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Canon t3i vs t4i: Should You Buy the Newer, Upgraded Camera?

If you’re looking to buy an entry level digital SLR camera from Canon, you might find yourself comparing the Canon t3i vs t4i. They’re the two latest models in Canon’s EOS Rebel line.

Previously, Canon’s upgrades have been lackluster. The Canon t2i and Canon t3i each introduced a few smaller improvements over their predecessors. The Canon t4i, on the other hand, brings some real improvements to the table.

At the moment, the Canon t4i is only marginally more expensive than the Canon t3i – $50 to $100 depending on where you’re shopping. You can purchase a Canon Rebel t4i with an 18-55mm lens on Amazon for $649, and the Canon Rebel t3i with the same 18-55mm lens is $599. [Note: Prices do change on Amazon regularly, so this is up to date at the time of writing.]

It’s worth asking, is it worth it to spend another $50 to $100 to get the newer camera, the Canon t4i? Or should you save your money and get the older, Canon t3i?

Let’s take a look at the differences, and then you can make an informed decision.

What Are the Key Differences Between the Canon t3i and Canon t4i?

The biggest difference that you’ll notice between the two cameras is that the Canon t4i includes Canon’s brand new, DIGIC 5 image processor. The sensor is the same, so it still yields the same resolution as the Canon t3i (18 megapixels). However, the newer processor can convert that data into an image much faster.

The job of the DIGIC processor is to take the light information captured by the CMOS sensor and convert it into an actual picture. It’s a pretty resource intensive task, and the limits of the processor influence image quality, noise, and shooting speed. According to Canon, the new DIGIC 5 processors are approximately 6 times faster than the old DIGIC 4 processors.

This is going to have some real, tangible benefits that we’ll talk about in a moment.

Slideshare, Canon t3i vs t4i, by Brian Rock

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.

In continuous mode, the Canon EOS Rebel t4i shoots at 5 FPS. The older Canon EOS Rebel t3i maxed out at 3.7 FPS. If you’re shooting intense action, that can be a real difference. I do a lot of track and field photography, for example, and the 55mm hurdles can be over in just a few seconds. The extra frame per second would increase the likelihood of catching the athlete at just the right moment. This speed comes courtesy of the faster processing done by the DIGIC 5 processor.

The processor also handles noise much better, which enables the Canon t4i to shoot at a higher ISO sensitivity. The maximum standard setting is 12,800, and that is expandable up to 25,600. That’s a full stop higher than the Canon t3i’s standard and expandable settings (6,400 and 12,800 respectively).

Based on my experience with the Ccanon t1i and Canon t2i, the “standard” ISO modes are usually pretty good. The final, expandable mode can yield fairly heavy noise. The same pattern holds with the Canon t4i, and you can shoot at 6,400 or 12,800 ISO and get great looking photos. Again, this is huge for anyone that shoots in low light. I would love to be able to shoot at 12,800 ISO at an indoor arena for high school track or basketball. The lighting in them just generally sucks.

Finally, there has been a slight improvement to the autofocus system. While there are still 9 autofocus points (which puts all the Canon EOS Rebel cameras below the higher end Canon EOS 7D), these are cross-type points. In short, the camera will more effectively and more quickly be able to get into focus compared to the Canon t3i and its predecessors.

Now, none 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: there was no autofocus 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 above 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).

Update: Canon has since released the Canon t5i. I’ve written a new post comparing the Canon t5i vs t4i, although the short version is that I wouldn’t bother upgrading any time soon.

Brian Rock

Brian is a photographer and a teacher. He runs a photography and design studio with his daughter, Olinda. At his high school, he teaches social studies and advises the yearbook club.

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