on March 21, 2011
I am not a camera expert, but rather, I'm a busy mom who likes to take pictures and who adores my subjects. This, then, is a review from a mom/amateur's point of view.
I have always been a photo fiend, taking my camera everywhere and pulling it out at any opportunity. While I'd gotten to a decent level of archiving important moments with my point-and-shoot cameras over the years, I wanted to take my photography to the next level. I was inspired by my brother-in-law's photos of his kids to take the dSLR plunge. But I knew (and still know), very little about professional photography. I wanted to start taking better photos right away. But I also wanted to have room to grow as a photographer and a camera that would grow with me.
I also wanted the focus to stay firmly on my family - while I was willing to invest some time and care into the camera, I didn't want it to become like a pet I had to constantly watch over. While any dSLR takes some care and consideration, I've found the T3i has been an excellent camera for me and I've been quite pleased with it.
* VERY USER FRIENDLY: The auto mode (or auto without flash, my favorite) is highly forgiving, taking fantastically sharp images, true to color. They look so clear that I feel I'm capturing as close to real life as I've ever seen before in a camera.
* FAST: While I sometimes go in for trying out new modes and manual settings, I often leave the camera in auto or auto-sans-flash mode and just click away so that I can at least capture a moment before it's gone. I then play with manual settings if my kids stay still long enough for me to try something new. My previous cameras always had a horrible delay for the autofocus (the only mode they usually had), meaning I nearly always lost the moment when the toddler was on the move. The t3i is so ridiculously fast that I can snap multiple pics in the time one picture took before.
* BEAUTIFUL PICTURES: This kind of goes without saying at this tier of camera, but the pictures are just amazing quality. Coming from the land of point-and-shoot, I'm pretty blown away. And I know I'm only touching the tip of the iceberg for what's possible.
* BEAUTIFUL VIDEO: This is the nice new feature of the t3i. I wasn't sure I'd want or need the HD video. But hey, when you've got it, you use it. I've gotten some amazingly clear footage of the kiddo playing in the park with daddy and I'm so glad we went for the model with that feature.
* BIG, CLEAR DISPLAY: It's really easy to see what pics you've just taken and adjust your photo-taking accordingly. Just by seeing what I've gotten, I'm able to try again and improve a shot almost immediately.
* CLEAR MENUS/ABILITY TO IMPROVE: The interface on this is so intuitive that I've been able to learn a lot without even cracking open the manual (though that manual is my new reading material). The entry point for a new user is just a step up from normal photography - the possibilities, however, are nearly endless.
* NICE KIT LENS: For all that photographers get into new and better lenses, the kit lens on this is really nice and easy to use. I think it will hold us for a good long while before I get to be more of an expert. It gives me the range of zoom and focus I need for now.
* EYE-FI COMPATIBLE: WOW. I cannot even tell you how much I love this feature. If you get an eye-fi card, your pictures can be set up to automatically upload to your computer whenever you are within range of your synched wireless network. My husband set up a SmugMug account and the eye-fi capabilities. I take pics to my heart's content while out on walks, in the park, etc., and come home, then leave the camera on (auto-shut off after 8 minutes) to upload the pics. I can then tag and sort pictures later at my leisure. For me, this is amazingly useful. I don't have to take time out of my day to upload the pics - the camera does that for me.
* BATTERY LIFE (for common use): So far, the battery we bought for the camera lasts very well during normal photo-taking. It's just a standard Canon battery for the rebel line and it charges quickly. Even when taking pics like a mad-woman, it lasts through a shoot. HD video eats it up more quickly, so be warned. Still, I rarely run out of juice during the day so long as I pop the battery into its charger in the evening. However, uploading is another story (See below in cons).
Those are just the first few things I love about this camera. Here, however, are the...not cons, really, just challenges:
* dSLRs ARE EXPENSIVE, DELICATE, BIG AND BULKY:
And parents have enough precious and delicate things to worry about - namely, the kids. No getting around it - you can't just toss a dSLR into a pocket and go. I'm in a quest for a good bag/carrying solution (heh, yeah, wish me luck with that.) and I'm trying to get used to having one part of my brain keeping an eye on the camera as well as keeping the majority of my focus on the kids. When I'm in photo-journalist mode, it's no problem, but switching back to mom-mode is the hard part. I've already seen the camera knocked onto the ground (a very short distance onto very soft ground, so it was okay, but still, the experience practically gave me a heart attack) and once, when bending over, I caught the toddler on the temple with the kit lens (She sobbed. I felt so awful!) This thing requires constant awareness to both the camera AND the kids when using it. I'm quickly adjusting, but if you're not totally committed to learning to use and love the dSLR, you may want to stick to really good point-and-shoot camera if you're a busy parent.
^ That's the big one.
* BATTERY LIFE (when uploading pics via eye-fi): Uploading pictures by eye-fi seems to eat the battery alive. It appears that the camera won't autoshutoff when uploading, so this morning, after a few hours of uploading big, glorious pictures to my SmugMug account, the battery finally ran out of juice. I wish there was a plug-in mode or some sort of docking-station I could plug the camera into when I return home. If it's only a few pics, they upload and the camera shuts itself off. But if it's a bunch of pics (and when the weather's nice and the lighting's good, I take a lot of pics), the camera requires a battery recharge just to finish uploading my pictures.
* SWIVEL SCREEN WORRIES: I find that the swivel screen, while hugely useful, is something I constantly worry that I'm going to snap off. However, you can keep it closed with the screen facing in(a nice feature) or tuck it onto the camera with the screen facing out. I also find if I'm looking out of the eye-piece, I leave cheek smudges all over the screen when its facing out.
* MANUAL-MODE GOOFS: Some of my manual mode forays have been less than stellar. I've taken a shot - set up so nice, focus just perfect, subject just so... only to find out I left it in white-balance adjustment for indoors and I was outdoors so the whole picture looks like I dipped it in blue. I've learned to take pics in auto-mode first before experimenting too much. I also learned to check the screen a LOT before proceeding.
SUMMARY: While the dSLR has required me to make some adjustments for including it in my busy life, I really love this camera, am pleased with the investment, am inspired by its ease of use, and I LOVE the pictures I've gotten of my family.
5 STARS: And so I give it 5 stars - my whole point in buying a nice camera was to make and preserve FAMILY memories - and the t3i records those memories beautifully - in .jpg, raw, or HD video - with a minimum of dSLR fuss.
*** UPDATE: about 6 months later ***
STILL AWESOME: I totally stand by the above review. If anything, I've come to adore this camera even more than I did when we first got it. When baby #2 arrived, the quality of pictures that we got far surpassed the pictures from the first baby's photo shoots. I'm truly pleased with this investment, as the pictures we get are lovely, clear, true-to-light/true-to-color, and just capture the memories so well. Really, this is EXACTLY what I was hoping for as an amateur photographer/mom.
Battery Woes: We invested in an A/C adapter for the camera and now no longer eat the battery alive when leaving the camera to upload pictures via the Eye-Fi connection. It's a little annoying to have to swap over to the A/C and then back to a battery all the time - I would rather have a charging station of sorts - but it works and it means I stick the battery in the charger so it's almost always ready to go.
Ease of Use: I adjusted to using this thing pretty quickly. I invested in a LowePro FastPack 250 and it works nicely as a diaper-bag/day bag/camera bag. Not the most attractive purse, but it works well. I'm much better at being ready for any photo situation now.
Swivel Screen: No problems to report. I just leave it screen out all the time.
SAME: Awesome camera all around. Truly, truly impressive. There might be higher tiers of quality out there, but for what I use in following the kids around, this captures amazing shots quickly. Love it.
GOT (just a little) WORSE:
Eye-Fi Annoyance: This is going to differ from person to person, but our Eye-Fi stuff has had some kinks to work out. The card we bought required several updates lately, then we had to change SmugMug account stuff, but the changed password meant Eye-Fi couldn't upload. Blah, blah, blah, I'm sure most of the problem is ME not getting the changes my hubby made. Still, Eye-Fi is usually automatic, but from time to time, it requires maintenance and understanding from all parties uploading stuff. Just be warned, it isn't so automagical as I hoped it would be.
Getting used to the dSLR bulk: I'd be lying if I said the size of the camera wasn't occasionally an issue. There have been quite a few times I think, "Oh, where's the camera? That's right, I left it at home/in the car because it's kind of a pain to pack around." On many occasions, the hubby's phone camera stood in for us (and it takes pretty decent pictures, so it's okay). But if I'm not being really deliberate about bringing the dSLR and using it, this camera becomes a very expensive toy that I never play with.
Other than that ^ though, awesome camera. I'm truly loving it. On the whole, a Lotta camera for Low maintenance.