Canon wants to make it as easy as possible for you to upgrade to a digital SLR. The EOS 1100D promises to deliver the picture quality and control of other dSLRs, but at a fraction of the price. It also offers plenty of help when it comes to taking your shots. So is the 1100D the ideal way to take your photography up a notch or two?
The 1100D costs about £400 for the body-only version. You can also buy it with an 18-55mm lens for around £440.
The 1100D's curvy, moulded design looks similar to that of Canon's higher-end dSLRs, so it seems like you're getting a premium product even though you're paying a fraction of the cost -- or at least it seems that way if you're standing on the other side of the room.
Get up close and you'll notice that the camera's build quality doesn't stand up terribly well to scrutiny. The body of the unit is admirably lightweight for a dSLR -- less than half a kilo before you've added a lens -- but it also feels disappointingly plasticky and mass-produced.
This sensation is compounded if you opt for one of the non-black models. Our review unit was a dark brown, which made it seem tacky, especially since it didn't match the colour of the lens we attached to it. Red and grey models are also available.
That aside, the 1100D is thoughtfully constructed. A large dial on the top, to the right, lets you select the camera's mode. It's accompanied by a navigation dial, flash and shutter button, all of which are within a finger's reach. Those unaccustomed to using dSLRs -- and Canon models in particular -- may find that it takes a while to get used to the position of the shutter-release button. It's located on the slanting top edge of the protruding grip, rather than on the main body.
The rear panel isn't as busy as on some other dSLRs. A small selection of large, well laid-out buttons adorns the surface, including a five-way pad and buttons for features such as live view and exposure compensation. Certain buttons serve at least two purposes depending on what mode the camera's currently in but, overall, the 1100D is far from complex.
Also on the rear is a 2.7-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD monitor. It's certainly not the star of the show but then it's not really intended to be the main way to compose shots.
That duty goes to the pentamirror-type optical viewfinder, which provides approximately 95 per cent coverage and displays plenty of useful data about your shot as you compose it, including autofocus points, ISO speed, exposure level, flash information and so on. It isn't the brightest optical viewfinder we've ever used but it's pretty good nonetheless.
The LCD screen is more useful for navigating menus and making adjustments. Press the quick-control button and the panel displays all the camera's current settings. Using the navigation keys, you can select each one and make any changes you wish.
Usefully, the camera provides you with some information about what each setting does as you navigate, giving you an idea of what can be achieved. Land on the aperture icon, for example, and the 1100D will tell you that altering this will 'control the area in focus'. It's another thoughtful touch that shows the extent to which Canon is attempting to reach out to newcomers.
More advanced users might find the 1100D rather low on features, but, for its price, it's fairly well equipped. Under a rubber flap on the left-hand side of the unit, for example, you'll find an HDMI port and a remote shutter-release socket, as well as a USB port. There's an accessory shoe, as well as a built-in flash.
In addition to all the standard shooting modes, there's a 'creative auto' setting that allows you to control the background blur, an 'auto depth of field' option and a 720p, high-definition movie mode.
The 1100D's battery life is surprisingly good too. The provided power cell should be good for up to 700 shots.
At the heart of the 1100D is an APS-C-size CMOS image sensor that can capture images at up to a 12-megapixel resolution, as either JPEG or raw files. (There's also an option to save each shot in both file formats simultaneously.) The large size of the sensor has a number of benefits -- it means the camera can work more effectively in low light without a flash and it also makes it possible to enlarge or crop into an image without compromising the quality.
The camera is fairly fast too. You can take your first shot in less than a second after flicking the power switch. More expensive dSLRs are, however, able to provide faster continuous-shooting times. The 1100D can manage 2 frames per second in raw mode but only for bursts of up to 5 shots. Stick with JPEGs and you get a faster continuous rate of 3fps, lasting for up to 830 shots.
A big factor in the quality of any image is the lens. Our review unit was supplied with an 18-55mm lens with built-in image stabilisation, but the 1100D also supports the full range of Canon and third-party EOS lenses and accessories.
The combination we used certainly delivered some great results. Our standard test shot gave us vivid, well-balanced colours and high detail levels. Images are sharp and mostly free from distortion, although we did notice some purple fringing.
The 1100D allows you to push the ISO settings up to 6,400. Our low-light tests proved that the camera can easily handle up to ISO 800 with very little image noise at all. Beyond this setting, images are still very useable.
We did some outdoor testing with the 1100D. A trip to Epping Forest provided us with some gorgeous nature shots. We did, however, find that sunlit greenery sometimes has a slightly yellowish cast. With portrait shots, be prepared for some fairly honest skin tones -- there are no auto-beautification or face-smoothing features here.
Auto-focusing is aided by a nine-point sensor. It's fast and accurate, although it's still possible to confuse it occasionally.
If you're considering getting into dSLR photography, the Canon EOS 1100D could be a good choice. It offers great value for money and an easy way for users of compact cameras to push their photo skills further. Despite its questionable build quality, it's easy to recommend this dSLR to beginners or those on a budget.
Edited by Charles Kloet