Ever since Canon introduced its original 'Digital Rebel' back in August 2003 - famously the first 'affordable' digital SLR - the company has continually developed and refined its entry-level line with ever-more-frequent releases, adding in more and more features in the process. So true to form, almost precisely a year to the day after the advent of the EOS Rebel T2i / 550D Canon launched its next model, predictably named the EOS Rebel T3i / 600D. As usual the 550D remains in Canon's range at a lower price point, with the EOS 1100D slotting in beneath it to round off the company's offerings to entry-level SLR users.
The new kid on the block can most succinctly be described as a 550D with an articulated screen, that also incorporates many of the beginner-friendly features we first saw on the more enthusiast-orientated EOS 60D. Perhaps most notable of these is 'Basic+', a simple, results-orientated approach to image adjustments in the scene-based exposure modes, that allows the user to change the look of their images and control background blur without needing to know anything technical about how this all works. The 600D also gains multi-aspect ratio shooting (in live view) plus the 60D's 'Creative Filters', a range of effects than can be applied to images after shooting, including toy camera, fisheye and fake-miniature looks. Additionally it can now wirelessly control off-camera flashes, including the Speedlite 320EX and 270EX II announced alongside it.
The fully-automatic 'green square' exposure mode has also been updated to 'Scene Intelligent Auto', with a new 'A+' icon on the mode dial to match. According to Canon, this mode (as its name might suggest) now analyses the scene in front of the camera and sets its exposure and image-processing parameters accordingly, and even tweaks the colour output to match. Continuing the 'beginner-friendly' theme, the camera now also incorporates a 'Feature Guide', that displays short explanations of what each function does on the screen to help beginners learn how things work.
There's an intriguing 'Video Snapshot' movie mode too, that's borrowed from Canon's camcorder range. This is based on the idea that movies are often more interesting when stitched together from a number of short 'takes', rather than one long continuous clip. It therefore limits movie recording to short snippets of 2, 4 or 8 seconds, then plays them back sequentially as a composite movie, with the option of adding a soundtrack to help tie them together. This, in effect, allows to you produce complex, multi-take movies without having to resort to computer editing.
What hasn't changed at all, though, is the camera's core specification, making the 600D the first camera in the line that hasn't gained a higher resolution sensor or new processor. So Canon's tried-and-trusted 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor is still in place, along with its sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400 (expandable to 12800) and 3.9fps continuous shooting. Likewise the 9-point autofocus and 63 zone metering systems are unchanged. This means that the 600D is unlikely to bring any surprises in terms of image quality.
On the movie front the camera retains its predecessor's approach too, offering full HD recording via a dedicated position on the camera's mode dial, with full manual control available for those who want it. There's a new digital zoom function, offering 3 - 10x magnification, and the 600D also has sound recording level control built-in, with a stereo sound meter to help judge the right setting.
Put this all together, and it's clear that the 600D is an extremely well-featured little camera that's well beyond the traditional stripped-down 'entry level' fare, and indeed gives little away in terms of features compared to the EOS 60D (the differences are mainly in terms of ergonomics and handling). It's also clearly aiming to make life as easy as possible for SLR newcomers to jump onboard and start experimenting with creative controls, while offering plenty of room to learn and develop their skills. But there's an awful lot of competition in this market space at the moment, and the 600D will have its work cut out to stand apart from the crowd and tempt potential buyers away from the small, sleek and lightweight mirrorless models that will sit alongside it on the dealers' shelves. Read on to find out how well it fares in this competitive market.
A brief history; Canon entry level digital SLR series
- 20/08/03: Canon EOS 300D / Digital Rebel (6 MP)
- 17/02/05: Canon EOS 350D / Digital Rebel XT (8 MP)
- 24/08/06: Canon EOS 400D / Digital Rebel XTi (10 MP)
- 24/01/08: Canon EOS 450D / Digital Rebel XSi (12 MP)
- 10/06/08: Canon EOS 1000D / Digital Rebel XS (10 MP)*
- 25/03/09: Canon EOS 500D / Digital Rebel T1i (15.1 MP)
- 08/02/10: Canon EOS 550D / Rebel T2i (18 MP)
- 07/02/11: Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i (18 MP)
- 07/02/11: Canon EOS 1100D / Rebel T3 (12 MP)*
* The Canon EOS 1000D and 1100D represent a parallel, simplified sub-class of the Rebel series
Headline / New features
- 18 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
- DIGIC 4 processor with ISO 100-6400 (Expansion to 12800)
- Fully articulated 7.7cm (3.0”) 3:2 Clear View LCD with 1,040k dots
- Full HD movie recording with manual control and selectable frame rates
- Digital zoom in movie mode (3x - 10x)
- New 'Scene Intelligent Auto' exposure mode (replacing full auto)
- 'Basic+' and 'Creative Filters'
- Integrated wireless flash control
- 'Video Snapshot' mode for the creation of multi-take movies
Revised kit lens - Canon EF-S 18-55mm F3.6-5.6 IS II
The 600D gets a 'new' kit lens, the EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS II. According to Canon this is identical in specification to the previous version, and features exactly the same optics and IS system: it simply has a revised external design. The visible changes suggest a paring down of production costs, for example the 'white square' alignment mark for mounting the lens is now simply painted on, rather than moulded. The camera will also come in a kit with the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens.
Canon EOS 600D vs EOS 550D: what's changed
Once again the EOS 600D doesn't officially replace the 550D, but instead slips comfortably into the range between it and the more enthusiast-orientated 60D. The two cameras look near-identical from the front - the 600D is just a fraction taller and wider, due mainly to the swivel-and-tilt screen, and it's a fraction heavier too (by about 40g / 1.4 oz). It's also now got a more obvious grip area for your left hand below the model badge.
Naturally, though, that articulated LCD results in more substantial changes on the back of the camera. The unit is hinged from the side, in signature Canon fashion, and takes up more space than before. So while the rear layout stays the same as the 550D,the 4-way controller's a little smaller and some buttons have moved across to the right. This in turn impinges slightly into the rear grip area, so Canon has created a highly sculpted channel to guide your thumb away from accidental button presses, and help provide a positive grasp on the camera. Note too that there's no space any more for the sensor below the eyepiece that the 550D uses to turn its display on and off.
One less easy-to-spot change is that the functions of the 550D's 'DISP' button have been divided up. The 600D now has an 'INFO' button in its position, which is used to cycle through the various information display options. There's now a separate button on the top-plate labelled 'DISP', which simply turns the screen on and off, effectively taking over the function of the 550D's eye sensor.
This top-down view reveals that the 600D is also a bit deeper, front-to-back than its predecessor, again due mainly to the swivel screen. This adds about 3mm to the depth of the grip, which may not sound like much but improves the handling to a surprising degree. The new top plate 'DISP' button can also be clearly seen here.
Canon EOS 600D vs. EOS 550D feature differences
The list below gives a more complete summary of the feature differences between the 600D and 550D:
- Vari-angle display
- Scene intelligent Auto Mode
- 'Basic+' creative controls in scene modes
- 'Creative Filters' can be applied to images in playback mode
- Multi-aspect ratio shooting (3:2, 4:3, 16:9, 1:1, previewable in Live View)
- Integrated Wireless flash controller with multi-flash support
- 'Video Snapshot' mode
- Auto Lighting Optimizer now adjustable in 4 levels
- Feature Guide
- Image rating (1-5 stars)
- Eye sensor for LCD display replaced by 'DISP' button
- Marginally larger and heavier