BUILD AND DESIGN
Built of composite materials, the T3 sits toward the smaller end of the DSLR size universe dimensionally - 5.1 x 3.9 x 3.1 inches. The deeply sculpted handgrip design and overall control layout is typical for the class as a whole.
Ergonomics and Controls
The handgrip area and camera back are covered with a rubberized material, but there's very little difference in feel between it and the hard plastic portions of the body. The little finger of my shooting hand curls under the body, with the thumb and shooting finger aligning nicely with the thumb rest and shutter button, respectively. Clearance between the handgrip and lens barrel is fairly good for my average sized hands.
Controls are fairly mainstream DSLR, with all shooting options located on the mode dial. There are dedicated playback, menu and display buttons on the camera back, along with cross keys for ISO, white balance, drive mode and AF mode, respectively. Video capture is accomplished via another dedicated button on the camera back, and a quick control button offers user inputs depending on the particular shooting mode.
Unfortunately, Canon provides only a basic printed user's manual with the T3 and this manual doesn't cover operations such as changing the picture style parameters with regards to sharpness, contrast, hue, or saturation for folks who choose to shoot in the manual modes. This process turns out to be fairly intuitive, particularly if you pay attention to the small print on the monitor as you try to access the settings and pick up that the display button is the control you need to activate.
The problem is the T3 is quick to overlay an explanation of what the particular picture style does and this covers the camera direction to use the display button to make changes. Once you've done it a few times it becomes second nature, but trying to figure it out for the first time, in the field and without benefit of printed explanations in the basic manual proved frustrating for a time.
Canon calls the automatic shooting modes "basic zone," and activating the quick control button in some basic zone modes offers the user the ability to influence the "ambience" of the shot - deviating from the standard look of the shot to vivid, soft, warm, intense, cool, brighter, darker or monochrome variations. In "creative zone" (manual) modes, the quick control button brings up a screen displaying the current shooting settings: mode, aperture, ISO exposure compensation, picture style, white balance (WB), auto lighting optimizer, raise flash control, AF and drive modes, metering mode, image-recording quality, battery level and number of possible shots. This screen permits these settings to be adjusted, but there is a redundancy with the ISO, AF, drive and WB functions, and not for the better. These four settings are changed more quickly by using the dedicated cross keys rather than bothering with the quick control screen.
Menus and Modes
Menus are simple and fairly straightforward, and vary in number depending on basic vs. creative zone modes. Basic zone mode menus tend to consist of two pages of shooting, playback and set-up, respectively; creative zone menus run to four pages for shooting, two for playback and three for set-up. Creative zone modes also offer a "my menu" option not found with basic zone modes.
Shooting modes are typical entry-level DSLR, offering manual controls along with automatic and some scene-specific options to ease the transition trauma for long-time point and shoot users moving into their first DSLR.
The 2.7-inch LCD monitor has a 230,000 dot composition and is adjustable for seven levels of brightness. Coverage is approximately 99%. In our studio testing the monitor recorded a 473 nit peak brightness, just below the 500 nit threshold that generally delineates better monitor performance outdoors. Contrast ratio was a fairly high 1006:1 - and in my experience camera monitors with lower peak brightness values and higher contrast ratios seem to be a bit easier to use in bright outdoor light. In practice, the T3 monitor was fairly usable outdoors, although the right combination of sun angles could still play havoc with image composition.
The monitor must be used for video capture, but the viewfinder should be everyone's method of choice for still image capture in most cases. And while most of the T3's current competition carries identically sized 2.7-inch monitors, these cameras are for the most part earlier generation models. At least one competitor has had the last two generations of its entry-level model with 3.0-inch monitors, despite the fact that the overall camera body size is slightly smaller than the T3.
The viewfinder features a diopter adjustment for eyesight and while its coverage is about 95% (thus leading to things creeping into the captured image that weren't visible at composition), the use of the viewfinder has significant power savings over the monitor for still image capture. The viewfinder image was OK - not the largest or brightest ever, but serviceable in an entry-level unit.
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