Canon t1i vs t2i vs t3i: What Digital SLR Camera to Buy?
It’s been about a year and a half since I purchased my Canon EOS Rebel T1i. In the meantime, Canon has put out not one but two upgrades… the Canon EOS Rebel T2i has been available for a while now, and the Canon EOS Rebel T3i was just released about two weeks ago.
So what are the differences between the three? If you’re comparing the Canon t1i vs t2i vs t3i, what should you be looking for…?
First, let’s see how they stack up price-wise. The Canon t1i isn’t available new from the factory, but you’ll still find some floating around. Amazon lists it at $529, a little cheaper than where it started two years ago. Amazon is currently selling the t2i for $677, and the t3i is listed at a full retail price of $799.99.
[Note: This has changed since I originally published this article. The Canon t1i has been fluctuating in and out of stock at Amazon, for a little under $500. The Canon t2i body is listed at approximately $499.99, and the Canon t3i body recently dropped in price to $624.95.]
If you’re willing to dive into the used camera market, you might find some better prices on the Canon t1i’s and Canon t2i’s. A used Canon t1i body is selling on eBay for something in the neighborhood of $400 to $450. Canon t2i’s are selling used for somewhere in the neighborhood of $650, so not a great deal; but that might change if more people start to upgrade to the t3i.
Here’s one reason to upgrade to a Canon t2i or Canon t3i from a Canon t1i: resolution. The t1i boasts 15.1 megapixels, which is not too shabby at all. I haven’t upgraded yet (although I plan on doing so relatively soon), and those 15.1 megapixels are enough for most purposes. I’ve made 36 inch poster prints from my football shots, and I haven’t noticed any problems stemming from resolution.
However, the Canon t2i was a clear upgrade in terms of resolution. It jumped from 15.1MP to 18MP – about 20%. Is it necessary? Probably not. Is it better? Sure. The Canon t3i still has 18 megapixels, so no upgrade there.
Despite the resolution shift, all three cameras have the same sensor… so no difference there.
Here’s the one reason I’d consider choosing a Canon t3i over a Canon t2i: flash control. Currently, in order to use my flashes off camera, I need to use some wireless radio triggers. If I wanted to use Canon’s built-in wireless system, I would need to either buy a (not-so-cheap) Canon Speedlite 580EX II or a Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter. Both of these products work as a master commander for Canon’s wireless system, and you can use it to control multiple Canon flashes from in camera.
The Canon t3i introduces a built-in pop-up master flash, a feature that was definitely lacking in previous models. Now, you can control Canon flashes with just the built-in pop-up flash. Of course, this also means that I’ll need to buy all Canon flashes (I currently mix a Canon flash with some Vivitar 285s for my off-camera lighting). Oh well… more money to spend. Still, for the Canon t2i vs t3i, this is a clear advantage for the Canon t3i.
I don’t use my Canon t1i much for video, but I have in the past… and it’s pretty cool. Focusing and adjusting the light mid scene is a pain, but it definitely makes some high quality video. This is where you’ll see some new changes.
The Canon t2i presents an improvement over the t1i in terms of video quality and frame rate. If you’re shooting in 1080P, the Canon t1i has a frame rate of 20fps. Meanwhile, the Canon t2i (and the t3i) boast full frame rates of 24 and 30 at 1080P.
The Canon t2i also introduced an audio jack that you could plug an external microphone into. If you’re trying to make a real video and not just a home movie, this is pretty key. The built in microphone is ok, but it’s nothing special.
The Canon t3i also introduces a new twist: an articulated LCD screen. Nikon put this in the mix a while ago, and Canon is kind of playing catch up… except for the fact that it rarely matters. I have never used the LCD screen to preview/compose an image since I dumped my old Nikon Coolpix P80 for a real dSLR. However, the articulated screen does have a use for video people. If you’re shooting video you’re looking through the LCD screen anyway… so it’s nice that it moves around.
So… What to Buy?
Depends on what you’re doing.
Looking for a good quality, cheap, entry level dSLR? Try scooping up a used Canon t1i on eBay for $400. I still love my t1i, and that’s half the price tag of a new Canon t3i. In the last year, the price of a new Canon t2i has dropped, and if you’re buying a new camera… there’s almost no price difference between the Canon t2i and the Canon t1i. So just get the newer camera. Looking at the Canon t2i vs t3i, however, there’s still a decent price jump. So only upgrade if you need to.
Do you do video with your digital camera? If so, consider the t2i or the t3i. The external microphone and better video quality is a nice improvement, and the articulated screen of the t3i may help you out. This is one area where the two newer cameras have a clear advantage over buying a used, older Canon t1i.
Do you do a lot of Strobist stuff? Well, then you might want to upgrade to a Canon t3i (or a Canon EOS 60D). Both the Canon t3i and the Canon 60D offer a built-in commander option to control Canon’s flashes wirelessly. The problem? You need to own a bunch of Canon flashes. If you already bought some off-brand manual flashes, then this is quite a bit less attractive… but if you don’t own a bunch of flashes yet, it might be worth paying a bit extra to get some Canon flashes and use the built-in wireless system. It definitely provides some flexibility and power that you don’t get with wireless triggers and manual flashes.
Note: Curious about the 7D vs 60D vs t3i? I recently wrote up another thorough but simple review, looking at the pros and cons of upgrading.Check it out: Canon t3i vs 60D vs 7D.
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