HandlingLike the previous model, the Canon EOS 1100D is a very plastic feeling camera. Worse still, the textured coating on the grip handle has been replaced with a smooth surface that does nothing to help you keep hold of the camera. As a result, the 1100D is a bit slippery—we dread to think what it'll be like to use in hot weather. However, the camera's general build quality has improved—the larger buttons are easier to use and more advanced mouldings on the camera body make a comfortable thumb-rest.
The buttons are in a completely different layout, with only Av, AF and burst mode buttons in the same place as on the 1000D. It's a logical change, which makes room for the new Live View button: on the EOS 1000D, you had to go into the custom options menu to activate the on-screen viewfinder. What's more, this new control layout isn't the same as on the EOS 600D or the EOS 60D, or any of the brand's compact or bridge cameras for that matter. In fact, with Canon, each camera has its own specific design and handling so any users who want all their cameras to have the same buttons in the same places should look elsewhere.
However, the 1100D does have some things in common with the 1000D, such as the 230,000-dot screen with its clearly visible pixels. That said, the screen is well calibrated, with a DeltaE of 3.2 which means it's perfectly reliable for previewing image styles, colours, effects and white balance. Another thing the 1100D has in common with its predecessor is the viewfinder that looks like a keyhole. Although things are hardly any better on the Nikon D3100, the Pentax K-r has a much wider viewfinder, a VGA screen and it's not all that much more expensive.
All in all, the Canon EOS 1100D is a compact and easy-to-use SLR. Plus, the CA mode makes a decent replacement for the Av mode and is ideal for the kind of users this camera is aimed at.
ResponsivenessFor day-to-day use, most SLRs are pretty speedy these days and the Canon 1100D is no exception. It starts up almost instantly, focusing takes between two tenths and three tenths of a second (and is practically instantaneous when the lens is already set to the right distance). Photo-to-photo turnaround is well under a second too.
It's only really in the advanced functions that there are noticeable differences in speed between various manufacturers' SLRs, particularly for saving Raw files and in the burst mode. In this respect, the Canon EOS 1100D is every bit the entry-level camera. With Jpegs, the burst mode is stuck at three frames per second (the Pentax K-x, for example, is 50 % faster). For Raw shots, the burst mode drops to under one frame per second and the photo-to-photo turnaround time doubles and becomes noticeable. It's not slow enough to be a problem though, and a compact camera this fast would clearly get five stars.
Picture QualityThe EOS 1100D has a 12-Megapixel sensor, which probably isn't a million miles away from the one seen in the good old EOS 450D. However, in line with today's market standards, the 1100D goes up to 6400 ISO, while the 450D stopped at 1600 ISO. Noise management has thankfully been upgraded too, and there's no noticeable loss in picture quality up to 1600 ISO. At 3200 ISO, a slight granularity can be seen on an 8" x 12" (20 x 30 cm) print, but it's still not too much of a problem. In fact, even the highest ISO setting is perfectly suitable for smaller-sized prints.
Version II of the 18-55 mm IS lens that came with our EOS 1100D doesn't look like the highest-quality lens at first glance. For example, the white dot for lining it up with the bayonet mount is simply painted on rather then engraved. However, things must be considerably better on the inside as this lens is actually surprisingly good. At f/5.6, wide angle shots are very sharp in the middle of the frame and remain sharp right into the corners of the picture. In telephoto, while the centre does lose a little of the excellent sharpness seen in wide angle, the edges do improve in quality, making the shot incredibly consistent across the frame.
A word of warning, though: like the EOS 1000D, the EOS 1100D will be mainly supplied with a non-stabilised kit lens, the 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 III. We unfortunately weren't able to test this lens and we imagine it won't be available to buy separately either.
VideoLike most current SLRs, the Canon EOS 1100D has a 720p HD video mode. However, there's no direct-access button to launch video recording—you have to switch to video mode by turning the mode-selection dial all the way round to the end. The autofocus and on-screen viewfinder system still isn't as good as in compact cameras, and although it doesn't focus by default while you're filming, you can refocus the camera by half-pressing the shutter-release button. You're also best off using USM lenses as the motorisation system in kit lenses is very noisy and could be picked up in your videos.
Sound quality could be better. The mono microphone isn't particularly accurate, voices sound muffled and the recorded sound is generally quite distorted. If you really want to shoot videos with your SLR, you'll probably want to look for a model with better sound quality, such as the Sony Alpha 33. If that's a bit out of your price range, you'd probably be better off with a good compact camera instead.