Which Canon is Best: T2i, T3i, 60D or 7D? (UPDATED)
I would have titled this post “Which should I buy” but I’m already a loyal 7D owner. I won’t let my existing camera bias my opinion (too much) but at least I’ve tried most the advanced features in these Canon cameras. The “which is best” question is one I get a lot as friends get into DSLRs or want to upgrade.
I’m going to limit this comparison to the the Canon EOS T2i (aka 550D), 60D and 7D. Those with bigger budgets will want too look at the 5D Mark II which is a full frame camera – all these have the smaller “APS-C” sensors.
UPDATE March 14, 2011: I’ve updated this post to include the Canon EOS Rebel T3i (600D)
UPDATE June 8, 2012: Canon has announced the Rebel T4i / 650D. It has some compelling new features like a touch screen, DIGIC 5 processing, a hybrid autofocus during Live View and video shooting and continuous autofocus when paired with new “STM” lenses. It’s faster and has a better autofocus system than its predecesor, the T3i. Although this post does not yet include the T4i in its analysis you can learn more about the T4i.
Disclaimer: I have only briefly worked with a Canon T2i or 60D so this information is based on online data for the most part and my general opinion about what I think matters. I can’t comment on Nikon so I’ve left out any talk about the new D3100 or D7000 (I’m sure they are worthy of consideration if you’re new to DSLRs).
I’m going to spoil the ending up front. Now that the Canon EOS 60D is out, I no longer recommend the T2i. The 60D fits in well between the T2i and 7D and it appears to me to be the right choice most serious amateurs. If I didn’t have a camera today, it would be a lot tougher to justify my purchase of the 7D. See why below.
UPDATE: The T3i adds two major features to the T2i… a wireless Speedlite transmitter and the same articulated screen introduced on the EOS 60D. The choice between the 60D and T3i is now very subtle.
Breaking it Down
I’m not going to do a specification matrix but here’s the top level points that most people seem to care about (in no particular order)…
- 7D wins with its magnesium alloy body and weather sealing but it is heavy
- I love that the 7D can take abuse and foul weather (investment protection) but 60D is apparently solid
- T2i, T3i and 60D are both aluminum and polycarbonate and glass and plastic resin = plastic
- 60D, compared to the T2i/T3i, is going to feel more solid in hand and more balanced with real lenses
- Body only: T3i eights 515g, T2i is 530g, 60D is 675g and 7D is a hefty 820g
- All three cameras have an 18MP (that’s huge)
- All three are APS-C sized sensors (1.6x crop factor)
- All three have an ISO range of 100-6400 expandable to 12,800
- All three have an exposure compensation range of +/- 5
- But still, the appearance of noise apparently varies
- Noise level on 60D is reportedly closer to the T2i/T3i than the 7D
- 7D wins for lower noise in low light shots but not by much I think
- 7D and 60D share a top shutter speed of 1/8000th sec.
- T2i and T3i have only 1/4000th sec.
- Why settle for 50% slower – who knows if you’ll need it for freezing water drops or something cool
- All three have a 63-zone exposure metering
- There some minor differences that probably have little impact in reality
- All cameras have a bright 3” screen
- T2i, T3i and 60D have slightly more pixels than the 7D as both are newer
- 60D and T3i have an articulated LCD screen and this is major for shooting video. It’s also ideal for shooting candid photos discreetly in public places (e.g. camera waist level pointing a different direction). It’s also great for getting interesting low-angle shots without getting your knees dirty.
- 60D and 7D use the much better LP-E6 battery (1800 mAh) than T2i/T3i’s LP-E8 (1120 mAh). The result is 1600 shots vs 550 shots on a single charge.
- If you try to buy a stronger battery for the T2i or T3i, you’ll reduce your savings.
- 7D wins here as it has 19 cross-type AF points (cross-type are more accurate)
- 7D also has more software and horsepower behind its auto-focus and offers more modes like zone AF and spot AF
- 60D only 9 cross-type points but that’s 8 more than T2i and T3i
- T2i and T3i have 9 points (not cross-type) and 1 cross-type in the centre
- 7D uses CF cards which are offered in a great range of speeds and sizes and are supposedly more reliable
- 60D uses SDHC/SDXC cards and it can hold two cards (SD is cheaper than CF)
- T2i and T3i have only one SDHC/SDXC card slot
- 7D wins at a whopping 8fps with an ability to capture 126 JPGs in a row
- 60D can do 5.3fps with 58 JPGs in a row
- 7D and 60D can both burst 15 RAWs in a row or about 6 in RAW+JPG mode
- T2i and T3i come in last at 3.7fps, 37 JPGs and 6 RAWs in a burst
- All three cameras have the same video capabilities and modes
- 1080p at 24p, 30p and 720p at 60p
- 7D allows use of Aperture and Shutter Priority modes in addition to Program and Full Manual
- 60D, T2i and T3i only allow Program and Full Manual (not a huge deal I think)
- As James Reilly pointed out in the post comments: ”One awesome feature of the 7D, however, is that it outputs to full 1080p from HDMI, which is huge when filming [and using an external monitor]. Not even the 5D has that feature (outputs to 480 like the 60D/T2i/T3i).”
- 7D, 60D and T3i all have a wind cut filter (this is even missing in the 5D Mark II)
- All three cameras offer a built-in mono microphone with a stereo microphone input jack
- 60D and T3i have manual audio levels, a function only recently available on the 5D mark II so it’s probably going to be added to the 7D via a firmware upgrade soon (I’m not sure what’s taking so long)
- 7D, 60D and T3i all have a built-in speedlight transmitter (this is major in my opinion)
- 7D and 60D both have a top flash sync speed of 1/250th
- T2i and T3i share a flash sync of 1/200th sec
- Only the T2i lacks the ability to command off-camera flashes
- 7D wins with a viewfinder that has 100% coverage and a 1x magnification
- 60D has 96% coverage and T2i/T3i have 95% (.95x and .87x magnification respectively)
- 60D and T3i let you to give a star rating to images making them easier to find on the camera later
- 60D and T3i let you use “Creative Filters” to add special looks in the camera such as toy-camera, tilt-shift (miniature), grainy black and white and soft focus.
- 60D and T3i allow some post-processing to be added to the camera RAW such as auto-lighting optimizer, white balance correction, noise reduction and Picture Styles
- 60D has a horizontal electronic level while 7D has a two-axis level, T2i has no level (I use the level all the time)
- 7D has an AF Microadjustment feature that let’s you compensate for alignment issues with a lens’ automatic focusing system
- 7D and 60D allow white balance selection in Kelvins in addition to the presets, T2i does not
- 7D has double the processing power with 2 DigicIV processors, that must account for something!
- 7D has dedicated “Func.” button and a dedicated Picture Styles button (I use the function button all the time as you can make it do whatever you like – since it sits in front of of the shutter button and I use it to start the electronic level in the viewfinder)
- 7D and 60D have top LCD screen to review settings which is a must in my opinion, no need to access the Quick Menu all the time (LCDs are tough to read in sunlight and they drain your battery)
- 60D button are all on the right which some people are saying they like as it allows for one handed use (left side is taken up by the joint for the articulated screen)
- 60D’s joystick is an 8-way joystick instead of 7D’s 4-way joystick, the T2i has no joystick.
- 60D’s mode wheel has a locking button – some will love that, others will hate it. My mode wheel has moved on me when turning the camera on while wearing gloves (the on/off is right below the mode dial)
Available Configurations & Cost
Price shown here don’t include current discounts so click through to see if there’s any specials going on right now (last updated March 15, 2011 so click through to see better pricing):
Reviews at DPReview.com
What to Buy and Why?
Why buy the 7D?
- You want the most robust construction for everyday use (magnesium alloy sounds much better than plastic)
- You think you’ll buy “L” lenses: the entire system is weather sealed and well balanced
- You appreciate the dual DIGIC 4 processor and 8fps power: it’s the fastest for sports and action shots
- You want the most reliable autofocus: the 19 cross-type autofocus sensors and the extra AF modes will work in even the trickiest situations
- You plan to use an external monitor for video and need 1080p output via HDMI, not 480p
- You have or like CF cards as they’re supposedly more reliable considered a must in pro-level cameras
- You want the best possible resale value later
- You want to look/feel more professional
Why buy the 60D?
- You want to save $400 (or more) over the 7D so you can buy the 50mm f/1.4 USM
- You want a fast continuous shooting rate of 5.3fps to freeze action. It’s slower than 7D’s 8fps but better than the T2i/T3i’s 3.7fps.
- Related to the point about, you appreciate a faster shutter speed of 1/8000th vs. 1/4000th of the T2i/T3i.
- You also want to freeze action with your flash so the faster sync speed of 1/250th is better than the 1/200th of the T2i/T3i.
- The 60D also has a brighter and bigger viewfinder than the T2i/T3i (but not as good as the 7D).
- You want solid autofocus and the 9 cross-type autofocus points will be a big improvement over the T2i/T3i
- Compared to the 7D and T2i, you want that articulated screen for shooting video or cool high or low angles (also included with the T3i)
- You already own lots of good SDXC/SDHC cards and don’t want to re-buy in the CF format
- Compared to the 7D, you prefer a lighter camera that still has a solid feeling as compared to the T2i/T3i.
- You might buy an external flash and thus will probably want to command it wirelessly later (this is available on the 7D and new T3i as well).
Why buy the T3i?
- You want to save US$200 over the Canon EOS 60D (body only)
- Your focus is mainly video as there’s only minor differences between all three options
- You’re not hung up on the form factor difference between the 60D and T3i (i.e. you won’t miss the top LCD screen and the large thumb wheel)
- You don’t mind the weaker focusing system (1 cross-type sensor instead of 9).
- Compared to the T2i, you do want the potential to command your flashes wirelessly
- Compared to the T2i, you appreciate that the articulated video screen for stills and especially video
Why buy the T2i?
- Your budget is tight but you still want good quality ($120 less than the T3i)
- You don’t plan to buy an external flash (if you do, you’ll want to command it wirelessly eventually)
- You’re mostly into portraits and still life (i.e. not that many action shots that require solid continuous autofocus)
- You like a very light camera, even if it means a less solid feel overall
I got the 7D before both these alternatives existed. I’m pretty sure I would be leaning heavily towards the 60D if I had to start fresh today. That said, I love my 7D and wouldn’t trade “down” now. I’ve realized that the camera body is a big purchase but it’s not going to be the only or most expensive purchase. Top quality lenses and accessories are a must in my opinion and so they should be paired with a solid camera body. I think the 7D will be my last ASC-C camera as I’m sure the future 5D Mark III will find its way into my hands one day. If it weren’t for the sensor size, I doubt I’d ever outgrow it.
For anyone starting out with Canon, the new T3i creates a very credible starting point for US$900. It has the Speedlite transmitter found on the 7D and 60D and the articulated screen of the 60D.
The bigger question is, what will YOU choose and why?