Canon T3i vs T2i: Is the T3i Worth the Extra Cost?

Canon T2i vs T3i Comparison

Canon T2i vs T3i Comparison

T3i vs T2i ?

The Canon Rebel T3i is already on store shelves, even though the Canon T2i was announced just a year ago. Not surprisingly, the technological differences between the two are minimal, at least at first glance: they use the same sensor, image processor, and autofocus system. Yet the T2i is still available, and at only $579 for the body, it is a tempting offering. But when comparing the T3i vs T2i, is the T3i worth the extra cost? For some people it will be; for others it will be a waste of money. Below, I’ll very briefly note the differences between the two cameras and explain who will benefit from the T3i and who will be just as happy with the T2i.

[UPDATE : The release of the Canon T4i changes this picture significantly. Also see my comparison of the T3i and T4i here. ]

The Similarities

Before making a big deal about the differences, it’s worth noting that these two cameras are mostly identical when it comes to standard photographic operation, and there is no difference in RAW image quality between the two. The table below shows the functional similarities.

[To see the whole T2i vs T3i table, click in the drop down box which currently displays "10" and select "50"],

 
Canon Rebel T3i / 600D
Canon Rebel T2i / 550D
Canon Rebel T3i
Amazon Price (body)$699 (Until Sept 3)$639
Body MaterialPolycarbonate, Fiberglass Resin and Stainless SteelPolycarbonate, Fiberglass Resin and Stainless Steel
LCD Size / Resolution3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
3.0"
1,040,000 pixels
LCD Articulated?YesNo
Sensor Size14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)14.9 x 22.3mm (APS-C)
Crop Factor1.6x1.6x
Sensor Resolution18 Megapixels18 Megapixels
ISO Range100-6400
+12800
100-6400
+12800
Total AF Focus Points99
Cross-Type AF Sensors11
AF Light Level Range-.05 to +18 EV-.05 to +18 EV
Metering System63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
9% Center Weighted
4% Spot
63 Zone Point Linked Evaluative
9% Center Weighted
4% Spot
Exposure Compensation1/2 or 1/3 stops1/2 or 1/3 stops
Max Frame Rate : RAW (14-bit)3.73.7
Max Burst Duration RAW (at highest frame rate)66
Max Burst Duration JPG (at highest frame rate)3434
Shutter Speed Range1/4000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
1/4000th - 30 sec.
+bulb
Maximum Flash Sync Shutter Speed (standard flash)1/200th sec.1/200th sec.
HD Video Resolutions1080p, 720p1080p, 720p
Available HD Video Frame RatesPAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
PAL and NTSC
24/25, 30 at 1080p
24/25, 30, 60 at 720p
Media TypeSD / SDHC / SDXCSD / SDHC / SDXC
Weight570g (including battery)530g (with battery and SD card)
Viewfinder Coverage95%
0.87x magnification
95%
0.87x magnification
Built-In Wireless Strobe ControlYesNo

.

What’s New in the T3i?

In-Camera Guide on T3i

The two lines of text at the top of the LCD here represent the new “In-Camera Guide”

From the outside, the only major difference is the rear LCD. The new T3i sports an articulated LCD, much like that found on the Canon 60D. To accommodate the new LCD, the body is slightly deeper, and the whole unit weighs a hair more. Canon has also made some minor ergonomic changes, such as adding additional rubberized padding to bottom of the front left side of the body for extra comfort and protection.

Internally, there are a few more significant differences, though. These include:

  • Native wireless control of off-camera flash (T2i requires accessory Canon ST-E2 module)
  • Digital zoom for 1080p video, while recording. (Since 1080p video is only 2 megapixels, this can crop down to the center of the sensor, effectively providing a 3x – 10x zoom)
  • Cropping mats for shooting in different aspect ratios
  • “Video Snapshots”, which are short video clips assembled in-camera into an extended video
  • In-Camera Guide, which provides information on the LCD panel that makes choosing alternative settings a little easier for beginners
  • An image-database driven full-auto mode (A+) and some additional in-camera processing options, the “Creative Filters”.
Rear View Comparison of Canon T2i and T3i

Rear view comparison of Canon T2i (left) vs T3i (right).

Who Should Buy the T2i?

If you have used a 35mm film camera in the past and are simply looking to get a digital camera to do the same things, the T2i is probably for you. It’s no accident that this has been the best selling SLR in the world for much of the past year. The new video features in the T3i won’t be of use if you’re only interested in taking photos, and the auto settings and In-Camera Guide will not be relevant for those who already have a firm handle on photographic theory. Some photographers have also expressed concern about the articulated LCD of the T3i and 60D collecting dust or breaking off; and for those who work in rugged conditions, this may also be worth considering.

Photographers (like myself) who use radio-triggers for their flashes also needn’t worry too much about the native wireless flash control on the T3i (the exception being Radiopopper shooters, some of which translate the optical trigger signals from flash control units into radio signals).

Rear view of T3i, articulated LCD

Canon T3i Rear View, LCD Open

On the other hand, you should go ahead and buy the T3i if you enjoy shooting video and think you’ll use the digital zoom. This is a feature that I’m actually very excited about myself; using a $100 50mm f1.8 lens as a 500mm f1.8 would open some incredible video opportunities (assuming that a stable tripod is available). Of course, you’re really only getting the same image quality that you’d get if you shot a photo and cropped in to the two megapixels in the center of the frame (1920 x 1080 pixel full HD video is about 2 megapixels), but on a low resolution display like HDTV, it could still look good.

Photographers who frequently shoot while holding their camera overhead will, of course, benefit from the T3i‘s swivel screen, as will video bloggers and others who want a handy video monitor while they’re in front of the camera. And, if you think that you’ll use the built in flash control, it would certainly save you money and hassle to buy the T3i.

If the automatic modes and In-Camera-Guide in the T3i are a deciding factor for you, though, you might alternatively consider a photography book, or better yet, enrollment in a photography course or seminar. Not only will it give you a better understanding of your camera and photographic theory, it may dramatically improve your photography in a dozen other ways.

I’ve tried to keep this comparison brief and simple, but please feel free to ask me any questions that you might have in the comment section below!

[UPDATE : The release of the Canon T4i changes this picture significantly. See my comparison of the T3i and T4i here. ]

221 Comments

  • Vincent says:

    Hi,

    I currently have a Canon SX40HS and I am considering getting the T3i. The T2i is actually more money on Amazon than the T3i. Is there any significant quality difference between the SX40HS and the T3i? I am also new to the DSLR world and I don’t want to spend a lot of money so should I buy the T3i with a lens or without? I have heard to not buy the lens and buy others but they are very expensive.

    Thanks!

    • Profile photo of Matthew Gore Matthew Gore says:

      Hi Vincent,

      There will be a significant difference in the images between the T3i and SX40HS, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other. Because the T3i has a much larger sensor than your camera, it will produce shallower depth of field in many situations, giving your shots a more “professional” look.

      Of course, the T3i has a significantly higher resolution sensor, and because it is larger, it will produce less digital noise in low-light.

      Perhaps more importantly, even though your current camera has a huge zoom range, the image quality is not equally good throughout that range. With an SLR, you can choose lenses that will give you super sharp images at any part of the zoom range (if you’re willing to spend the money).

      Now that the T2i and T3i are a couple of years old, you might actually consider the T4i or T5i with the new 18-135 STM lens. Unlike some of the other kit lenses, it will give you good performance across the zoom range, for a kit lens. Otherwise, the 18-55 is still a good lens on any of the cameras.  You should also consider a 50mm f/1.8 lens: inexpensive, but the large aperture will give you all of the benefits of your new large sensor… you’ll get very distinctive image quality compared to your point and shoot.

      – Matthew

      • Vincent says:

        Thank You! I just ordered a Canon T3 in a great kit for $10.00 less than the T3i. I thought I bought the T3i but I ordered the T3. Is there a big enough difference that I should cancel the order and get the T3i or should I keep my order? Thanks!

  • Lisa says:

    Hi Matt!

    I currently have an older model Olympus e510 that I use primarily for pictures in the theater. I am able to get into the dress rehearsals and take shots while the play is in the final stages without bothering anyone. I then have stills of the show for the parents and theater company. I’m looking to upgrade to possibly the t3i How does it work with low light and sometimes fast moving subjects ? I’m also nervous jumping brands since I already have an 80-300 Olympus lens but they have a t3i bundle available with a zoom lens that would save quite a bit. I would appreciate any thoughts and opinions. Thanks

    • Profile photo of Matthew Gore Matthew Gore says:

      Hi Lisa,

      I don’t have a much experience with the Olympus, but I know about the sensor technology it uses. Essentially, the Canon t3i will give you low-light image quality improvements in two ways:

      1. The more modern sensor will give you about 1 full stop of improved ISO performance (ie, if you were shooting at 1600 before, you’ll be able to shoot at 3200 with the same results)

      2. Plus, the image resolution is almost twice as high with the T3i, so you won’t have to enlarge the images as much, so the digital noise will be less visible (and there’s probably an improvement in noise handling in general, via in camera processing if you shoot JPG, which you shouldn’t).

      So, all in all, the T3i should give you a very significant increase in low-light performance. However, if you really want to get better low light performance, the best thing to do is get yourself a couple of lenses that have wide maximum apertures, like the Canon 50mm f/1.8 , 85mm f/1.8, or longer f/2.8 lenses.

      – Matthew

      • Lisa says:

        Thanks for the help!!

        I’ve found a one day special where a T4i was cheaper than a T3i :) so going that route with a bit of money saved for the lens another time .

        Thanks again!

  • Gurpratap says:

    What to buy Canon T2i or Canon T3i.Both prices are same.
    IS the Image quality has any difference between these two.
    For video Dave Dugdale review Video looks more sharper in T3i.
    I use 70% Pic and 30% Video.
    Thanks

    • Profile photo of Matthew Gore Matthew Gore says:

      If you shoot in RAW format, there’s no significant difference in image quality between the T2i and T3i, since the image processing is done by your computer software. There may be differences if you shoot JPG, but if you shoot JPG you couldn’t care about image quality very much anyway.

      With video, on the other hand, the camera has to do quite a bit of processing no matter what… which I why there are video quality differences between models that use the same sensor (ie, t2i, t3i, 60D, 7D). But it sounds as though you know that there may be differences there… and I don’t shoot much video.

      – Matthew

      • Gurpratap says:

        Hi both price are same Canon T2i and Canon T3i.
        so I buy canon T3i with 18-55mm lens from B&H for $580.
        email me gurpratap23@yahoo.com
        and
        final question Which Image quality is better t2i or t3i for both Raw and JPEG.

        • Profile photo of Matthew Gore Matthew Gore says:

          The RAW image quality is the same, for both cameras. They use the same CMOS sensor, and the RAW file is processed in the same way.

          The quality of the JPGs depends on numerous settings in the camera, so it’s hard to compare…. and I don’t shoot JPG. I doubt that there’s any significant difference, though.

          The T3i with 18-55 sounds like a pretty good deal.

          – Matthew

  • Gail says:

    Hi…..I am interested in buying a new camera….I am looking at the T2i/T3i. I am also looking at the SX40. I just need really nice pictures of my children, Should I go into the DSLR’s or stick with the SX40…..Is their any picture difference in the 2 cameras?

    thanks

  • Mary says:

    Hi Matthew!

    I’ve been debating about whether or not to purchase the Canon T3i for a while now, but when comparing the T3i and T2i I’m wondering if the difference between them is even that significant. I’d love to get the T2i because it is cheaper, but are there any major features that the T3i has and the T2i doesn’t that I’d be missing out on?

    Thanks!

    • Profile photo of Matthew Gore Matthew Gore says:

      Hi Mary,

      Just the ones that I mention above, in the article: the T3i has a swivel screen, digital zoom for video, and off-camera flash control. Most people will really only use the swivel screen, but some photographers will find the others useful too. There’s a much bigger difference between the T4i and the T3i than the T3i and the T2i. I’d recommend either going with the T2i or the T4i, actually.

      – Matthew

  • Lisa says:

    I also forgot to ask what is the zoom is on both the Canon T3i and the Sony Nex-5N

    Thanks,

    Lisa

    • Profile photo of Matthew Gore Matthew Gore says:

      This depends on which lens you attach to the camera. Since both of them can accept a wide range of lenses, from super wide angle to long telephoto, the potential range is huge… but not fixed.

  • Lisa says:

    Hi Matthew,

    My husband lost his Canon SX200.  He liked the size of it and the zoom feature but the pictures after awhile started coming out dull flat and the colors weren’t bright.  So when I told him about the Canon SX260, he was totally not interested.

    My nephew has the Canon T2i and loves the quality of the photos.  My husband loved the quality of the photos when my nephew showed the pictures to him so this is the camera he wants me to get him.  Today, when I looked online I saw that they are up to the T4i.  I am totally confused. I want to make the right choice for him and also want to make sure that he is happy with his gift.

    However, we do a lot of traveling and we use the camera for traveling and family events.  He will leave the camera on fully automatic because he’s not going to use the manual setting. He said that he doesn’t mind the size being bigger. But  feel the size may become an issue when traveling.  I spoke to another friend who said that he bought the Sony NEX5N for that reason because it had good image quality but was smaller than the T3i, but he said that the Canon T3i would be his first choice if size weren’t an issue.  Is there a weight difference between the Canon T2i, Canon T3i, and the Canon T4i.  Is there any reason for a novice to go to the Canon T4i over the T3i. Can you help guide me with this?

    Thanks,

    Lisa

    • Profile photo of Matthew Gore Matthew Gore says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Sorry for the delay, I’ve been out of town.

      There are several things I should say: a lot of the image quality issues (color saturation, color correctness, sharpness, etc) are dependent on how you use the camera (settings and technique) and how you process the images after they come out of the camera (even if it’s done automatically when transferring them to your computer). Any modern digital camera should be able to give you really great colors and contrast, if you set it up correctly.

      That said, the Canon Rebel series are great cameras. There is no appreciable difference in image quality between the T2i and T3i (they use the same sensor and processor), and the T4i should have VERY similar image quality, though it may be just a little bit better in low light. The main advantage of the T4i is with its video functionality, and it has a touch-screen LCD on the back for people who prefer that to the little buttons.

      If your husband is going to be shooting in automatic mode, and not shooting videos, then there’s no good reason to buy the T4i or even the T3i, the T2i will be just fine. The T3i adds some flash features that most novice photographers won’t use and a swivel screen which some people find useful for holding the camera above eye-level, or at ground level.

      Hope that helps a bit, but let me know-

      Matthew

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