The Canon EOS 650D is the world's first DSLR to be equipped with a touchscreen also arrives with a clever focusing system and a handful of extra features. The What Digital Camera Canon EOS 650D review investigates the extent to which their implementation has been successful
This isn’t, however, the only justification for the new release. With core aspects of the camera’s specifications being tweaked and refreshed from the previous EOS 600D model, the new arrival looks set to appeal even to those not convinced of the benefits of touchscreen technology. But do they make for just an incremental upgrade? Or is there more to it than that?
Canon EOS 650D review – Features
Perhaps the most significant shift on the inside concerns the Canon EOS 650D’s imaging sensor. Although it retains the same 18MP effective resolution as both the Canon EOS 600D and the EOS 550D before it, the sensor now uses its most central pixels for phase detection AF, in addition to the already-standard contrast detection AF. The system, dubbed Hybrid CMOS AF, is designed to improve focusing performance in both live view and video modes, although only contrast detection AF is used when the subject lies outside this central area.
The Canon EOS 650D’s processor has also been upgraded to the DIGIC 5 version; while this isn’t Canon’s most advanced engine – that honour belongs to the DIGIC 5+, a pair of which can be found inside the EOS 1Dx – it nevertheless promises a six-fold increase in processing speeds in addition to the usual claims of low noise and natural colour. This has also enabled a wide ISO range of ISO 100-12,800 as standard, with a single extension option to an ISO 25,600 equivalent setting – a full stop wider than the EOS 600D.
As with the Canon EOS 600D the camera’s LCD screen measures 3in in size and resolves details with 1040k dots, although Canon has dubbed it Clear View II to distinguish it from the first generation display. According to Canon the main change concerns the air gap between the screen and the protective front panel, which has now been removed. Once again the screen pivots around a side hinge, folding out to 175° and turning through an angle of 270°.
Those using the Canon EOS 650D for video can record full HD (1080p) footage at 29.97, 25, 23.976 fps, and 720p footage at 59.94 and 50fps. Two microphones on the top-plate capture stereo sound, and a wind-cut filter may be actiavted through the menu system as and when required. There’s also an attenuator, which is designed to subdue any sudden loud noises.
The Canon EOS 650D’s focusing module has also been upgraded, so that all nine AF points are of the cross-type variety. Theoretically this makes it more sensitive than usual, given that each point comprises a pair of sensors which work in directions perpendicular to one another. All points are sensitive to f/5.6, with the exception of the central point which extends this to f/2.8; EOS aficionados will recognise that this is the same as that in the EOS 60D.
Those using such a camera for action photography will be pleased to learn of an improvement in burst rate, from the Canon EOS 600D’s underwhelming 3.7fps to a more respectable 5fps here. Canon’s triple-digit EOS models have always fallen behind the competition here somewhat, so this change is more than welcome (and no doubt a result of a superior processing engine).
Another new feature on the Canon EOS 650D is the Multi Shot Noise Reduction option, which combines four images into one. This, Canon claims, results in a single image with less visible noise than that achieved with the strongest noise reduction option.
The Handheld Night Scene mode, which is also a new addition, also works on the principle of combining four of the same images into one, although here the aim is to reduce blur rather than noise.
Strangely, there doesn’t appear to be any way to set colour temperature numerically (i.e over the Kelvin scale) which is fairly standard, although with six presets, a custom option and small adjustments towards particular hues possible, the system is still fairly flexible.
Canon EOS 650D review – Design
As with the camera’s feature set, Canon has only made a handful of modifications to the camera’s body on top of the basic template carved out by the model’s forebears. The top-plate now incorporates stereo microphones just past the hot shoe rather than on the front, for example, while many buttons have been gently restyled and the thumb rest around the back made larger.
The power switch has been joined by a movie option, which lies past the on position. In practice it’s easy to overshoot the on position when simply wanting to turn the camera on for stills shooting. The menu and info buttons can also be awkward to press when the screen is extended from the body, given their placement just above the hinge, although on such a button-heavy body there isn’t really any better place for them.
In place of the relatively smooth body, the new model gains a more matte finish, particularly the back of the LCD screen. It’s not clear why Canon has opted to do so as, not only is this less pleasing to the touch, but it picks up marks and scratches easier than the smoother one on the EOS 600D. Admittedly, most superficial marks can be quickly rubbed away.
Other than these minor grievances, there’s little to fault. The body is built to the expected standard, with the stainless steel chassis and polycarbonate resin shell keeping weight down to just 575g. Both the grip, thumb rest and side are rubbered, which not only makes the camera more secure in the hand but also more pleasing to hold, although the grip itself is decidedly more suited to those with smaller hands given its shallowness. The camera’s buttons are all labelled clearly, although some may find their travel a little short, and the screen pulls away easily from the body while remaining fixed in any desired position.
Canon EOS 650D review – Performance
Extensive use of the touchscreen makes it obvious how useful this technology can be when well integrated. Those likely to benefit and appreciate it the most will be those using live view and the articulation of the LCD with some frequency, particularly when the usefulness of the touch-shooting is considered. When activated, this allows the subject to be tapped on screen, after which the camera will either focus and keep a lock on the subject, or focus and expose the frame, depending on the settings defined by the user. Although the camera keeps a lock on the subject well, it only maintains this providing it stays well within the peripheries of the frame – otherwise it loses it entirely.
While the camera’s more standard focusing system was adequate on the EOS 600D, the revision to an all cross-type system should theoretically make it an even better performer. A side-by-side comparison with the EOS 600D shows this to largely be true, with certain flat, low-contrast subjects completely missed by the EOS 600D’s peripheral points being picked up with a much higher rate success rate with the EOS 650D.
The screen itself is pleasingly responsive, at least as prompt as an average smartphone if not more so. When using a finger to zoom around an image, it image moves promptly and with no lagging, and when moving through the main menus you simply need to lift your finger off at the relevant function for it to bring up its various options. Pressing the Q button when in live view also reveals commonly used functions bordering the screen, with the options within each one at the base and all being operated by touch. Overall, Canon has gone beyond expectations to deliver a screen that actually changes the whole user experience, rather than one which just allows certain functions to be selected on screen.
Yet, there’s room for improvement. When reviewing images, double-tapping the screen fails to do anything, when it could so easily be used to zoom into the image to 100%. It also takes a fraction of a second to render the image in its full quality as images are swiped. It’s entirely likely that those with larger hands may be less enamoured by the implementation, given the relatively small dimensions of many of the controls. While average-handed users are unlikely to feel the need for a stylus of any kind, it’s difficult to imagine these controls being any smaller while remaining usable, particularly within the main menu system which follows the same basic template as previous EOS models.
Even ignoring the touchscreen technology the display is more than capable in its performance. While it suffers from the same visibility issues in stronger light as any other camera, in more balanced conditions it presents the scene naturally and without issues. While it isn’t based on the OLED technology that has impressed us elsewhere the viewing angle is still impressively wide; a side-by-side comparison with the EOS 600D shows this to be noticeably improved from before.
As promised, the new EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens delivers a smoother focusing performance than more conventional optics, with greater fluidity when focusing between different areas, although it’s noticeably slower to achieve focus. The greatest difference, however, is its sound as it’s doing so; whereas the focusing motor of an optic such as the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II delivers a more obvious scratching sound as it achieves correct positioning, the motor inside the pancake lens is closer to a low hum. In silent conditions the sound of both is apparent, although when ambient noise is present the 40mm lens’s motor cannot be heard.
The built-in microphones manage to capture sound with impressive clarity, although their sensitivity does make them susceptible to ambient noise, wind etc. Although there is only a basic level of control provided over audio recording (which is entirely expected), there is a wind cut filter which attempts to help out in more turbulent conditions. Comparing footage shot with and without this employed reveals that this does indeed have an effect, although by cutting out the most obvious high-frequency details it still leaves a low rumble, leaving these sounds noticeable but just less obviously so.
One of the less headline-grabbing features of the camera is its 5fps burst speed, which still falls short of peers such as Sony’s A57 and Pentax’s K-30, although admittedly it’s an improvement over the 4fps Nikon D5100. While the camera meets its promised 6-frame depth when shooting JPEGs only, it seems impossible to record its promised 22 JPEG frames at a consecutive speed, even with the fastest card available and all processing options kept to a minimum. Worse still, the depth for Raw and JPEG images appears to be a paltry three frames at consecutive speed.
The HDR Backlight Control setting doesn’t produce a radical HDR image as such, but attempts more to produce an image with better detail throughout lighter and darker areas. Examining the histograms of these images shows the feature to successfully reduce contrast by bringing up shadows and taming highlights, although as this requires three consecutive exposures which are then merged together critical sharpness is lost. In less extreme conditions, therefore, it may be better to simply shoot a single Raw image with better sharpness and gently process the shadows and highlights in post-production.
Finally, the Creative Filters can be easily applied to images once captured, and their effects can generally be varied over three levels to achieve different effects. The only criticism that can be levelled here is the speed at which this happens, as it’s slower than expected. Those wanting to process a number of images in one go may find this somewhat tardy, although processing images post-capture at least retains the original version.
Tone and Exposure
There isn’t much to fault with the camera’s iFCL 63-zone metering system, and in most occassions it can be trusted to record the scene faithfully and with no bias towards shadows or highlights. In high-contrast conditions it doesn’t appear to be easily fooled into underexposure, an issue which bothers many cameras. The Auto Lighting Optimizer does a good job to lift balance highlight and shadow areas with the remainder of the image (the images below shows the effect this has), although as it attempts to bring back shadow and highlight details it does have the effect of making certain images – particularly those captured in more contrasty conditions – appears a little HDR-esque, which may not appeal to everyone.
White Balance and Colour
Colours straight from the camera are neutral and close to reality, rather than optimised in any way, and the differences between the various Picture Styles aren’t quite as pronounced as may be expected. The camera’s auto white balance system handles both natural and artificial light well, although it does have the tendency of leaning towards cooler and more neutral tones than towards reproducing the source faithfully. Admittedly the differences here are slight, and some may even prefer this when shooting portraits under artificial light as it will help to remove excess warmth from skin tones.
Contrast receives a slight boost in JPEGs over Raw files and details are noticeably more defined here too, although Canon hasn’t been too aggressive with its sharpening on default settings. Those looking to use JPEGs straight from the camera may wish to adjust this, depending on their intended use and the subject being captured.
Sharpness and Detail
As obvious as it is to say that the lens used affects detail and sharpness in images, the point is underlined here given the occasionally lacklustre quality of the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II kit optic. Softness is noticeable at either end of the focal range, particularly when a wide aperture is used, while barrel distortion and chromatic aberrations also make themselves known. Fortunately, once stopped down, or when an alternative lens is used, finer details are recorded much better.
In a number of scenes such as the one above (captured at the ISO 25,600 equivalent setting), texture begins to form at ISO 400, becoming progressively worse past this point. In terms of colour and exposure, images retain their integrity up until ISO 12,800, with a sharp drop at ISO 25,600. Use of the camera’s noise reduction system is only advisable if JPEGs are not destined being viewed at their full size – if they are, the blurring effects are too apparent.
Value and Verdict
Canon EOS 650D – Value
At around £230 more than the EOS 600D, the new model can’t be said to be particularly good value right now, although its price is more than likely to descend once it’s settled into the market. Its USP is very much its touchscreen, given that its other headline features are equalled or bettered by the likes of Sony’s a57 and Nikon’s D3200. As a body-only upgrade to the EOS 600D it’s unlikely to tempt too many, although users of Canon’s earlier triple digit models might be more inclined to make the leap.
Canon EOS 650D – Verdict
Combining a touchscreen into a DSLR would always be controversial, but DSLR LCDs have, for some time now, been much more than simply devices for viewing images post-capture – and this would always be the next logical move. Not only has Canon implemented the technology well, but it hasn’t sought to make it obligatory for general operation. It’s unlikely this will remain unique to the EOS 650D.
Most of the other changes may not in themselves be significant, but collectively they make the EOS 650D a more enjoyable camera to use than the EOS 600D. With live view and video recording still not universally embraced, it’s perhaps the changes to the focusing system that have been the most important. In summary, it’s an interesting and logical progression for the EOS line, and once the price falls a little it will be a decent upgrade option for users of previous Canon DSLRs.
Many thanks to Cameraworld for supplying the Canon EOS 650D for review.