Overall handling and operation
In general the EOS 1100D handles well for a camera in this class, and operation is a fairly straightforward affair. The control interface uses relatively few hard buttons, but this is made up for by an intuitive quick menu and there are just enough customization options to let you somewhat tailor the interface for your specific needs. On the negative side the smooth plastic body without any rubberized surfaces makes it look and feel a little cheap, and the hand grip might be a little small for some users. As usual we would recommend that, if in doubt, you try before you buy.
Specific handling issues
The EOS 1100D's handling and operation is unsurprisingly not too dissimilar to other entry-level Canon Rebel cameras, but that said, the EOS 1100D is firmly located at the bottom end of the entry-level bracket and in some areas it shows. The smooth plastic material of the body has a cheap look and feel to it and none of the surfaces, including the hand grip, have been rubberized to improve handling. The grip itself can, for photographers with larger hands, also feel a little small. If in doubt, we'd recommend you try and handle the camera in a shop before you commit to a purchase.
The camera's relatively small dimensions and light weight also mean that with larger lenses the EOS 1100D can feel a little unbalanced. We've used it with the 70-200 F4 L and you'd feel a little more comfortable with some more weight at the camera end but that said, we would only expect a very small proportion of EOS 1100D users to use the camera with larger and/or heavier lenses.
As you would expect from an entry-level camera the EOS 1100D comes with a limited number of external controls and only one dial. Most essential parameters have got a dedicated button, but compared to other Canon DSLRs there are some changes. The ISO button has moved from the top-plate onto the four-way controller. This position, and the fact that when pressed it brings up the ISO selector on the rear screen, means that it's difficult to change ISO with your eyes on the viewfinder. The good news is that you can assign ISO to the flash button on the top plate. This makes pressing the button with your eye to the viewfinder much easier, and also lets you see the parameter change on the viewfinder display, but on the downside you'll have to enter the Q-menu to raise the built-in flash. The Q-menu itself does generally a good job in providing access to functions that are used relatively frequently but don't have a designated button, such as metering, AF-mode, image quality or Auto Lighting Optimizer. You won't be able to change these settings without looking at the screen though.
All in all in the design of the 1100D's control layout works fine and offers just enough customization options to work around the couple of weak points we found. The flash button can be programmed to change ISO and the SET button can take over various functions including depth-of-field preview. After a few days of shooting with the camera you should be able to find your way around the user interface without too many problems.
The 1100D's video mode is comparatively simple, and shooting video on any DSLR without an articulated screen can feel a little awkward. Once in movie mode you have a choice of using the very slow contrast detect method (which Canon calls called Live Mode), or phase detection (Quick Mode) that introduces a screen blackout before you can take your shot, and requires you to drop out of live view to choose the AF point. The 1100D also shows the same odd behavior we've previously seen on the 600D. When you enter Live View the buttons on the four-way controller suddenly change their function. Instead of accessing ISO, white balance, drive mode or AF mode they now move the AF-area (you'll have to enter the Q-menu to change these settings). If you frequently switch from 'normal' mode to Live View and back this can be slightly confusing.
It's also worth mentioning that on the EOS 1100D the card and battery compartments are, just like on many compact cameras, combined in the bottom of the hand grip. This can make it difficult to get the card out when the camera is mounted on a tripod. It'll depend on the shape and size of your tripod plate though.
Last but not least the 1100D also retains Canon's slightly unusual way of setting custom white balance. It requires you to take a shot of a white or gray card, designate it as the reference image, and then manually switch to custom white balance setting (as the camera refuses to believe that having selected the reference image, you might actually want to use it). The 1D-series (and indeed Powershot and most other brands) method of pointing the camera at the reference target and using it directly to set a Custom WB frankly makes much more sense.
Shutter lag, image review speed and general responsiveness should not be an issue on a DSLR in 2011 and the EOS 1100D does not disappoint in these areas with its performance pretty much in line with other cameras in its class. However, in a couple of areas the camera leaves no doubt that we are looking at the lowest tier in Canon's DSLR hierarchy here. Continuous shooting in RAW is so slow and the buffer runs full so quickly that in most situations it is not of much use. Life View focusing is painfully slow as well. That said, this is true for most current Canon DSLRs and not an 1100D issue alone.
Continuous Shooting and Buffering
The continuous shooting rate of the 1100D is comparatively slow. In JPEG mode continuous shooting mode will be of use in some situations but if you want to shoot RAW there's simply not much point. The 1100D's Digic IV processor struggles to move the data around the imaging pipeline quickly enough and you'll find yourself with a 'busy' message in the viewfinder more often than you'd like. Of course you cannot expect blistering fast action from a camera at this level but some competitors do better in this area.
- JPEG: 3.0 fps until card is full
- RAW: 2.0 fps for 6 frames, then around 1.2 fps. 3 seconds to recover.
- RAW+JPEG: 1.3 fps for 2 frames, then around 0.8 fps. 3 seconds to recover.
All tests conducted with SanDisk Extreme Pro 45MB/sec SDHC card.
Autofocus speed / accuracy
The 1100D gains two AF points over the 1000D and has essentially the same nine-point AF system that we've seen on other more recent Rebel/EOSx00D series cameras. We haven't had any issues at all with AF accuracy in the several hundred sample shots we took during the course of this review. In very low light the AF slows down and can eventually give up, as it is normal with any DSLR, but we never had it lock out of focus. In really low light you can also raise the flash and use it as an AF-assist light.
In terms of focus speed the EOS 1100D with its kit lens is roughly on a par with other cameras in this class. Having said that, focus speed does to a large degree depend on the attached lens and the bundled 18-55mm kit lens is noticeably slower than Canon's much more expensive USM lenses with their ultrasonic focus motors. We've used the EOS 1100D with a 70-200mm F4 USM lens and while the camera is not quite as fast as more expensive Canon bodies, it's certainly usable for shooting moving subjects. On the other hand we cannot imagine all that many 1100D buyers will use the camera with a lens that is almost three times as expensive as the body.
In live view 'Live Mode' the AF speed slows down significantly - the contrast-detect system's accuracy is great but focusing will regularly take 3-4 seconds which makes it almost too painful to use in many situations but totally rules out its use for moving subjects. Canon has got some catching up to do in this area as other manufacturers now offer better live view focusing, even in their entry-level models.