Help me choose a new DSLR
January 6, 2012 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking into purchasing a Canon DSLR and need some advice on which package to choose

The options that I have are as follows:

1) Canon T3i with 50mm f/1.8 II lens for $650

2) Canon T3 with 2 lens (EF-S 18-55 mm F/3.5-5.6 IS and EF 75-300 mm F/4.0-5.6 III USM) for $740.

I could also get the T3 with just the 18-55mm lens for $549.

I'm intending to use this camera for normal photography but also as a replacement for a dead video camera. Since this is a major requirement the camera needs to give the same functionality as the old video camera (a Sony DCR-SR85 with a 2.5-62.5mm lens. One review site says the 35mm equivalent is 43-1075mm). The T3i has 1080p video while the T3 is only 780p so I'm leaning a bit towards the T3i.

If it helps with the advice I also have an old Canon EF 28-90mm lens from a film Canon Rebel. Could that be used on the T3 or T3i?

Any help from Mefites would be greatly appreciated!
posted by smcniven to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This article on The Verge just came out on camera packages and it has been an excellent and up-to-date resource in my own research.
posted by jeremias at 9:30 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

All EF lenses will work on any Canon EF mount camera (basically all of their SLRs since 1987), so your 28-90mm will work on whichever body you get.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:32 AM on January 6, 2012

I would go with the T3i rather than the T3 for the simple fact that you can make much larger (canvas/metal/paper) prints from the T3i. If you want to piece of art to go in your house, you're going to want to print it as large as possible.

I believe all modern Canon lenses are usable, but note that these cameras have a crop factor, which turns your 28-90mm lens into a 45-144mm lens. The crop factor has to do with the sensor being smaller than a standard 35mm film SLR sensor.

The 50mm by itself is a great portrait lens and a great deal, but this won't leave you anything for landscape or wide angle photography. I would steer you toward the T3i kit with the 18-55mm lens, available from Amazon for $699. Make the 50mm your next purchase. It absolutely does things (sharpness, low light, cool shallow depth of field, portraits) that the kit lens doesn't do well.

Hope that helps.
posted by cnc at 9:38 AM on January 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

+1 to what CNC says.

Also consider any packages with the T2i. It's got the exact same "guts" as the T3i, and the photo quality between the two models is identical.

The T3i has the flip-out screen, and a few nice ergonomic improvements, but ultimately may not be worth the higher price if you can catch a steal on a T2i.
posted by schmod at 9:40 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

The 18-55 kit lens is really bad, in my opinion, and should be avoided at all costs. You may have experienced the importance of quality lenses from your film days; you'll likely find that the 18-55 is optically inferior, producing lower-contrast, lower-saturation images than other lenses.

I've never used the 75-300, but note that it's pretty slow (i.e., maximum aperture is small) particularly zoomed all the way out. Also, because of the crop factor on the T3s, at 300mm, it will "feel" like about 500mm. Is that a focal length you need? I have a 100-400 (on a full-frame sensor camera), and I don't really ever need that long a lens. YMMV, of course, if you're off photographing bald eagles or something.

I think I'd go with option 1) and use your holdover lens. Be careful with the 50 1.8, though; it's made of plastic and can be prone to breaking if it gets too solid a whack! (Same with the 18-55)
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:47 AM on January 6, 2012

I would get the 50mm f/1.8 no matter what - it's a great lens and I used it almost exclusively until I upgraded to its fancier cousin the f/1.4. It's a great teaching lens in that it doesn't have a zoom; having to move your feet and body to get the shot that you want is really useful in learning how to frame a photograph.
posted by awesomebrad at 10:19 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you don't need a telephoto lens right away, and want to save up, and make an investment in a damn good lens, I can strongly recommend the 70-200 f/4L. It'll set you back about $600, but hot damn, it's a nice piece of glass for the price (L-series lenses are Canon's "best of the best," and usually cost well over $1,000; the 70-200 is a steal, considering what you get.)

When I bought my DSLR, I only had the kit lens to start, and although this was initially frustrating, I was really glad that I waited and got the 70-200.

Realistically, the crop factor on a DSLR is going to make it very difficult to produce good shots at anything longer than 200mm without a tripod. The "35mm equivalent" of any lens on most Canon DSLRs is equal to 1.6x the lens's focal length (so, your 28-90mm on a DSLR will look like a 45-144mm lens would on your Film Rebel, and yes, you should be able to use it).

And, yes. Get the 50mm f/1.8 lens. It's a piece of shit, but it's a piece of shit that happens to have insanely good optics and great low-light performance (if you can get it focused). Just don't drop it (it's cheap and has fantastic optics -- guess where they compromised), use it in a quiet room (it's unquestionably the loudest lens I've ever encountered; guess where else they compromised), or expect it to autofocus in anything other than broad daylight.

This might sound like a lukewarm and bitter review of the 50/1.8. I assure you, it's not. It's an absolutely fantastic lens that I wholeheartedly recommend, even in spite of these very significant drawbacks. Even if you don't get it bundled with the camera, it should be your very next purchase afterwards (unless you're rolling in dough and can afford the 50/1.4 right off the bat)

Sadly, you probably should stick with the kit lens for now. It indeed isn't all that great, but Canon don't really offer any alternatives that aren't also fantastically expensive.

Oh, and buy a polarizing filter if you're going to be shooting landscapes.
posted by schmod at 10:32 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am also thinking about purchasing the DSLR and have decided on the T3i, since it has a larger Sensor, more MP and overall is more future-proof than the T3.

My plan on the lens was to start with the kit lens, get the 50/1.8 next, then the 55-250 and finally a L-series telephoto over a period of 2 years. This will cover my needs for low-light portraits, daylight travel, landscape and wildlife photography, although I might get a used wide-angle for the landscape if I feel like it.

I am just throwing this in case you are still deciding.
posted by theobserver at 10:58 AM on January 6, 2012

If you're okay with the idea of a fixed focal length lens, and expect to shoot in low light a lot, I would recommend thinking about the 28mm f/1.8 lens. It crops in to about a 45mm equivalent on the Rebel body, which in the "normal" range, thus being very versatile. I found the optical quality very good and it's remained very useful on my more recent full-frame cameras.

FWIW, that Verge article is comprehensive but irritatingly frequently slightly incorrect. It's good for getting the basics down but don't rely on it as a canonical guide.
posted by Magnakai at 11:18 AM on January 6, 2012

One other piece of advice: The skill is in the photographer and not in the equipment.

Unless you're selling photos for money or you have a lot of extra money to spend, you don't need ultra high-end equipment. Spend your time on photography, not gear. I could swap every piece of mostly low-end equipment I have with the people who show up here and our respective output would be almost exactly the same.
posted by cnc at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2012

I'm a Nikon owner so I can't really comment on Canon gear.

However, do not expect to be able to use the T3i or any DSLR as a direct replacement for a camcorder. Shooting video on a DSLR is very different, especially if you're thinking of using it for things like home movies. Mainly, focusing on a DSLR is painfully slow and inaccurate, not to mention the audible noise of the focus motor (depends on the camera, lens, etc. of course). If you're planning to use it for set shots, you can work around this, but for spontaneous things it's much less useful.

This all might be fine for your needs, but I just wanted to bring it up and make sure you're aware of it before you make your purchase.
posted by Tu13es at 11:24 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, see this thread.
posted by Tu13es at 11:31 AM on January 6, 2012

I just got the T3i with the 18-135 kit lens. The lens seems better than the 18-55 kit, but autofocus is slow and noisy. I'm eyeing the 50mm 1.4 as a next purchase, but am having trouble justifying the cost over the 1.8. The Rebel series bodies are smaller than their higher end cousins, and if you have larger hands, I'd recommend getting the battery grip. I picked up an aftermarket one on Amazon and it makes all the difference in the world for ergonomics for me.
posted by BryanPayne at 11:45 AM on January 6, 2012

I have yet to shoot video with it. I'll actually be testing that feature out later today.
posted by BryanPayne at 11:46 AM on January 6, 2012

I don't know anything about your previous video camera, but using a canon DSLR for a video camera replacement is really not a great option, unless you go into it like a film maker. The sound on the camera is not good, there is no auto focus while shooting video, and the form factor makes it very hard to keep your shots steady without extra equipment.

The only people who should get a DSLR for video are the people who approach it like a film maker: Record your sound separately (or accept the lousy quality of your camera sound), and be prepared to reshoot when you find out your exposure isn't correct, or your focus isn't off (which you can't tell very well on the tiny screen). A canon DSLR will never replace a real video camera for casual shooting of birthday parties, family stuff, etc.
posted by markblasco at 11:47 AM on January 6, 2012

The EF 50 mm f/1.8 is a nice lens for the price. But I wouldn't get a setup that had it as my only lens; I end up using the kit lens for a lot of candid shots simply because it's easier to frame shots of a squiggly kid in a non-prime lens. When he holds still, the 50 shines. But these days he wants to see the picture, so he keeps creeping closer and I end up with a nice shot of his nostril.

I borrowed a friend's lens for an afternoon - an EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. REALLY wish I had that as my standard rather than the kit lens that came with my camera. Spend money on good glass when you can, you'll be happier.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:15 PM on January 6, 2012

Please consider my usual advice for people in your situation: Buy the body and the kit lens first, and keep the 28-90 you currently own. Use this combo to the point where you feel like you know the capabilities inside and out.

In time, and with experience, you'll learn what your next logical addition to your outfit should be. It might be a macro lens, a fast prime lens, a longer zoom, or am external flash.

I would be willing to bet that at least 90% of all amateur or casual photographers are unable to take full advantage of the equipment they have at hand, regardless of what that is. Experience will enable you to be one of the 10% who do.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:52 AM on January 7, 2012

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