Canon Rebel T3i vs 60D : Who should buy the T3i?

Canon T3i vs 60D

Is the Canon 60D Worth the Extra Cost?

Canon T3i vs 60D: The Canon T3i’s release so soon after that of the Canon 60D is cause for speculation. Canon seems to be exploring a fancy new business model in which they release a product and then shortly afterwards announce a similar, less expensive one that also has some slick new features, all but sealing the fate of the earlier product. We saw it happen with the Canon 1Ds Mark III and the subsequent 5D Mark II, then again (to a lesser degree) with the 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D (because of the latter’s superior AF system), with the 50D and subsequent Rebels T1i and T2i, and now it seems that the announcement of the Canon T3i threatens to do the same with the 60D. Let me say before anything else that the Canon 60D is still probably the superior camera, but it may be difficult for most entry level photographers to pass by the T3i to get to it. Let’s take a closer look at the details.

The Canon 60D was released into a market that was already dominated by the popular and inexpensive Canon Rebel T2i / 550D. The 60D, however, had dropped the magnesium alloy body of the 50D and previous x0D series models in favor of a lighter, consumer oriented polycarbonate body. It also sported the same 18 megapixel sensor as the T2i, the same ISO range, the same number of focus points, and the same video capabilities. To the average consumer, the major differences were that the 60D had a spiffy new articulated LCD, a somewhat sturdier feeling body, and slightly faster shooting frame rates and shutter speeds.  The 60D also had the often overlooked (by me) advantage of wireless strobe control without the addition of the Canon ST-E2 transmitter.

Canon 60D and T3i Articulated LCD, Rear View

Rear view of the Canon 60D (left) and Canon T3i (right). Both cameras now feature an articulated LCD.

Enter (4 months later) the Canon Rebel T3i (also known as the 600D). The latest incarnation of the Rebel appears on the scene with the same high resolution, articulated LCD as the 60D, integrated wireless strobe control, new shooting modes, a host of in-camera processing “creative” options, and perhaps most significantly in the video department are cropping mats (to preview different aspect ratios on the LCD while recording) and… digital zoom.

“Digital zoom” has always been a dirty word in the past; we’ve seen it on camcorders and point and shoot digital cameras since the end of the 1990s. Digital zoom traditionally has involved using the same captured information from the sensor and simply cropping in, basically magnifying a lower resolution portion of the frame, which caused a significant degradation of quality. So, if the full sensor captured 1 megapixel, for example, the cropped image might only be displaying a small portion of that information… perhaps .5 or .3 megapixels, but with the pixels enlarged to fill the screen.

The digital zoom of the Canon Rebel T3i is a different story, and it’s actually an ingenious use of the extraordinarily high resolution sensor designed for the still camera. The highest resolution that our HDTVs can display today is 1080p, which is 1920 x 1080 pixels, just a hair over 2 megapixels. The T3i’s sensor, as we know, is 18 megapixels, so even when the highest resolution video is captured, only a small part of the available information from the sensor is being used. Because the sensor has such high resolution, the digital zoom can simply make use of a smaller area of the sensor to capture the video, and there will still be plenty of receptors in the area to provide the full 2 megapixel resolution of 1080p.

Beyond the items mentioned above, the Canon T3i is very much like the T2i, which was already quite similar to the 60D. Take a look at the chart below to see the details:

 
Canon Rebel T3i
Canon 60D
Canon Rebel T2i / 550D
Canon Rebel T3iCanon EOS 60D
Amazon Price (body)$699$999$699
B&H Price
$699$949 $629
Body MaterialPolycarbonate, Fiberglass and Stainless SteelPolycarbonate, Aluminum, Fiberglass, and Stainless SteelPolycarbonate, Fiberglass and Stainless Steel
LCD Size / Resolution3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
LCD Articulated?YesYesNo
Sensor Size14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)
Crop Factor1.6x1.6x1.6x
Sensor Resolution18 Megapixels18 Megapixels18 Megapixels
ISO Range100-6400
+12800
100-6400
+12800
100-6400
+12800
Total AF Focus Points999
Cross-Type AF Sensors191
AF Light Level Range-.05 to +18 EV-.05 to +18 EV-.05 to +18 EV
Metering System63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
9% Center Weighted
4% Spot
63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
6.5% Center Weighted
2.8% Spot
63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
9% Center Weighted
4% Spot
Exposure Compensation1/2 or 1/3 stops1/2 or 1/3 stops via thumb dial1/2 or 1/3 stops
Max Frame Rate : RAW (14-bit)3.75.3 fps3.7
Max Burst Duration RAW (at highest frame rate)6166
Max Burst Duration JPG (at highest frame rate)345834
Shutter Speed Range1/4000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/8000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/4000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
Maximum Flash Sync Shutter Speed (standard flash)1/200th sec.1/250th sec.1/200th sec.
HD Video Resolutions1080p, 720p1080p, 720p1080p, 720p
Available HD Video Frame RatesPAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
60 at 720p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
60 at 720p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
Firmware Sidecar AvailableUnder DevelopmentAvailableUnder Development
Media TypeSD / SDHC / SDXCSD / SDHC / SDXCSD / SDHC / SDXC
Weight570g (including battery)675g (body only)530g (with battery and SD card)
Viewfinder Coverage95%
0.87x magnification
96% Frame,
.95x magnification
95%
0.87x magnification
Built-In Wireless Strobe ControlYesYesNo

.

Benefits of the Canon 60D

In opening this article I mentioned that the Canon 60D is still a better camera than the T3i, but I may not have made it obvious in the following paragraphs, so let me explain why.

The Canon 60D will primarily benefit one type of photographer: the action photographer. Although the two cameras in question have the same number of focusing points, the points are not created equal. The T3i, like the T2i, has a single cross-type focusing point in the center, while all 9 of the 60D’s focusing points are cross-type, giving it faster and more reliable AF performance, especially for off-center subjects. To capture high speed objects, the 60D also features a top shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second and top flash sync speed of 1/250th, as opposed to the 1/4000th and 1/200th of the T3i. And while the T3i can capture 3.7 frames per second, the Canon 60D can manage 5.3, giving 60D shooters 3 extra pictures in every 2-second burst.

This is not to suggest that you can’t shoot action with the T3i; you can. You’ll simply have a higher percentage of good shots with the 60D.

I spent much of last evening playing around with a 60D and a T2i (I don’t have access to a T3i yet), and I find that the 60D really does feel significantly better in the hand. It feels solid and comfortable, and it also has the thumb wheel for exposure compensation, probably my favorite Canon feature of all time. Both cameras, however, feel much better than the top point and shoot, though, at least to my fingers. And there is also the fact that 60D shooters don’t have to tolerate having “REBEL” printed across the front of their cameras. How embarrassing for us Americans.

Conclusion

Because the 60D is so precariously perched between the powerhouse Canon 7D and the enormously popular Rebel series  (not to mention competition from the Nikon D7000), it’s not surprising that in the few months since it hit the shelves, its price has already dropped from $1100 to $899… just $100 more than the T3i (update 6/18/11: the price has since gone back down to $899 with an instant rebate, but the body only is hard to find in stock).  With only $100 difference in price, it seems almost foolish to pass up the 60D, unless:

  • you’ve never used a DLSR before and need the beginner features of the T3i (in camera guide and program shooting modes)
  • you plan to take a lot of video and really think you’ll use the T3i’s digital zoom or video snapshots
  • you primarily shoot portraits, landscapes, or moderate paced action and don’t want to spend $100 on features you won’t use.

You may also want to consider the Rebel T2i if the video features are not important to you (keep in mind that in all three cameras, video is primarily a manual-focus operation (though slow AF is available by pressing the shutter button half-way). If you don’t mind spending a couple hours with the manual, don’t care about an articulated LCD (or are concerned about its durability), the T2i is a virtually identical camera and the body costs a mere $675, at this point.

As usual, please let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Avatar of Matthew Gore

Matthew Gore is the Editor in Chief and Administrator of Light & Matter.

210 Comments

  • Reply April 6, 2014

    Chuck

    I am looking to purchase a new camera to take pictures and videos of my daughter playing fast pitch softball. I can’t decide between the T3i and the 60D. If I bundle the camera I get the 55-250mm IS II lens and save $150.00. With that being said which camera would you recommend?

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply April 6, 2014

      Matthew Gore

      I’d go with the 60D… it’s a significantly better camera for action (faster and longer bursts, better AF system) and along with it, I’d go for the STM version of the 55-250; it’s a much faster focusing lens, and will also be quieter if you’re shooting video. That said, either of them should be just fine… especially during daylight games.

      - Matthew

      • Reply April 7, 2014

        Chuck

        Thanks for you quick response. I truly appreciate your feedback.

  • Reply March 26, 2014

    Kendra McGinnis

    Hello,

    I have recently been exploring Concert Photography. I have been doing it for a little over a year now with a basic point and shoot and am now ready to buy my first DSLR. I just bought a Canon Rebel T3i and had been battling back and forth between the Canon EOS 60D and the Canon Rebel T3i and decided on the Rebel. I shoot both indoor and outdoor. I have started to get photo passes, but a lot of my shows still are not which I will use the point and shoot I have for that. With Concert Photography as my main objective- did I make the right choice in your opinion by going with the Rebel? I figured since this was my first DSLR it would be a good start.

    Thanks!

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply March 26, 2014

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Kendra,

      The 60D does have some advantages when it comes to the autofocus system and overall speed, but in terms of image quality, you’ll get the same image quality with the T3i as you would with the 60D, as long as you’re shooting RAW files instead of JPG (and you should be, especially in low light).

      The big advantage of the Rebel in your case is that it leaves you more money to spend on the proper lenses, and for what you’re doing, the lenses are more important than anything. For shooting concerts in low light, it’s a huge advantage to have large aperture lenses like…

      the 50mm f/1.8 (cheap) or 50mm f/1.4 (not so cheap)

      the 85mm f/1.8 (not too expensive, better reach than a 50mm)

      the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 (pricey, but maybe the best zoom lens ever made for an APS-C sensor).

      And any good 70-200mm f/2.8

      All of these lenses will give you dramatically more light to work with than a kit zoom lens, so you’ll get less motion blur or less digital noise (or both).

      Good luck! I love concert photography myself :)

      - Matthew

  • Reply January 25, 2014

    Sean

    Hey Matthew,

    Thank you for very helpful written review!

    Which one would you suggest if I will use more ofter for taking Full HD videos? What is your suggestions?

    Thanks :)

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply February 6, 2014

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Sean,

      Sorry for the delay. For full HD video, they both are going to perform about the same. The T3i does have the advantage of a non-lossy digital zoom, but that may or may not be of interest to everyone. The important thing is that both cameras support the Magic Lantern side-car firmware, which dramatically improves the functionality of the camera for use in shooting professional video.

      My recommendation would be to buy the T3i and spend the money you save on lenses, but I also don’t do much in the way of shooting video, so I’m probably not the best person to ask :)

      As Ever,

      Matthew Gore

  • Reply January 23, 2014

    jijo

    I’m very much interested in learning photography. My googling skills has revealed that for t3i or any other rebel, it’s really hard to configure ISO, Aperture and shutter speed where as for 60D you just have more custom buttons and wheels. Thought 60D will put a hole in my wallet, I don’t want to get frustrated with controls in the long run. Are there any budget canon camera out there which has such button and wheels to adjust iso and other configurations?.

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply January 23, 2014

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Jijo,

      Unfortunately, this is a trend with all SLR manufacturers right now; to simplify the appearance of SLRs for beginners, they remove the buttons and dials that people don’t use much and move them into the electronic menus. All of Canon’s cameras below the 60D/70D level are like that.

      However, it’s not quite as bad as you might think. If you take a look at the back of the T3i, you’ll notice that there’s a “Q” button. Pressing that will bring up all of those main settings, where they can then be changed with just a couple of clicks of the menu buttons. Alternately, you could go with the T4i, which has a touch screen so you can change those settings directly.

      I’ve always preferred using a full size camera like the 60D or 70D, which has an LCD on top to show me my settings all the time, and buttons to change them quickly… but my advice has always been: buy the least expensive camera that will meet your needs and the best lenses that you can afford. :)

      - Matthew

  • Reply January 15, 2014

    cindy

    I am trying to decide between these two cameras. I am a mom and would use this for the purpose of taking photos of my kids, macro, landscape. Would the t3i be okay for this?

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply January 15, 2014

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Cindy,

      Yes, it sounds like the T3i would be a great choice for you. The 60D has some advantages when it comes to shooting sports and high speed action, but it sounds like that’s not your main goal. As you may already know, since the T3i is a couple of years old, the price has dropped quite a bit… and the nice thing is that the KIT price (including the 18-55mm lens) is only $10 more than the body alone!

      That said, if you’re interested in macro work, you’ll want to invest in an appropriate lens at some point. Probably the best option is Canon’s 60mm Macro. In the meantime, though, there are plenty of less expensive options (if you’re interested in high magnification macro work), like extension tubes and close-up filters.

      Hope that helps!

      - Matthew

      • Reply January 15, 2014

        cindy

        Right now I have a Canon Powershot G12 and am having issues with my son’s baseball. I think the g12 continuous is 2 fps.

        • Avatar of Matthew Gore
          Reply January 15, 2014

          Matthew Gore

          The T3i will give you about twice that frame rate, and more importantly, it will give you much longer continuous bursts (34 shots, if you shoot JPG), faster focusing, and less shutter-lag… the camera will be much more responsive. Of course, the same is true of the 60D, and you’ll get a higher frame rate (about 1 fps more) and an autofocus system that is a little more reliable for off-center subjects.

          Considering that the 60D body alone is about $200 more than the T3i, you’ll have to decide whether the limited increase in performance is worth the extra money to you.

          My general advice to anyone buying a camera is always this: buy the least expensive camera that will get meet your needs and the best lenses that you can afford. The lenses are much more important and they will last you longer. That difference in price will get you much closer to affording a telephoto lens for sports like the 70-300 IS USM or the 60mm Macro.

          - Matt

  • Reply November 29, 2013

    Christina

    Hi Matthew,
    First of all, very nicely written review. Very helpful!

    I am thinking of getting the 60D (Body Only) myself. I currently have a Rebel T3 and shoot primarily with the 28-135 lens. It takes great portraits but I feel like I have outgrown the T3 (not the “i” series) and need to invest in something of better quality. I shoot mostly portrait pictures. What is your suggestion on this switch? Any other suggestions would be great too!

    Thanks again and Mahalo from Hawaii!

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply December 4, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Christina,

      Sorry for the delay… it’s that time of year :)

      I guess the real question is why you feel like you’ve outgrown the T3. If you’re looking for better image quality (higher resolution), than any of the “i” models will give you a modest increase, and the T5i, 60D or 70D will give you improved autofocus as well.

      My general advice is always to buy the least expensive camera that will fulfill your needs, and buy the best lenses you can afford… so, I’d probably recommend the step up to the T5i and you might want to think about a dedicated portrait lens, too… the Canon 85mm f/1.8 is an excellent option, and not outrageously expensive.

      If you’re looking for a camera that will give you better performance for shooting action and sports, the 60D or 70D (particularly if you like to shoot video) are also great options.

      - Matt

      • Reply December 4, 2013

        Christina

        Thank you Matt!

    • Reply January 16, 2014

      Cindy

      Thank you sooo much. I think for now I will go with the T3i and then down the line after I have learned what there is to learn I will go with a higher end camera. Keep up the great work.

  • Reply October 15, 2013

    Sazzad

    I own a Canon 60D and this is my first DSLR camera but I can add one extra point about canon 60D that have not mentioned here that is canon 60D do have a excellent user access to all its function and really very easy to operate. Still there is many feature that I need to study about this camera but till now I can say this is the device you are looking for if you want to go for extreme photography with limited budget.

    thanks.

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply October 15, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      Hi Sazzad,

      Good point; I agree that the Canon 60D is very easy to use… but I’ve been using Canon SLRs for 20 years, so I usually leave my judgement on that matter out, since it’s a little subjective. On many entry-level models, advanced features are buried in sub-menues because camera manufacturers assume (correctly) that most people won’t use them… so for photographers who will use them, higher level bodies tend to be easier and more intuitive.

      - Matthew

  • Reply September 15, 2013

    Rodrigo Rostirolla

    Should i trade my 50D with a t3i ?

    (congrats on the review on both cameras !!! the best one i´ve found)

    Thanks !!

    • Avatar of Matthew Gore
      Reply September 15, 2013

      Matthew Gore

      That’s a tricky question. The 50D has some advantages, being a higher level camera, but the T3i is a bit newer and has a couple of technological improvements. I guess it depends on which are more important to you.

      The 50D can shoot at a faster frame rate, faster shutter speed (1/8000th), faster flash sync (1/250th), and of course, it has a metal body.

      The T3i has slightly higher resolution, but it’s also a newer sensor with less digital noise and higher ISO, and of course, video.

      If you’re an action shooter, the 50D still might be the best option for you… otherwise the T2i – t5i might be better :)

      - Matthew

      • Reply September 15, 2013

        Rodrigo Rostirolla

        Ok, thanks Matthew !!

        i´ll think about it !!

  • Reply September 4, 2013

    Rodrigo Rostirolla

    Should i trade my 50D with a t3i ?

    (congrats on the review on both cameras !!! the best one i´ve found)

Leave a Reply