Canon EOS 650D at a glance:
- 18-million-pixel CMOS sensor
- Hybrid AF system
- Full 1080p HD video capture with continuous AF
- 3in articulated LCD touchscreen
- ISO 100-12,800 (expanded to ISO 25,600)
- Street price around £699 body only
Canon 650D review – Introduction:
Every time a compact system camera or enthusiast compact camera is announced, it comes decorated with claims of how it can offer DSLR-level control and image quality. Yet in what can only be described as a turnaround, here is a DSLR that is taking something back. With a new touchscreen and a hybrid AF system that combines contrast- and phase-detection AF, the Canon EOS 650D is a DSLR that wants to be a CSC. Make no mistake, though: aside from these two new key features, the camera is at its very core a DSLR, and features the same 18-million-pixel CMOS sensor as its enthusiast EOS counterparts, and a pentamirror optical viewfinder with a 95% field of view.
Although very similar to the EOS 600D, the Canon EOS 650D will sit alongside it in the range thanks to the ‘unique’ features it brings to the company’s DSLRs. The camera is a clear move by Canon to tap into the video market, but can the camera satisfy such users? I am also interested to see if the transformation of the camera’s handling brought about by its new features will still allow it to appeal to photography purists.
Much of the core of the EOS 650D is identical to its EOS 7D, 60D and 600D stablemates, including its 18-million-pixel CMOS sensor chip (although the low-pass filters differ), and its ability to record JPEG and CRW raw images, and 1080p full HD video files at 24, 25 or 30fps. The main differences here are the result of the 650D’s use of Canon’s latest Digic 5 processor (which is claimed to be 6x faster than the Digic 4 unit), the same processor used in the PowerShot G1 X and S100.
The 650D uses a focal-plane shutter capable of 1/4000sec shutter speeds – 1 stop slower than the 60D. Thanks to the faster processor, the camera can record up to 5fps in its hi-speed continuous burst mode, for six raw files or 22 JPEGs. These top speeds are a close match to the enthusiast-level 60D, which shoots at 5.3fps, although it has a longer burst rate of 16 raw images or 58 JPEGs. When testing these rates on the 650D using an SDHC UHS-I card, I found the JPEG burst estimate conservative, with the camera able to capture nearer to 50 frames before slowing down. The Digic 5 engine offers improved processing, which has allowed Canon to expand the native ISO range by 1 stop to ISO 100-12,800.
Image: This raw image taken at ISO 6400 has plenty of luminance noise, but is still the better option than the smoothered-out detail evident in the JPEG file
Two new shooting modes are included on the 650D: handheld night scene combines four shots for a long exposure time, and HDR backlight control combines three shots at three different exposures for improved highlight and shadow detail.
Each mode makes the most of the camera’s fast frame rate, so a tripod is largely unnecessary for good results. Also, a multi-shot noise-reduction mode works on the same basis, combining four frames for low noise, although it is available in JPEG only.
The 650D’s main talking points are its touchscreen and hybrid AF system, and I will explore each feature in depth later in this test. All in all, the specification of the 650D is solid if unspectacular, but it reads well in the important places.
When it is done right, I’m a fan of touchscreens on cameras – take Panasonic’s latest Lumix G CSC models, for example. The key point for an interchangeable-lens camera with manual exposure control is that touch functionality should enhance the handling of the camera, not compromise the level of control available on the body. As with the Panasonic models, the EOS 650D succeeds on both counts.
The key benefits of using the 650D’s touch functionality for shooting include touch shutter and touch AF. Given that the autofocus is linked to the metering, this effectively gives touch metering, too. That I was not once frustrated with its operation shows that touch response is rapid and accurate, and handily most of the frame is covered by these controls.
Magnifying images for close viewing by pinching the screen is a plus, as is the flick action for scrolling through images and navigating a magnified view. For quick viewing over several images, I find that maintaining the magnified position and scrolling through images is a more useful tool, and this is possible here too. In short, viewing images on the camera is intuitive and speedy. Navigating the menu is also quick, especially when using a combination of the screen and the buttons on the camera body.
Build and handling
To the eye, the EOS 650D appears very similar to the 600D. Both are made from a lightweight polycarbonate with a smooth exterior and compact build. Textured rubber grips are in all the right places for a secure hold, although I do find the main handgrip on the new camera a little shallow, and with a heavier lens attached it can be a little tiring to hold. As such, I would like to see a deeper grip and grooves for fingers. However, with the 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens attached (launched at the same time as the camera), the 650D is very well balanced.
For an upper-entry-level camera, the 650D packs a high number of direct controls on the top and rear of its body. By and large, the shooting modes on offer are there to see. Like most Canon DSLRs, the camera has a four-way D-pad instead of a control wheel, for white balance, AF, drive mode and picture style, while ISO has its own control on the top-plate. Exposure compensation is next to the thumb pad and when used with the top dial makes exposure adjustments very fast.
Rather than a scene mode menu, each of the seven scene types has its own place on the rather crowded shooting mode dial, along with PASM, no flash, auto and creative auto. This last option presents basic exposure controls in simple language for beginners, with a slider to adjust background blur, and direct control over flash, drive mode and picture style. The number of controls is rather limited and exposure selection is no quicker in this mode. It does, however, slim down the options in the main menu to make navigation quicker.
Being so like the 600D, it is easy to forget that the 650D’s LCD screen offers touch functionality. One can take it or leave it, although I find it very useful. For those who feel otherwise, the camera handles just as well as the 600D. The most noticeable difference between the two cameras is that the on/off switch now includes the option for the video mode, which on the 600D is on the shooting-mode dial. Also on the top of the 650D is a stereo mic, although its microphones are close together inside the flash-unit arms.
For compatible flashguns with a slave function, the built-in flash (GN 13m @ ISO 100) can be used as a Speedlite transmitter with a max sync of 1/200sec.
Images: This scene is captured using the 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens, which is capable of sharp results and capturing a high level of detail
Canon describes the EOS 650D’s AF system as ‘hybrid’, which means it uses a combination of phase detection and contrast detection for focusing. This set-up in the 650D is a first for a Canon DSLR, but it is also found in Canon’s new EOS M compact system camera. The CMOS sensor uses dedicated phase-detection points (which cover the majority of the frame), to keep subjects close to focus in live-view mode, and contrast detection is used once the shutter release has been pressed to achieve the final focus. The use of this hybrid system means the camera is the first DSLR from Canon to offer full-time AF during video capture.
The separate phase-detection AF module has nine cross-type AF points as found on the 60D. This is a step up from the nine-point system of the 600D, which features just one cross-type point. In stills capture, there is little difference in the speed of focusing when comparing the 650D’s AF to a dedicated phase-detection system, and the camera matches the 60D in all situations. It may lack a few AF points when compared to the 11-point and 15-point systems of its direct competitors, but all the points used by the 650D are sensitive cross-types, so even in low light the camera latches onto static subjects with relative ease.
Still and video capture are possible in live-view mode. As phase detection is constantly at work to bring into focus the subject within the focus area, subjects are often close to focus already, and a press of the shutter makes the final precise focus with speed.
There are many other situations in which the desired point of focus is not already close, such as when the camera initially starts up or when recomposing a scene. On these occasions the hybrid AF can be sluggish as it hunts for the subject, and sometimes it fails to achieve a successful focus entirely. In this regard, the system is not a patch on the contrast-detection system used by Panasonic in its Lumix G range, for example. However, this type of focusing is extra to the 650D’s phase-detection system, which works just fine.
What I like about the touchscreen is that in single-point AF mode, a touch of the screen selects the desired focus area, with the spot covering approximately 4% of the frame and selectable just about anywhere within it.
In video-recording mode, focusing is smooth, quiet and effective for the minor adjustments that are often required in a continuous AF system. This is obviously a big advantage over a system that does not offer continuous AF at all, and a plus for video users who are well catered for with this camera. For more tricky subjects, tracking and face detection AF are available too.
White balance and colour
Image: In this scene dominated by greens and browns, the AWB has produced a cold colour balance, while the sunny setting retains the warmth of the light
I have always been impressed by the colours straight out of the camera of Canon’s DSLRs, and JPEGs from the EOS 650D do not disappoint. Unless one is overly critical, it is possible to keep the camera in auto white balance and auto picture style in most situations, and get good results. Other picture-style options include faithful and neutral modes but, interestingly, no vivid-type option. Auto picture effect is fine, but for those who want punchier results, extra saturation needs to be dialled in manually. Up to three custom picture styles can be saved for quick access, and I found it useful to create a vivid option, along with two monochrome settings using different filter effects.
For the situations where colours are inaccurate, which can typically happen when a scene has a single dominant colour that the camera mistakes for a colour cast, or in tungsten light where colours can be a little neutral with the warmth taken out, there are the usual six white balance presets or custom control.
Like all its EOS counterparts, the 650D uses a 63-zone evaluative metering system, which is reassuringly predictable in its behaviour. Once familiarised with the camera, it is therefore possible to achieve good exposures quickly and consistently throughout a day’s shooting. That is not to say the evaluative metering system is always spot on – for bright scenes it tends to underexpose by a good 0.5EV, so those who want print-ready images will need to dial in the extra exposure. The positive side to this is that highlights are less likely to blow out. The exposure-compensation button is about as conveniently placed as possible.
There are the usual centre spot and centreweighted metering options, along with evaluative, which is linked to the AF point. This type of set-up for evaluative metering is particularly helpful when using touch AF and shutter via the touchscreen, because the metering is linked to wherever is touched on the screen, which is inevitably the desired subject. Those who regularly use spot metering will therefore find that the evaluative metering set-up and touchscreen functionality is a satisfactory alternative. However, the technique is different for those who tend to use the central AF point and then recompose the frame because the metering remains on the initial AF point.
Image: There is still plenty of detail in the shadow areas of this scene
Measured dynamic range is an area of performance where the EOS 600D fails to match its competition, and the same can be said for the EOS 650D. However, thanks to the new processing engine, the new camera has welcome, if subtle improvements over its predecessor. While the 650D’s dynamic range is still more than 1EV short of rival models such as the Sony Alpha 57 and Pentax K-30, an HDR shooting mode has been included on the shooting mode dial. Given the lack of detail in some high-contrast scenes, I found myself using this mode regularly as a back-up to a single-frame capture and for exposure bracketing.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens set to f/8. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting
All the upper-entry-level and enthusiast-level Canon DSLRs feature an 18-million-pixel CMOS sensor, so it is no surprise that the 650D is a match for resolved detail at its base ISO 100 setting. At this setting and in raw capture, the camera reaches 28 on our resolution chart, while in JPEG capture the camera resolves up to the 26 marker.
This level of performance, however, does not equal the resolved detail of the 24-million-pixel CMOS sensors that have started to appear on the market. In real terms, the maximum 5184×3456-pixel output produces 17.3×11.5in prints when the file is sized to 300ppi resolution, which is sufficient for most photographers.
It is at its higher ISO settings that the 650D offers a marginal improvement over the 600D. Not only is there a single-stop advantage at ISO 12,800, but the camera’s ability to control noise at like-for-like settings above ISO 800 is greater.
Both cameras are capable of producing a good level of detail even up to ISO 6400, but images of the resolution chart from the 650D show more discernible detail.
In real-world images, detail looks clean even up to ISO 1600. Beyond this setting, luminance noise becomes less ‘tidy’ and detail is compromised. Chroma noise in raw files is evident at ISO 3200 and higher, which is corrected efficiently in JPEG files (as well as chromatic aberrations that occurred when using the 85mm f/1.8 lens). Applying noise reduction post-capture allows sharper and more detailed images rather than using the control in-camera with JPEGs.
In this image taken with the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens, fringing around the harmonica is obvious in the unedited raw file, but the JPEG file does a good job of dealing with the lens distortion
LCD, viewfinder and video
The LCD touchscreen has a 1.04-million-dot resolution and features an ‘anti-smudge’ surface. It is impressively resistant to smudges, although grease from fingertips is inevitable and hinders clear viewing in bright light. Users who avoid touching the screen will appreciate just how naturally bright and clear it is. I did find it difficult to view the screen clearly in extreme conditions, such as bright light, with the camera at arm’s length overhead and the screen angled to view, but in most situations it is fine.
The EOS 650D has an identical pentamirror-type optical viewfinder to the 600D. This type of viewfinder is usually found on budget DSLRs, while more expensive models in Canon’s line-up, beginning with the 60D, feature a pentaprism type. The key differences are that the pentamirror type used here typically has a duller display and a 100% field of view is not possible. Indeed, the 650D has only a 95% field of view and 0.85x magnification, meaning it is smaller to the eye than the 60D’s costlier pentaprism viewfinder, and not quite as bright. Like most viewfinders, AF point information is available.
Amateur video users are well catered for with the 650D, and are an obvious target market for the camera. Video capture is possible in 1080p full HD at 30fps, 25fps or 24fps, and full-time AF during capture (see Autofocus for more). Stereo audio capture is possible, although the two microphones are very close to each other within the flash unit on top of the camera. An external microphone can be accommodated, which means that, all in all, the camera ticks all the right boxes for videographers.
Image: Sony Alpha 57
There is stiff competition in the ‘upper-entry-level’ DSLR market in the form of the Pentax K-30, Nikon D5100 and Sony Alpha 57. All use a variation of the 16-million-pixel Sony CMOS sensor, which gives an approximate 16.1×10.7in print size, trumped by the EOS 650D’s extra two million pixels and 17.3×11.5in prints. However, the 650D’s measured dynamic range falls a little short of the Pentax and Nikon models.
Image: Pentax K-30
The K-30 uses an expensive pentaprism viewfinder with 100% field of view and 0.92x magnification, while the Alpha 57 uses an EVF with a 100% field of view. There are a number of benefits to an EVF, such as exposure preview.
For video users, the Sony and Canon models are the best options, with each offering full-time AF during video capture and the option for an external mic.
Canon sticks to a successful formula by using the same 18-million-pixel sensor and metering system as the EOS 7D and 60D, so the 650D performs as expected, which is good news for photographers. The addition of a touchscreen is a bonus and, alongside the buttons on the body, is an intuitive way to handle the camera. Navigating menus, viewing pictures and using touch AF and shutter are some of the 650D’s highlights.
With continuous AF, 1080p full HD video, stereo sound and the option for an external microphone, the camera’s specification is well suited to video users. The inclusion of hybrid AF means that the same responsive nine-point cross-type AF system found in the 60D is available, as well as phase detection in live view. However, contrast detection can be sluggish and is well behind established systems used in such cameras as Panasonic’s Lumix G series.
For those not fussed about these features, the 600D remains a good option at a more affordable price, yet the 650D undoubtedly brings something new to the EOS range.
Canon EOS 650D – Key features
The live-view button doubles as a record button when the on/off switch is set to video mode.
Impressively for a camera at this level, an external microphone can be connected to the camera via the 3.5mm stereo jack port.
Despite there being many control buttons on the body, the quick menu offers direct access to key controls that are not present, such as metering, image quality, image brightness correction and flash settings.
The camera has a single slot for SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards. The door to the slot is a tad flimsy when open, but locks securely in place.
Although there is no direct button on the body to rate images, this function can be accessed via the main playback menu to rate images from one to five stars. This is a handy tool for quick reference once the images are loaded onto a computer.
Up to ten consecutive frames can be recorded using the self-timer at the push of a button. This is great when the camera is tripod-mounted for group shots because you won’t need to keep returning to the camera to take another shot.
Lens aberration correction for peripheral illumination and chromatic aberration are possible, with the camera detecting what lens is mounted to the camera to make the necessary adjustments. The camera recognises all Canon EF lenses.
Canon DSLRs typically provide a good degree of control over flash and some sophisticated functions. The built-in flash can be used as a wireless trigger with auto or manual control, set for first or second curtain, and has ±2EV exposure compensation.