The triple-digit EOS series (Digital Rebel in the US) was the original consumer digital SLR. The EOS 300D was the first one to break the $1,000 price barrier back in 2003, and subsequent cameras in the series have been among the best-selling DSLRs in the world. The success of the triple-digit series helped to win Canon a dominant position in the DSLR market for most of the past decade, a position from which it has only recently been deposed, finally defeated by the combined pressure of arch-rival Nikon and a wholesale assault from the whole Compact System Camera market.
That puts a lot of responsibility onto the latest model in the lineage, the new EOS 650D which was introduced in June. It’s no longer the entry-level model of the APS-C range; that role belongs to the 12-megapixel EOS 1100D (£345). It’s not the mid-level enthusiast’s model either, since that slot is very capably filled by the excellent 18-megapixel EOS 60D (£805). Instead the 650D has to fill a middle ground where it hopes to tempt the aspirations of those graduating from the entry-level with its offer of an 18-megapixel resolution, 5fps continuous shooting, full HD video and a flip and twist monitor, for a kit price of £613 or £585 body only.
The 650D’s main challenge is its competition. The Nikon D5100, which fills a similar one-up-from-entry-level position in the range, offers 16.2 megapixels, 4fps, full HD and a flip-and-twist monitor, and only costs £430 with a VR lens. The Sony Alpha A57 offers 16 megapixels, 12fps continuous, full HD and a flip-and-twist monitor for £570 with a lens, and the critically acclaimed and fully weatherproof 16-megapixel Pentax K30 is available with a WR lens for £579. Since an extra 1.8 megapixels really isn’t much of an advantage, what does the EOS 650D offer that makes it worth the extra money, especially since the EOS 600D is still available for around £500 with a kit lens?
Design and features
The overall body design of the EOS 650D is little changed from the EOS 600D, but then it didn’t really need to change. The handling is pretty much flawless, with a large comfortable rubber textured handgrip and a big thumb grip area at the back. All the controls are sensibly laid out and accessible, although the ISO button does tend to hide behind the main mode dial. The body is the same polycarbonate plastic as the previous model, but the build quality is excellent and the camera feels solid and durable.
Although the EOS 650D looks very similar to the 600D, internally it offers a number of significant upgrades. The most important change is the sensor. While the 650D’s 18-megapixel sensor is the same resolution as that in the 600D and 60D, it’s not the same design. It’s a new “Hybrid CMOS” chip which incorporates the sensors for the live view and video mode autofocus into the main imaging sensor. In theory this should provide superior low-light focusing, and offers continuous tracking AF in video mode, a first for a Canon DSLR, but we’ll talk more about that later.
The 650D is also the first DSLR to feature Canon’s powerful DIGIC 5 processor, offering 5fps continuous shooting speed and an improved ISO range of 100 – 12,800, expandable up to 25,600. It also provides on-the-fly lens distortion correction, another first for a Canon DSLR, although several rival models have offered this feature for some time. Other new features previously seen on rival models include in-camera HDR imaging and stereo audio recording.
The 650D does have one new feature that is completely unique, and that is its innovative touch-screen interface. Of course there are many compact cameras that have touch-screen controls, but the 650D is the first DSLR to go down this route. As regular readers will be aware I’m not usually a fan of touch-screens on cameras, but even I have to admit that on the 650D it’s a superb system. It is simple and intuitive to use, and offers a fast and versatile way to control all of the camera’s main shooting functions. It might sound like hyperbole, but the touch-screen interface combined with the excellent 7.7cm (3in) flip-and-twist monitor adds a whole new level of creative versatility to the camera, and makes it actually fun and easy to use, even in full manual exposure mode. While the 650D might be playing catch-up to its competitors in some respects, this is one Canon innovation that is sure to be copied by others.
It seems that no DSLR these days is complete without advanced video recording capability, and the 650D has seen an upgrade in this department too. Naturally it can shoot 1,920 x 1,080 full HD, but unlike the 600D it can also record stereo audio via a pair of microphones mounted just in front of the flash hot-shoe.
The EOS 600D was no slouch, but the 650D is even quicker. As with most digital SLRs it can start up and take a picture in less than a second, and in single shot mode it can shoot as fast as you can press the shutter button. Thanks to the processor upgrade it has a faster continuous shooting speed than the 600D, and can shoot at five frames a second for 22 JPEG shots or 6 shots in raw mode.
The viewfinder mode autofocus system has nine cross-type sensors, as did the 600D, but for the new camera the centre AF point now has better low-light sensitivity, f/2.8 as opposed to f/5.6. It is very quick and accurate, but I’d really like to try it alongside the Nikon D5100’s 11-point AF system, which I suspect may be slightly faster.
The EOS 650D has no AF assist lamp, but the flash can pulse to provide focusing illumination, albeit blinding your subjects in the process. The flash will pop up automatically in full auto mode, but has to be manually activated in all other modes.
As I mentioned earlier, the EOS 650D features a hybrid CMOS sensor that incorporates the live-view and video mode AF system. In theory this sounds like a great idea, but in practice it’s very slow in both live-view still and video continuous AF modes. It is especially bad in low light, where it will often fail to focus, instead hunting backwards and forwards for several seconds. This is very disappointing, especially since the new hybrid sensor AF is billed as a selling point. It’s the EOS 650D’s only serious flaw, but it is rather a large one.
Some reviewers have raved about the 650D’s image quality, but although it’s certainly good, it’s far from perfect. In good light and at low ISO settings the level of detail recorded by the 18-megapixel sensor is very impressive and the colour rendition is superb, as you’ll see in the sample images on the following pages. However, even at the lowest settings it’s still not quite up to the standard of major competitors. My standard test shot showed some slight colour distortion even at 100 ISO.
Dynamic range in the default JPEG mode is not as good as I would have expected, with little shadow detail and burned-out highlights, but the Auto Lighting Optimiser does a pretty good job of balancing out the tonal range, and the 14-bit raw mode does allow a lot of exposure leeway, with about two stops worth of extra shadow detail available before noise becomes a problem.
The EOS 650D’s high ISO image quality isn’t bad, but the truth is that several competing cameras are significantly better, crucially including both the Nikon D5100 and Sony A57. I’ll be reviewing the new Pentax K30 in a couple of weeks, but I’d expect that to be better too. In the accompanying test shots you’ll see that there is visible noise from ISO 1600 upwards, but the noise reduction at higher settings doesn’t reduce the overall level of detail too much, and shots remain usable even at the highest setting, as long as you’re not too fussy.
As usual I have to reserve a few words of criticism for the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens supplied with my review sample. It’s the same lens Canon has been bundling with its APS-C cameras since at least 2008, and it’s without a doubt the most disappointing kit lens on the market. The AF motor is slow and clunky, it feels cheaply made, the filter ring rotates when focusing and optically it produces horrible wide-angle distortion, blurring at the edges of the frame and significant chromatic aberration. If you decide that you’d like to buy an EOS 650D, do yourself a big favour and spend a little extra to get a better lens than this. The EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM is a lot better, and adds about £150 to the kit price.
While the EOS 650D offers little significant advantage in image quality over the 600D, the viewfinder AF and overall performance are better, and the clever touch-screen control system works extremely well, allowing you to really make the most of an excellent camera. It’s only let down by the very disappointing live view and video focusing, its lacklustre kit lens and the fact that it’s surrounded by some very strong and considerably cheaper competition.
- Touch-screen controls
- Image quality
- Slow live view AF
- High-ISO noise
£585 inc. VAT (body only)