Canon EOS 650D Review
…I thought as I unboxed the Canon 650D, “they’ve given in to peer pressure and ruined their fantastic entry-level series DSLRs by adding a flippy-angle touchscreen”. Then I realised that they hadn’t included a Facebook app, and calmed down a bit and had a proper look…
Don’t Panic, it’s OK!
My concern as a photographer who started out with a 100-series Canon (a 350D) and gradually upgraded is that I learned photography by doing it; by pushing buttons and peering through the viewfinder and seeing what happened. The danger I think with having screens like the 650D now does on DSLRs is that the beginner user will just use it like a compact camera and never learn advanced photography skills. Looking through the viewfinder is totally different to using the screen (known as Liveview in Canon parlance) to compose images. Perhaps Canon are trying to change that by including a high-resolution angled screen that does narrow the gap between the screen view and looking through the eyepiece. In any case, the camera does still have all the advanced manual and semi-auto modes that will allow blossoming photographers to hone their acumen, so I’ll get off my soapbox and tell you about this brilliant little camera.
It’s the obvious thing to start with. The standard Canon selection wheel found on other models is gone, but instead you get a huge 3-inch, 1,040,000-dot, vari-angle touch screen. One very neat advantage to this is that when you’re not using the camera, you can fold it over so the screen is facing inwards and so is protected from scratches, which are all too easily gained by contact with zips and other sharp objects as you carry a camera around. The camera still works with the screen facing inwards – you just can’t see the settings, so if you’ve got it set up how you want it, you can still shoot, seeing the aperture and shutter settings in the viewfinder. Another interesting advantage I found is that if you flip it out to the side, the cavity that the screen folds into creates more room for your nose, so there’s no need to use an extended eyepiece, and you don’t get nose marks on the screen. In this position, it’s also easier to change settings quickly using a combination of both thumbs – one for the physical buttons, and one for the screen. Cameras for the SMS generation!
The screen works just like you’d expect a touchscreen to – you touch the settings, which then opens up the dialogue to alter that particular setting. You can then either make the change by touching the screen, or by using the buttons as with other models. I wonder whether Canon will eventually remove most of the buttons to leave just the screen… Personally, I find buttons more convenient as I can change settings without taking my eye off the viewfinder, but the 650D offers totally flexibility between the screen and the buttons – use one or the other, or a combination. This will mean that owners of older models won’t be confused by the screen as the interface looks the same as before – they can then learn at their own pace.
The removal of the large selection wheel is slightly frustrating because you now have to hold down a button and use the rocker wheel on top instead of being able to change aperture with one and shutter speed with the other using your thumb and finger. However, as an entry-level camera, that’s probably not going to bother many users.
I took the camera out to test it, and in bright sunlight the screen is easily visible. There is a sensor in the viewfinder so the screen turns off when you look into it, which removes the distraction and prevents your nose making changes to the settings.
By default, a help mode is turned on that explains each option on the screen as you touch it, telling you what it does in a little alert box. You simply press the option again to dismiss the message and continue into the option’s settings screen. I found this very handy when learning my way around the 650D’s new features. After you know what you’re doing, you can turn it off.
One of the best features of this camera is the ability to use pinch and pan motions with your finger, just like on any smart phone or tablet, to zoom your images and page through them. One thing that frustrates me on the non-touchscreen models is having to zoom all the way out again using the buttons after zooming in to check focus. With the 650D, you can zoom all the way out in one pinch motion – that feature alone almost makes me want to swap my 5D Mark II for the 650D!
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a 600D at first glance as they look very similar indeed in terms of size and shape. The setup seems to be buttons on the right, screen on the left – one hand for each. Makes perfect sense and feels totally natural. It also means button-junkies like me can now change most settings just using their right hand. My one niggle, Canon, is that you’ve left the depth-of-field preview button at the bottom-left on the front. The problem with this is that with the settings set to their defaults, the flash will fire like a strobe when you accidentally press it with the flash up, or a hotshoe flash attached. Now, if you’re holding your camera correctly, this is exactly where your left thumb sits as you operate the lens and it’s easy to accidentally press it, blinding your subjects and making them unhappy. The button has been moved on other models such as the 5D Mark III, I just hope Canon make that change on all models in the future.
The body is compact and light, made of very tough plastic, as with all the lower-end Canons. This makes the 650D an ideal travelling DSLR. With a 40mm pancake lens, for example, you’d barely stand out from the crowd and wouldn’t strain your neck muscles. The build quality is, as usual for Canon, excellent.
All the connection ports are on the left of the housing, with the SD card slot on the right. The battery flap is underneath, as usual. The battery is a new design though, so don’t expect to use spare batteries from older models.
Movie mode, which is becoming more and more used with DSLRs as people realise they can shoot professional-quality 1080p video through high-quality lenses, has been moved onto the on/off dial, so you no longer have to go through the Liveview button.
The screen is revolutionary, and I think a market-leader among touchscreen cameras. The rest of the camera is simply a more refined version of the 600D. The changes do add up though. Canon have improved the way that pixels are used for focussing when using Liveview – an area of weakness in the past, and an update which makes perfect sense in a camera which encourages use of the screen for composing shots. The processor is now a DIGIC 5, and so the 650D sports a higher frame rate of 5fps at max resolution, as well as a higher top ISO setting of 12800 (expandable to 25600).
One new feature which grabbed my attention is the Hand Held Night Scene mode. It takes three images in quick succession, and then combines them in-camera to give you a shake-free, well-exposed night-time image. It obviously won’t work in near-darkness, but for night-time city scenes, parties and so on, it’s perfect. Here is an image I took handheld just lit by street lights which would normally require a tripod:
There’s also a Backlit HDR function. These two features have replaced the A-DEP mode, which Canon have removed completely (as I’m guessing no-one used it). Liveview composing also brings face-detection on the 650D, which is a useful feature.
Video has been improved, mainly by the inclusion of an integral stereo microphone. The external connector is still there for attaching external microphones. Some creative filters have been included, so you can add creative effects to your photos in-camera. These aren’t the cheesy kind of put-your-face-on-a-clown’s-body type filters you get on some compacts – they do things like simulated tilt-and-shift with Miniature, as well as filters such as Art Bold, Water Painting, Soft Focus and Grainy Black&White.
I was quite impressed with the noise levels at high ISOs on the 650D’s sensor. There are less noisy cameras out there, but for this market sector, it’s pretty good. The sensor also has excellent detail recording and sharpness. Have a look at some of these example shots to see the quality at maximum JPEG resolution using a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens. The thumbnails link to the full-size original JPG files. No post-processing has been applied.
Pricing and Rating
The 650D is priced at £700 RRP (body only), which means the high-street price will be a little less. This puts it in the upper-entry-level market, just below the enthusiast models. It’s serious money, but you get a serious camera, and it would be very respectable as a first DSLR, or an excellent upgrade from an older entry-level model.
Connected Digital World highly recommends this camera, and awards the 650D our Gold Award, because despite my being picky, there’s no escaping the fact that Canon make superb DSLRs at all price ranges, with this unit being no exception. Add it to your Christmas list now!