Baffled by the Canon T3 vs T3i question?
Now that you’ve decided to take the plunge and get yourself a digital SLR, and you’ve decided that you want to go with a Canon, the question becomes: which one?
If you are still debating between Canon vs Nikon, check out our in depth guide here.
If it’s a question of Canon Rebel T3 vs T3i, then read on.
With Canon’s DSLRs, even the entry level is going to get you a great camera, so cost can often be the driving factor. It’s important, then, to look at the specs of one camera versus another, and see whether the more expensive cameras features merit the extra costs.
Let’s focus—no pun intended—on Canon’s two cameras at the bottom of their line (and understand that “bottom” is not a negative judgment, but is only being used relative to the cameras at the top of the line). With a significant difference in sticker price between the two, it’s worth taking a look at the Canon Rebel T3 vs. T3i.
The similarity between the two model numbers should tell you something about the cameras themselves: in many ways they are identical, or their differences are so slight as to be negligible. Rather than sit here and tell you about all the features they have in common, and there are many, it’s better to zero in on where they differ. Then you can better decide whether the price difference is worth it.
T3 vs T3i: What are the Differences?
Image Resolution & Megapixels
The biggest difference, the one that you yourself will most likely scrutinize, is megapixels. It’s a common misconception to think that the more megapixels a camera is capable of, the higher the quality of photo it takes. This may have been true when the choice was between a 1 and 3-megapixel camera. But when you’re looking at the Canon Rebel T3 vs. T3i, capable of 12.2 and 18 megapixels respectively, it’s simply not the case.
The T3 captures 12.2 MP vs 18 MP for the T3i
This is because what megapixels most affect is how large a photo can be printed before a loss in quality. A 1.3 megapixel photo will print out in perfect high resolution at a size of 3×4; larger than that is where a loss of quality becomes apparent. For the average amateur, taking photos of family or vacation destinations, or even taking stabs at fine art photos, 8×10 is generally the largest size they’re aiming to print.
Both the T3’s 12.2 megapixels and the T3i’s 18 are more than able to handle that. The maximum hi-res print size for a T3 is 9.5×14.3; a “normal” resolution photo print can go as large as 19×28.5. Assuming you want to go higher than a 8×10, ask yourself how large you want your prints to be. Again, the average amateur is never going to need to get poster-sized prints of the family vacation.
What do you see as your primary use for the camera? The fact is, unless you’re looking to go the fine art or photojournalist there’s simply no need to spend the extra cash for 18 megapixels. In fact, the amateur rarely has a need for 12.2, either, so it simply doesn’t make sense to throw down an extra $150 for another 6 megapixels that won’t benefit you in the least.
The next differentiating factor when looking at the Canon Rebel T3 vs. T3i is the autofocus capability. They both have 9 autofocus points; in both cameras, 8 of those AF points work on a horizontal line. In the T3, the center focus point uses a cross type sensor, meaning it focuses on both a horizontal and vertical plane simultaneously, increasing the chances of a perfectly focused subject. The key difference is that the T3 is vertical line sensitive at f/5.6, and the T3i has an f/2.8 sensitivity. Again, if none of this makes sense to you, then it’s likely a feature that isn’t applicable to your needs. There’s a whole separate article that could be written solely about what all this means, but for our purposes let’s keep it simple.
If your lenses open to f/2.8, the T3i offers better superior autofocus capability
There’s just one thing you need to consider: what kind of lenses do you see yourself using with your new camera?
If you’re considering a Canon digital because you’ve already got a bunch of EF lenses, which are compatible with all of Canon’s digital offerings, check out the maximum aperture for them. Do any of them open up to f/2.8? If they do, then the T3i’s f/2.8 vertical line sensitivity is worth the price difference.
You’ll get superior autofocus performance in a wider variety of situations, most notably with moving targets like your children or pets. Lenses with a maximum aperture of 2.8 are called “fast” for a reason: they let in more light and allow for proper exposure at faster shutter speeds. You’ll want your autofocus system to keep pace with your lenses.
If you’re starting from scratch, though—meaning you’ve got no lenses already, but plan on upgrading over time—then you’ve got consider what type of lenses you see yourself buying. For the amateur who probably doesn’t see -herself buying a full frame camera body in the future, you’ll want to stick with Canon’s EF-S lenses, which only work with the APS-C entry level cameras.
Of the 9 lenses in the EF-S line, only 1 opens up to 2.8—the 60mm macro lens—and you won’t be using it in any high-speed context. Macro subjects don’t move, as a rule. In this case, the T3i’s Autofocus system is pure overkill.
Vari-Angle LCD: T3i’s Clear Winner
For the most part, we’ve seen so far how some of the tech specs on these cameras can be misleading. It’s counter intuitive that some of the more advanced features of the T3i don’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up with better, higher quality pictures. But there are two areas where the Canon Rebel T3 vs. T3i comparison makes a clear winner out of the T3i, and they’ve got nothing to with megapixels or image quality or ISO or shutter speed.
T3i’s Vari-Angle LCD offers much greater flexibility
The first is the T3i’s Vari-Angle LCD. On the T3, the LCD monitor is a static object on the back of the camera. On the T3i, however, the Vari-Angle monitor can swung out on a hinge, and then pivoted 360 degrees around. What makes this feature so desirable is how it enables you to get shots from many different angles without having to contort your body in funky ways.
For example, if you want to photograph a child, your pictures will be much more compelling if you get the camera down to their level. Without the Vari-Angle LCD, that means lying down on your stomach, or squatting, or any number of uncomfortable and awkward positions.
The LCD on the T3i enables you to avoid all that—just swing the monitor out away from the camera, and tilt it so it points upward. Then you need only lower the camera down to the child’s level while looking down at the monitor. There’s dozens of ways that this monitor makes shooting easier, and it might seem like a luxury. But once you’ve used it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
Self Cleaning Sensor: T3i trumps T3
Finally, the T3i has one major feature that the T3 lacks, and it’s an important one: a self-cleaning sensor.
The sensor is arguably the single most important element of a digital camera. When the shutter opens and light pours through the lens, the sensor is what collects that light and organizes it into a picture before saving the image as a JPEG or RAW file. And it is inevitable that dust will get on the sensor.
Dust particles effectively block light from hitting the sensor, and result in blemishes on the final image. Dust has always been a problem with SLRs, digital or otherwise. But back in the days of film, if dust got in the camera it would settle on a single frame of the film roll, mess up the picture and then that was that. You wound the film to the next frame, and the dust particle was gone.
With digital, the sensor is the film, and once dust lands on it, it’s there till you clean it off. With the T3i, every time you turn the camera on or off, ultrasonic vibrations shake the dust off the sensor and onto an adhesive strip just below. The T3 offers no such thing, and though it is possible to clean the sensor manually, I find it’s always best to just leave your sensitive electronics alone if at all possible.
In the battle between Canon’s T3 vs T3i, we side with the T3i!
The comparison of the Canon Rebel T3 vs. T3i is a tricky one, as we’ve seen. It’s easy to get dazzled by numbers and specs and to adhere to a bigger-is-better philosophy when drawing comparisons. But it’s important to look at these things critically.
As we’ve seen, for an amateur photographer who just wants to take high quality photos, the differences in camera specs don’t always make a compelling case for spending that extra money. It’s the less sexy items, like a swing out monitor and self-cleaning sensor, that can—and sometimes should—drive the decision on what to purchase.