Canon EOS Rebel T3 Review
by Jim Keenan -  7/15/2011

Announced in February 2011 along with the more fully featured Rebel T3i, the EOS Rebel T3 slots into the middle of Canon's entry-level DSLR lineup based on MSRP. The T3 features a 12.2 megapixel CMOS sensor and improved DIGIC 4 processor, a nine point auto focus (AF) system with a single center cross-point sensor and a 100-6400 ISO sensitivity range.

Canon EOS Rebel T3

A 1280 x 720 HD video capability is on board and still image continuous shooting rates are up to 3 fps. The camera uses a 63 zone dual-layer metering system for exposure calculation and you can review your results on a 2.7-inch LCD monitor. The T3 offers a range of scene-specific shooting modes in addition to the obligatory manual modes, along with RAW, JPEG or RAW/JPEG image capture options.

Canon has also included a new EOS Feature Guide "...with an enhanced Quick Settings Screen that now includes detailed descriptions of camera settings. The EOS Feature Guide is designed to help first-time users and beginning enthusiasts better understand each camera setting with descriptions and guided recommendations for when to utilize certain settings. Along with an explanation of camera settings and modes, the Feature Guide includes easy-to-understand directions of how to use particular settings such as aperture adjustment in Canon's Creative Auto mode."

Memory media compatibility is SD/SDHC/SDXC. The T3 will be available as a kit, paired with Canon's new EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II zoom lens. Here's the view at each end of that zoom:

Canon T3 Sample Image
Wide Angle
Canon T3 Sample Image

Canon includes an eyecup, camera strap, battery and charger, interface cable, basic printed user's manual and CD-ROM software in each kit. The camera is also compatible with Canon's full line of EF and EF-S lenses.

The T3 is coming with us on our drive to Florida for the last space shuttle launch, STS-135 with shuttle Atlantis. With the 18-55 as its only lens, the T3 will be spending launch day in the hotel, but we'll find plenty of work for it coming and going from Cape Canaveral. So, off to Florida and Go Atlantis!

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.

Canon EOS Rebel T3

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.

Canon EOS Rebel T3

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 EOS Rebel T3

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.

Canon EOS Rebel T3

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.

The T3 is a pleasant camera to use in kit form - the camera is relatively compact and light for a DSLR and carrying it around is an easy task. Overall performance is in keeping with an entry-level unit, but there is at least one performance parameter that illustrates that DSLR technology is inexorably moving forward, and even at the entry end of the product universe this rising tide of technology is lifting all boats. More on this later.

Canon T3 Sample Image Canon T3 Sample Image
Canon T3 Sample Image

Shooting Performance
The T3 powers up in about 0.1 second - not long, to be sure, but just slow enough to register as not seeming to be DSLR quick. Shutter lag proved to be 0.03 seconds, about par for the class, and in fact the T3 seemed to shoot promptly when asked. AF acquisition times seemed a hair slow compared to other entry level units I've reviewed and the T3's 0.25 seconds came in last in our field of four entry level contemporaries. That speed will seem like lightning to folks moving into a T3 from a compact and it's quite fast, just not quite as fast as the other guys.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Canon EOS Rebel T3 0.03
Nikon D3100 0.04
Sony Alpha SLT-A55V 0.04
Pentax K-r 0.04

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon D3100 0.14
Sony Alpha SLT-A55V 0.16
Pentax K-r 0.19
Canon EOS Rebel T3 0.25

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framereate*
Sony Alpha SLT-A55V 17 10.8 fps
Pentax K-r 29 6.4 fps
Nikon D3100 24 3.1 fps
Canon EOS Rebel T3 3.0 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Single shot-to-shot times are basically as fast as you can shoot, re-focus and shoot again. The T3 can shoot at up to 3 fps in continuous shooting and capture a maximum burst of 830 JPEG images - I quit at 20 and am inclined to take Canon at their word on this one. Things come back to earth quickly with RAW images - Canon claims a maximum burst of 5 and only 1 for a RAW/JPEG combo. Canon does say that with regard to the RAW/JPEG combo, while the camera will say "busy" after 1 shot, you can hold the shutter button down and continue to capture RAW/JPEGS at about 0.8 fps. I tested the T3 with a 16GB class 10 SDHC card (30MB/sec) and found burst performance a bit better than advertised with regard to RAW only, and about as advertised with RAW/JPEG. If you're going to shoot a lot of continuous RAW captures spending a bit more money for a faster memory card might be worth the cost.

The nine point AF system on the T3 did a fairly good job of tracking moving subjects with the camera set for single point autofocus and AI Servo tracking. This setup makes the center point the primary focus point but allows surrounding points to pick up the autofocus function should the center point slip off of the subject. You can actually set any of the nine points as the primary focus point but because the center point is a cross point sensor using it as the primary insures that focus acquisition will be better for both vertical and horizontal format subjects. And for those of you who feel a nine point auto focus system is definitely an entry-level standard, I would hasten to point out the Canon's 60D prosumer model also carries a nine point system.

Canon T3 Sample Image Canon T3 Sample Image
Canon T3 Sample Image

Back in the monitor - viewfinder section, I suggested using the viewfinder was the way to go with the T3 because of significant power savings involved with its use: battery life is listed as approximately 800 shots using the viewfinder, but this figure slumped to about 240 if the monitor is used for composition and capture. Shoot with the viewfinder and a single battery on the T3 may last an entire day; use the monitor and you'll need several batteries to get you through an entire day shooting.

The built-in flash on the T3 has a guide number of 30 feet at 100 ISO; with maximum apertures of f/3.5 and f/5.6 at the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the lens respectively, this translates into a maximum flash range of about 8 1/2 feet at wide-angle and about 5 1/3 feet at telephoto. Flash recycle time is listed as approximately 2 seconds, and in my experience this proved to be fairly accurate.

Lens Performance
The 18-55 zoom lens that comes with T3 is a fairly typical kit lens in performance, with its strongest feature probably being a close focus distance of only 9.8 inches across the entire focal range. Canon recommends shooting the lens at 55 mm for close-up activity and this allows you to fill the frame with subjects like flowers, in the 2 to 3 inch size. The lens displays a fair amount of barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, and a lesser, slightly noticeable amount of pincushion distortion at telephoto. The barrel distortion becomes pretty much absent at about 24mm, and the pincushion sets in well past 35mm.

At wide-angle, edges and corners appear a bit soft while the rest of the frame is fairly sharp. Telephoto looks to be a little bit better on the edges and corners and about the same in the rest of the frame. There is chromic aberration (purple fringing) present in some high contrast boundary areas at both ends of the focal range, but it is fairly well controlled in most instances and requires relatively large magnifications and close scrutiny for it to become objectionable.

Canon T3 Sample Image Canon T3 Sample Image

Video Quality
HD 720p video quality with the T3 is fairly good - and that's a good thing since the camera captures only 1280 x 720 HD; no other formats need apply. Video capture requires setting the mode dial to movie, establishing focus either with AF or manually and initiating capture with the dedicated movie shooting/live view button on the camera back. Canon recommends a class 6 or better memory card for movie capture. There is no continuous AF function to track moving subjects, but you can enable the camera to permit autofocus using the shutter button during the course of video capture. However, you can't capture a still image during video capture. The camera will record sounds of lens zooming and stabilization functions if enabled and is also wind sensitive. Clip length is 29 minutes and 59 seconds or 4GB, but camera overheating may stop the video capture process before either figure is reached.

Sample Video Download

There is a degree of rolling shutter effect present with fairly modest panning speeds - a bit more noticeable than other Canons I've reviewed recently. Even so, T3 video performance shouldn't be a deal-breaker for anyone seriously considering this camera.

Image Quality
Default image quality out of the T3 was generally pleasing as the color fidelity and upon a quick inspection suitably sharp as well. A little closer inspection of default images had me thinking perhaps a bit more contrast and sharpening would be more to my liking. The basic user's manual acknowledges that the landscape mode provides sharper and more vibrant images than the full automatic settings, and I tended to use this mode until I figured out how to adjust settings in aperture priority to boost sharpness and contrast. Here's a shot at default settings in program auto and the same shot in aperture priority with the ambience set to landscape and some additional sharpening.

Canon T3 Sample Image
Program Auto, default
Canon T3 Sample Image
Aperture Priority, landscape

The picture style color palette offers six preset color options as well as three user-defined custom settings for creative zone shooters. Here are the presets, which can be further user-modified for sharpness, contrast, saturation and color tone.

Canon T3 Sample Image
Canon T3 Sample Image
Canon T3 Sample Image
Canon T3 Sample Image
Canon T3 Sample Image
Canon T3 Sample Image

I used auto white balance for all the shots in this review and found it did a very good job overall with the exception of shooting a bit warm under incandescent light. In addition to the automatic settings there are daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash and custom settings.

Canon T3 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Evaluative metering is the default method of exposure calculation and was used to capture all the images in this review. There are also center-weighted and partial metering options, with the latter involving approximately 10% of the viewfinder at the center of the frame. The T3 seemed to push histograms toward the right side of the frame in high contrast situations, capturing a bit more detail in shadow areas at the expense of highlights.

Just as with its big brother 60D, the T3 comes with an auto lighting optimizer enabled as a default setting. And just as with the 60D, disabling this feature does not seem to impact image brightness significantly. In normal lighting conditions evaluative metering provided pleasing results.

At the top of the performance section I alluded to the inexorable creep of technology with regard to DSLRs, and nowhere is this more apparent than in noise performance of the latest generation sensors. Among the cameras I've personally reviewed, the trend started with Nikon's D7000 which boosted resolution significantly on its cropped sensor while at the same time providing improved high ISO noise performance. Next came Canon's 60D with more of the same, and now we come to the T3.

The T3 is theoretically operating at a bit of an advantage since the resolution on its sensor is set at a 12 megapixel level, while making use of Canon's current generation DIGIC 4 processor. I expected to see some fairly decent high ISO performance from the T3 and I was not disappointed.

Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 100
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 200
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 400
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 800
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 6400
Canon T3 Sample Image
ISO 6400, 100% crop

ISO 100, 200, and 400 sensitivities were all quite clean and hard to tell apart. ISO 800 showed a bit of deterioration over 400, primarily a loss of some fine details in areas such as the bear's nose. ISO 1600 showed another slight decline over 800, with a bit more grain showing up in printed areas and more loss of fine details. Things are much grainier at 3200, and fine details are beginning to smudge, but the image quality is certainly usable for small prints and possibly even a bit larger. ISO 6400 takes a dramatic turn for the worse, with some colors beginning to lose their luster, increased graininess and smudging and fine details. Still, usable for Internet and perhaps even small print work.

Additional Sample Images

Canon T3 Sample Image Canon T3 Sample Image
Canon T3 Sample Image Canon T3 Sample Image
Canon T3 Sample Image Canon T3 Sample Image

With the introduction of the T3, Canon lists no fewer than six Rebel cameras in their total DSLR pool of thirteen models. The T3 fits into this hierarchy near the bottom of the pile with an MSRP of only $50 more than the cheapest model, the Rebel XS. Canon's entry-level model fleet spans an MSRP range from $550-$900 and includes offerings with sensor resolutions of 10, 12, 15, and 18 megapixels.

The T3's relatively bargain price buys you very good entry-level DSLR still image quality and very good 720 HD video quality. The camera is relatively compact and light and with the kit lens is easily portable on day-long shooting sessions. Battery life for those daylong sessions is adequate assuming you use the viewfinder and not the monitor for image composition and capture.

The camera starts reasonably quickly and shutter lag is average for the group as a whole. Auto focus acquisition times are fairly quick but at the slow end of the spectrum with regard to direct competitors. The short close-focus distance of the kit lens gives the T3 a decent macro shooting performance. High ISO noise performance is competitive with the best of the current generation cropped-sensor cameras.

In short, there's a lot to like with the T3 performance and not much to dislike. Image files are output at 72 dots per inch, which means you'll be resizing to send e-mails or make prints, and providing a printed user's manual that covers all camera functions rather than just the basic ones shouldn't be too much to ask, even for a camera in the lower echelon of the product line.