Canon T3i Review

 
Camera Reviews / Canon Cameras / Canon EOS i Full Review

Canon EOS Rebel T3i Video Recording

High-definition video capture has become a must-have feature in this year's digital SLRs, with essentially all the major manufacturers now providing some form of video capture in their DSLRs, and for a relatively affordable camera, the Canon Rebel T3i offers a fairly comprehensive video feature set. Although it doesn't provide full-time AF or priority-mode exposure control, nor variable frame rate options except at the highest resolution, it checks more boxes than do many SLRs thus far, especially at this price point.

The few omissions are easily forgiven. While the T3i lacks continuous autofocus capability during video capture, that's still relatively uncommon as an SLR feature, albeit one that's attractive for consumer videographers not accustomed to manually pulling focus. While there's no priority-mode exposure control, the T3i does offer full manual exposure control, which is arguably of greater utility, even if the videographer needs to pay more attention to correct exposure. While capture frame rate is fixed at all but the highest resolution, the T3i does at least provide all three most commonly-desired frame rates here, as well.

Add in features such as an external microphone jack, manual audio levels control, single-servo AF during video capture, and a video-only digital zoom function, and you have a feature set that offers something to appeal to both pros and consumers alike.

Canon EOS Rebel T3i Basic Video Specs

  • 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) HD recording at 29.97, 25, or 23.976 fps
  • 720p (1,280 x 720) HD recording at 59.94 or 50 fps
  • VGA (640 x 480) SD recording at 29.97 or 25 fps
  • MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 compression, .MOV container
  • Single-servo contrast detection autofocus is optionally available during recording, albeit with actuation noise levels depending on the lens used
  • Phase detection or contrast detection AF are available before capture starts
  • Manual focus also possible
  • AF point position can be manually controlled
  • Programmed-auto or manual exposure (no shutter / aperture-priority)
  • Exposure compensation and lock are available both before and during recording
  • Picture style selections provide creative options
  • Monaural audio recording via built-in microphone
  • Stereo audio recording via external 3.5mm mic jack
  • Microphone levels can be manually adjusted
  • Optional wind filter function
  • Image stabilization during video capture, if offered by lens
  • 3-10x digital zoom (available at 1080p only)
  • 2, 4, or 8-second video snapshot function creates "album" videos in-camera

Canon EOS Rebel T3i: Video Image Size, Frame Rate, and Encoding

Video capability. The Canon Rebel T3i offers only three resolution choices, but the frame rate is only variable in the highest-res mode.

The Canon T3i's CMOS image sensor records high definition, progressive-scan video at a maximum resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels with a 16:9 aspect ratio -- what's sometimes referred to as 1080p, or Full HD. Three frame rate options are available, either 29.97, 25, or 23.976 frames per second, with these options matching common broadcast television formats for the NTSCTV, PAL TV, and cinema film standards respectively, thus removing the need to transcode to the intended output frame rate after capture. The full resolution can be downsampled in-camera to produce 1,280 x 720 (720p) resolution movies, with the NTSC mode using 59.94 frames per second, and the PAL mode offering 50 frames per second. Finally, a standard definition 4:3 aspect ratio mode captures 640x480 pixel (VGA) movies, again with 29.97 frames per second in NTSC or 25 frames per second in PAL.

Individual movie clips captured by the Canon Rebel T3i are limited to a maximum of 29 minutes, 59 seconds, thanks to European tax regulations, although as it turns out, the 4GB limit on video file sizes will in practice restrict you to shorter movie clips anyway . The Canon T3i records its movies as MOV files using variable bitrate MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 compression, which is much more conservative of memory card space than the Motion JPEG format used by some cameras, and avoids some of the severe image quality loss suffered by AVCHD cameras when faced with significant amounts of change in image content between frames. (AVCHD uses a subset of the H.264 standard, among other things mandating a limit in recording bandwidth, which translates into a lesser ability to convey rapidly-changing detail.) The choice of H.264 comes with the requirement of greater processing power, though -- not only from the camera when recording, but also when playing back or editing videos. The more sophisticated encoding used in the H.264 standard requires quite a bit of processor power to pull it apart and put it back together again, so frame-accurate editing of H.264 requires a fast processor and capable editing program.

Here's a list showing what to expect for file sizes with the Canon Rebel T3i's video recording:

Canon T3i Video Options
H.264 Format (.MOV file container)
Resolution
Encoding
Frame Rate
Max. Clip Length
File Size

1,920 x 1,080
(1080p Full HD)

NTSC

30p (29.97 fps)

29 min, 59 sec or 4GB

~320-360 MB/min

PAL

25p (25 fps)
~200-360 MB/min

NTSC or PAL

24p (23.976 fps)
~190-360 MB/min

1,280 x 720
(720p HD)

NTSC

60p (59.94 fps)

29 min, 59 sec or 4GB

~220-360 MB/min

PAL

50p (50 fps)
~190-360 MB/min

640 x 480
(VGA SD)

NTSC

30p (29.97 fps)

29 min, 59 sec or 4GB

~40-90 MB/min

PAL

25p (25 fps)

Canon recommends using an SD card with at least a Class 6 rating to capture and playback movies.

Here are some examples of video from the Canon Rebel T3i, showing typical results under daylight conditions.

Canon T3i: Video Samples
(shot with EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens)
1,920 x 1,080, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(12.4 seconds, 68.5 MB)
1,920 x 1,080, 24fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(14.5 seconds, 80.4 MB)
1,280 x 720, 60fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(14.9 seconds, 81.5 MB)
640 x 480, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(12.7 seconds, 16.9 MB)
1,920 x 1,080, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(14.7 seconds, 74.7 MB)
1,920 x 1,080, 24fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(14.8 seconds, 80.5 MB)
1,280 x 720, 60fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(15.1 seconds, 78.7 MB)
640 x 480, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(13.8 seconds, 19.4 MB)



Canon EOS Rebel T3i: Video-Mode Focusing

Unlike some other video-capable digital SLRs, the Canon Rebel T3i offers autofocusing during video recording -- but only in single servo mode. You can trigger either a phase-detect or contrast-detect AF cycle either before recording, or a contrast-detect AF cycle during recording, by half-pressing the shutter button. When focusing during video capture, depending on the lens and microphone in use, and the degree of focus adjustment required, AF noise is likely to be picked up on the audio track. (With the 18-55mm or 18-135mm kit lenses, and the T3i's internal microphone, AF noise is picked up very clearly as a high-pitched whine.) You can also manually focus the lens during a recording, and the true manual operation of AF on Canon's lenses means you can do this more or less silently, simply by being careful about turning the focus ring. (Some interchangeable-lens cameras we've tested use "fly by wire" focusing, whereby the focus ring only instructs the camera to move the lens elements rather than moving them directly via a mechanical coupling, which can mean that small clicks can be heard on the audio track every time the focus setting is changed, regardless of how slowly you turn the focus ring. With true manual operation of its lenses, the Canon Rebel T3i doesn't have this problem, although it's possible that a third-party or older Canon lenses might produce audible noise while their focus was adjusted.)

As we've noted in other SLR reviews, the good news with focusing for video is that you can get surprisingly good depth of field in video mode if the lens is stopped down, thanks to the relatively low resolution of the video image. With a pixel resolution of only 2.1 megapixels even in the Canon Rebel T3i's 1080p Full HD video mode, images that would be unacceptably blurred as 18 megapixel still shots look perfectly fine as video frames. This not only provides greater depth of field at any given aperture, but is also more forgiving of diffraction limiting at very small lens apertures. Diffraction at small apertures means you'd usually want to avoid f/16 or f/22 for still images, but again, the results generally look perfectly fine at video resolutions. Given that you can manually specify the aperture, you may be surprised by how little focus adjustment is required when using a higher ISO sensitivity and slower shutter speed.

Canon EOS Rebel T3i: Video Exposure Control

Canon T3i: Aperture Control / Depth-of-Field
(shot with EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens)
Manual exposure, f/5.0
1,920 x 1,080, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(5.4 seconds, 27.9 MB)
Manual exposure, f/22.0
1,920 x 1,080, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(4.3 seconds, 23.1 MB)

Many video-capable SLRs are still limited to offering only automatic exposure control in their movie mode, but the Canon Rebel T3i goes a step further, offering full manual exposure. This means that instead of allowing the camera to adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity as needed for a correct exposure, you can manually set these variables before capture starts. However, there's no priority modes, so it's an all-or-nothing proposition: if you want to control any specific exposure variable, you must also set the others manually as well. Manual exposure control can be very useful, allowing you to bias the camera towards a wide aperture for shallow depth of field effects in bright lighting conditions, or to trade off noise levels to gain more depth of field in low light. In addition, even when letting the T3i control exposure automatically, there's a generous 5.0EV of exposure compensation available in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps, to ensure exposure is as intended, and you can use the T3i's autoexposure lock function to prevent exposure levels changing as you pan across a scene with varying ambient light levels.



Canon EOS Rebel T3i: Video Snapshot

Canon T3i: Video Snapshot
(shot with EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens)
1,920 x 1,080, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(12.0 seconds, 66.3 MB)

Perhaps the most unusual feature of the T3i's movie capture capabilities is its Video Snapshot function. In essence, this allows the videographer to make short edited movies in camera, which Canon refers to as Video Snapshot Albums, although there are a few provisos. Rather than letting you edit and combine video clips post-capture, Video Snapshot Albums are made up of short clips of predetermined length, filmed and joined together sequentially. Each component Video Snapshot can be approximately two, four, or eight seconds in length, and the clip length must be chosen before capturing the initial clip. All subsequent snapshots in a given album must have the same length, resolution, and audio settings as the initial one, with the sole exception of the last snapshot. If you stop capture of a snapshot before the predetermined clip length, then the album is closed, and subsequent snapshots will be captured as a new album. The same applies if you change the movie resolution or clip duration, enable or disable audio capture, open the flash card or battery compartment covers, disconnect the AC adapter kit (if connected), or update the firmware. You can, however, switch to playback mode to review images and movies (including partially completed Snapshot Albums), power the camera off and back on, or capture still images between snapshots. Once a Video Snapshot Album is completed, it can be played back with accompanying music in-camera, and sample music which can be uploaded to the camera is included on the accompanying EOS Digital Solution Disk CD-ROM.

In all, it's an interesting function. The ability to gradually build edited movies in-camera in a relatively straightforward manner will make it attractive to amateurs, but the inability to edit already-existing clips together after the fact may prove frustrating, as will the requirement that all clips in an album have the same length. It's also not possible to create an album that doesn't have a strictly chronological order. An example showing three clips joined in camera can be seen above.



Canon EOS Rebel T3i: Video Digital Zoom

Canon T3i: 3x - 10x Digital Zoom
(shot with EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens)
1,920 x 1,080, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(18.3 seconds, 100 MB)

The preceding Canon T2i SLR had an unusual feature called VGA Movie Crop, which allowed a fixed 7x digital zoom when recording movies at VGA resolution only. Essentially, this cropped the video stream from the centermost portion of the image frame, and saved it at 1:1 pixel resolution. The Rebel T3i drops this feature, and instead replaces it with a new Video Digital Zoom function.

Where VGA Movie Crop was available only at the lowest video resolution, Video Digital Zoom is curiously only available at the highest Full HD (1080p) resolution, and offers only a minimum of 3x zoom -- there's no way to obtain a zoom level between 1x and 3x. It's also a variable zoom, ranging from a minimum of 3x to a maximum of 10x equivalents, rather than a fixed zoom like the earlier mode. A little back-of-the-napkin math suggests that even at the lowest zoom level, there's a little interpolation going on to yield a 1,920 x 1,080 pixel video with 3x zoom from the sensor resolution of 5,184 x 3,456 pixels. By the time you reach the maximum 10x zoom, almost three quarters of the image data must be interpolated.

Where the VGA Movie Crop mode made some sense in that it didn't involve interpolation, and took its video feed from what's typically the sharpest, least aberration-prone area of the image frame, the new Video Digital Zoom function seems to make rather less sense. There's a clear degradation in video quality by the time you reach the maximum zoom level, and much the same effect could be achieved simply by interpolating the data post-capture, with either a huge savings in flash card space by recording at a lower resolution, the ability to change the crop area to provide stabilization and follow your subject around the frame, or to a lesser extent both. However, with that said, consumers shooting with camcorders have happily put up with digital zoom functions with much greater strength than this for many years, and there's no need to use the function if image quality or storage space is a concern.



Canon EOS Rebel T3i: Video Audio recording

Like most competing SLRs with video recording capability, the Canon T3i sports an internal monaural microphone that can record an audio track. Canon doesn't publish specs for the T3i's audio recording capability, though video players report monaural 16-bit PCM audio at 48 kHz. Subjectively, audio recorded with the camera's internal mic seemed clear, although we don't currently test frequency response or sensitivity, and wasn't particularly directional, picking up noise from behind the camera as well as in front. While we noticed some audible hiss in audio tracks recorded with the in-camera mic in quiet environments, it didn't seem as significant as in some cameras we've tested, and fortunately, we didn't hear any audible "breathing" from the auto-gain system adjusting sensitivity as sound levels got louder or softer.

Internal mics are somewhat problematic, though, in that they're prone to picking up noise produced by autofocus operation, control actuation, or even just moving your hands while recording. While we haven't noticed pronounced differences in how much camera-handling noise various models' internal mics pick up, they do vary significantly in terms of how much noise there is during autofocus operation, and with the kit lens, the Rebel T3i's autofocus motor noise is extremely clear indeed. Thankfully, the T3i also provides for an external mic, courtesy of a 3.5mm stereo input jack under a flap on the left side of the camera's body. Simply switching moving to a shoe-mount mic with some form of shock mount can do wonders for your DSLR audio, while moving the mic off camera at a distance can completely resolve the issue.

Another feature that can help resolve audio problems -- and one that's still relatively rare in consumer-oriented cameras -- is the adjustable sensitivity for the microphone. There are no less than 64 sensitivity levels to choose from, along with an Auto gain function, and the ability to disable audio capture altogether. The settings apply both to the built-in microphone, and to external mics. There's also an optional wind filter function which dials back low-frequency sounds, squashing wind noise, but also potentially doing the same for bass levels in captured audio.

Canon EOS Rebel T3i: Video User Interface

The Canon Rebel T3i's video mode is accessed via a dedicated position on the camera's mode dial. A dedicated Live View / Movie button to the right of the optical viewfinder is used to start and stop recording when the Mode dial is in the Movie position, and acts as a Live View button in other modes. Setting adjustments in movie mode are made via three dedicated Movie menus, which are only available when the camera is in Movie mode, although some items are shared with the Live View menu in other modes. Optionally, half-pressing the Shutter button can be configured to trigger a single autofocus cycle during movie capture. Pressing the shutter button also shows exposure variables, so if you have enabled autofocusing during video capture but want to check these variables, an option in the Movie menu allows autofocusing to be temporarily disabled by holding the the * button.

In Playback mode, the Canon T3i allows you edit out or trim the first and/or last scenes of a movie, in one second increments. You can save the trimmed movie to a new file (if there is space on the card), or choose to overwrite the original. Movies can be played back at normal speed, or in slow-motion, with adjustable playback frame rate. There are "VCR" like controls for advancing to the next or last frame, or playing from the previous or first frame.

Rolling Shutter Artifacts ("Jello Effect")

Canon T3i: Rolling Shutter Artifacts
(shot with EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens)
1,920 x 1,080, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(4.2 seconds, 21.9 MB)
1,920 x 1,080, 24fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(5.1 seconds, 27.6 MB)
1,280 x 720, 60fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(3.6 seconds, 19.4 MB)
640 x 480, 30fps
View on Vimeo | Download Original
(4.3 seconds, 5.8 MB)
(Note: The voiceover for this video incorrectly states '424' rather than '480'; apologies for the error.)

Essentially every video capable digital SLR currently on the market exhibits motion-related distortions called rolling shutter artifacts. These are caused because the image data is captured and then read off the chip sequentially by rows, rather being captured all at once. In the case of the Canon T3i, with its variable frame rate, this means that image data for the last row of a given frame is captured and read out anywhere from 1/60th to 1/24th second after the data for the top row was captured. The effect on moving objects is similar to that of a focal plane shutter in an SLR, but more pronounced, because the video frame is read out much more slowly than the slit of a focal plane shutter moves across the sensor.

For a camera that scans video frames vertically (as all do that we're aware of), rolling shutter artifacts will be most noticeable for subjects that are moving rapidly side to side, or when the camera itself is being panned horizontally. Verticals in the scene will appear tilted to the right or left, depending on the direction of camera motion. As an example, consider the case of a camera being panned from left to right, with a flagpole or other vertical object in the middle of the scene when recording for a particular frame begins: If the top of the object was centered horizontally when the first line of the video frame is acquired, by the time the last line of the frame has been captured, the bottom of the object will have shifted to somewhere left of center: As a result, the vertical object would appear to be leaning to the right.

Computer Requirements for Viewing HD Video

A typical computer these days has little trouble dealing with still images, but high-definition video can be another matter. Depending on the file format involved, it can take a pretty beefy computer to handle HD-resolution video playback without stuttering or dropping frames. The AVC / H.264 image compression used by the Canon Rebel T3i is one of the more compute-intensive formats, and its high maximum 1,920 x 1,080 pixel (1080p) resolution means there's potentially a lot of data in each frame to deal with. The net result is that you'll need a fairly recent computer to play the T3i's high-def video files, and will certainly need a quite powerful machine for video editing.

You can of course view your movies on a high definition TV via the HDMI output, or on a standard-def TV via the NTSC / PAL video output connectivity.

Print the video page for the Canon EOS Rebel T3i (EOS 600D) digital camera reviewPrint this Page

Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

Follow Imaging Resource

Purchase memory card for Canon EOS Rebel T3i (EOS 600D) digital camera
Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate