Announced back in February 2011 along with the T3i, the Canon EOS Rebel T3 is the lesser-featured half of this duo: "only" 12.2 megapixels on the sensor; "only" a 3 frame per second (fps) continuous shooting rate; "only" 720 HD video.
And an MSRP $300 less than the T3i. You can get your hands on a T3 with the 18-55 stabilized kit lens for only $600. Here's the view at both ends of the kit lens:
Wide angle, 18mm
The T3 has a native 100-6400 ISO sensitivity range, Canon's current generation DIGIC 4 image processor and a 1.6x crop factor thanks to its APS-C CMOS sensor. As is customary with an entry-level DSLR, a variety of scene modes complement the traditional manual shooting exposure options. Somewhat disappointing was the inclusion of a 2.7-inch LCD monitor in a camera slightly larger than the Nikon D3100 with its 3.0-inch screen.
The T3 undercuts the D3100 by $100 on the MSRP front, but anything less than 3.0-inches on a DSLR monitor seems dated.
The T3 continues one of my usual Canon gripes - files are output at 72 dots per inch (dpi) which results in an image size of almost 60 x 40 inches, making them hard to view in e-mails. You have to resize to send reasonably viewable shots, or resize to make good prints. At least one other Japanese camera company outputs their stuff at 300 dpi - perfect for printing at least, but you'll be resizing for e-mail.
Moving past image size, the T3 seems to acquire focus at entry-level DSLR speed, and shutter lag seems DSLR quick as well. AF tracking on some gulls during a dawn patrol shooting session at the beach went pretty well with the 9 point AF system set to "AI Servo." And while the 18-55 lens (shooting at about 29 to 88mm in 35mm film equivalents) won't get you close to distant subjects at the telephoto end, it's slightly wide and covers the 85mm focal range that was the starting point for the 85 to 135mm range that 35mm film photographers tended to favor for portrait work.
The T3 has a macro scene shooting option (which tends to set apertures at/near wide open), but the 18-55 lens will focus as close as 9.8-inches across its focal range, so setting apertures via aperture priority to pick up a tiny bit more depth of field is also in play.
Still image quality at default settings looks good; video seems okay for 720 HD resolution, but I didn't get a chance at any good video subjects for this first look. CMOS sensors bring up concerns about rolling shutter effect during video capture, and that's one of many areas we'll explore in shooting a lot more still and video with the T3 for its complete review. We'll have that review in the near future, but so far the T3 seems like a pretty good performer overall.