As of right now (Spring 2015), the Canon T3 is my most highly recommended camera for strict budgets. I have purchased four in the past six months, $120-$150 for bodies, and $200 or less as kits. Quite affordable for a more modern 12MP camera with HD Video. Mine is doubly cool because it’s red.
FIRST IMPRESSION and BUILD QUALITY
It’s small, plastic (though I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t consider plastic a fault), lightweight, with few buttons when compared to some of its counterparts. Being an average sized guy, the size doesn’t matter much to me, it fits well, though if you’re larger you might find it cramped, even with a grip. My wife, who’s rather small, finds the size pretty damn perfect.
The camera doesn’t have a PC Sync, which its mid-grade counterparts have (until the 60D and newer bodies came out, which also are lacking.) PC Sync is dying out though, and those who use it often have more pro-grade gear anyways, since PC is typically on more pro-grade flashes. And with wireless options being so cheap these days, it’s more and more a nonissue.
One small detail that I don’t like about it, and makes me second guess myself when using it sometimes is the LCD screen. It’s a 230k dot screen while newer, and midrange cameras have 920, 4x the resolution, so the previews are that much more detailed, clearer, better color representation, etc. Shots from my 50D seemed better on the LCD, but I preferred the T3’s images when viewed on a computer.
Brett – Canon T3 – EF 85mm f/1.8 – Shade.
If you read my article on the Canon XSi, you’ll know that I consider any camera created after that quite nice as far as image quality goes, and the start of the “this is where things start getting good” phase of affordable DSRLs. Sure the T2i sensor (so T3i, 60D, 7D and associated generation of 18mp sensorts) are a tad nicer, the 12mp sensor here holds its own through ISO 800 or so.
In the above shoot with Brett, I shot this camera side by side with a Canon 50D, which has a 15mp sensor that is a couple generations older. I preferred the images from the T3. The colors, specifically the shadow transitions, seemed a lot smoother.
Low light isn’t a strength, of course, it’s never a high priority for entry level cameras, and the T3 is in the lower entry level bracket (vs the T3i, similar to Nikon’s D3000 series vs D5000 series) However, it’s still more than adequate in the ISO 800 range, which depending on your styles might not even be an issue. Personally, I don’t ever go that far, so it’s more than enough to keep me happy. For sample’s sake, I did shoot a set at 800 recently, and even though there’s noise, it’s manageable, and not unacceptable.
Dani – Canon T3 – EF 85mm f/1.8 – shade / ambient
Overall, I am very happy using this camera, and whenever I have one, I bring it along to shoots. The image above of Dani was taken at a large, popular, high-end hotel in Las Vegas, and I would not have had the opportunity to spend the time in that doorway with Dani had I been using my gripped 5D with my Tamron 70-200/2.8 – the cherry red camera screamed “tourist” so security left me alone, but it still provided the images I was looking for. I would have gotten zero images in this location with one of my cameras with better ISO performance – sometimes you have to have the right tool for the job.
There’s absolutely nothing special here with its 9 autofocus point setup. However, it has an integrated autofocus motor, unlike its Nikon counterpart, the Nikon D3100 (details on that.) which means it will have autofocus capabilities with every Canon EF and EF-S lens. For those on a budget, this can be a big deal when it comes to getting some great lenses, as canon has quite a few older lenses that can be had for cheap.
As far as the autofocus performance itself is concerned, it is pretty much what you would expect from an older, entry level DSLR. It has 9 points, with the center being f/2.8 cross point. The center works well enough with 2.8 or faster lenses under most circumstances… but the outer points, and the center with slow lenses will hunt unless you’re in a decently lit area, with a nice contrasty target. It’s adequate for portraits and such, poor AF for low light, events, sports, etc.
Poipu Beach, Kauai, HI – Canon T3 – 18-55 IS II kit lens
The Canon T3 is a great starter camera, at a very nice price. If I needed to start out on a budget, I would likely go with a Canon T3 over its other entry level counterparts like a T2i or T3i and spend the few extra bucks on more lenses and lighting. If you have the money, the next step up is a better option, the T2i generation of sensors is pretty damn fantastic for a little more money. I am a big fan of the camera, and it s a great way to get into photography.