefly displays text on the LCD screen describing the effect of an option you've just selected.

The new Feature Guide text appears whenever you select a Quick Menu item, explaining the function of that option. Feature Guide text also appears whenever you rotate the Mode Dial to a new position, explaining in plain English what each item does.

Other than the newly-added Feature Guide displays, the Canon Rebel T3's user interface very much follows the Canon standard, seen on all their SLRs from entry-level to high-end pro models. A tabbed interface provides quick access to four screens of record-mode settings, two for playback, three for setup, and a My Menu mode where you can collect frequently-used settings for quicker access. The left-right arrow keys select between menu tabs while the up/down arrows move the cursor within the page. Pressing the Set button chooses an option and ultimately selects your setting choice there as well. It's a very clean interface that manages a large set of options without seeming overly cluttered.

Live View. Of course, the Canon T3 offers Live View mode, something that will seem more familiar for the entry-level user accustomed to framing images on their digital camera's LCD display. As with many of the other features now included on the Canon T3, it seems pretty full-featured as Live View modes go. You can move the AF point around, switch between Contrast-detect and Phase-detect (Quick AF) modes, and even zoom in to 10x. Activating it is as easy as pressing the Live View/Record button on the back.

While it might be more familiar to point & shoot users stepping up to an SLR for the first time, I really recommend against using Live View as your default shooting mode with the Canon Rebel T3. Normal through-the-eyepiece mode is much more responsive, and you'll find it easier to hold the camera steady when it's braced against your face. Live View mode also gobbles battery life, typically cutting the number of shots per charge by more than half. Use Live View mode if you need to shoot from an odd angle, like holding the camera over your head in a crowd, or for determining manual focus precisely when using a tripod.

Video. The Canon T3 delivers good, basic video recording at 720p/30fps.

Movie mode. The Canon T3's video recording capability is a huge upgrade from the Rebel XS, which had no such option. By current standards, movie recording is fairly basic, in that the camera will only record 1,280 x 720 pixel high definition video, at either 25 or 30 frames/second, with no options for Full HD or VGA capture. Exposure and focus control capabilities are relatively limited. That said, it's a good basic capability, great for casual "video snapshots." Movie files are saved as .MOVs, using the MPEG-4 format.

By default, autofocus happens only before you start recording, however it's possible to configure the T3 to allow single contrast detection autofocus operations during video capture, albeit with visible hunting around the point of focus, and autofocus motor operation being clearly audible on the resulting video clip with the standard kit lens. Before capture commenced, I found myself using the phase detection-based Quick AF mode to set focus for movies, as this was far faster than Live or Face Detect focus modes, and didn't really interfere with my recording at all, since once capture starts the T3 will automatically restrict itself solely to contrast detection AF. In Quick AF mode, the camera briefly drops the mirror to set focus using its normal phase-detect AF system. Live and Face Detect modes determine focus using the much slower contrast-detect method. I rarely used Live AF mode before capture, but sometimes found Face Detect mode useful, as long as I had a relatively patient subject.

Movie mode. A few of the Live views, including Record, and the various Quick Menu options.

Video exposure control on the Canon T3 is entirely automatic; the camera sets shutter speed, aperture, and ISO automatically. There's one nice touch, though: While it doesn't let you adjust the video exposure settings (see the T3i for that), if you half-press the shutter button while you're recording, it'll show you the exposure values it's currently using for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Even if I can't change them, I really like knowing what the camera is using for exposure settings. If you've enabled autofocus with the shutter button during capture, you can configure the T3 to temporarily disable AF while holding in the Autoexposure Lock button, allowing you to view this exposure info without triggering an AF operation.

Like most Canon SLRs, the Canon T3's video exposure curve is weighted heavily towards shutter speeds proportional to the frame rate. That is, it will adjust the aperture and ISO as needed to maintain a 1/30 or 1/25 second shutter speed across a wide range of light levels. Only in extremely bright lighting will the shutter speed get much shorter than 1/30 second, and then only if the lens can't be stopped down any more. There are both pros and cons to this approach. The main reason Canon probably does this is that shutter speeds close to the frame rate produce much smoother-looking motion than do shorter ones. High shutter speeds will produce sharper-looking individual frames (because there's no motion blur), but the video will look very choppy to your eye when played back. Another positive consequence of the Canon T3's video exposure curve is that the camera will generally be using a very small aperture, so the greater depth of field will compensate quite a bit for the lack of live autofocus. On the other hand, you won't be able to use a shallow depth of field to isolate your subjects, and the very small apertures used in bright light can result in softer images, due to diffraction limiting.

Overall, the Canon T3's movie mode provides good, basic movie recording that's likely to meet the needs of most consumers for casual recording: If you need full manual exposure control or an external audio input jack, look to the T3i instead.

Flash. Like all Canon consumer SLRs, the Canon T3 has a pop-up flash, with an X-sync of 1/200 second and a guide number of 30 feet (9.2m). The Canon T3 also has a hot shoe, where you can attach accessory flashes, all the way up to the 580EX II.

The Canon T3's pop-up flash is in most respects similar to its predecessor's, but the button that deploys the pop-up flash head has moved to the right side of the T3's top panel, just behind the shutter button and command dial. We like this location a lot, as it's very easy to drop your index finger back to pop up the flash, and then back forward again to trip the shutter, all without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. With no screen-printed label, newcomers to the T3 may well miss the button's existence initially, though.

Adjusting flash exposure isn't very obvious, but not as bad as on some earlier models. The Quick Menu is the easiest place to make the adjustment; just hit the Quick Menu button, and use the arrow keys to get to the flash exposure adjustment option. This is dramatically better than the earlier Rebel XS, which required you to dive several levels deep in the Record Menu to make adjustments. The old method is still there, buried a couple of levels deep in the second Record menu screen, but the Quick Menu means you can ignore that now.

While it offers a lot of control options, we were disappointed to see that the Canon T3's flash has less range than that on the older XS or, for that matter, most of the rest of Canon's SLR lineup. Where most Canon consumer SLR models have a flash guide number of 43 feet at ISO 100, the Canon T3's is only rated 30 feet. You can of course boost flash range by shooting at a higher ISO setting, and the Canon T3's images at high ISO are clean enough to do this with some abandon. Still, we'd like to see this number more on par with Canon's other consumer SLR models.

New flashes. At the same time as launching the Rebel T3 and T3i, Canon also announced two new flash strobes, both probably designed to appeal more to the Rebel T3i user than the T3 user. The 270EX II is an upgrade to the 270EX introduced with the T1i, and still zooms and tilts vertically for bounce flash. Changes include a more prominent LED ready lamp on the back, as well as a Slave setting, so it can serve as a small slave flash, activated by the Canon T3i's built-in flash, or by any other compatible flash in the Canon wireless flash system. (Unfortunately, the Canon T3 has no wireless flash system, but if you have a 580EX II mounted on the Canon T3, it will remote-control these flashes.) When used in wireless mode, the Canon 270EX II can only serve in A group, and responds to all channels. It comes with a small foot to hold the flash, as well as attach it to a tripod. The Canon 270EX II can also serve as a remote control for the T3i, but as we already mentioned, the Canon T3 doesn't have a infrared wireless remote port. Still, it's a nice little lightweight flash that doesn't make the Canon T3 into a cumbersome beast like some flashes can do. It runs on two AA batteries and retails for US$169.99.

The second new flash, the Canon 320EX, takes a retro approach to flash design, while simultaneously acknowledging a new need among the latest digital SLRs: It includes a very bright LED for shooting video, something the Canon T3 does have. The LED covers the area of a 50mm lens on a full frame sensor, or 32mm on an APS-C sensor camera like the T3. The color temperature range of the LED varies from 4,500 to 6,500 Kelvin, at 75 lux. It offers up to 3.5 hours of continuous shooting and has a range of 1 meter at ISO 3,200 with the lens at f/5.6.

The 320EX bridges the gap between the 270EX II and the 430EX II above it by also offering a manually zooming flash head that swivels and tilts for bounce flash. On the back, instead of a convoluted digital interface, you'll find analog switches for setting up the 320EX as a wireless slave flash. Just like the 270EX II, the 320EX can also serve as a wireless infrared remote trigger. The Canon 320EX runs on four AA batteries and retails for US$249.99.

Lens. Canon's EF-S 18-55mm lens included in the T3 kit is a revision of the last image-stabilized version. Now called the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II, the new lens now claims up to four stops of stabilization effectiveness, and has a "leathertone" texture. The new lens is also available for sale separately, priced at around US$200.

Storage and battery. The Canon T3 can accept SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards, as well as Eye-Fi wireless cards. The camera uses a new LP-E10 battery which is CIPA rated to 700 shots per charge. Unlike the Rebel XS, the Canon T3 can not accept a battery grip, so there's no way to extend battery life without exchanging battery packs, and nor is it possible to have duplicate controls for portrait-orientation shooting.

Availability. The Canon Rebel T3 with the 18-55mm IS II kit lens shipped in early March 2011, priced at approximately US$600.

 

Canon T3 Shooter's Report

by Mike Tomkins

Having spent a couple of weeks with the Canon T3, I've found it to be quite an enjoyable camera to shoot with, bearing in mind that it's primarily a budget-conscious model aimed at the entry level photographer. Despite my larger than average hands--I'm a little over six feet tall--the T3's body was relatively comfortable whether shooting with a single- or double-handed grip. That said, I did find myself wishing for somewhat of a deeper handgrip, as my fingers felt a little cramped when shooting single-handed. That probably led me to shoot two-handed more often than I'd typically do, the better to avoid my fingertips being pressed into the body on the inside of the grip. Although there's no mistaking the plastic body for what it is, it feels impressively solid and free from panel flex or creak, and so I'd see the material choice therefore as a very acceptable tradeoff that has allowed a worthwhile savings in both weight and cost.

The main controls were positioned comfortably within reach of my forefinger or thumb, although for my own preference, the Main dial could use being angled forward rather more. As is, I felt it a little awkward to roll without adjusting my handhold, perhaps in part due to its very firm detents. The ISO button's new location on the rear panel makes a lot of sense to me, given that you must be looking at the LCD display to see the selected value, and I very much appreciated Canon's decision to vary the button shapes and sizes. Not only does this give the T3's body a more modern feel, but it also makes it much easier to identify buttons by feel alone, once you've learned the layout. (Although I didn't have the opportunity to try this, given that we're in the height of a sweltering Tennessee summer, it strikes me that the larger button sizes would make them easier to press with gloved fingers, as well.)

High ISO performance is much improved over the Rebel XS, but the best results are had when shooting raw. At ISO 2,000, this shot taken five minutes after sunset is quite clean, but the raw version shows that quite a bit of fine detail is lost to noise processing. (Pay attention in particular to the right-hand side of the "basketball", which is textured like the real thing.)

I wasn't quite so thrilled by the new viewfinder, however. Perhaps I've grown accustomed to shooting with enthusiast cameras, but looking through the T3's viewfinder feels a little bit like looking down a tunnel. While that's not surprising given that this is an entry-level camera, the fact remains that this is a new viewfinder design, and yet has taken a slight step backwards from that in the preceding Rebel XS model. Not only has magnification just slightly reduced, but perhaps more importantly, the dioptric correction range has also fallen. While that didn't affect me personally--my uncorrected eyesight is pretty good--it was an issue noted in our preview by IR publisher Dave Etchells, who found that the T3 couldn't quite compensate for his 20/200 nearsightedness, requiring him to keep his glasses on even when glare from ambient light would ordinarily persuade him to do otherwise. On a positive note, though, he also found that the smaller viewfinder and reasonably high eyepoint meant that he didn't have to mash his eyeglasses quite as much in order to see the whole field of view.

On a positive note, though, the Canon Rebel T3's low-light capabilities are much improved over those of its predecessor. The Rebel XS's maximum sensitivity limit of ISO 1,600 equivalent was on the low side even when that camera first shipped three years ago, and feels positively anemic by modern standards. The Canon T3's upper limit of ISO 6,400 equivalent, while it doesn't quite match the maximum available from its entry-level competition, no longer feels limiting. Personally, I found everything up to ISO 3,200 to be very usable straight out of the camera, and even up to the ISO 6,400 limit, good results were possible, although I generally preferred to shoot in raw and spend a little time in Photoshop for the best results. There's even more of an advantage when comparing the XS and T3 with each camera's standard kit lens mounted. While our sister site, SLRgear, has yet to complete thorough testing of the updated EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens, subjectively I found its image stabilization capabilities quite impressive, letting me hand-hold shots that I'm not confident I could've achieved with the previous version of the lens.

Shooting low to the ground was the only way to get the framing I wanted for this golden hour shot. That wouldn't have been possible using the viewfinder, but the live view mode saved the day, even without an articulated LCD.

Newcomers to SLR photography will likely gravitate to the T3's live view mode, if they've grown up shooting at arm's length with a compact camera, and even without an articulated LCD I certainly appreciated it myself. I find myself using live view most frequently to shoot over my head or low to the ground, getting shots I simply couldn't manage with my eye to the viewfinder. The T3's LCD panel has wide-enough viewing angles that I can get at least an idea of my framing even from a fairly extreme angle. The 10x magnification function makes manual focusing pretty easy, despite the LCD's relatively low resolution. Unfortunately, while I found the Rebel T3's live view mode to be pretty reliable in terms of achieving a focus lock, except for extremely low-contrast subjects or in low ambient light, the contrast detection autofocus system felt slow enough that I generally ended up disabling it altogether in favor of phase detection and some extra mirror flipping.

While the T3's movie capture capabilities don't rival those available from enthusiast cameras, they're a huge step forward from the Rebel XS, which didn't offer video recording at all. For its target market, the ability to capture 720p high-def movie clips is likely enough to satisfy most customers, while the ability to control exposure, audio levels and the like would probably be overkill. I must admit I'm a little surprised that Canon didn't include the ability to record standard-definition video, though. With social media being such a big deal these days, it seems to me that the ability to record longer clips at lower resolution while retaining manageable file sizes conducive to online sharing would be a bonus. (And frankly, it would also help hide any slight issues with the subject moving away from the point of focus, given that the T3 doesn't provide continuous autofocus during video capture.) Single autofocus operations are available during capture if you enable the relevent menu option, and while I didn't find this to be very useful given the relatively slow speed, hunting, and intrusive autofocus motor noise with the kit lens, some consumer videographers will probably still welcome the ability. (If nothing else, it lets you quickly adjust focus without stopping recording, and then the AF operation can be excised from the video clip in post-processing.)

Lots of detail is available from the T3's sensor, even if it lags somewhat behind its more expensive siblings in terms of pixel count. In this shot of Knoxville's Federal Courthouse, each and every brick is clearly defined.

The most important issue for my money is the relatively slow burst shooting speed when shooting raw images, coupled with the T3's limited buffer depth. My reflexes aren't quite what they used to be, and I find a swift burst shooting function can be very helpful in making up for my deficiencies in this area. If you're shooting in JPEG mode, things aren't all that bad, with three frames per second for around 17 frames, but as soon as you switch to Raw shooting, the speed drops significantly to two frames per second, and the buffer fills after just the third frame. If you're a belt-and-suspenders type who favors Raw+JPEG, there's effectively no buffer at all -- a single frame fills the available memory, and you have to wait three quarters of a second until you can capture the next frame. From there, you can capture another frame every 1.5 seconds, effectively making Raw+JPEG shooting unusable for anything even moderately fast-paced. If you want to shoot sports in RAW mode, you'll want up to one of Canon's more advanced models, and family documentarians with hyperactive kids may also want to look towards a more sophisticated camera.

White balance was generally fairly good, other than indoors where it tended to be on the warm side, as shown in our testing. Shooting around sunset, though, I found it to yield rather erratic results. The images just seconds before and after this one had the same framing, but a much more neutral look. Of the three, this frame captured the golden hour look much better, in part thanks to a little negative exposure compensation.

There are a couple of other points that might persuade some users to look higher up Canon's model line, but at the entry level, I think that either is arguably of minimal importance. The Rebel T3 lacks spot metering, and more experienced shooters may mourn its absence, but I must admit that I don't find myself using it terribly often -- exposure compensation generally suffices, especially when I can immediately review my results alongside both luminance and RGB histograms. Of more concern is the lack of any mechanism for removing dust from the image sensor. The T3 does include an antistatic coating on the low-pass filter that attempts to prevent dust sticking in the first place, but should a stubborn dust particle adhere above the sensor's surface, the T3 lacks Canon's piezoelectric system that--in the company's other recent SLR models--shakes dust free with a burst of high-frequency vibration. Instead, the T3 relies solely on the ability to map the locations of dust particles, then retouch them from images in post-processing. I'm of two minds about this design decision. On the one hand, I'm sure it's helped Canon to hit its price-point with the T3, and many owners will likely never remove their kit lens, making dust reduction a moot point. If, on the other hand, you're purchasing the Rebel T3 expecting to take advantage of the ability to change lenses, then like any such camera dust is eventually going to become an issue, and you're going to end up having to clean the sensor manually. It strikes me that--for users really taking advantage of their camera--it's thus at the entry-level where a built-in dust removal system could prove of the most benefit, saving entry-level photographers from having to step outside their comfort zone to clean the sensor manually, or at least allowing them to go a little while longer in between manual cleanings.

With any camera, though, the most important feature has to be its image quality, and here I feel that Canon's done a pretty good job with the T3. There are some slight quirks, especially with indoor white balance, but they're easily worked around. With good glass, the Canon T3 is capable of great results, especially considering that it is, after all, an entry-level model. Even at its highest ISO sensitivity, it can yield quite usable prints at up to 11" x 14", and at ISO 800 or below you can expect to manage prints up to 20" x 30", or smaller sizes with generous room for cropping. Given that the Canon T3i kit costs half as much again as the T3, photographers who don't have the need for even larger print sizes--and who can live with the T3's sedate burst-shooting capabilities--will find much to love for an entry-level pricetag. For many consumers, the savings in cost compared to the T3i could bring a second lens within reach, providing an alternative to the kit lens. That could let them really take advantage of one of the main benefits of an SLR camera compared to compact and bridge models, and might well prove the smarter choice, rather than going for a more capable body with only one kit lens.

 

Canon Rebel T3 Image Quality Comparisons

Most digital SLRs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so I like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. I also choose 1,600 because I like to be able to shoot at this level when indoors and at night. Note that these crops have been updated from a production version Canon T3.

Note that these images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction, and are shot using reference lenses so that image quality is directly comparable and not limited by kit lenses.

Canon T3 versus Canon XS at ISO 1,600

Canon T3 at ISO 1,600
Canon XS at ISO 1,600

Comparing the T3 to its immediate predecessor shows several interesting things. First, the top images shows how much more resolution the T3 has with its 12-megapixel sensor over the 10-megapixel XS, which you can see by the larger image size. Next you see how much more aggressive the noise suppression is, especially with the chroma noise in the background. The T3 still maintains good detail, even noticeably better detail in the mosaic image. But that noise suppression fairly destroys the detail in our very difficult-to-render red leaf swatch.


Canon T3 versus Canon T2i at ISO 1,600

Canon T3 at ISO 1,600
Canon T2i at ISO 1,600

The T3 has noticeably less resolution than the T2i, but detail and image quality are pretty similar. It's no surprise that the red leaf fabric looks a little better on the T2i, as that sensor has more pixels on the job of interpreting the data. Both do a pretty poor job on that target, but a very good job with the rest of the detail in the shot.


Canon T3 versus Canon T3i at ISO 1,600

Canon T3 at ISO 1,600
Canon T3i at ISO 1,600

Again, the T3 has noticeably less resolution than the T3i, but the T3 comes out looking pretty good, pixel for pixel.


Canon T3 versus Nikon D3100 at ISO 1,600

Canon T3 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D3100 at ISO 1,600

Shadow noise suppression seems about on par with the D3100, with a little more contrast. The mosaic image looks more contrasty too, with better detail. But the Nikon D3100 does better with the red leaf swatch.


Canon T3 versus Pentax K-r at ISO 1,600

Canon T3 at ISO 1,600
Pentax K-r at ISO 1,600

The Pentax K-r is a good price match with the Canon T3, and image quality is pretty similar. The T3 has more contrast and slightly greater detail. The K-r also has a tough time with the red swatch, and renders the pink cloth beneath it with more magenta than it should. Pretty comparable though.



Detail: Canon T3 vs. XS, T2i, T3i, Nikon D3100 and Pentax K-r

Canon T3
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Canon XS
ISO 100
ISO 1,600
Canon T2i
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Canon T3i
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Nikon D3100
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Pentax K-r
ISO 100
ISO 3,200
Detail comparison. Looking at the black and white detail crops at both ISO 100 and 3,200 shows us a little more about the various sensors. The relative difference between the T3 and XS in terms of resolution isn't as great as the difference between 12 and 18-megapixels, to be sure. While you get hints of the lines inside the letters on the label at both 12 and 10-megapixels, you can see them well-defined at 18 on the T2i and T3i. Bottom line, the T3 is more on a level with the K-r and D3100 than the T2i and T3i, and it has some pretty dramatic oversharpening when compared to the D3100 and K-r, especially around the red letters.

 

Canon T3 Print Quality

Excellent 20x30-inch prints at ISO 100; Good 16x20-inch prints at ISO 1,600; and even ISO 6,400 shots are good at 11x14 inches.

ISO 100 shots look great printed at 20x30 inches, with good color and sharp detail.

ISO 200 images also print well at 20x30 inches.

ISO 400 shots show similar detail at 20x30 inches, but start to soften in reds just slightly.

ISO 800 images are a bit soft at 20x30, but still quite usable. Reds are softer than other low-contrast detail areas.

ISO 1,600 shots finally break down the low-contrast red areas and other detail enough that it's time to reduce print size to 16x20 inches. The red areas don't recover enough with this reduction, but other elements do, as is common.

ISO 3,200 files look better printed at 13x19 inches, and though chroma noise is blotchy in the shadows, it's not too detrimental to the image. Reduction to 11x14 removes their influence.

ISO 6,400 images are quite usable at 11x14.

Overall, the Canon T3's images look quite good printed. The trouble with our red-leaf swatch is pretty common, so no surprise there. A camera that prints 20x30-inch images from ISO 100 to 800 is doing quite well, and even its top ISO setting produces a good quality image at 11x14! Not bad at all.


See below for our conclusion; be sure to check the other tabs for detail test results.

 

In the Box

The Canon T3 kit contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories



 

Canon T3 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Good ergonomics; varied button-shapes make it easy to operate by feel
  • Solid build for a plastic-bodied camera
  • Generally good image quality for its class
  • Reasonably wide sensitivity range for an entry-level model
  • Excellent detail from RAW files
  • Accurate color
  • Creative Auto mode replaces photo jargon with easily-understood terminology
  • Generous exposure compensation range
  • Peripheral Illumination Correction reduces vignetting
  • Highlight Tone Priority works well to protect highlights
  • Auto Lighting Optimizer works well to improve exposure in some situations
  • Very good battery life
  • High-def movie capture with single AF operation during capture
  • Control dial is very stiff, and not ideally angled for comfort
  • Flash button is easy to miss, since it lacks a screen-printed label
  • New viewfinder has slightly less magnification, much narrower diopter adjustment range
  • Very warm auto white balance when shooting indoors
  • Burst speeds lower than typical from competing entry-level cameras
  • Even slower burst shooting in raw mode, positively glacial in raw+JPEG, with small to nonexistent buffer depth
  • No in-camera correction for chromatic aberration or geometric distortion
  • Weak flash, by SLR standards
  • No spot metering
  • No ultrasonic sensor cleaning
  • Minor chroma noise and demosaicing errors in fine detail such as hair
  • Doesn't support a portrait / battery grip

Although it occupies the entry-level position in Canon's SLR lineup, the Rebel T3 has a fairly rich feature set, and offers a significant step forwards from the earlier Rebel XS. Handling is good, with a comfortable grip, although those with larger hands may find the handgrip just slightly shallow for their liking. The main controls are well located, and an array of large buttons of varying shape make it easy to operate the camera by touch, once you've had a little while to familiarize yourself with the layout. As you'd expect of a consumer-oriented camera with what--by SLR standards, anway--is a relatively compact body, the number of external controls isn't excessive, and there's quite a bit of button-sharing going on, but the key exposure variables can all be adjusted without needing to enter the menu system. Friendly touches like the Quick Menu's Feature Guide help less experienced photographers build the confidence to leave their manual at home.

The lack of a mechanical dust reduction system is initially somewhat of a surprise, but in some ways does make sense. While it's entry-level buyers who're most likely to feel out of their depth with sensor cleaning, they're also more likely than most to leave the kit lens on their camera at all times, buying a DSLR for its handling and large-sensor image quality, rather than for the ability to change lenses. Likewise, the rather anemic burst-shooting speed and depth in raw mode can to some extent be overlooked, given that typically consumer behavior will be to shoot JPEGs most of the time, if not exclusively. The T3's new viewfinder is a rather more significant disappointment. We don't like to see specifications being reduced in a newer camera, but that's what has happened here. To be fair, the decrease in magnification is only slight, but the same can't be said of the reduced diopter correction range, and this change may well cause some eyeglass-wearers to look to a different camera.

At the end of the day, however, SLR image quality is probably the main reason an entry-level buyer is looking to step up from a compact or bridge model, and here the Canon T3 does a pretty good job. With the exception of a rather warm auto white balance in indoor shooting, the T3's accurate color and good detail make for generally pleasing results. While the T3's sensor resolution might not rival that of more expensive cameras, it matches its main entry-level rivals, and offers plenty of opportunity for generous print sizes, or a fair degree of post-capture cropping to fine-tune your framing. Compared to its predecessor, the Canon T3 has also taken a very worthwhile step forwards in terms of high ISO performance, not to mention the addition of high-def movie capture capabilities.

Overall, the Canon Rebel T3 offers a fairly compelling package for amateur photographers looking to step up to their first SLR, and some existing Rebel owners may also find the T3 to be a worthy upgrade. More experienced shooters, however--especially those who tend to shoot exclusively in raw format--will want to look at alternatives with greater burst-shooting performance. To be fair to Canon, though, they're not really the target market for this camera. For the entry-level buyer wanting to step up to an SLR for the first time, the Canon T3 offers a pretty compelling package that earns it 4 out of 5 points and a Dave's Pick.