Best Canon SLR: 8 cameras reviewed
25th Feb 2014 | 16:13
Beginner, enthusiast and pro bodies covered
The current Canon SLR line-up is divided into three categories, aimed at beginners, enthusiasts and professionals.
All current beginner-level Canon EOS cameras are incredibly intuitive and easy to use, even for those with absolutely no prior photographic knowledge. Intelligent auto modes and scene modes tailor camera settings to make the most of wide-ranging shooting scenarios, while semi-automatic and manual modes are also present. This helps the cameras to grow with you as you learn new skills.
Cameras for the enthusiast sector typically feature a greater abundance of direct-access controls for advanced shooting adjustments. These enable expert photographers to change settings quickly and effectively. A secondary info LCD on the tops of enthusiasts' cameras also helps to enable a running check on creative shooting settings.
Two of the most attractive choices are the Canon 70D and Canon 7D, which both use the same APS-C format of image sensor as beginners' cameras. Another exotic option is the Canon 6D, which is based on a full-frame image sensor more in common with professional cameras.
For pro photographers, as well as for serious amateurs who demand the very best performance and robust build quality, the main choice is between the Canon 5D Mk III and Canon 1D X bodies. There are no APS-C format bodies in Canon's professional-level line-up.
An important consideration when upgrading from APS-C to full-frame bodies is that the latter are incompatible with EF-S lenses, which are designed exclusively for use with APS-C format cameras.
The following pages summarise what you need to know about Canon's current SLR line-up and compares models against each other to help you decide which is the right one for you. You may notice that some cameras have two names. This is because they have different names around the world, for example we have the Canon EOS 1100D in the UK and Australia, but it's called the Canon EOS Rebel T3 in the US.
You can read full reviews of the cameras included in this buying guide via these links:
- Canon EOS 1100D review / Canon EOS Rebel T3 review
- Canon EOS 100D review / Canon EOS Rebel SL1 review
- Canon EOS 700D review / Canon EOS Rebel T5i review
- Canon EOS 70D review
- Canon EOS 7D review
- Canon EOS 6D review
- Canon EOS 5D Mark III review
- Canon EOS 1D X review
Canon 100D/SL1 and Canon 1100D/T3.
Canon EOS 1100D/Canon EOS Rebel T3
Price: £299/US$499/Aus$457 with 18-55mm IS II kit lens
Key spec: 12.2Mp APS-C format CMOS sensor, 720p video, 9 AF points (1 cross-type), max shooting rate 3fps, 2.7-inch 230,000-dot LCD
The Canon 1100D hit the headlines when it was originally launched, some three years ago, bringing relatively exotic features to the entry-level sector of the market. It is still available as the most inexpensive route into Canon SLR photography but, in some ways, is starting to show its age.
Its 12.2Mp image resolution is outclassed by all other current models, which have at least 18Mp resolution. Similarly, while it features a video capture capability, it's only 720p instead of the full 1080p sported by all other cameras in the range. Both of these issues are addressed by the new entry-level 1200D which are waiting to review in full.
On the plus side, the 1100D boasts a smart iFCL (intelligent Focus Colour Luminance) metering system that was originally introduced in the 7D camera. Also, like the 100D and 700D, there's a 9-point autofocus module with a cross-type sensor at the centre. This gives greater accuracy by resolving detail in both horizontal and vertical planes.
Again though, the 1100D doesn't quite match the later 100D and 700D, as the central AF point doesn't have a high-sensitivity capability for increased performance with wide-aperture lenses (f/2.8 or wider). There's more bad news around the back, where the LCD is a bit on the small side at 2.7 inches, and has a relatively low resolution of just 230k pixels. Most other beginners' cameras typically have a larger 3.0-inch screen with a 1040k resolution, as well as offering touchscreen operation which is lacking on the 1100D.
Another omission is that there's no mirror lockup custom function, so mirror-bounce can be a problem when trying to get sharp, tripod-mounted shots, especially when using macro or long telephoto lenses. Overall, the 1100D is a simple camera that's easy to use. It's also £110 cheaper than the 1200D, making it pretty good value if you can get by without the newer camera's greater resolution and updated features.
Remarkably inexpensive to buy and very beginner-friendly.
It's a bit of a poor relation in terms of specifications.
Canon EOS 100D/Canon EOS SL1
Price: £400/US$599/Aus$649 body only
Key spec: 18.0Mp APS-C format CMOS sensor, 1080p video, 9 AF points (1 cross-type), max shooting rate 4fps, 3-inch 1,040,000-dot touch-sensitive LCD
An exercise in downsizing, the 100D is the most compact and lightweight D-SLR that Canon has ever made, yet still features plenty of upscaled attractions, especially compared with the older 1100D. It has a higher-resolution 18Mp image sensor and a bigger, more detailed 3-inch 1040k LCD that adds touchscreen operation. The DIGIC 5 image processor is also a generation newer.
Continuous shooting has a maximum speed of 4fps (frames per second) in both JPEG or raw quality mode, whereas the 1100D drops from 3fps to just 2fps when you switch from JPEG to raw. Video capture resolution is also boosted to 1080p. Better still, the redesigned image sensor uses a selection of its photosites (which equate to pixels) to enable phase-detection autofocus, making continuous autofocus possible when shooting video. Stills and video resolution aside, the 100D also beats the new 1200D in all the specifications and features we've mentioned so far.
Another beginner-friendly advantage is the Scene Intelligent Auto shooting mode, as featured on similarly recent cameras including the Canon EOS M, 700D and 70D. A step up over the older and more basic 'green square' full auto mode, it analyses scenes as you're composing shots, not only checking brightness, contrast and colour, but also detecting faces and watching out for movement. It really helps to give consistently great results in simple point-and-shoot photography. There are plentiful scene modes too, that go far beyond the basic sports, portrait and close-up modes. These are available via a dedicated 'Scn' position on the main shooting mode dial, delivering further options like Kids, Food and Candlelight.
Naturally, you can adjust all shooting parameters in the more advanced 'creative zone' of the shooting dial that includes the usual P, Av, Tv and M options. The cherry on the cake is a big boost in sensitivity range. Compared with the 1100D's ISO 100-6400, the 100D stretches to ISO 12800 in its standard range, and all the way to ISO 25600 in expanded mode, again beating the newer 1200D.
Very compact for a D-SLR, good touchscreen, versatile scene modes.
Relatively few direct access controls, body can feel a bit cramped if you have big hands.
Canon 700D/Canon T5i and Canon 70D
Canon EOS 700D/Canon EOS Rebel T5i
Price: £400/US$699/Aus$687 body only
Key spec: 18.0Mp APS-C format CMOS sensor, 1080p video, 9 AF points (all cross-type), max shooting rate 5fps, 3-inch 1,040,000-dot touch-sensitive LCD
A little larger than the 100D and nearly 50 per cent heavier, the 700D adds extra thrills and sits at the top of Canon's beginners' range of D-SLRs. Like the 100D, it has nine autofocus points for phase-detection AF in regular stills shooting mode. However, this time, all nine points are cross-type, rather than just the central point.
This makes for improved autofocus performance with greater accuracy when using any of the peripheral points, as well as in multi-point autofocus mode. Both cameras have high-sensitivity central AF points that can take advantage of lenses with an f/2.8 or wider aperture.
A larger capacity battery boosts life to 440 shots compared with the 100D's 380 shots, and the 700D also boasts a faster maximum burst rate of 5fps instead of 4fps. Both of these factors make the 700D a little better for action sports photography. Another bonus is that, while both cameras feature a high-resolution 1040k, 3-inch touchscreen LCD, the one in the 700D is a 'vari-angle' screen with full articulation.
It's brilliant for live view and video shooting, enabling you to clearly see what you're shooting from very low positions without having to get down on your knees. It's equally great for when you need extra height, shooting with the camera held above your head, or for literally shooting around corners and even for putting yourself in the frame for self-portraits.
The same features that make the 100D so ideal as a beginners' camera are retained in the 700D. These include an on-screen feature guide, Scene Intelligent Auto and a plethora of scene modes, as well as a Basic + mode for adjusting 'ambience' settings like vivid, soft, warm and cool. There's also the same sensitivity range on tap, reaching as high as ISO 25600 in expanded mode. When using flash, the 700D adds the luxury of using the pop-up flash as a wireless master module, for triggering compatible flashguns when used remotely, off-camera.
Compact build, fully articulated touchscreen LCD, wireless flash control.
As with other beginners' class cameras, it lacks a secondary info LCD on the top plate.
Canon EOS 70D
Price: £860/US$1,199/Aus$1,265 body only
Key spec: 20.2Mp APS-C format CMOS sensor, 1080p video, 19 AF points (all cross-type), max shooting rate 7fps, 3.2-inch 1,040,000-dot touch-sensitive LCD
A worthy successor to the 60D, the 70D brings a genuinely exciting innovation to D-SLR photography, in the form of a brand new 20.2Mp 'Dual Pixel' image sensor which contains two photo diodes for each pixel. This enables much faster phase-detection autofocus performance in live view and video shooting modes, compared with the 100D and 700D. Like the 700D, there's a fully articulated touchscreen LCD but pressing any desired point in live view shooting results in much quicker focusing. Regular autofocus modes also benefit from a 19-point rather than 9-point AF module, and all the points are cross-type.
As an 'enthusiast' level camera, luxuries include a secondary info LCD on the top plate, along with useful direct access buttons for controlling shooting parameters on the fly. Further viewing attractions include a bright, clear and 'intelligent' pentaprism viewfinder that has customisable camera levelling display options. As with the 100D and 700D, automatic in-camera corrections are available for chromatic aberrations and vignetting, when using most own-brand Canon lenses.
Picture sharing and remote camera control benefit from built in Wi-Fi. The 70D is no slouch either, with a speedy 7fps maximum burst rate that almost matches the 7D's 8fps. It's all wrapped up in a lightweight polycarbonate shell that makes it only a little bigger and heavier than the 700D. Even so, the slight increase in size and weight make handling feel more assured, especially when coupling the camera to big, heavy lenses.
Despite being aimed squarely at enthusiasts, the 70D still features Scene Intelligent Auto, Creative Auto and a variety of scene modes. As such, it's just as easy for beginners to get to grips with as the 100D and 700D. However, the 70D also adds a full raft of features to suit advanced photographers, like the ability to fine-tune autofocus for individual lenses. It's also nice to have the choice of direct buttons for controlling shooting options, instead of relying too heavily on the touchscreen Quick menu.
Dual Pixel image sensor, 'intelligent' viewfinder, articulated touchscreen, secondary info screen.
Lacks the slightly more rugged magnesium alloy body style of the 7D.
Canon 7D and Canon 6D
Price: £1,029/US$1,499/Aus$1,220 body only
Key spec: 18.0Mp APS-C format CMOS sensor, 1080p video, 19 AF points (all cross-type), max shooting rate 8fps, 3.0-inch 920,000-dot LCD
Launched back in September 2009, the veteran 7D still comes closest to being a professional grade APS-C format camera. The 70D matches its level of weather seals but only the 7D has a tough magnesium alloy body, instead of a polycarbonate construction. It also retains a CompactFlash memory slot, instead of the now more common SecureDigital format.
The continuous shooting rate of 8fps is second only to the mighty 1D X in Canon's current line-up. This is helped by the inclusion of not just one, but two DIGIC 4 image processors. On the other hand, it's an older generation to the 70D's DIGIC 5+ processor which enables a burst rate that's nearly as fast, at 7fps.
More than just a speed fiend, the 7D hit the headlines with its innovative iFCL (intelligent Focus Colour Luminance) metering system and the ability of its pop-up flash to act as a wireless master for remote flashguns. However, its clever features have now become commonplace even in some subsequent beginners' cameras. Meanwhile, the 70D matches the 7D's 19-point autofocus system and overtakes it with its Dual Pixel autofocus system for live view and video.
The 7D isn't as beginner-friendly as the 70D, lacking any scene modes like portrait, sports and close-up. Similarly, the full auto mode lacks 'scene intelligent' analysis, but at least there's a Creative Auto mode that helps bridge the gab between auto and fully creative shooting modes.
While the 7D is undeniably an old camera in digital terms, it's been given a longer lease of life thanks to a recent firmware upgrade. Version 2 increases the maximum number of shots in continuous drive mode, adds support for the optional GP-E2 GPS module, enables customization options for auto ISO, gives options for in-camera raw processing, the application of ratings for images, and more besides. Even so, most of these additions have become standard fare and, in some ways, the 7D is now outclassed by less expensive cameras including the 700D and 70D, which have next-generation features like HDR (High Dynamic Range) shooting modes.
Premium build quality, fast 8fps continuous shooting, plentiful direct access control buttons.
Advanced features have been caught up or overtaken by less expensive, newer cameras.
Canon EOS 6D
Price: £1,379/US$1,899/Aus$1,946 body only
Key spec: 20.2Mp full-frame format CMOS sensor, 1080p video, 11 AF points (1 cross-type), max shooting rate 4.5fps, 3.0-inch 1,040,000-dot LCD
It's a sign of the ascendency of full-frame cameras that they're sneaking down from the professional arena and into the enthusiast sector of the market. Build quality of the 6D is midway between that of the 70D and 7D. It has a polycarbonate top plate but the front and back sections of the body are made from sturdier magnesium alloy. From a handling perspective the full-frame 6D feels very similar to the 70D, although it's a shame that it lacks the latter's articulated LCD or touchscreen facility.
The 6D boasts not only Wi-Fi connectivity but also built-in GPS technology, ideal for geo-tagging images as you shoot. The only catch is that, when enabled, the GPS module really munches through battery charge, even when the camera is switched off.
We've come to expect the lack of a pop-up flash on professional grade cameras but it's a strange omission for an enthusiast level model. As such, the 6D has no built-in facility for wireless flash triggering, as featured on the 700D and 70D. It also lacks the advanced Dual Pixel autofocus of the 70D, or the more basic hybrid autofocus system of the 100D and 700D, for enhanced operation in live view and video shooting.
Where the 70D and 7D have 19-point autofocus (all cross-type points), the 6D only has 11 points and, of these, only the central point is cross-type. Even so, autofocus performance is good overall. The continuous shooting rate is also a little pedestrian at 4.5fps, making the 6D less than ideal for action sports photography.
Its redeeming feature is that it delivers superb image quality with the kind of control over depth of field that you can only get from a full-frame camera. Ultimately, the 6D is a great tool for enthusiast photographers but you have to pay a premium for its bigger full-frame image sensor.
Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 1Dx
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Price: £2,329/US$3,399/Aus$3,497 body only
Key spec: 22.3Mp full-frame format CMOS sensor, 1080p video, 61 AF points (41 cross-type including 5 dual cross type), max shooting rate 6fps, 3.2-inch 1,040,000-dot LCD
It's nearly a decade since the original 5D brought full-frame digital photography to the masses. The latest Mk III edition brings a wealth of upgrades, fully justifying its position as a professional camera. Notable enhancements over the Mark II include a step up from 9-point autofocus to a 61-point AF system with 41 cross-type points and five dual-cross points, just like in the 1D X.
There's also a DIGIC 5+ image processor and a more generous sensitivity range that stretches to ISO 25600 instead of ISO 6400 in standard trim. Like in the 6D, you can extend this to ISO 102400 in expanded mode. The maximum drive rate beats that of the 6D's 4.5fps and, compared with the 5D Mk II, speed is boosted from 3.9fps to 6fps.
HDR shooting modes are becoming more prevalent in Canon cameras but they're particularly well implemented in the 5D Mk III. A key advantage is that all the source shots (including raw files) are saved as well as the merged JPEG image.
Direct access controls are more wide-ranging than in the 6D and, whereas the 6D only has a single SD/HC/XC memory card slot, the 5D Mark III has dual slots with one taking SD/HC/XC cards and the other CompactFlash media. This is particularly handy when shooting in raw and JPEG files simultaneously, as you can save different file types to separate cards.
Another option is to create a backup duplicate of images as you shoot. The 5D Mk III is also better built than the 6D, with a completely magnesium alloy body that feels more rugged. Even so, size and weight are very manageable, especially for a pro spec camera.
There's no denying that the 5D Mk III is an expensive camera but it offers many of the same attractions of the 1D X, at less than half the price. Overall, it's a superb piece of kit that's very good value for money.
Excellent build quality and handling, superb 61-point autofocus, spectacular image quality.
Lacks the built-in vertical grip of the 1D X but you can add one as an optional extra.
Canon EOS-1D X
Price: £4,845/US$6,799/Aus$6,887 body only
Key spec: 18.1Mp full-frame format CMOS sensor, 1080p video, 61 AF points (41 cross-type including 5 dual cross type), max shooting rate 12fps, 3.2-inch 1,040,000-dot LCD
Proving that increased image resolution isn't necessarily the prime concern, Canon's range-topping 1D X professional body is limited to 18.1Mp. That's slightly lower than in both the 6D and 5D Mk III full-frame cameras. This helps to ensure fast continuous drive rates and immaculate image quality, even at very high ISO settings.
Performance also gets a boost from the fitment of two DIGIC 5+ image processors, whereas the 6D and 5D Mk III only have one. The end result is an ultra-fast 12fps burst rate, which you can boost further still to 14fps if you can live without autofocus and metering after the first shot in a rapid-fire sequence. The 1D X is also a sensitivity winner, with a whopping ISO 51200 available in its standard range, and an incredible ISO 204800 in expanded mode.
The 1D X really feels like it's built to take the knocks of a hard-working professional life, complete with magnesium alloy shell and plentiful weather seals. And unlike the 5D Mk III which mixes CompactFlash and SecureDigital memory slots, the 1D X has dual CF slots.
Other finery includes the same 61-point autofocus system as the Canon 5D Mark III, which copes really well with tracking fast-moving objects. For continuous shooting, the increased buffer size can accommodate 38 raw files rather than the 5D Mark III's 18 files, which helps make the most of the blistering drive rate.
Despite being a relatively big and heavy camera, handling is superb. Not only does the 1D X have an integrated vertical grip, but it's brilliantly well implemented. Duplicated shooting controls, along with dual multi-controllers and a centralised quick control dial are thoughtfully positioned so that the 1D X feels equally natural in both landscape and portrait orientation shooting. Image quality is stunning, even in very low lighting conditions when using extremely high sensitivity settings.
Supreme handling, ultra-fast continuous shooting, epic build and image quality.
Expensive to buy, especially if you don't need the built-in vertical grip.
Conclusion: picking the right Canon SLR
There are several great cameras in Canon's current line-up and it's hard to pick outright winners. When deciding which camera is the right one for you, it's important to consider your level of understanding as well as your current and future requirements.
The Canon 1DX is a superb camera, but it is designed as a tool for experienced, professional photographers. Its extensive array of controls are likely to be intimidating and confusing to the average novice photographer. It is also large and heavy, making carrying it a bigger issue than a smaller model such as the EOS 100D.
However, up-market Canon DSLRs aimed at enthusiasts are still usually very beginner-friendly, so you shouldn't let worries about complication affect your buying decision to much, even if you're a complete novice.
If you are a relative novice interested taking photography more seriously, an enthusiast-level camera may suit you better in the long-term.
Enthusiast photographers looking to upgrade need to consider their lens collection when deciding which camera to opt for. If you have a collection of EF-S lenses, which are only compatible with APS-C format cameras, then the Canon 70D is likely to be a more attractive option than the full-frame Canon 6D or 5D Mark III. If, however, you have a few EF (full-frame) lenses in your bag then a full-frame camera could be a good choice.
Full-frame cameras have the edge for shallow depth of field for effects, for example when you want to blur the background of a portrait. Meanwhile, APS-C format cameras are great for action sports and wildlife, where the crop factor of the smaller sensor effectively gives lenses extra reach.
The Canon EOS 700D stands out as the pick of the crop for beginners, with its excellent performance and clever features.
Moving up to the enthusiast sector, the 70D has largely overtaken the 7D in terms of features and overall performance. For our money, it's the best Canon APS-C camera of all time. If you're after a full-frame camera in this sector, the 6D is the full-frame body to go for, although it's worth seriously considering spending the extra on a pro-spec 5D Mk III body.
For a fully professional camera, the 1D X is not only the best Canon body, but arguably the best that's currently available from any manufacturer. The only sticking point is the price. On a less extravagant budget, the 5D Mk III is also a spectacularly good buy and a popular choice with professionals as well as advanced enthusiasts.