The Canon EOS 1100D (Rebel T3) builds upon the previous EOS 1000D (XS) release. But just how good is the 1100D (T3)? Can it be crowned the king of entry-level DSLRs? The What Digital Camera Canon EOS 1100D (Rebel T3) review…
Canon EOS 1100D Review (Rebel T3 Review) – Features
Entry-level or budget DSLR cameras haven’t been a particular area of focus for a number of years. The emergence of the 1100D (Rebel T3) comes some two and a half years after the 1000D (Rebel XS) and looks to up the ante against the likes of the Nikon D3100 and Sony’s increasingly-prominent range of Alpha DSLRs.
Under the 1100D’s hood there’s an updated 12.2MP CMOS sensor, raising the resolution slightly over the previous 1000D’s 10.1MP capacity. A shrewd move, we feel, given that so many other manufacturers are cramming megapixels onto sensors at the cost of image quality. Coupled with the latest DIGIC 4 processor and sensitivity from ISO 100-6400 this should mean the 1100D (T3) is one fairly mean beast not to be messed with.
Elsewhere the 1100D (T3) ups the ante in the autofocus (AF) department by offering a 9-point system that adds an extra two points at the (horizontally) wider ends of the array compared to the previous 1000D’s 7-point system. A single f/5.6 sensitivity cross-type sensor features in the centre for enhanced sensitivity when shooting in both portrait and landscape orientation.
On the rear of the 1100D (Rebel T3) is a 2.7in, 230k-dot LCD screen – perhaps a bit of a shame that it’s not larger and more resolute, as this really is the current minimum you’d expect on a DSLR. A button on the rear pops the camera into live view for a real-time screen preview and, with the camera set to Movie mode, it’s now possible to capture 720p HD video.
Above the 1100D’s screen is an optical viewfinder that offers 95% field of view and a 0.8x magnification for a reasonable physical size. The field of view represents the percentage of the final image that you can frame up in the viewfinder, i.e. there’s 5% missing that will appear in the final captured image (very common for budget DSLRs).
The 1100D (T3) also has some slightly more advanced features such as A-DEP that looks at the subject to obtain a foreground through to background focus by auto-setting aperture and ISO, or the CA mode that helps to simplify background blur control using a five-level slider. There’s also a cable release option for those looking to make long exposures without touching the camera. Even the white balance mode has the ability to adjust for magenta/green and blue/amber casts and has an auto-bracketing option not seen in other entry-level models.
Canon EOS 1100D Review (Rebel T3 Review) – Design
Perhaps the 1100D’s (Rebel T3’s) weakest area is its overall look and feel. The body is a very smooth plastic and the grip is the very same finish, plus the latest 18-55mm lens isn’t the most fluid of zooms. It doesn’t have the overall textured look and feel of something like the Nikon D3100. Furthermore the SD card slot shares the battery port at the base of the camera – a pain should you want to swap cards when the camera’s mounted on a tripod.
Control-wise and the 1100D (Rebel T3) is, in general, laid-out sensibly, despite some small quibbles: the front-mounted thumbwheel is right behind the shutter release which does mean your finger has to move from one to the other rather than resting and waiting on the shutter (as it would with a rear-mounted thumbwheel). Also, as per many Canon DSLRs, the top mode dial has a ‘start’ and ‘end’ position, i.e. it cannot rotate freely through its full circle. Plus there’s no one-touch button to shoot movies, instead the proper Movie mode needs to be selected from the top mode dial before the live view button can then double-up as the record start/stop.
The majority of the 1100D’s (T3’s) other options are easy to select by using the Q (Quick Menu) button to access on the rear screen as a control panel. Chopping through these settings using the d-pad and adjusting them with the thumbwheel makes perfectly good sense and it’s good to be able to see all your settings simultaneously on the screen itself. Other controls, such as exposure compensation, exposure lock and AF-point selection each have their own individual control buttons that are particularly useful for speedy adjustment. For harder-to-find options the interior menus are divided into sections to make it easier to search-out what you’re hunting for.
With many competitor manufacturers getting involved in Guide-type modes, Canon hasn’t really let loose and delved head-strong into this area apart from the CA (Creative Auto) mode. This sets out to simplify background blur, drive mode, flash and Picture Style. Elsewhere there are some other nods to visual aides and written descriptions when adjusting the mode dial, plus there are compact-like scene modes on the top dial itself.
Canon EOS 1100D Review (Rebel T3 Review) – Performance
Fire up the Canon EOS 1100D (Rebel T3) and the AF system is clearly a winner. Put this side by side to the Nikon D3100 and it’s the Canon that’s far more decisive, quicker and, therefore, better overall. There’s the occasional struggle owed to low-contrast subjects, but generally the 1100D (T3) is a real winner here. Flip the camera into its live view mode, however, and things do slow down a fair bit. Think EOS 450D speed – good to have but not super-fast by any means. It’s an area where the Sony A390 and it’s Quick AF Live View, for example, far exceeds the Canon’s live view capability. But as to how much this will matter depends on what sort of photographer you are.
The 1100D (T3) can shoot Raw (CR2), JPEG or both Raw + JPEG files simultaneously at an apparent three frames per second (3fps). However, the moment a Raw file is popped into the equation it won’t be able to even nearly shoot this quickly and, using a Panasonic Class 6 Gold SDHD card, one frame followed by a slight delay before a long pause meant no more than two shots could be reeled off in succession. Switch down to JPEG-only mode, however, and we fired off 31 frames at a true 3fps before there was any sign of slowdown.
The latest Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens features as an 1100D kit option, though it does have its limitations. During focusing the lens emits a very high-pitched hum (it’s due to the image stabilisation system – you’ll need super-sharp hearing for it, but it’s definitely, and annoyingly, there) and the lens barrel itself isn’t the sturdiest of offerings – it feels like a basic lens. The stabilisation and manual focusing switches on the lens barrel itself are very useful however.
One slight oddity is Canon’s preference to use a 2.7in, 230k-dot LCD screen. We were anticipating at least a 3in model and preferably a higher resolution to set a new benchmark for the budget market. In use the screen is fine but is particularly prone to reflecting sunlight and, therefore, doesn’t have an especially good angle of view out of doors. Of course, being a DSLR, the optical viewfinder is a great help for framing, although it can only be used for shooting, not playing back images as per an electronic viewfinder.
For low-light shooting the 1100D (Rebel T3) provides an AF-assist lamp that illuminates poorly-lit subjects. It’s supported by a pop-up flashgun (now with a lesser guide number (GN) of 9.2 compared to the 1000D’s (XS’s) GN 13) that can also be a help for fill flash and other scenarios. A hotshoe flash can also be mounted and Canon’s E-TTL II (Electronic Through The Lens mk II) system can be utilised for automatic control.
Canon EOS 1100D Review (Rebel T3 Review) – Image Quality
Canon EOS 1100D review: Tone & Exposure
The latest 63-zone iFCL (intelligent Focus Colour Luminance) exposure metering does a very fine job indeed of exposing scenes. Even bright skies didn’t entirely dominate the scene, ensuring there’s enough detail throughout. Should you wish to pep-up a shot’s shadow areas a little more then a three-level Auto Lighting Optimizer will bring lower levels up for a more equally exposed result.
Canon EOS 1100D review: Colour & White Balance
Another strong area. The 1100D’s (T3’s) JPEG files straight from camera and lusciously coloured, yet retain a good depth to blacks. The lower ISO settings maintain the punch of realistic colour up until ISO 800 (thereafter there’s some loss, but it’s generally still impressive). Auto White Balance also performs well, and the abundance of additional options – including manual adjustment, fine tuning and even white balance bracketing (though three frames will take some 14 seconds to process) leave you in control of your images. Add Picture Styles and there’re in-camera Black & White, Vivid and other pre-set options too.
Canon EOS 1100D review: Raw vs JPEG
The Canon EOS 1100D comes equipped with a copy of Digital Photo Professional to view and convert your .CR2 Raw files. In the immediate future there will be updates from Adobe and similar companies to allow compatibility with Photoshop and similar. The program itself is reasonable, though converting a Raw file into a JPEG can take a bit longer than a more advanced program would.
The difference between the 1100D’s JPEG and Raw files are subtle, but there are differences. Noise reduction processing does limit image noise in the JPEG files, which are also then sharpened and given a contrast boost in-camera. While this may look good straight from camera, the Raw file does provide that unedited format which has plenty more room to play with. At the upper ends of ISO sensitivity this means manual noise reduction processing can be applied in order to retain a higher level of detail overall.
Canon EOS 1100D review: ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
The 1100D (T3) handles image noise extremely well indeed. ISO 100-200 are very clean, while ISO 400 presents ever so slight loss of edge detail due to noise reduction processing. Blacks are slightly less clear at ISO 800 but still of a good quality and details are still visible. ISO 1600 is where image noise grain begins to reveal its prominence, though it’s not a particular problem and detail is still resolvable. ISO 3200 is still well-handled, though is probably the highest setting that we’d opt to use if we had to, plus subtle colour noise does begin to reveal itself. Though ISO 6400 is quite reasonably controlled the image noise becomes a distraction, limits sharpness much more significantly and colour noise starts to show more prominent visibility. All in all, ignoring any sharpness issues, the EOS 1100D’s actual noise reduction processing is very impressive indeed.
Canon EOS 1100D review: Sharpness & Detail
An area where the 18-55mm kit lens is a let down. Chromatic aberrations can be noticeable in images, particularly purple fringing around back-lit subject areas. This can in itself soften the appearance of edges. To add to this the JPEG processing loses edge detail and begins to show some signs of slight artifacting from as low as ISO 400. Softness can be an issue in some scenes, though a number of close-up
macro shots we took had a prominent point of focus and resolved
sharpness. Shots are generally decent, just not as bitingly sharp as
other EF-S lenses will allow for.
Canon EOS 1100D Review (Rebel T3 Review) – Movie/Video Mode
Canon EOS 1100D review: Movie/Video Quality
The movie clips we shot came straight from the camera as MOV files, meaning there’s no need to process files before they’re useable on a computer. Quality is good, with a rate of around 28 Mbit/sec proving quite reasonable for the 1280×720 resolution. There’s also the possibility to shoot at either 25 or 30fps for best compatibility with both PAL and NTSC (UK and USA) TVs, though no cinema-like 24fps mode available here. Although the 1100D can capture HD files, it’s the lower-res 720p rather than 1080p.
Canon EOS 1100D review: Movie/Video Record Time
The most you’ll get out of the 720p HD mode at 25fps is around the 17min mark – but that depends on what you’re shooting (it varies based on what the compression will be throughout). The higher 30fps frame rate will use up a little more space and therefore result in shorter clips. Theoretically it’s possible to shoot up to 29mins 59secs, but this won’t be realised in practice due to a maximum 4GB filesize limit (based on FAT-32 formatting limits).
Canon EOS 1100D review: Movie/Video Focusing Modes
It’s possible to activate single autofocus during recording, though we’d advise not doing so as the system is the same contrast-detection system as per live view mode. This means that over- and under-focusing are particular AF problems during recording unless, of course, you choose to opt for single fixed focus or it’s even possible to manually focus with the lens itself (though it’s tricky to hold the camera steady for the latter).
In the Menu options there’s also a Quick mode. To explain: this will quickly jump out of live view, attain focus, then jump back into live view and make recording all the quicker to jump into. When outside of live view the screen will black out, so it’s a case of trusting the focus’s acquisition. Of course this mode can only be used in advanced of capture, not during.
Canon EOS 1100D review: Movie/Video Manual Control
There’s not the ability to pre-set aperture, shutter or ISO preferences before or during recording. However, it is possible to lock the exposure using the AE button which can be particularly useful. Saying that, using the autofocus will up the exposure in order to attain better contrast and this will undo fixing the exposure (and the brightness/exposure adjustment it’ll show in real time in your final clips).
Canon EOS 1100D review: Movie/Video Sound
The linear PCM sound quality is certainly decent, though the kit lens is so close to the microphone that any autofocus sounds will be amplified to the point of them becoming the most dominating sounds. It’s not possible to utilise other microphones as there is no mic input.
Value & Verdict
Canon EOS 1100D Review (Rebel T3 Review) – Value
Gone are the days when entry-level modes were just a few hundred pounds. The Canon EOS 1100D (Rebel T3) will be £500 in the UK or $600 in the USA upon its launch. This will likely slide over time to be on a par with the Nikon D3100‘s current £450 price tag and, although there are some cheaper options out there such as the Sony A390 and Pentax K-x, neither of these offer the all-round performance and image quality combination that this latest Canon can. As much as a pricetag some £50 less would be nice, the match of performance and image quality makes it even more a worthy purchase.
Canon EOS 1100D Review (Rebel T3 Review) – Verdict
There are very few things that let the Canon EOS 1100D (Rebel T3) down. Although we’re not overly keen on some design elements, the body’s smooth plastic finish or the live view mode’s sluggish focusing, that’s pretty much where the moaning stops.
The 1100D (T3) has a whole lot of shooting options under its belt, image quality is up there with the best the entry-level market has to offer throughout the ISO 100-6400 range and the autofocus system is of a similar calibre. The combination of the two is a great mix and this essentially makes the 1100D the best current entry-level DSLR that money can buy. A better kit lens would sort out some of the imaging qualms that we do have, but the Canon EF-S fit has a huge variety on offer to get yet more out of your camera in the future.
Those looking for a slightly more ‘friendly’, easy-to-use experience may want to opt for the Nikon D3100’s Guide Mode, but those seeking an overall more advanced model will be pleased with what the EOS 1100D (Rebel T3) has to offer.