Friday, July 09, 2021

Rebel, Rebel

I had intended to start a project describing the various tiers of DSLR cameras. There's a lot of misinformation and confusion around what separates the different models in a maker's lineup. At the height of things, there were nearly a dozen different DSLR models in Canon's catalog, ranging in price from less than four hundred dollars to more than six grand. This isn't made any less confusing to the neophyte when they learn that the cheapest camera has an 18MP sensor and spending ten times the money gets them... a 20MP sensor.

Using older models that were much cheaper to acquire, I figured I'd highlight the differences at each price point of Canon and Nikon... then the project got shelved and by the time I got back around to it, the DSLR market had more or less completely collapsed.

Oh, well, let's finish this thing. We'll start at what was, originally, the bottom of the Canon barrel. Canon model designations are harder to decode in the US, where the inexpensive consumer models use the "Rebel" name, followed by an alphanumeric designator. In overseas markets, the fewer digits in a Canon's model number, the farther up the totem pole it is, with the professional grade bodies only having a single digit: 1D, 5D, 7D, et al. This camera is sold in Europe as the 1100D, but here it's the Rebel T3.

The Rebel T3 was sold as an even cheaper alternative to the T3i, Canon having settled somewhere around 2010 on the T# and T#i naming convention for their entry-level and upper-entry cameras. Generally these would be the two tiers of DSLRs that you would run into on the shelves of big box stores, and they were marketed basically head-to-head against Nikon's D3xxx and D5xxx bodies.

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I've been running around with the Rebel T3 wearing an old EF 28-80mm kit lens.

This lens was the kit lens for Rebel film cameras in the Nineties, and it is exceedingly janky. It has a plastic mount. It doesn't use nice fast quiet ultrasonic ring motors to focus, and the little micro motor it uses instead has developed a hideous squealing noise... or maybe that's just how it sounded when it was new in 1996 and I've just been spoiled by whisper-quiet USM.

The T3 body itself feels very bargain basement, too. It actually creaks and flexes minutely when gripped tightly. It's amazing that Canon was able to cost-cut even more to carve out one additional tier *beneath* the T3/1100D before the collapse of the DSLR market.

The inexpensive body is paired with a pentamirror viewfinder that feels dim and cramped if you're used to the big bright pentaprisms on pro bodies, but Canon assumed that the person fondling cameras at Target or Best Buy was unlikely to realize that. It also only shows 95% of the actual image area, which is something to be aware of when composing.

Not only is the plastic of the body thinner than the T3i, but the T3 also disposes of the textured faux leatherette and is notably slipperier in the hand. Fortunately the grip is amply-sized, even on this relatively tiny DSLR. Another cost savings versus the T3i is achieved by doing away with the separate SD card door on the side of the camera; on the T3, the SD card slot is in the battery compartment on the bottom, which isn't a big deal if you don't need to change memory cards while the camera's on a tripod.

Still, the basic guts of the camera are competent. It's got a 12MP sensor and DIGIC 4 image processor looted from the corporate parts bin and previously used on higher-end camera, and it also brought 720p video recording to the bargain basement end of the DSLR market.

With decent glass on it, it does just fine...

With the old kit zoom, it was still possible to get usable photos. It's not for pixel-peeping, that's for sure. But in a world where most photos are viewed on cell phones or tablet screens, it's adequate.