Cheapest DSLR Cameras

Bill Livolsi, July 12, 2012

Canon T3

Canon's T3 has one big thing going for it: it's cheap. At only $499 with a lens included, the T3 is the most affordable DSLR available today, but it still produces a great picture if you do your part. The T3 feels like a T2i that is less-than, with few things to recommend it on its own merits. While it will remain an attractive option for the most budget-conscious consumers, there is little reason to buy it when the Nikon D3100 is available for an extra fifty bucks.

The Canon Rebel T3 with 18-55mm lens

The Good

Image quality. At every step of the way, we've compared each camera to the one above it, showing you the differences between them. To break this up a bit, here is a comparison of the Canon T3 and Canon T2i.

PhotoScope: Compare Canon T3 vs Canon T2i

Look at it for a minute. Do you see how similar the two look? The main difference in these cameras is not image quality. None of the DSLRs in this shootout takes bad pictures. It's important to remember that when you're considering a purchase.

Controls and interface. The excellent control layout from the T2i is just as excellent on the T3, though the buttons have been changed to make them wider and easier to hit. The one weird choice is the replacement of the T2i's ISO button with a flash button. The ISO button has been moved down to the four-way controller instead. Overall, controls are easy to reach, logically placed, and each button press gives good tactile feedback.

There's also the Q menu, which offers a way for users to get into other commonly-used functions of the camera that do not get their own button. This keeps menu-diving time to an absolute minimum, which lets you take more pictures -- always a plus.

Video. Like the Pentax K-r, the T3 is limited to 720p video, has no external microphone port, cannot change exposure while filming, and has no direct-access video button. Unlike the K-r, the T3 films in H.264 as opposed to Motion JPG. And the T3 at least has an HDMI port, so any video you take can be shown on your television with minimal fuss. While it cannot match the performance of the T2i or D3100, the T3 at least puts forth what feels like a legitimate effort.

For Canon T3 memory cards, see Camera Accessories

Inexpensive. The T3 is dirt cheap for a DSLR. At $499 with a lens, the T3 is only marginally more expensive than a superzoom or waterproof camera, and actually costs less than several mirrorless models. When budget is a concern, the T3 comes through in a big way.

The Bad

Build quality. While the T3 and the T2i are both made by Canon, they don't feel remotely similar in the hand. Whereas the T2i has a healthy weight to it and rubber grip panels to assist in a comfortable handhold, the T3 is made entirely of slick black plastic. It feels flimsy and kind of cheap. While that's not the most important part of any camera (that distinction falls to image quality, just FYI), it is never pleasant to spend a significant amount of money and end up with something that feels like a cheap toy.

Combination card/battery slot. This is a nitpick, just to get that out of the way. Whereas other DSLRs separate the card and battery compartments, allowing the user to swap cards while the camera is on a tripod, the Canon T3 combined them. If you tripod mount the camera, you may end up having to remove the tripod plate to access your memory card.

Small viewfinder, small screen. What separates serious cameras from snapshot cameras? A viewfinder. As far as viewfinders go, the T3 does not have a good one. It is smaller than the other cameras' viewfinders, and it seems dimmer when you're looking through it. The rear LCD is likewise smaller, making the camera feel a little cramped.

The Verdict

The Canon T3 is the budget beginner's DSLR, no doubt about it. There are many features of the T2i that don't filter down to this model, but one thing is retained - both cameras make a quality image.

Buy the Canon EOS Rebel T3 here:

Abe's of Maine $375.00     Amazon $393.99