Canon EOS Rebel T3
Price: $499 with 18-55mm IS II lens kit
Key specs: 12.2MP APS-C format CMOS sensor, 720p video, 9 AF points (1 cross-type), max shooting rate 3fps, 2.7-inch 230,000-dot LCD
The Canon EOS Rebel T3 hit the headlines when it was originally launched, some three years ago, bringing relatively exotic features to the entry-level sector of the market. It is still available as the most inexpensive route into Canon SLR photography but, in some ways, is starting to show its age.
Its 12.2Mp image resolution is outclassed by all other current models, which have at least 18MP resolution. Similarly, while it features a video capture capability, it's only 720p instead of the full 1080p sported by all other cameras in the range. Both of these issues are addressed by the new entry-level T5 which is waiting to review in full.
On the plus side, the Rebel T3 boasts a smart iFCL (intelligent Focus Color Luminance) metering system that was originally introduced in the 7D camera. Also, like the Rebel SL1 and Rebel T5i, there's a 9-point autofocus module with a cross-type sensor at the centre. This gives greater accuracy by resolving detail in both horizontal and vertical planes.
Again though, the Rebel T3 doesn't quite match the later SL1 and T5i, as the central AF point doesn't have a high-sensitivity capability for increased performance with wide-aperture lenses (f/2.8 or wider). There's more bad news around the back, where the LCD is a bit on the small side at 2.7-inches, and has a relatively low resolution of just 230k pixels. Most other beginners' cameras typically have a larger 3.0-inch screen with a 1040k resolution, as well as offering touchscreen operation which is lacking on the T3.
Another omission is that there's no mirror lockup custom function, so mirror-bounce can be a problem when trying to get sharp, tripod-mounted shots, especially when using macro or long telephoto lenses. Overall, the T3 is a simple camera that's easy to use. It's also cheaper than the Rebel T5, making it a pretty good value if you can get by without the newer camera's greater resolution and updated features.
Remarkably inexpensive to buy and very beginner friendly.
It's a bit of a poor relation in terms of specifications.
Canon EOS Rebel SL1
Price: $599 body only
Key spec: 18.0Mp APS-C format CMOS sensor, 1080p video, 9 AF points (1 cross-type), max shooting rate 4fps, 3-inch 1,040,000-dot touch-sensitive LCD
An exercise in downsizing, the EOS Rebel SL1 is the most compact and lightweight DSLR that Canon has ever made, yet still features plenty of upscaled attractions, especially compared with the older Rebel T3. It has a higher-resolution 18MP image sensor and a bigger, more detailed 3-inch 1040k LCD that adds touchscreen operation. The DIGIC 5 image processor is also a generation newer.
Continuous shooting has a maximum speed of 4fps (frames per second) in both JPEG or raw quality mode, whereas the T3 drops from 3fps to just 2fps when you switch from JPEG to RAW. Video capture resolution is also boosted to 1080p. Better still, the redesigned image sensor uses a selection of its photo sites (which equate to pixels) to enable phase-detection autofocus, making continuous autofocus possible when shooting video. Stills and video resolution aside, the SL1 also beats the new Rebel T5 in all the specifications and features we've mentioned so far.
Another beginner friendly advantage is the Scene Intelligent Auto shooting mode, as featured on similarly recent cameras including the Canon EOS M, Rebel T5i and 70D. A step up over the older and more basic "green square" full auto mode, it analyzes scenes as you're composing shots, not only checking brightness, contrast and color, but also detecting faces and watching out for movement. It really helps to give consistently great results in simple point-and-shoot photography. There are plentiful scene modes too, that go far beyond the basic sports, portrait and close-up modes. These are available via a dedicated "Scn" position on the main shooting mode dial, delivering further options like Kids, Food and Candlelight.
Naturally, you can adjust all shooting parameters in the more advanced "creative zone" of the shooting dial that includes the usual P, Av, Tv and M options. The cherry on the cake is a big boost in sensitivity range. Compared with the T3's ISO 100-6400, the SL1 stretches to ISO 12800 in its standard range, and all the way to ISO 25600 in expanded mode, again beating the newer T5.
Very compact for a D-SLR, good touchscreen, versatile scene modes.
Relatively few direct access controls, body can feel a bit cramped if you have big hands.