A Camera For Everyone? The Canon Rebel T3i - still selling Big Time after all these years


posted Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM EDT


You all know that we here at The Imaging Resource love cameras, and every manufacturer has at least a few true gems out there for all of us to fall for. But every now and then a camera seems to transcend time and the current market and, well, simply stays current long after being past its proverbial prime.

This era's shining example of that phenomenon is the Canon Rebel T3i, a camera that debuted almost 3 years ago (nearly ancient in technological time) and yet is still wildly popular with the camera-buying masses. For the calendar year 2014 thus far, the T3i is one of IR's top ten most read about cameras. (Yes, top ten!) It is higher than the Panasonic GX7, the Nikon D610 and even Canon's own highly touted 5D Mark III.

It beats the Olympus E-M1, the Sony A58 and the sleek little Canon SL1. It has twice as many landing page views as the Canon T5i, two generations newer down the line. It beats the Canon EOS M, the Canon 6D and the Canon S120, all popular for the manufacturer, but apparently not nearly as popular (at least not on this site) as the good ol' T3i.

Want more? Go to Amazon.com and search for Digital SLR... as of today the first two results are for the Canon T3i. Click "All DSLRs" at BestBuy.com and you get as your very first buying option... the Canon T3i. Click "Digital SLR" at B&H Photo and, you guessed it: the Canon T3i.

Pardon the expression but... What is Up? This seems almost luny. It's three years old! And while the US is still more enamored with DSLRs than the Asian market according to recent studies, it's still above and beyond what I'd consider normal in an industry where change is constant.

Oh, not that we don't respect the T3i, far from it. One of our senior editors from yesteryear thought it was better than sliced bread and finally broke down and bought one for himself (after it had already been replaced by the oft' forgotten T4i). I asked him why and he said without hesitation: "It's all I need and nothing more." ...Hmmm.

Our senior lens technician for many years, Jim Tanner, now retired and shooting away tells me that the T3i is still his "go-to camera." I asked him why: "It hits the sweet spot for just about everything that matters to me in a camera. I've found it to be just the perfect all-around shooter for my style." This is coming from a guy who has been an active photographer for five decades and has owned a dozen full frame bodies over the years, both film and digital.

Canon Rebel T3i - sample gallery image [© Imaging Resource]

OK, so it hits the sweet spot. Well, if a long-time senior editor and a long-time senior lens technician both love it, that should've been enough to satisfy my curiosity, right? But it wasn't, and this quest for an answer was stalled. In desperation I went to our two resident "Canon" guys here at IR and they just looked at each other conspiratorially, smiled, shrugged at me and walked on.

Now I was really stalled. That is, until we started working with a new writer, Rob Taylor-Case, and he just happened to mention in passing that he owned not one but TWO Canon T3i's that currently reside in his household, both a his and a her model (so that nobody has to 'fight over the baby' so to speak). I'll let Rob tell you in his own words how he feels about this now almost legendary camera:

"It's simple. You just can't go wrong with the T3i. It's a fantastic little camera.

Does it have the most megapixels? No. (Do megapixels even matter anymore?) Does it have the most dynamic range? Ha! ...not by a long shot, if DxO Labs are to be believed (and I assume they are). Does it have the biggest sensor? Nope, just regular APS-C. How about control scheme...it must have the best control scheme, right? No again! That honor tends to go to cameras with both D-pads and thumbwheels (or both in one, like the 5D Mark III). Well, how about autofocus or frame rate? Nope, still slow at both.

So, it basically wins at nothing. How then is it so monumentally popular? Because it does one thing perfectly: It is, above all things, a camera. A camera for everyone. It is incredibly easy to pick up, throw into Av mode and use without thinking. But if you put it into the hands of an advanced pro, it will still be sufficient (if, perhaps, not ideal) for their needs, whether they typically shoot with a 5D Mark II, a PhaseOne IQ180 or a RED EPIC. It sits right in that sweet spot of "good enough."

Why do I have two in my house? I used to shoot with an EOS 40D. I love that camera, it's a classic APS-C like the 5D is a classic full-frame. Magnesium body, thumbwheel before they were cool, etc. And yet... The T3i ended up taking over first-body duties from it. Slowly at first, but before too long it was a complete turnaround.

Canon Rebel T3i - sample gallery image [© Rob Taylor-Case]

What actually happened was that my wife bought herself a T3i body a couple of years ago. When I arrived on this side of the pond for good a year or so ago, it was all very exciting, but I figured I wouldn't be using it much anyway. However, at one point I had to do video for a job. Well of course, the 40D doesn't do video, so I needed to borrow the T3i. For another job, I needed more macro capability, and having the extra resolution (18MP vs 10MP) allowed for greater "digital zoom" in post. The swivel LCD allowed me to shoot from unusual angles, or experiment with lighting setups on myself without having to run back and forth to the camera. Then I needed the higher ISO performance (It's generally pointless turning the ISO on the 40D up above ISO 320). You get the idea. Eventually, it was basically my camera.

In order to prevent the aforementioned "fighting over the baby", a couple of months ago I replaced my wife's T3i with a brand new one (since I'd put several thousand shutter actuations on hers), plus the new Canon kit lens and additional accessories (as interest payment). Why didn't I spring for a T5i, or even an SL1, at this point in late 2013? Honestly... there's just no need. The T3i is technically a very capable camera, and for the price, it's unbeatable. Hunting around or waiting for holiday sales should net you the body and 18-55mm kit for about $450. Even typically, it retails for around $450-500 body-only.

So not only does it sit in the sweet spot of "good enough" technically, but even in a depressed global economy, $450 is a perfect price for such a competent piece of hardware. It's hard not to justify the price bump over the T3/100D at around $350, which, while a competent camera in its own right, lacks the extra features that make the T3i reside in the sweet spot it occupies.

Whenever people have asked me about APS-C bodies, whether for stills or video, I've pretty much always steered them towards the T3i, and advised using the savings vs. a 60D or 7D for some good quality glass since, to a remarkable degree, it's really all about what goes in front of the sensor. It's ideal for video, has all the settings someone might need whether they're recording baby's first steps or entering Sundance.

From my experience with our two scrappy little underdogs, it's as close as I've ever seen to a DSLR with character."

Canon Rebel T3i - sample gallery image [© Rob Taylor-Case]

Well, that pretty much summed it all up for me. I now had three experienced and trusted photographers using phrases like "It's all I need..." and "It just hits the sweet spot..." and "You just can't go wrong with the T3i." As Rob also remarked to me in passing, perhaps the T3i marks the arrival of a sort of technological plateau in the industry... the point at which hobbyists, enthusiasts and even some professionals find is enough to suit their needs and therefore decide to stop racing for more of this or that bell or pixel and spend their hard-earned money instead on lenses, lights and travel.

What do you think? If you own a T3i, we'd love to hear your take on this discussion in the comments below! And for anyone perplexed about this phenomenon, let us know your take as well. Do the honest and experienced perspectives above make you yearn to own one for yourself? Or do you think the camera world is suffering from some sort of mass delusion?

Camera fans: Weigh in and Ye shall be Heard!

And if you decide to purchase a T3i (or any camera for that matter) please click on one of our  purchase links from our T3i review which helps to support this site and allows us to keep bringing you great review content!

[Special thanks to Rob Taylor-Case for co-writing this article... Look for more pieces on our site from Rob in the months to come!]