The bottom-end of the interchangeable lens camera has become fiercely competitive with manufacturers culling features and cutting-corners to offer a tempting upgrade path from compact cameras, at the most attractive price. As a result we've seen control dials, orientation sensors and even focus motors disappear to reduce the manufacturing costs of these entry-level, gateway cameras. From the consumer's perspective, of course, we've also seen technologies once only in the reach of the professionals filter down to almost compact camera prices.
For several years, Canon and then Nikon were able to carve up the sub-$1000 DSLR market between themselves, without any particular concern about other players in the market. But this hegemony was never likely to last, especially once the electronics giants such as Panasonic, Sony and Samsung had time to prepare their own competitors. Eventually even Canon had to respond to the arrival of these companies' increasingly impressive low-end offerings, most notably with the splitting of its Rebel series into a multiple model range.
In June 2008, rather than just letting the outgoing model's price drop when the next camera was introduced, Canon launched a completely new model that sat below its then very recent Rebel XSi/450D. The Rebel XS (EOS 1000D in Europe) was unashamedly a cut-down version of the XSi but its mixture of a well trusted sensor and compelling price tag have seen it continue to sell strongly, particularly at the price-conscious end of the market.
Two-and-a-half years is nearly two lifetimes in contemporary camera terms, so it was beginning to look like the XS might turn out to be a one-off, until the launch of its replacement in February 2011. The Rebel T3 (EOS 1100D) builds on a successful formula and takes it further, offering a strong (if not exactly cutting-edge) set of features in a body that suggests it should be very capable of competing on price.
The 1100D takes a series of familiar-sounding components and folds them together in a distinctly conventional but still capable-sounding package. So there's a 12MP CMOS chip that is likely to date back to the 450D/XSi, coupled with Canon's now-standard 9-point AF system and the 63-area iFCL (Focus, color and luminance sensitive) metering system first seen in the EOS 7D. These combine with the equally well-known Digic 4 processor to offer a camera that's unlikely to offer much in the way of surprises (which should also mean the avoidance of any nasty ones).