Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i Gordon Laing, April 2011
 

Click here to find out about the EOS 600D / Rebel T3i's Movie Mode


Canon EOS 600D / T3i lenses, focusing, sensor & drive

 
   


The Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i employs an EF lens mount and is fully compatible with both Canon EF and EF-S lenses. Thanks to its APS-C sensor size, all lenses effectively have their field of view reduced by 1.6 times.

The EOS 600D / T3i is available as a body alone or in a choice of kits with stabilised zoom lenses. Most geographic regions will be offered the cosmetically-updated EF-S 18-55mm IS II kit lens, which offers a basic 3x optical range that's equivalent to 29-88mm, although some will alternatively bundle the recent EF-S 18-135mm IS model which offers a much longer range equivalent to 29-216mm.



 
 

The new EF-S 18-55mm IS II is a fairly basic lens with a rotating front section which will annoy users of polarising filters. It's also this thin section you'll need to turn to manually focus the lens, and a certain amount of play in the barrel means the image can shift a little while making adjustments during filming.

The EF-S 18-135mm IS is a decidedly superior option for the EOS 600D / T3i without breaking the bank. It delivers a very flexible range which takes you from wide-angle to decent telephoto, along with sporting a smoother manual focusing ring and a non-rotating front section.

Like most lenses with long ranges, there's geometric distortion and vignetting at both ends of the range (although the latter can be effectively corrected in-camera on the 600D / T3i), and the corners are also soft at larger apertures, but close it down to f8 and it can deliver pretty respectable results for the money. See our Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS review for more details.

Alternatively if you have a bigger budget and fancy something much classier from day-one, consider buying the 600D / T3i as a body alone and equipping it with the EF-S 15-85mm IS USM lens. This may not have the reach of the EF-S 18-135mm IS, but it zooms comfortably wider, is sharper in the corners at larger apertures, and features quicker and quieter USM focusing.

See our Canon EF-S 15-85mm IS USM review for more details, and if you'd like any recommendations for specific styles of photography, like portraiture, sports or close-ups, please check out our Canon lens buyer's guide.

 

Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i focusing

The Canon EOS 600D / T3i employs the same 9-point AF system as the EOS 550D / T2i and several models before that. As before these are arranged in a diamond pattern, with only the middle point being a cross-type sensor. This is one of the very important differences between the 600D / T3i and EOS 60D, as the latter may share the same diamond-arrangement for its AF points, but all nine of them are cross-type sensors, making it more responsive with a variety of subjects.

A further difference is the way each AF point is represented in the viewfinder. Like its predecessors, the 600D / T3i has a small rectangle representing each AF point, with a red dot in the middle of each illuminating when active. The EOS 60D, like earlier xxD models, also has a rectangle for each AF point, but with these models, the edges of the actual rectangle itself illuminate red when active.

The 600D / T3i's three AF modes remain the same as before: One Shot for use with still subjects, AI Servo for moving subjects, or AI Focus which lets the camera decide between the two.

   

Press the focus area button and you can use the cross-keys to manually select a single focus point or use the finger dial to cycle through the options. Under dim conditions, the flash will popup and flicker to provide AF assistance, but if you find this alarming, you can disable it or only request AF assistance from an external flashgun in a custom menu. And while the EOS 600D / T3i inherits a number of features from the higher-end EOS 7D, AF Micro-adjustment isn't one of them. So if you're experiencing front or back focusing issues, you'll need to return the offending item for calibration.

Fitted with the EF-S 18-55mm IS II kit lens, focusing felt the same as its predecessors, with the camera locking-on during most situations in less than a second. To put the AI Servo AF system to the test we photographed Queenstown's famous Shotover Jet boats using the EF-S 18-55mm IS II lens. These boats race along the Shotover river in Queenstown New Zealand, approaching at high speed before suddenly executing 360 degree spins. As such they represent a challenge to any AF system.

       
                 
       



In this particular circumstance we found the EOS 600D / T3i's AI Servo tracked the boats fairly effectively at the modest focal length of 55mm, although switching to longer lenses revealed some tracking errors. Either way, the modest continuous shooting speed and buffer size ultimately let the camera down for serious action photography; if you want snappier focusing and quicker continuous shooting, you'll need to go for the EOS 60D or higher. To put it into perspective, a ten frame burst from the 600D / T3i covered a jet boat turning almost a complete revolution (see above), whereas the quicker speed of the 60D saw its ten frames cover just half a turn. The bottom line is a faster camera will capture finer increments of motion and therefore have a greater chance of capturing the pose or composition you desire.

 

Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i metering, exposures and bracketing

 

The Canon EOS 600D / T3i offers the same four metering modes as its recent predecessors: TTL Evaluative, Partial (9% of v/f area), Spot (4% of v/f area) and Center-weighted; the viewfinder also indicates the spot metering area with a circle. It also inherits Canon's latest 63-zone Focus Colour Luminance (iCFL) metering system introduced on the high-end EOS 7D. This employs dual layers allowing it to take colour information into account, and finally bringing Canon's latest DSLRs more in line with Nikon's legendary 3D Colour Matrix Metering system.

 

And it really works too. We used Evaluative metering for all our sample images and found few if any occasions when we'd want to apply any compensation. It certainly seems more effective than the earlier 35-zone system of the 500D / T1i, and we felt more confident on relying on it for our day-to-day shots.

The EOS 600D / T3i offers shutter speeds from 1/4000 to 30 seconds plus a Bulb option; the fastest flash sync speed is 1/200. Exposure compensation is available in a range of +/-5EV. Like most non-pro bodies, there's no figures quoted for the longevity of the shutter block.

Exposure bracketing is available with three frames up to 2EV apart in 0.3EV increments, which puts it in line with most cameras at this price-point. White balance bracketing is also available on the 600D / T3i, again with three frames, and at +/-3 levels in one level increments.


Canon EOS 600D / T3i sensor and processing

The Canon EOS 600D / T3i features an 18 Megapixel CMOS sensor which delivers the same resolution as the EOS 60D, EOS 550D / T2i and the high-end EOS 7D. Indeed we understand the only difference between the sensors in each body is the data readout: four channels on all but the EOS 7D, which boasts eight, allowing it to support quicker continuous shooting for RAW files. Speed aside, Canon describes the image quality on all three models to be essentially the same.

The physical size and pixel count is identical across the four models: the EOS 600D / T3i's sensor measures 22.3x14.9mm and generates 3:2 aspect ratio images with a maximum resolution of 5184x3456 pixels. This gives it around 400 more pixels horizontally and 300 more pixels vertically than the 15.1 Megapixel EOS 500D / T1i and EOS 50D, allowing 300dpi prints to be made at 17.3x11.5in compared to 15.8x10.5in on thsoe older models.

   

The 600D / T3i's JPEGs can be recorded at four lower resolutions (8, 4.5, 2.5 and 0.3 Megapixels) and with the choice of Fine or Normal compression; the two lowest resolutions are inherited from the EOS 60D. RAW files are of course offered, at the maximum resolution and you can choose whether to record them individually or accompanied by a Large Fine JPEG. The multiple size and compression combinations of the 60D and 7D aren't however available here. Best quality Large Fine JPEGS typically measure around 6.4MB each, while RAW files weigh-in around 24MB each. If you shoot in Live View, you can also choose from four aspect ratios: along with the native 3:2 shape, are 16:9, 4:3 and 1:1 options.

Like its predecessor, the EOS 600D / T3i employs 14-bit analogue to digital conversions, and this 14-bit tonal detail is also recorded in the RAW images. See our Results pages for examples comparing the camera's JPEG and RAW output. Like the models before it, copyright data can also be added to images: author and copyright details can be entered in-camera.

   

With the same physical sensor characteristics as its predecessor, it's not surprising to find the EOS 600D / T3i also inheriting the same sensitivity range which runs from 100 to 6400 ISO, with a maximum of 12800 ISO (H) available if ISO expansion is enabled in the Custom settings. Note: if Highlight Tone Priority is enabled, the 600D / T3i's sensitivity range is reduced to 200-6400 ISO.

There's also an Auto ISO setting, and the option to set the maximum sensitivity allowed between 400 and 6400 ISO. The PASM and A-DEP modes operate between 100 ISO and the maximum sensitivity set in this menu. The scene presets operate between 100 and 3200 ISO, apart from the Portrait setting which is fixed at 100 ISO. If you're using Auto ISO with the flash, the sensitivity is fixed at 400 ISO, unless this results in an over-exposure in which case it's reduced to 100 ISO.

On previous Canon DSLRs, the sensitivity would stick at 400 ISO when the ISO was set to Auto in Manual or Bulb; this remains the case for Bulb or flash exposures, although sensibly Manual mode now works with Auto ISO in the same way as Program and the other exposure modes. You can of course also simply set the ISO manually to your preferred value.

   

Like the EOS 550D / T2i, two noise reduction modes are available in the Custom Functions menu: Long Exposure Noise Reduction is applied to exposures longer than one second and can be set to Auto, On or Off, while High ISO Noise Reduction is available in the choice of four settings, Standard (the default), Low, Strong or Disable. Note Strong NR will reduce the maximum burst during continuous shooting.

Pressing the White Balance button allows you to choose from Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, White Fluorescent, Flash and Custom. White Balance correction and bracketing are also available, but unlike the EOS 60D an higher, there's still no opportunity to manually enter a colour temperature.

Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation and Colour Tone are applied using a number of Picture Styles: for colour photography, you have the choice of Auto, Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful and three User Defined options, while a further Monochrome option offers four filter and four toning effects. Contrast, Saturation and Colour Tone can be adjusted in a range of +/-4, while Sharpness is offered from 0 to 7. While it's possible to tweak these presets or configure your own, software supplied with EOS 600D / T3i lets you create and edit precision Picture Styles to your absolute requirements.

We used the default Auto Picture Style for all our sample images, and found it delivered fairly lively-looking JPEGs similar in style to its predecessors. It's a consumer-friendly approach that's well-aimed at its target audience.

 

 

Leveraging the EOS 600D / T3i's 14-bit A-D conversion is the Highlight Tone Priority (HTP) option, inherited from recent models but still buried away in one of the custom function menus and disabled by default. According to Canon, this improves the highlight detail by expanding the dynamic range from the standard 18% grey to bright highlights. This option is only available between 200 and 6400 ISO and Canon warns noise could be increased in shadow areas. ‘D+' icons in the viewfinder or on the screen indicate when Highlight Tone Priority is enabled, so there'll be no surprises.

Below you can see crops taken from our main results image, taken with and without Highlight Tone Priority, HTP. If you have a fairly good monitor, you may able to spot subtle tonal differences in the bright roofing on the HTP version which has become burnt-out on the version without HTP. It's pretty subtle though and when measuring actual values in Photoshop, you're only looking at a difference of around 10 levels. Looking at the image as a whole, the histogram of the HTP version has been compressed a little at the highlight end, like a Levels adjustment, albeit made at the point of exposure. As with previous HTP tests, it remains a subtle effect, but one which could still benefit subjects with bright highlights, such as snowy scenes, or wedding dresses.

Canon EOS 600D / T3i JPEG
Highlight Tone Priority Disabled (default)
 
Canon EOS 600D / T3i JPEG
Highlight Tone Priority Enabled
     
 
100% crop, 1/1600, f5.6, 200 ISO
100% crop, 1/1600, f5.6, 200 ISO


 
The EOS 600D / T3i additionally inherits the Auto Lighting Optimizer from recent models, which adjusts the brightness and contrast of images with dark areas (such as backlit portraits). The camera offers the same four settings as the EOS 550D / T2i: Standard, Low, Strong and Disable. The Standard setting is always applied when the 600D / T3i is set to Auto or the Scene presets, and is also applied by default in PASM modes, although you can adjust it to one of the other three settings if preferred.

Like its predecessor, the Auto Lighting Optimizer settings can be accessed on the second page of the recording menu. The camera also indicates the current setting on-screen, so again there's no surprises.

Canon EOS 600D / T3i Auto Lighting Optimiser: Off / Strong
 
     
 
05 secs, f5.6, 100 ISO
 
0.5 secs, f5.6, 100 ISO

Above you can see two examples of the same composition taken with the Auto Lighting Optimizer disabled (above left) and with its Strong setting (above right). In this particular example which includes dark shadow areas and blown highlights, we can see very little evidence of the Auto Lighting Optimiser in action, beyond a very slight boost in the wooden roofing in the top right corner of the image; certainly the bright window highlights remain saturated. Lest you think it's the same image, we've included histograms of each which reveal a slight reduction in the shadow values and a minor boost in upper mid-tones on the version with Strong Auto Lighting Optimization, but little difference overall.

Following our policy of using default settings when testing cameras, most of the same images you'll see in this review were taken with Highlight Tone Priority off and the Auto Lighting Optimizer set to Standard. Since both can result in artificially higher noise levels though, we ensured both were disabled for our High ISO Results pages.

 

The EOS 600D / T3i also inherits the Peripheral Illumination Correction of its predecessor and recent semi-pro models. This is optionally applied to JPEG images to reduce the effect of vignetting where the image darkens towards the corners. The EOS 600D / T3i contains a database of 26 Canon lenses (including data for the new EF-S 18-55mm IS II) and allows you to enter a further 14 models or swap existing ones for other models if preferred. If the lens model is recognised, the correction will be applied by default to JPEG images, although you can switch the option off if preferred. Canon describes the resulting effect as similar to that offered on RAW images in recent versions of its Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software, although DPP itself can offer additional corrections.

 

Any lens for which DPP offers corrections can be entered into the 600D / T3i's internal database using the supplied EOS Utility. Again, the latest version includes correction data for the new EF-S 18-55mm IS II kit zoom. DPP also offers data for each lens fitted with a 1.4x or 2x Extender, although these will count as additional entries in the camera's 40-model internal database.

Since Peripheral Illumination Correction is enabled by default, you'll see the effect of it on our JPEG sample images throughout this review taken with the EF-S 18-55mm IS II lens. In our tests, it proved very effective at reducing the effect of vignetting, although in extreme cases with certain lenses there can still some darkening in the extreme corners. It remains a improvement over the versions without though, but remember any digital brightening will result in potentially greater visible noise in the applied areas - especially if the ISO was already high on the original.

Unfortunately the EOS 600D / T3i still doesn't offer in-camera reduction of coloured fringing, nor the in-camera RAW processing of the EOS 60D; it's especially frustrating as we know the internal database of lens corrections includes data for both peripheral illumination and chromatic aberrations, not to mention distortion. In this respect it's falling behind Nikon's DSLRs which effectively eliminate fringing on JPEGs automatically. To be fair Canon does offer a fringing reduction facility, but only through the supplied Digital Photo Professional software. This is very effective, but we'd still like to see it performed in-camera.

While the 600D / T3i doesn't share the EOS 60D's in-camera RAW processing, it does inherit its Creative Filters, and again they're applied after the event during playback. The EOS 600D / T3i offers five Creative Filters which can be applied to RAW or JPEG files, then saved as new JPEG files. You can choose from the ever-popular Grainy Black and White or Soft Focus, opt for Toy Camera (which darkens the corners and applies a colour cast), or choose the increasingly common Miniature effect (which simulates a tilt and shift lens). New to the EOS 600D / T3i over the 60D is the additional Fisheye effect. Each filter offers a selection of options to tweak the effect.

So once again it's over to our standard real-life resolution test shot with four of the five filters applied.

Canon EOS 600D / T3i JPEG
Grainy B/W Creative Filter
 
Canon EOS 600D / T3i JPEG
Fish-eye Creative Filter
 
     
     
Canon EOS 600D / T3i JPEG
Toy Camera Filter
 
Canon EOS 600D / T3i JPEG
Miniature Creative Filter

 

 

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Canon EOS 600D / T3i drive modes and remote control

 
 

The Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i offers one continuous shooting mode rated at 3.7fps, exactly the same speed as its predecessor. With a sufficiently quick card, you should be able to shoot up to 34 Large Fine JPEGs, although again like the 550D / T2i before it, the RAW buffer is good for just just six frames here.

To put these figures to the test we fitted the EOS 600D / T3i with a formatted Lexar Professional 133x 16GB Class 10 SDHC card. In Large Fine JPEG mode and at 100 ISO, the 600D / T3i fired-off 18 frames in five seconds before stalling; further tests confirmed the stalling-point at between 15 and 20 frames, after which the camera would continue to shoot, but at a much slower and irregular speed; this corresponds to a speed of 3.6fps.

With the camera set to RAW, we fired-off the quoted six frames in 1.8 seconds before the camera stalled, corresponding to a speed of 3.3fps. So in practice, the JPEG rate essentially delivered the quoted speed, although the camera consistently slowed down after between 15 and 20 frames, whereas its predecessor happily shot at this speed until you ran out of memory.

In short, the EOS 600D / T3i isn't best-suited for serious action photography, and falls behind much of the competition in this respect. Nikon's D5000 delivers 4fps in practice, while Sony's Alpha SLT-A55 boasts a whopping 10fps at much the same price point, albeit with a fixed mirror design. Canon clearly positions its DSLRs in this regard, and while the EOS 600D / T3i features the same resolution and video modes as the high-end EOS 7D and EOS 60D, its continuous shooting speed remains firmly in the entry-level category.

In Canon's world, if you want faster continuous shooting, you'll need to go for a semi-pro model. This is becoming an increasingly dangerous strategy though as rival models pounce on this shortcoming with quicker models at the same or lower price points.

 

   

   

But back to the EOS 600D / T3i's other drive modes. In terms of the self-timer, you have the choice of a two second countdown, a continuous option which fires between two and ten shots after 10 seconds, and a mode designed to work with the optional IR remote control. A mirror lockup option is also available in the custom menu, which applies to either normal or self-timed shots. Unlike the Nikon D5000, there's no built-in Intervalometer, but in its favour, the 600D / T3i can achieve this and more when connected to a computer with supplied software.

In a feature which first made its debut on the EOS 40D, the 600D / T3i can be remote-controlled by a PC or Mac using the supplied EOS Utility and USB cable. Still images can be recorded to your computer's hard disk, the internal memory card or both, and there's Intervalometer facilities for programmed shoots.

 

The EOS Utility lets you remote control and adjust pretty much any setting that doesn't involve the physical turn of a dial or flick of a switch. So you can't change the exposure mode from, say, Aperture to Shutter Priority using the software, but you can adjust the aperture or shutter value, the image quality, white balance, metering and sensitivity or even set the mirror-lockup. Impressively the software also lets you see the Live View on your computer monitor and even lets you manually or autofocus the lens with a magnified view for assistance.

The latest version 2.10.0.0 which comes supplied with the EOS 600D / T3i looks essentially unchanged from the previous version with the EOS 60D. As such there are separate controls to enter either Live View or Movie mode, both supplying live images to your computer's screen. As before, while you can start and stop recording a video from your computer, the video file itself is only stored on the camera's internal memory card - there's still no means to record video direct to your computer's hard disk. There's also no means to turn new the digital movie zoom on or off remotely, which could be inconvenient as the utility won't show you a live image if the digital zoom had been previously enabled on the camera; you can still start and stop recording remotely, but not see the actual live image on yuor computer screen until you go to the camera and manually disable digital zoom.

You'll also see an option introduced with the EOS 7D to automatically popup the internal flash if desired, although you'll need to push it back down again yourself. The Flash Function settings popup menu also lets you configure the wireless flash control, including the new options described on the previous page.

Anyone coming from the EOS 550D / T2i will notice a subtle change in the description of one of the Shooting Menu options: what used to be described as 'Peripheral Illumination Correction' is now known as 'Lens aberration correction'. As before, this lets you populate the camera's internal database with correction data for up to 40 lenses from the entire Canon catalogue (or at least those already supported in the latest version of Digital Photo Professional). The difference this time is the correction data is not just limited to peripheral illumination, but now also includes chromatic aberration and distortion information. Annoyingly though the camera will still only apply peripheral illumination corrections to JPEGs, and as we understand it, ignores the additional correction data.

Software-based remote control is a wonderful feature to have and if you have a laptop handy, it could even eliminate the need for certain photographers to invest in a cable release. It would be nice to be able to record video direct to your computer's hard disk, but considering other manufacturers charge for software-based remote control, or don't offer the facility at all, it seems churlish to complain.

Indeed remote control with the EOS Utility is now supported by and supplied with every single DSLR in the current EOS range, including the entry-level EOS 1000D / XS. So while Canon can be a bit mean about not supplying lens hoods with its non-L models, it certainly doesn't skimp on the bundled software. Similar remote control software - often without the Live View capabilities - is an optional extra from other manufacturers, and Canon also bundles decent RAW processing software with its Digital Photo Professional program.

Now let's find out about the new video recording capabilities in our EOS 600D / T3i Movie Mode section!


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