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Canon t3i vs t4i: Should You Get the Upgraded or Cheaper Camera?

Canon t3i vs t4i: The two cameras side by side with the word "vs" in the middle.

Note: I’m not longer updating this website, Digital Photography How To. However, I’ve started a new blog, Rockin’ Photogs, about digital photography. You’ll find a similar article there comparing the Canon t3i / 600D and the Canon t4i / 650D.

If you’re in the market for an entry level digital SLR camera, then you might find yourself comparing the Canon t3i vs t4i. They’re the two latest models in Canon’s entry level line.

At this point in time, the Canon t4i (AKA Canon EOS 650D) is about 6 months old. It’s no longer brand new, and it’s been discounted a bit by online retailers. You can purchase a Canon Rebel t4i body on Amazon for approximately $650. Meanwhile, the slightly older Canon t3i is marked down to about $530. [Note: Prices do change on Amazon regularly, so this is up to date as of time of writing.]

So, given that the Canon t4i has a price premium of a little more than $100, is it worth it to buy the more expensive camera?

Well, let’s take a look at the advantages it offers over it’s older brothers. While in the past, there have been pretty tiny, incremental changes between the Canon t1i, the Canon t2i, and the Canon t3i… the Canon t4i brings some impressive new features to the table.

Canon t3i vs t4i: Image Processor

One clear difference between the two cameras right off the bat is that the Canon t4i sports Canon’s brand new, DIGIC 5 image processor. It’s still 18.0 megapixels, the same resolution as the two previous cameras, but this image processor is a generation newer and that offers some potentially awesome benefits.

The DIGIC processor is responsible for taking the light information captured by the CMOS sensor and converting it into an image. The limits of this processor can reduce image quality, increase noise, and create a bottleneck that limits shooting speed. According to Canon, the new generation of DIGIC 5 processors are six times faster than the old DIGIC 4 processors. This new processor is responsible for a lot of other advantages offered by the Canon t4i, and it’s definitely suggests that you might be better off buying the newer camera than sticking with the older Canon t3i.

Canon t3i vs t4i: Key Photography Differences

If you’re just a photographer, and you don’t care about video, then there are some advantages offered by the newer camera.

The Canon t4i shoots at 5 FPS, compared to the 3.7 FPS of the Canon t3i. The newer camera also offers a standard ISO option of 12,800 and an expandable option to 25,600. The older camera only reaches 6400 by default, and it expands to 12,800.

Based on my own experience with the Canon t1i and Canon t2i, the “standard” ISO modes are usually pretty good. The expandable options get into the area of heavy noise. This bears true with the Canon t4i as well. You can shoot at what were once ridiculously high ISO settings – 6400 or 12,800 – and have perfectly useable pictures. If you increase the ISO to 12,800, then you’re shooting a full two stops above what you used to be able to do with a Canon t1i a few years ago, and a full stop above what the Canon t3i can safely deliver. That’s a big difference if you do any amount of indoor action photography.

Now, neither of these differences are going to matter much if you a) don’t shoot in low light, b) don’t shoot action photography, and c) don’t shoot low-light action photography. I do all three, so I really want a Canon t4i right now. But, if you only use your camera to do daytime street photography or you do long-exposure landscape photography, well, these improvements aren’t going to matter much to you.

Canon t3i vs t4i: Key Video Differences

Although the Canon t2i and t3i made some improvements to video, they had one major drawback: they couldn’t auto-focus while the video was rolling. This always killed me about Canon’s entry level dSLRs. They clearly wanted to appeal to the video market with the introduction of external audio jacks, HD video, and a fold-out articulating screen. But no autofocus? Come on, you gotta be kidding me!

With the Canon t4i, that’s no longer a problem. Canon finally introduced autofocus while recording video, helping them catch up to Nikon in the entry level, video dSLR department. Now the quality of that auto-focus will depend a lot on the lens. More expensive lenses focus quicker and quieter, and the basic kit lens (the 18-55mm) is going to be a little sluggish and a little noisy. But it’s still better than having no autofocus at all while you’re filming something!

Canon t3i vs t4i: Other Differences

The other key difference between the two cameras is that the Canon t4i introduces a touch screen menu. I’m not a big fan of touch screen controls on cameras. The first time I met one on a point and shoot, I was thoroughly confused. But maybe I’m just used to all the old buttons, dials, and controls.

To me, it just doesn’t seem all that exciting. It wouldn’t make one bit of difference to me in my buying decision. The best advice I can you here is to go to the store, test out the touch screen, and see if it makes a difference to you. With UI elements like menus, touchscreens, and buttons, there really is no substitute for holding the camera in your hand and seeing how it works out.

Canon t3i vs t4i: What Hasn’t Changed

Given these few changes, there are a lot of things that are still the same.

The image resolution remains the same at 18.0 megapixels, and for good reason. The image sensor hasn’t gotten any bigger, and there are already an incredible number of pixels on that sensor. Most people have absolutely no need for an image this big, and trying to cram any more pixels on that sensor will just result in degraded image quality. So good move on not trying to make it sound better with bigger numbers.

Both cameras have the same articulating screen, which is useful for doing video. The LCD screen is also the same resolution, with approximately 1 million pixels. Both cameras give you full manual control over video (a drawback of the older Rebel cameras), and they have the same hi-def recording modes (1080/30p, 720/60p, and some other stuff).

They both use the same 9 point autofocus system, and this is one area that really differentiates the Rebel cameras from the more advanced Canon EOS 7D. And they both have a pop-up flash that can act as a commander unit, if you want to link up some Canon speedlights to do some off-camera flash photography.

Canon t3i vs t4i: Bottom Line

The newer Canon t4i costs about $100 to $120 more than it’s older brother, the Canon t3i. For this extra money, you get a newer (and much faster) image processor. You get a camera that autofocuses while recording video. And you get a camera that has a touch screen on the back. There’s not much else to report in the way of significant changes.

For still photographers that work in low light conditions or do action photography, this new image processor is a godsend. The Canon EOS Rebel cameras will never be equivalent to their more advanced cousins, like the 7D, but the Canon t4i offers an impressive set of features for photographing low-light action like basketball, indoor track, or night football.

For amateur videographers, I think the autofocus makes the Canon t4i a more attractive option than the t3i, and you can spend that money on buying a better lens.

For most people, I think the Canon EOS Rebel 650D / t4i is a great choice, if you’re considering the Canon t3i vs t4i. In the past, I’ve often advised people to stick with the older camera to save money. In this case, there really are some significant upgrades and I’d say it’s well worth the money.

The only people who might want to stick with the older camera are people who a) never shoot video, b) never shoot action photography, and c) never shoot in low light. That eliminates a lot of people. But, if you know you’re one of those people, then you could go ahead and save yourself some money. Under optimal shooting conditions, you won’t notice much difference in terms of image quality and you’ll be paying for upgrades that you’ll never see.

When you’re ready to make your choice, click on one of the Amazon links below to see what the current selling price is. Amazon tends to have some of the best prices on the internet for electronics, along with greater customers service and great shipping options (especially if you’re a prime member).

Filed Under: How to Choose a Good Camera

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About Digital Photography How To

Digital Photography How To is intended to be a guide to people learning how to use their digital SLR cameras. Three years ago, I had never picked up a camera; now, I produce a yearbook every year and I moonlight as a professional photographer.

I write this website to share what I've learned in that time. The topics will range from truly beginners topics, to tutorials for post processing, to resources for yearbook and graphic design, to thoughts on transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional. Keep up to date by subscribing to the RSS feed.

About the Author

Digital Photography How To is written by Brian Rock. In addition to being a photographer, he's an educator. He teaches high school history, he's the advisor of the school yearbook, and he trains his kids to do all of the photography for the yearbook.

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