The Best Digital SLR of 2011

The best digital SLR camera comes from a relatively narrow range of competitors.

2011 was a slow year for the digital SLR, with only 6 new cameras released. Compare this to 2009, when 15 new cameras were released.

Whether this was due to the economic downturn or other unrelated issues, it made selecting the best camera both easier and more difficult.

It was easier because there are just less cameras to compare and contrast.

What makes it more challenging is that each and every one of these cameras has an exceptional feature set. All of them take high-quality images in all sorts of available light, and the video modes now included allow you to take professional-looking home movies.

Simply put: just because I've selected the camera that I consider to be the best digital SLR of 2011, please don't interpret this as "the rest of these cameras are bad."

The Contenders

MarchCanon T3 1100DThis beginner model offers the image quality of a digital SLR in a small, lightweight package that is easy for beginners to master.
Canon T3i 600DThe T3i is the first digital Rebel with a tilt-and-flip LCD screen. It also has a robust video mode for aspiring film-makers.
AprilNikon D5100You can shoot Full HD videos and 16 megapixel pictures from all angles using the tilt-and-flip LCD on the D5100. Good for low-light, the ISO goes all the way up to 25600.
OctoberSony SLT-A65The A65 is all about speed - capable of capturing consecutive 24 megapixel images at a rate of 10 per second while leveraging a continuous 15-point autofocus system..
Sony SLT-A77The A77 shares features of the A65 and can capture 12 images per second - it also features a highly flexible LCD that can even be viewed facing the front of the camera.

And The Winner Is...

canon rebel t3 600d

My pick for the best digital SLR of 2011 is the Canon Rebel T3i 600D.

What I like about this camera is its value for money: you get a lot of functionality without having to pay a premium.

Good megapixel count? Yes. Full HD movie mode? Check. Flexible 3 inch LCD screen? Indeed.

And the best part is that you get all of this for a sub-$1,000 USD price.

Let's take a look beyond the basic specifications to see what else the T3i 600D has to offer.

EOS Feature Guide

Even if you've take a few photography classes, you may still get hung up on the jargon sometimes: what F number gets me a blurry background again?

With the EOS Feature Guide, you don't have to remember. All you have to do is operate a slider.

For example, for theh background of your image you could chose "more blur" or "less blur". When taking a photo of a subject in motion you can "freeze motion" or "blur motion".

Just manipulate the sliders for each setting without having to worry about the real name of the camera setting providing you with the effect.

Basic +

Just about every digital SLR ever released has what are typically called "Scene Modes".

Scene Modes allow you to specify what type of subject you're photographing so the camera can adjust settings accordingly. Typical Scene Modes include "Landscape", "Portrait", "Action", "Night" and "Closeup".

When the camera is in a Scene Mode, you have little to no control over the appearance of your photos - the computer inside your camera is calling all the shots.

Basic + mode brings some level of user control to Scene Modes.

In addition to selecting the mode, you can also specify the type of ambient light (daylight, overcast, etc.) and indicate how saturated you want the colors (intense, muted, etc.).

Compared to the Competition

Canon T3 1100D

One of the reasons that I like the T3i 600D is because - despite all the support provided for beginning photographers - the camera also has plenty of features, functions and manual controls to appeal to photographers who know their way around an SLR.

This means that you can "grow into" the more advanced settings on the T3i as your photographic skills advance.

This is why I think the T3i is a better option than the more basic Canon T3 1100D. The T3 really is designed with the beginning photographer in mind - if you have zero desire to use manual controls, then it IS a better option than the T3i based on price alone.

Nikon D5100

When compared to the Nikon D5100, the T3i is on a pretty even footing. The D5100 also has Full HD video and it also has a flexible LCD screen. However, where the T3i wins out is in the area of lens compatibility.

The D5100 doesn't have an autofocus motor built into the camera body.

This means that only lenses with their own autofocus motors (that bear the label AF-S) will autofocus when used with the D5100. Any lens without a focus motor will be manual focus only.

The Canon T3i 600D does have a focus motor built into the camera, which means that autofocus will work with any Canon or third party lens you attach to the camera.

Sony A65, A77

The Sony cameras the T3i is up against aren't digital SLRs in the purest sense.

All of these cameras have a special translucent mirror inside that splits the light passing through the lens: some goes to the autofocus system and some goes to the sensor.

While this translucent mirror system allows for VERY fast consecutive speeds, and continuous fast autofocus in live view mode, it comes with a limitation: the viewfinders in these cameras are electronic instead of optical.

Digital SLR purists (myself included) prefer optical viewfinders over their electronic alternatives, and the Canon T3i 600D preserved the optical viewfinder.

Plues, it also costs less — so if you'd like to save some money, it's also better from that perspective.

In Summary

As I mentioned previously, I selected the T3i 600D as the best digital SLR of 2011 because you get a lot of camera for the price.

  • You get a camera with plenty of begineer modes, but also more advanced settings as you become more skilled with an SLR camera
  • You get great image quality, Full HD 1080p video and a flexible 3 inch LCD screen
  • You get exceptional lens compatibility and can choose from a wide range of Canon and less expensive third party lenses
  • You get an optical viewfinder instead of an electronic one
  • You get all this in a relatively small and lightweight camera body

Simply put, the T3i will serve the needs of a wide variety of photographers: from those who enjoy landscapes to those who want to take wildlife photos on safari.

It's easy to use right out of the box but also easy to customize once you get a feel for your personal photographic style.

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