Canon EOS 600D review (Rebel T3i review)
Canon EOS 600D review - Performance
If you were expecting a shiny new AF system, then you'll be disappointed, with the Canon EOS 600D sticking with the tried and tested 9-point phase-detect AF system used in previous models. The nine points are grouped relatively tightly together in the centre of the frame in a diamond formation; with the central AF point the only cross-type variant sensor, being sensitive to both the horizontal and vertical.
Focus selection is carried out by hitting the AF point selection button, then using the control wheel or d-pad to select your desired AF point, and while you may find the central-bias of the AF points restrictive when mounted on a tripod, it'll focus with not much fuss, with hardly any over- or under-focus issues - even with non-central AF points. While it's a solid system, it does feel a touch unsophisticated compared to rivals the Panasonic LUMIX GH2 and Sony Alpha a55. These offer much more in the way of AF speed and focus-tracking, leaving the system in the Canon EOS 600D to appear a little outdated and slow.
With the exception of the screen - more on that in a moment, the Live View system is remarkably familiar to that of the 550D. You've got two main options when it comes to focus - there's Quick mode, using the 9-point phase-detect system already discussed, but the feed is cut when focus is being acquired and the default setting, Live mode. This uses contrast-detect AF, allowing you to move the AF ‘box' round the majority of the screen via the d-pad, though you can't focus right up to the edge of the frame.
There's also the option to set it to Face Detect Live mode, and to toggle between the 3 AF Live View options, you can either dive into the main menu or hit the Quick menu button during Live View. If you're using manual focus or just want to confirm AF, then the 5 and 10x zoom feature via the magnifying/AF point selection button is very handy. In operation, and in Live mode, focus is relatively good if there's a decent amount of contrast in the scene, but can struggle in limited contrast scenes, slowly trying to obtain focus. For a DSLR, the system works well, but there's no getting away from the fact that compared to the Live View system found in the LUMIX GH2 (or the G2 for that matter), and it's excellent touch screen and responsive AF, the EOS 600D struggles to mount a challenge.
The 3:2 aspect ratio screen delivers the goods however. Thanks to it being the ratio as the sensor, images during playback or during Live View fill the screen perfectly (assuming you're using the native 3:2 aspect ratio of the chip), so no black borders running along the top and bottom of the screen. That's not forgetting one of the key differences that sets the Canon EOS 600D apart from the EOS 550D, the vari-angle screen. It offers pretty much identical control to the screen found on the 60D, allowing it to be pulled and angled into a range of positions, while the screen can also be stored facing the camera for extra protection.
The viewfinder doesn't offer quite 100% coverage, down to 95%, so you may have to be cautious when framing and reviewing images as it's surprising what can creep into the frame in that extra 5% that you can't see. The viewfinder, with a magnification of 0.85x, is good for a camera of this class, and while the optical viewfinder utilized here easily beats an electronic equivalent, it can still feel a touch cramped when you peer through it.
The Canon EOS 600D's burst rate of 3.7fps isn't going to set any records, loosing out to both the LUMIX GH2's 5fps and the Alpha a55's impressive 10fps (though that's in Speed Priority mode). Set to continuous drive mode, the EOS 600D can shoot 6 Raw files consecutively, while it was able to shoot over 100 JPEG files continuously.
Finally, a quick word on the new Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II kit lens that's bundled with the Canon EOS 600D. Incorporating a built-in anti-shake system (IS), the lens is a cosmetic update to the previous model, with the internal lens construction remaining the same. That said, the lack of USM (Ultrasonic) motor that features on a lot of Canon's glass means that there can be some audible noises as the lens focuses.