I researched several SLR's before deciding on the Canon T3i. I'm happy with my choice so far, having purchased the camera first of all to take high quality photos of fairly small works of sculpture art, using the Canon 60mm macro lens. For that use, the camera and lens seem to work very well. I find the ergonomic arrangement of controls on the camera to very very intuitive and pleasant to use. The camera feels solid and is easy to hold with the very adequate right hand grip that has a rubberized cover allowing the user to maintain a firm grip. The menu system for adjusting camera settings is also well designed and easy to use. The adjustment wheel just behind the shutter button makes changing settings very simple when in manual mode. I especially like the articulated LCD screen on the back of the camera that allows it to be positioned so that otherwise very awkward camera positions (ie, overhead, or low to the ground) are easily possible. The view finder is very clear and has all basic settings info on the bottom border. The camera comes with a comfortable, good quality neck strap and is quite light and small compared to other SLRs. Battery life seems to be very good - longer than I expected. The included corded battery charger will appeal to some, but not to those who prefer the travel type charger with a swing-out plug. This is not a professional level SLR, but it performs very well as a small, light APS-C camera.
I could go on and on about the picture quality of the DSLR, but I'm sure anyone looking to buy one already knows about all those things. I will instead focus on the camera itself (the hardware/software) instead of the picture quality, which is SUPERB.
The sheer amount of features allowed is nice. As my first DSLR, I can only judge this camera against point and shoots.
Everything can be tweaked and tuned as expected in a DSLR, but it also has a "auto" mode, which is nice when you just want to take a quick shot and not have to worry about ISO settings, etc, etc.
The shutter itself feels much better than a point and shoot, and the focus time, and the downtime between shots is also WAY lower than the run of the mill point and shoot.
A feature I haven't seen as flexible in point in shoot is the timer shots. You can set it to take anywhere from 1-10 pictures with 1 timer. This is great for big family photos where you prop the camera up on a tripod and just want to do 10 photos in a row - and hopefully everyone will have their eyes open in one of those 10 photos (especially hard with little kids).
The software/hardware feels sort of undated. Canon has stuck with this same layout for a long time for continuity, but new point and shoots have a much more streamlined interface. For example, the wheel on the top (where you switch between modes), does not allow for 360 degree rotation, only like 300 degrees rotation. This means, for example, if you were in Video Capture mode and wanted to go to Macro Mode, you have to spin the wheel 300 degrees instead of just 60 degrees.
The software is one that takes getting used to. They use a "tab" system to tell you which settings you are messing with in the Menu. The tab system may be familiar to long time Canon users, but the way the tabs are labeled sometimes make it confusing. Instead of using words, they use symbols, which I feel do not match well. For example, there are "tabs" with a Wrench icon. Unless I memorize which setting is where, there is a hard time remember exactly what settings are changed in the "wrench" tab.
The battery must be charged separately from the device. I don't know if this is a standard for DSLR, but I liked how I could just plug in my camera itself and charge it on point and shoots.
There is no arguing the picture quality, it is basically the same as the T2i, and professional reviews all across the internet rate this as the top entry-level DSLR. It has settings for a beginner like me, and it has settings for advanced users as well.
For those wondering between T2i and T3i, the main difference is a spin-out LCD screen, and digital zoom during video. These differences are small, and I know I was confused when I first researched this DSLR. The T2i and T3i are much more similar than the T3 vs T3i.
T2i or T3i - Get either, T3/T2 are a lower-end model, they are made for two different budget targets