BUILD AND DESIGN
The T3i has a composite body with the deeply sculpted handgrip and overall shape we've come to expect from a modern DSLR. The camera appears well built, with materials, fit and finish in keeping with its price point.
Ergonomics and Controls
Overall, the body falls into the smaller end of the DSLR size spectrum, with dimensions of 5.2 x 3.9 x 3.1 inches. With my average-sized hands the top of my middle and ring fingers just touched the base of the lens mount during shooting, so clearance may be a concern if you've got large hands or fingers. My shooting finger fell naturally to the shutter button and there are patches of rubberized material on the handgrip, thumb rest and left front/side of the body, but I'd like it to be a bit tackier. The little finger of my right hand ended up curled beneath the body since it fell somewhat uncomfortably on the bottom edge of the handgrip when shooting.
Controls are fairly straightforward but somewhat redundant, with a "Q" button bringing up the quick control screen to allow control of shooting functions including white balance, auto focus, drive mode, exposure compensation, aperture/shutter speed, picture style settings and ISO sensitivity. The white balance, auto focus, drive mode and picture style settings all have dedicated cross keys, and there are aperture/exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity buttons as well.
The aperture/exposure compensation button handles exposure compensation in most manual modes, but in full manual, it actually takes you to aperture. Shooting mode determines whether the various dedicated controls or the quick control screen actually allow you to input settings - the automatic modes are largely preset and offer little in the way of user input, but the T3i departs a little from the typical auto mode script as we'll see in just a bit.
Menus and Modes
Menus are simple and intuitive, and vary in complexity based upon shooting mode. The automatic modes have six pages of menus divided equally among shooting, playback and setup. Manual modes offer four pages for shooting, two for playback, three for setup and a single "my menu" page. In camera post processing options are limited with the T3i, consisting of resizing and the ability to apply creative filter effects to existing images.
There are fourteen shooting modes available in the T3i, including video capture, and to simplify the discussions of individual modes I'll preface that discussion by mentioning that the user can set image quality for every shooting mode:
I mentioned "ambience" being a user-available setting on most of the automatic shooting modes, and this is where the T3i allows a bit more user input to modes that traditionally were quite limited. Here's a brief summary of how it works. Turning the T3i mode dial to "landscape" gives us this screen:
After about 5 seconds the first screen turns to this one:
Pushing the "Q" button gives us this screen:
Which turns into this one after about 5 seconds:
Pushing the "set" button gives us this screen:
And we can use the cross keys to scroll to other choices and select them with the "set" button. There are "darker" and "monochrome" ambience settings if you scroll down past "brighter".
Here are the standard, vivid, warm and intense ambience settings all shot in landscape mode.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the T3i has a 1.04 million dot composition, is adjustable for 7 levels of brightness and offers nearly 100% coverage. More significantly, the monitor may be swung out from the camera body through 180 degrees of motion, rotated through about 270 degrees and can be stored facing the camera body for protection when not in use. The ability to adjust monitor angles is an advantage when shooting video or live view stills in bright outdoor light, but even then, there are times when image composition is difficult under these conditions.
The monitor rang up a 444 nit peak brightness score and 779:1 contrast ratio - a bit under the 500 nit threshold that seems to characterize monitors that do better in bright outdoor conditions, but solidly near the top of the 500-800:1 contrast ratio. In practice, I found the T3i monitor usable to about the same degree as other entry level DSLRs, although as mentioned above the articulating nature of the monitor is a plus.
The T3i viewfinder offers about 95% coverage and has a diopter adjustment for varying degrees of eyesight. The 95% coverage means some objects that were not visible in the viewfinder will find their way onto the edges of frames in the actual captures.
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