The announcement on Monday of the new Canon T3i was greeted with disinterest bordering on distain by the DSLR video shooting community. What was new in this update to distinguish it from the T2i, which was announced almost exactly a year ago on February 8, 2010? Was this just a firmware upgrade in the guise of a new camera as one poster suggested?
From the video shooter's perspective, the T3i doesn't look like much of an improvement over the T2i. It seems to have the same chip and image processor as the T2i, so while they've tweaked the auto modes, and added creative filters, we shouldn't expect any real image difference.
One area where all Canon DSLRs suffer is in moire when capturing fine patterns. This happens because of the sampling the processor does when quickly scaling the image from the large 18 MP chip down to 1920 x 1080. For this reason, one new feature - a digital zoom - looked promising; perhaps the camera doesn't have to do as much data manipulation to produce the final image, which may remove or reduce the moire.
Unfortunately, initial study of sample clips suggests that the digital scale doesn't reduce the moire.
But before we obsess too much about that, lets not forget that many people think the video quality of the Canon DSLRs right now is perfectly acceptable. People are shooting TV shows with them! And adding a digital zoom - providing it doesn't actually diminish the quality - isn't a bad thing.
Perhaps best of all, the T3i adds the tilt/swivel screen that first appeared on the 60D. That, for me, makes the T3i update worthwhile. I can't also help but think that this will cannibalize some 60D sales - that tilt screen is especially useful for those shooting video, and was a reason for picking the 60D over the T2i - but that's Canon's problem, not mine!
In truth, perhaps the reason it was panned is because many are really waiting for a "5D Mark III," and hoping it improves image quality and does a few other things like full HD out the HDMI port. But the T3i isn't a terrible beast; for the swivel screen alone I'd recommend it over the T2i if you were thinking about buying one.
The T3 / 1100D
At the same time as they announced the T3i, Canon also updated the Rebel XS / 1000D with the T3 / 1100D. This update adds several features over the XS, but the most notable is HD 720p video recording. There's no tilting LCD as on the T3i, but you'll save $200.
I'd spend the money.
For video use, the tilt screen alone would be worth it. And though 720p is not bad for many applications - and most of my projects get posted at 720p anyway - having a higher resolution 1080p image gives you the opportunity to zoom in a little on the final clip while editing. So I'd get the T3i.
B & H: Canon EOS Rebel T3 Digital Camera Kit [$599.00]
Amazon: Canon EOS Rebel T3 12.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR with 18-55mm IS II Lens and EOS HD Movie Mode (Black)
B & H: Canon EOS Rebel T3i Digital Camera (Body Only) [$799.00]
Amazon: Canon EOS Rebel T3i 18 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera and DIGIC 4 Imaging (Body Only)