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 T3iCanon 60DCanon 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
1,040,000 pixels
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
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.
1/8000th - 30 sec.
1/4000th - 30 sec.
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
24/25, 30 at 1080p
60 at 720p
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
Firmware Sidecar AvailableUnder DevelopmentAvailableUnder Development
Weight570g (including battery)675g (body only)530g (with battery and SD card)
Viewfinder Coverage95%
0.87x magnification
96% Frame,
.95x magnification
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.


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!


  • Adriana says:

    I currently own a Rebel t3i, have been for two years now. I’m a self taught photographer for now but soon I’ll be taking some classes. I mainly photograph landscapes, I aldo love making abstract photography. Lately, I’ve been having some problems with the t3i in low-light conditions. I’ve been doing wedding events lately and starting to take portraiture. I’m thinking of upgrading to the 60D but I’m not sure if it’s an upgrade at all. I’ve been reading and the only thing I’ve noticed that’s an upgrade is the fact that it shoots faster.. any tips? Also, I’d like to know if I can use every accessory I use on the t3i for the 60D, if they’re all compatible. Please let me know.

    • Hi Adriana,

      As you’ve already seen in the article above, there are a few reasons to go for the 60D over the T3i, but the sensors are almost identical, and the AF system of the 60D is better, but not dramatically better, than that of the T3i. For me, getting a camera with a rear command dial for setting exposure compensation is a very important feature for shooting events and action (and the 60D has one).

      However, most of the accessories that are compatible with the T3i should also work with the 60D (lenses and flash equipment, anyway). They do use different batteries, though.

      – Matt

  • Randi Ives says:

    Hi Daniel,

    I am fairly new to photography and have started out with a Canon SX50. As I am beginning to decide which direction I would like to go with my photography, I am seeing that I am definitely ready, and more importantly, need to make an upgrade to a better camera. I tend to research myself into a state of complete confusion, which I seem to have done while researching the T2I/T3I.

    What I am running into with my current camera is the terrible noise, even at low ISO, and the lack of manual focusing ability. While this camera does offer manual focus, it is totally worthless, in my opinion. It is almost impossible to shoot a sharply focused photo. I would say it is just me, but my sister has the same camera and says the exact same thing.

    I am wanting to get into primarily portrait photography, but still love landscape, wildlife and macro. Of the three cameras, T2,T3I and 60D, which would you recommend, and what lenses also.

    A few of the arguments I am running into are concerning the lenses, which is that that the kit lenses are junk, and that it would be more advantageous to buy the camera body and purchase better lenses separately. The way I see it is that regardless of whether I go with the kit lens, or just body and purchase lenses separately, I am still upgrading from where I am now. Any thoughts on that?

    And lastly, I have also found myself comparing these to comparable Nikons. Any advice there?

    Thank you for any feedback you can offer.


    • Hi Randi,

      To begin with, when it comes to pure image quality, the T2i – T5i are all virtually identical; there’s really nothing to recommend one over another. This is assuming that you shoot RAW instead of JPG, which will give you all of the quality that the sensor can offer.

      That said, my general advice is always this: buy the least expensive camera that will meet your needs, and buy the best lenses that you can afford. The lenses will last longer and make a bigger difference in your photography.

      So, as far as cameras go, you’ll need to figure out what you’ll be doing with it, and see what fits. For portraits, any of the cameras you mention would be great, and the same is true of landscapes. For wildlife, you may want a camera that has a higher frame rate and more robust autofocus system… though again, any of the cameras you list will work… they might just not be ideal. If you’d like to have your bases covered for sports and wildlife, go with the 60D. If the extra bit of speed is not a big priority, go with any of the Rebel series.

      The lenses are a bigger question. The kit lenses actually are NOT junk; they’re optically really great lenses, despite the fact that they may feel a bit junky (assuming that we’re talking about the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and 55-250mm. The old 18-135 [non-stm] and the 18-200 are junk). They’re not especially fast focusing, but they’re not terrible. But they’re also not the greatest portrait lenses.

      For portraits, most photographers like lenses that allow them a shallow depth of field… ie, the subject can be in sharp focus while the background is very blurred. This can be achieved by using a large aperture (f/2.8, f/2, f/1.8, f/1.4, etc) or a telephoto lens, or both… so traditionally, large aperture mid-telephoto lenses are preferred portrait lenses, such as Canon’s 85mm f/1.8 (or the Sigma 85 f/1.4), 100mm f/2.8, or other large aperture primes, such as Sigma’s 35mm f/1.4 or 50mm f/1.4 (these are newer designs and sharper than Canon’s much older offerings). Another good option is a 70-200mm f/2.8… Canon’s IS II is the best, but the new Tamron is truly excellent as well, and a lot less expensive.

      Personally, I think it’s nice to have a zoom lens to carry around for casual use, and then I can choose one of my prime lenses when I’m doing something specific. If I were going to get a single walk-around lens for Canon, I’d go with the 18-135mm STM lens.

      As for the comparison to Nikons… well, that’s tricky. They’re both great cameras, and both systems offer some great lenses. Canon and Nikon have been going back and forth for years… for a while the one is better, then the other for a few years. Right now, Nikon probably has better sensors. I prefer Canon lenses and autofocus systems. Truth is, though, that either way you go, the camera isn’t going to hold you back… your own skills will be the limiting factor.

      Hope that helps a bit…

      As long as you’re here, you might want to check out the “Lens Recommendations” section of the site, and also watch my 3 Basics of Photography video.

      – Matthew

      • Mosar says:

        I am looking for upgrade from T3i (not concerning for T4i or t5i)
        Most of the case in using it for product photograph.
        Please advise what Cannon model should I choose and what lense you would recommand? Truly appreciate for your time.

        • Hi Mosar,

          The first questions is… why? Is there something that the T3i isn’t doing well enough for you? There are, obviously a couple of cameras that will give you minimally higher resolution, but it’s not very significant.

          Also, are you shooting large products? Small products? That will help me make a lens recommendation.

          – Matthew

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