UPDATED 8th November, 2012. First released in March 2011, the Canon EOS 600D is positioned as a mid-level enthusiast DSLR. Still listed as a current model, the Canon EOS 600D has since been succeeded by the Canon EOS 650D. Can the Canon EOS 600D still cut it against the competition? We find out in the What Digital Camera Canon EOS 600D review…
Canon EOS 600D review – Features
Back in 2003 Canon pretty much single-handedly kick-started the DSLR consumer market into life with the launch of the EOS 300D. It was the first truly affordable DSLR, and its 6.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor was considered cutting edge at the time. Since then, Canon has evolved its triple-digit, mid-level DSLR range with annual updates to the range, with each new model generally sporting a richer feature set and improved performance over its predecessor.
Add some competitive pricing to this and its little wonder that Canon’s triple-digit DSLR range has been so successful, with models from the range regularly topping the best-seller lists and collecting awards. The (now discontinued) EOS 550D that the EOS 600D replaced was an incredibly well rounded camera in its own right, so how much better is the Canon EOS 600D?
Well, at first glance you might be forgiven for thinking that the two models are almost exactly alike. And that’s because, internally at least, very little was changed or tinkered with. For example, both the 550D and the 600D use an 18MP CMOS sensor. Canon claims that the two chips are not identical though. In addition the ISO range also remains the same, from 100-6400, while it can be expanded further, to an ISO equivalent of 12,800 at its ‘H’ setting.
DIGIC IV processor
The DIGIC IV image processor that’s used in a host of other Canon DSLRs allows you to capture 14-bit Raw files and offers a burst rate of 3.7fps (no improvement over the 550D), with the same 63-zone iFCL metering system (first seen in the 7D) and 9-point AF system (with the central AF point cross-type) also being recycled from the 550D.
While the Canon EOS 600D may share a great deal of DNA with the 550D (and 60D for that matter), there have been some changes, with the most obvious being the rear screen. The 3in screen used by the 550D was excellent thanks to the 3:2 aspect ratio used and a screen resolution of 1040k-dots. That remains the same, but it now offers tilt and swivel positioning, just like the 60D’s vari-angle screen. It can be swung out from the body by 180° and rotated 270°, allowing it to be positioned for a range of shooting angles during Live View or video recording. On that subject, the Canon EOS 600D can record full HD video at 1080P with a choice of 30, 25 and 24fps capture.
You’re not restricted to shooting in the EOS 600D’s native 3:2 aspect ratio either, as it can also be set at 4:3, 16:9 and 1:1, though a little of the resolution is sacrificed due to the crop being applied. You also get a Scene Intelligent Auto mode replacing the ‘green square’ Auto mode that’s been on a long line of Canon DSLRs, with this new mode setting AF, brightness, flash and colour tone according to the scene.
If you’ve got yourself a compatible flashgun as well, then you can now use the Canon EOS 600D’s built-in flash to trigger and control it wireless for a host of potential lighting techniques and is a welcome inclusion on a camera of this class.
Canon EOS 600D review – Design
From the front, and the Canon EOS 600D looks markedly similar to the 550D, with a few subtle aesthetic design tweaks to keep the camera looking fresh – the mode dial looks a lot more high-end for example, with finer grooves round the dial, while to the right of the lens mount, the body has also benefited from the addition of a rubberized grip.
Round the back, and the presence of the vari-angle screen has understandably altered the design of the rear. The hinging for the screen has been kept relatively flush with the body, but even so, but it does mean it’s a touch fatter than the 550D. It’s also a bit taller than the 550D, but it’s only marginal, and though chunkier than a Compact System Camera, overall, the Canon EOS 600D is still a nice and compact DSLR.
With the extra space required for the vari-angle screen, the eye-sensor that was positioned just under the viewfinder on the 550D, has disappeared on the EOS 600D. To now cut the shooting info when you raise the camera to your eye, you have to hit the Display button, which has moved from sitting just above the screen at the rear on the 550D, has moved round onto the top plate in front of Mode dial on the EOS 600D. This isn’t as much as a faff as it sounds, especially as the display blacks out automatically when you half depress the shutter button to focus. An Info button, allowing you to check peripheral camera information while shooting, and cycle through shooting info during playback, has replaced the Display button on the rear of the 550D.
The rest of the button placement on the rear of the camera remains virtually identical to that of the 550D, though to accommodate the vari-angle screen, the d-pad has shrunk a touch by comparison, while there’s also a deeper and more pronounced thumb rest than before. So for button placement, to the right of the viewfinder, there’s a Live View activation button (hit this in Movie mode to start recording), while further to the right is the Exposure lock and AF point selection buttons that double-up as your magnify tools during playback.
The Exposure compensation button also allows you to toggle between setting aperture and shutter speed in Manual mode, due to the single control wheel on the front of the camera. Just below it is a handy Quick menu button, letting you toggle through and adjust a range of shooting settings on the rear display, while the d-pad has dedicated settings for AF, Drive, White Balance and Picture Styles.
From the top, and the only noticeable change, as already mentioned, is the inclusion of the Display button and the refined grip round the Mode dial. The ISO button is conveniently positioned, and there’s a subtle difference in feel between that and the Display button to reduce the risk of hitting the wrong one when you raise the camera to your eye. For existing EOS users, there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises, while new users should experience an intuitive and quick to use interface that’s been evolving for almost 10 years.
While there’s no denying that the Canon EOS 600D has been put together to a high standard, the smooth, matt exterior does feel quite plasticky however. That said, the more well-defined handgrip and thumb rest offer a comfortable grip, while the more pronounced textured rubber finish applied are a welcome progression from the 550D.
Canon EOS 600D review – Performance
If you were expecting a shiny new AF system, then you’ll be disappointed, with the Canon EOS 600D sticking with the tried and tested 9-point phase-detect AF system used in previous models. The nine points are grouped relatively tightly together in the centre of the frame in a diamond formation; with the central AF point the only cross-type variant sensor, being sensitive to both the horizontal and vertical.
Focus selection is carried out by hitting the AF point selection button, then using the control wheel or d-pad to select your desired AF point, and while you may find the central-bias of the AF points restrictive when mounted on a tripod, it’ll focus with not much fuss, with hardly any over- or under-focus issues – even with non-central AF points. While it’s a solid system, it does feel a touch unsophisticated compared to rivals the Panasonic LUMIX GH2 and Sony Alpha a55. These offer much more in the way of AF speed and focus-tracking, leaving the system in the Canon EOS 600D to appear a little outdated and slow.
With the exception of the screen – more on that in a moment, the Live View system is remarkably familiar to that of the 550D. You’ve got two main options when it comes to focus – there’s Quick mode, using the 9-point phase-detect system already discussed, but the feed is cut when focus is being acquired and the default setting, Live mode. This uses contrast-detect AF, allowing you to move the AF ‘box’ round the majority of the screen via the d-pad, though you can’t focus right up to the edge of the frame.
There’s also the option to set it to Face Detect Live mode, and to toggle between the 3 AF Live View options, you can either dive into the main menu or hit the Quick menu button during Live View. If you’re using manual focus or just want to confirm AF, then the 5 and 10x zoom feature via the magnifying/AF point selection button is very handy. In operation, and in Live mode, focus is relatively good if there’s a decent amount of contrast in the scene, but can struggle in limited contrast scenes, slowly trying to obtain focus. For a DSLR, the system works well, but there’s no getting away from the fact that compared to the Live View system found in the LUMIX GH2 (or the G2 for that matter), and it’s excellent touch screen and responsive AF, the EOS 600D struggles to mount a challenge.
The 3:2 aspect ratio screen delivers the goods however. Thanks to it being the ratio as the sensor, images during playback or during Live View fill the screen perfectly (assuming you’re using the native 3:2 aspect ratio of the chip), so no black borders running along the top and bottom of the screen. That’s not forgetting one of the key differences that sets the Canon EOS 600D apart from the EOS 550D, the vari-angle screen. It offers pretty much identical control to the screen found on the 60D, allowing it to be pulled and angled into a range of positions, while the screen can also be stored facing the camera for extra protection.
The viewfinder doesn’t offer quite 100% coverage, down to 95%, so you may have to be cautious when framing and reviewing images as it’s surprising what can creep into the frame in that extra 5% that you can’t see. The viewfinder, with a magnification of 0.85x, is good for a camera of this class, and while the optical viewfinder utilized here easily beats an electronic equivalent, it can still feel a touch cramped when you peer through it.
The Canon EOS 600D’s burst rate of 3.7fps isn’t going to set any records, loosing out to both the LUMIX GH2’s 5fps and the Alpha a55’s impressive 10fps (though that’s in Speed Priority mode). Set to continuous drive mode, the EOS 600D can shoot 6 Raw files consecutively, while it was able to shoot over 100 JPEG files continuously.
Finally, a quick word on the new Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II kit lens that’s bundled with the Canon EOS 600D. Incorporating a built-in anti-shake system (IS), the lens is a cosmetic update to the previous model, with the internal lens construction remaining the same. That said, the lack of USM (Ultrasonic) motor that features on a lot of Canon’s glass means that there can be some audible noises as the lens focuses.
Canon EOS 600D review – Image Quality
Canon EOS 600D review – Tone & Exposure
The 63-zone iFCL metering system was first seen on the EOS 7D back in 2009, and has proved to be a very solid exposure system, and it’s the same story in the Canon EOS 600D. Images are well exposed under a range of lighting conditions, meaning you won’t have to spend too much time with the exposure compensation button, while there’s a smooth tonal noticeable in the images. As well as shooting in Evaluative metering, you can switch to Partial, Centre-weighted or Spot metering in the menu of the EOS 600D.
Canon EOS 600D review – RAW/JPEG
The Canon EOS 600D’s .CR2 Raw files can be read using Photoshop CS5 or Elements 9 (you’ll need to update to the latest Camera RAW – 6.4, which is still in beta, but will read and allow for conversion), as well as similar programs. There’s also Canon’s bundled Digital Photo Professional software too.
As you’d expect from an unadjusted Raw file, they lack the punch and end results of the output JPEG file, which has a decent level of contrast and sharpness applied to them to deliver attractive final images. That said, to achieve the best quality from the chip, Raw conversion is recommended.
Canon EOS 600D review – Colour & White Balance
Colour reproduction from the Canon EOS 600D is just a little on the punchy side of neutral, delivering a pleasing result. If that’s not enough, then there’s the EOS 600D’s Picture Styles – Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful and Monochrome. There are also three user-defined modes, allowing you to set Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation and Color Tone, which can be saved and used any time.
There are 6 white balance modes (Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten light, White fluorescent light & Flash), as well as a Custom mode, white balance bracketing and Auto White Balance (AWB), which performs very well, though can be a touch warm indoors.
Canon EOS 600D review – ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
The Canon EOS 600D has a standard ISO range of 100-6400 that can be expanded to an ISO equivalent of 12,800 (the 600D’s H setting) at full resolution, though you will need to activate the ISO expansion in the Custom menu.
Even for an APS-C sized sensor, 18-megapixels may be seen as a bit of a squeeze for a sensor that size, with a poor signal-to-noise ratio resulting in pronounced noise. However, with some clever engineering has resulted in some of the best results for a camera of this class. Noise in Raw files up to ISO 800 is barely noticeable and very well controlled. ISO 800 is starting to show minor signs of breaking up, while ISO 1600 displayed some unwanted colour noise. Above that, and at ISO 3200 & 6400, Noise is noticeable, but considering the sensitivity, is well controlled. At the ISO equivalent of 12,800, and as you’d expect, Noise is quite pronounced but if it’s your only option, still very useable.
When Raw files are compared alongside JPEGs of the same shot and at higher ISO settings, then it’s the JPEG files that appear to handle Noise better, though this is at the expense of sharpness – this is where Raw processing is advised, allowing you to get the best balance of Noise control and sharpness.
Canon EOS 600D review – Sharpness & Detail
The 18MP sensor in the Canon EOS 600D is capable of delivering an impressive amount of detail, allowing you plenty of flexibility if it comes to the need to crop the image fairly aggressively. While JPEGs are more than acceptable, they do tend to be a touch softer, becoming more noticeable at higher ISOs as noise control takes prominence, with Raw files allowing you to resolve the most detail from the chip.
The 18-55mm kit lens has its weaknesses, tending to be a touch soft in the corners wide-open and struggling to get the optimum sharpness from the sensor. If you want to get the best from the camera, then a higher quality optic is recommended.
Canon EOS 600D review – Movie/Video Mode
Canon EOS 600D review – Quality
The quality of footage achievable from the Canon EOS 600D is good and like a host of other Canon DSLRs before it, the EOS 600D outputs videos straight from the camera as MOV files, allowing you to have useable files straight away without the need to process them. Footage is captured at full HD 1920×1080, while there’s the choice of shooting at either 24, 25 or 30fps, as well as the option to flick between either PAL (UK) and NTSC (USA).
Canon EOS 600D review – Record Time
The maximum quoted duration for the Canon EOS 600D is 29mins 59secs, with a 4GB limit. Canon has also incorporated their Video Snapshot technology, first seen on their camcorders, that allows you to shoot short clips of either 2, 4, 8secs, with a series that can then be merged into a single clip.
Canon EOS 600D review – Focusing Modes
Autofocus is possible during video capture, but this has to be enabled via the main menu. Just as you had in Live View, you have the choice of either Live mode (and Face detection Live mode) or Quick mode – the later is only possible before filming commences, but Live mode is possible during recording. That said, it’s advisable to use manual focus during filming as the sluggish AF system can result in unwanted shifts in focus in your video, while the noise from the motor in the lens will be picked up by the microphone in the camera.
Canon EOS 600D review – Manual Control
There’s a dedicated Movie mode on the Mode dial, but exposure can be set to be controlled manually if you wish as well that’s selected via the menu. There’s a Quick menu (activated by the Quick menu button) that allows you to set White Balance, Picture Styles, Video Snapshot, Movie size and Auto Lighting O
ptimizer (as well as Low, Standard and Strong, it can also be disabled).
Canon EOS 600D review – Sound
Sound is linear PCM, which will probably suffice for family videos, but as mentioned, be aware of the AF noise generated from the kit lens that will be picked up if you decide to use autofocus while recording. If you want to get a bit more serious, there’s a 3.5in mic socket, so an additional on or off-camera directional microphone can be called into action for professional sound recording.
Value & Verdict
Canon EOS 600D review – Value
In June 2012 the Canon EOS 650D was announced as the successor to the EOS 600D with a launch price just shy of £800 with an 18-55mm kit lens. This has since fallen to around £600. The price for the older EOS 600D (with 18-55mm kit lens), meanwhile, now stands at around £450-500. In other words, investing in the older model will currently save you around £100-150. Of course, the EOS 600D doesn’t come with the unique touchscreen functionality offered by the EOS 650D, and compared to the newer model’s 18MP sensor effective resolution is slightly less at 16MP. However, you’re still getting quite a lot of camera for the money.
Looking at what’s on offer from rival manufacturers, the EOS 600D faces some stiff competition not least from the Nikon D5100 that was launched at much the same time as the EOS 600. Whereas the D5100 launched with a similar £780 price tag (with 18-55mm kit lens), it has since fallen to around £430 – making it slightly cheaper than the EOS 600D. Another big contemporary rival to the EOS 600D was the Pentax K-r, which launched with a £480 price tag. As a discontinued model the K-r is harder to find than the Nikon D5100, and somewhat bizarrely the price has held firm (no doubt due to lack of stock) at around £460. All said and done the Canon EOS 600D is still very good value.
Canon EOS 600D review – Verdict
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Canon EOS 600D has inherited a lot from existing models in the Canon line-up, primarily the 550D and to a lesser extent, the 60D. In essence, the EOS 600D is a 550D with the 60D’s vari-angle screen, with very little in the way of innovation. With the 550D still available for around £150 less than the 600D, you’ll have to ask yourself how desperately you want a vari-angle screen and the other minor additions.
Ignoring its predecessors for one moment, and as a standalone mid-price DSLR, and the EOS 600D is a great camera. Admittedly, the performance can be left a little wanting, especially with certain aspects of the AF and frame advance, but results from the 18-megapixel sensor are great, with bags of detail and well-controlled noise. Then there’s the polished user interface that allows novice users to grow with their new bit of kit, while the list of features shouldn’t leave more experienced users feeling short-changed either. It may not feel particularly cutting edge, but the Canon EOS 600D has been years in the making, evolving into a great camera for the price.