(Pocket-lint) - Thanks to smartphones, everyone's a photographer these days – but what happens when you hit your iPhone or Galaxy's imaging limits and realise you need something a bit beefier? Chances are, your first thought is to buy yourself what used to be known as a "real camera": a DSLR.
Step forward the Canon EOS 1300D, the company's latest entry-level model. With an 18-megapixel APS-C sensor, manual settings, optical viewfinder and the ability to use a huge variety of lenses, it's a sizeable step up from a phone snapper. But reasoning that such upgraders will expect to be able to share their images on social media straight away, Canon has also chucked in Wi-Fi and NFC for simple smartphone connection – that's the 1300D's primary difference over the older 1200D.
And then there's the price. At just £330 including an 18-55mm zoom lens, the 1300D is one of the most affordable DSLRs around from launch. So does it offer the sort of performance-to-price trade-off to attract would-be "serious" photographers, or would they be better off spending a little more on one of the impressive (and pricier) compact system cameras offered by the likes of Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic?
Canon EOS 1300D review: Design and build quality
As DSLRs go, the 1300D couldn't be called a standout in the style department. Very much a "classic" DSLR in terms of its shape, it looks the same as every other entry-level EOS DSLR that has come before it. Consider the arresting design of compact system cameras like Olympus' PEN or Fujifilm's X Series and it's hard to contemplate anybody choosing something as dull as this over them – but then style could be considered subjective and a sort-of unimportant trait for a camera.
And in most other aspects of design and build, Canon has done a fine job. The 1300D is constructed mostly from polycarbonate resin (you might also know this as "plastic") which, while not the prettiest substance to look at, feels amply tough in the hands, as well as light in weight. This isn't a camera you want to whip out in a summer thunderstorm or bring on a rock climbing trip, but it'll withstand regular everyday use quite capably.
That classic DSLR shape we mentioned above? It's endured so long chiefly because it's functional. The chunky grip makes it comfortable to hold and hard to drop (you can even use it one-handed), while the placement of controls and dials on the top and back of the camera puts everything within easy reach of your thumbs and fingers.
While we're on the subject, the 1300D's buttons are large, pruned back to no more than the basics. That's part of Canon's plan to keep those aforementioned upgrader users happy and free of information overload, we suspect – but it does limit the 1300D's customisability somewhat. Some cameras sport multiple customisable buttons, but here there's really just the one Q button to access the quick menu. Other buttons give provide shortcuts to exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, autofocus mode, white balance and drive/self-timer.
The 3-inch screen on the back is impressive in most situations, providing decent contrast, colour reproduction and detail that make it a joy to review photos and videos, while menu screens look bright and crisp. It's not touch-sensitive, though, which does limit your control options slightly, but given the price of the 1300D and its position in Canon's range, that's perhaps not a surprise. On the flip side, it is a surprise that it lacks given the way smartphones have morphed the way we use electronic devices.
One problem we had with the display is that it's too reflective and not quite bright enough to see properly on a sunny day. Not an issue you might struggle with too often here in the UK, but worth a mention anyway. The other is that it's fixed, and doesn't rotate or tilt; having an articulated screen helps you compose images in situations where you can't use the viewfinder (with the camera held high above your head, for instance, you can tilt it down and see what you're shooting), so it's a shame users will miss out on that.
Canon EOS 1300D review: Performance
There's not much point in beating around the bush here: the 1300D performs like an entry-level DSLR. To give a few examples: its continuous shooting speed tops out at a sluggish three shots per second (3fsp); it has only nine autofocus points; there's no built-in HDR shooting mode. None of these are deal-breakers, especially in a camera this affordable, but you can see where Canon has pruned back performance to save costs.
That said, we didn't find the camera difficult to use, or its limitations particularly noticeable. It autofocuses quickly enough to shoot static or slow-moving subjects, even in low-light (unless you're using the live view mode, which takes what seems like an age to lock onto a subject in such conditions – it's pretty good in decent light though). We found metering to be accurate by default, helping you to take correctly exposed photos from the off (there are other metering options which you can learn about as you progress).
The ISO sensitivity range looks a little stingy on paper at just 100 to 6400 (it can be expanded to 12,800 for emergencies). The higher that number the more the camera processes the captured data to compensate for given lighting conditions: so if it's dark the camera has to "boost" the ISO to maintain an exposed image and fast enough shutter speed for sharpness' sake, but the higher the ISO the more image noise that is revealed and, therefore, the more processing that is needed to attempt to counteract it, which typically results in softness. So if you're looking for a camera that dazzles at nighttime shooting, you need to be willing to spend more than £330; again, we can't really fault Canon too much here given the entry-level point.
As for the camera's Wi-Fi connection? Well, it works much like most other connected cameras, allowing you to hook it up to a phone/tablet running the free Canon Camera Connect app, which you can then use to move photos and video from the camera to the device. The app also lets you use your connected device as a remote control and viewfinder for the 1300D, plus make some basic changes to image settings. It all feels pretty intuitive and slick, although being an iPhone user, your intrepid reviewer wasn't able to test out the NFC contactless connectivity, instead pairing phone and 1300D the old fashioned way.
Canon EOS 1300D review: Image quality
OK, enough messing about. You're probably wondering by now if the 1300D's photo and video quality is up to much. After all, we've been banging on a lot about how cheap it is, so surely it's nothing special, right?
Wrong! While 18-megapixels may not sound like much in this day of 20-megapixel phone cameras, the sensor's size and the fact that, whatever lens you've got attached, it'll be better than your phone's plastic peephole means it surpasses anything you could capture on a smartphone. In good lighting conditions, you can expect crisp detail, accurate colours and a lack of grainy noise – and that's just with the bundled 18-55mm kit lens.
We also tried the 1300D with Canon's f/1.4 50mm prime lens (around £230), and here the results were even sharper and cleaner, with beautiful out-of-focus bokeh backgrounds as a result of that wide-open aperture. Not a bad investment either: for a £560 all-in purchase you have a great prime lens shooter for less than some similar high-end compact cameras.
In low-light with the ISO pushed up to 3200 and 6400, the on-board image processor does an admirable job of controlling image noise. You'll definitely spot speckles and grain if you zoom in on your computer screen (or print images at poster size), but overall the results are surprisingly clear.
The 1300D is primarily a stills camera, but if you twist the mode dial to video you can capture Full HD footage at up to 30fps (or 720p at 60fps), and it looks pretty great – again, a big jump above the equivalent clips taken using a phone or cheap compact camera in terms of detail and noise – and there's also far more potential for blurred background bokeh, which always gives your videos a bit of Hollywood sheen.
There are a handful of manual options available when shooting video, too, but we wouldn't quite recommend the 1300D as a filmmaker's tool. If you look at its video mode as a bonus feature, you won't be disappointed, but anyone looking to primarily capture video should be looking at pricier, more feature-rich cameras.
The world of entry-level DSLRs isn't a particularly dynamic or fast-moving one, but Canon has succeeded in hitting all the main bullet points with the 1300D, bar the lack of touchscreen.
Ultimately similar to the EOS 1200D, the 1300D captures great photos and decent videos, is easy to use, sturdy (despite the plastic build), lightweight and priced at a truly affordable level. Chuck in the smartphone connectivity – that's the primary difference with this latest model compared to the last – and you've pretty much got the perfect introductory camera. Now that's an ideal step-up from your point-and-shoot snapper or smartphone, if you're ok with the scale of a DSLR and confident that you'd actually pack it up and carry it around with you.
In the wide world of cameras the 1300D couldn't be described as an especially exciting camera to use – as it doesn't push any envelopes and it's lacking in the kind of headline-grabbing trick shot features that you'll find on more expensive models – but it's a really solid performer and an accessible way to start taking better photos. Can't say better than that.