Canon T2i owners are probably wondering "didn't we just do this?" Practically a year to the day after their camera was introduced as the new flagship of the entry-level Rebel line, Canon is back with a new entry-level flagship, the EOS Rebel T3i. The two cameras share a number of features, including DIGIC 4 processors, 18 mega pixel resolution sensors, a 9-point autofocus (AF) system and 3.7 frame per second (fps) continuous shooting rates.
Camera body dimensions are virtually the same and there's a few ounces difference in weight, but the T3i distances itself a bit from the T2i by virtue of 1080 HD video (versus 720 HD) and an articulating 3.0-inch high resolution monitor instead of the fixed version on the T2i. The T3i also includes a new Scene Intelligent Auto shooting mode not found in the T2i as well as a Feature Guide offering short descriptions of various camera functions. But make no mistake, these two siblings are more alike than not.
The T3i is offered as a body only or in kit form matched with either Canon's 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II zoom or the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom - our review unit is the latter. My first morning with the T3i dawned grey and foggy but I headed to the beach anyway. The 18-135 gives the T3i about a 29 to 216mm focal range in 35mm equivalents, a nice range but on the short side for the surfers I usually shoot with a 400mm lens.
Here's where the 18 megapixel resolution of the sensor comes into play a bit, allowing fairly aggressive cropping while still retaining good image quality for printing. The T3i follows Canon DSLR practice of producing a 72 dpi file, so re-sizing to 300 dpi for printing results in a file size of about 17.28 x 11.52 inches. Here's an original at that size and the same shot cropped to 12 x 8 at 300 dpi.
The T3i starts up quickly (Canon claims 0.1 second) and auto focused quickly for stills in the morning gloom, but the same could not be said for AF in video capture. The T3i was reluctant to acquire focus for movies in the gloomy morning light, in some cases settling into a series of going back and forth from close focus to infinity without acquiring. The T3i uses contrast detection for video AF and apparently didn't have the contrast it needed at the beach. In better conditions it acquired focus fairly consistently, if a bit slowly. We'll shoot a lot more video to try and get a better feel for the AF performance in movie mode. I also noticed a bit of light falloff in the corners of frames shot at the telephoto end of the zoom, so that will get some closer scrutiny as well. Ergonomics seem good.
Image quality and color fidelity looked pretty good at default settings, although the auto modes may be just a bit soft for my liking. Some added sharpening in the manual modes may be needed, but the T3i does quite well right out of the box and will probably satisfy most users as is.
Shutter lag (what there is of it) is good. AF tracking of moving subjects (gulls) in continuous shooting was pretty good in aperture priority with some settings changed from default.
In short, nothing really troubling reared its head in my first outing with the T3i - it acquires and shoots promptly and produces good still and video image quality in most cases. I've barely scratched the surface of the basic functions of the T3i so there's a lot of features to check out, but based on one day with the camera the T3i looks to be worthy of being anointed the latest Rebel fleet flagship. Our full review of the T3i will follow in the not too distant future.