Perplexed by the Canon 60D vs T3i question?
Even as a Canon enthusiast, I have to say that they have a very frustrating line of cameras, at least in the entry level.
What do I mean by this? Well, in a lineup of 11 or 12 digital SLRs (the lineup is constantly changing: frustration #1), all but three rely on the APS-C—compact—sensor, which limits the field of view that a lens can “see.” This puts the majority of their cameras in the amateur range of products.
A professional simply isn’t going to deal with the 1.6x crop factor of these cameras—why invest in the high quality optics of, say, a wide angle f/2.8 14mm lens (sticker price of $2,359) if the resulting picture is going to look as though it were taken with a focal length of 22mm? So, it’s not a stretch to say that any of their cameras with the APS-C sensor are being marketed towards an enthusiast/hobbyist market.
When Canon released the 60D in August, 2010—at a sticker price of nearly $1,100—it represented a big step up from the T2i, then the current entry level model and gave the amateur with a little extra money to spend something to consider. Here was a consumer grade camera with some very professional features. For many, the differences were enough to merit spending the extra $500 or so. But how foolish must they have felt when, six months later, Canon released the T3i, which rivaled—and in some ways, exceeded—the 60D, for about $450 less? Sure, Canon dropped the price of the 60D significantly, from $1,099 to $899 shortly after the T3i was announced, but let’s take a look at the Canon 60D vs. Rebel T3i to see if even that price drop is worth the extra money for the 60D.
In virtually all the major specs that consumers look at, these two cameras are identical. I’ve already noted that the use the same type of sensor, but here’s what else they have in common: images at 18 megapixels; the DIGIC 4 processor; ISO range from 100 – 6400, natively, with custom functions to hit a 12800 equivalent; full 1080p HD video; and nine autofocus points. It’s this last spec that may be a bit misleading, because even though they share the same number of autofocus points, there’s a big difference hidden in there. On the T3i, only one—the center AF employs a cross-type sensor. The cross-type sensor allows the camera to focus along both the horizontal and vertical planes of the shot you’re taking, resulting in a more accurate, precise focus. The rest of the T3i’s focus points are horizontally oriented (meaning, confusingly, that it can only handle vertical lines—think of a horizontal line in your viewfinder running across a flagpole, and you’ll get the idea). The 60D, on the other hand, has cross type sensors on all nine autofocus points. This means that no matter where your subject is framed within the shot, it will be in focus more often than not. This is helpful when you’re trying to focus on something moving. With only a center AF point on the T3i, you’d have to frame your subject in the middle of the shot with the shutter button and then recompose to your liking. Try that with a fast moving target! With the 60D, however, tracking your subject with the camera while trying to autofocus is much easier; no matter where in the frame it ends up, one of those cross-type AF points is going to be able to pull it into focus.
You’ll find that as you dig into the differences of the Canon 60D vs. Rebel T3i, the differences all boil down to speed, inside the camera and that of the subjects you’re trying to photograph. As we’ve seen, the nine cross-type AF points take the guesswork out of focusing, allowing you to concentrate on composing a better shot. The 60D’s maximum shutter speed of 1/8000—that’s .000125 of a second—mean you can pretty much freeze time inside your camera, no matter the speed of your subject. Planes, trains, automobiles…you name it, the 60D will seemingly stop them in their tracks. The T3i maxes out a respectable 1/4000, the 60D’s faster shutter, coupled with all those AF points, gives you much more margin for error in trying to capture an object in motion. And with this 60D’s 5.3 frames per second capabilities (compare that to the T3i’s 3.7), you just need to hold down the shutter button and follow whatever it is you’ll be shooting. In ten seconds, you’ll have shot 53 photos—at the very least, one of them is bound to be crisp and in focus, though you’ll probably see a much higher success rate than that.
Finally, another feature where the 60D revs things up, albeit slightly, the camera’s flash sync speed: 1/250 to the T3i’s 1/200. This is helpful for using a flash fill in daylight without over exposing the background in ambient light. So, it seems that looking at how features stack up on the Canon 60D vs. Rebel T3i, the 60D would be the choice of professionals. The specs I’ve shown where the 60D surpasses the T3i aren’t really geared towards the enthusiast looking for a quality camera. They’re specs that exist for the action shooter—sports, cars, that sort of thing. If you’re a professional working in this arena, the 60D might be a fine choice, but it’s worth considering whether there’s value in making a larger, but longer term investment in one of Canon’s full frame cameras. But if you’re a hobbyist, you should think about whether these extra features are worth the higher price tag. If you’re looking to take great shots of your kids, the T3i is more than up to the challenge. They simply aren’t moving as fast as a Harley Davidson, so you’d be paying for functionality you will likely never use.
And if you are looking to preserve those moments with your kids and family, you’ll no doubt be interested in the video features of each camera. Here is where the T3i wins out, as Canon added a digital zoom feature to its video function. There was a time when digital zoom was something that the serious photographer would scoff at—it wasn’t really zoom, after all, but merely cropping down to a smaller portion of the sensor. My old 3 megapixel camera had a 6x digital zoom function on it. That meant when I zoomed all the way in, the camera was merely showing ⅙ of the image it was recording, and blowing it up to full size (so: lower quality). But the thing most people don’t realize with 1080p HD video is this: it’s only a 2 megapixel image. On the T3i’s 18 megapixel sensor, you can zoom in to a 9x magnification with absolutely no loss in image quality. For some reason, the 60D doesn’t do this, though it’s certainly technically capable of such a thing.
Furthermore, if you’re a beginner who’s never shot with a DSLR before, the T3i’s in-camera Feature Guide will be of great benefit to you. The menus and settings for these cameras can be fairly daunting, and the Feature Guide can help in demystifying some of the options available to you. Basically, the camera’s display will show you a short explanation of a highlighted setting. This is the sort of thing one looks for in an “entry-level” camera, and is more useful than the ability to get a crisp photo of a Boeing 767 as it speeds down the runway.
What’s amazing is that if you look around the internet to see comparisons of the Canon 60D vs. the Rebel T3i, many of the sites you will come across will recommend the 60D on the strength of its autofocus and shutter speed superiority. Personally, I think this is a blind nod to the notion that bigger is better—line up the specs side by side, and the one with the larger numbers will get picked. If you apply a little critical thinking, though, you’ll see that the one with the better features is the way to go here. Faster shutters and cross-type AF points won’t do you any good if you’re going to be shooting portraits, candids, and landscapes. If you’re looking to get your first DSLR, the T3i is a solid choice that will take pictures with the same quality as the 60D, but at a lower price point. Even if you’re looking to upgrade your older entry level one, the T3i will be a massive upgrade. Though the sticker prices are separated by $250, searching online for cameras through dealers shows that there’s a bit more than a $100 price difference. That money would be better spent towards a quality lens—Canon’s got an f/1.8 50mm prime lens that will do more to improve your photos than the 60D can. The 60D is a puzzle to me, and the choice seems like no-brainer.