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Entry-level DSLRs rarely excite us, but every now and then, there comes along one camera that makes claims so tall that we can’t help but have our minds obsessed with this new comer. The Canon EOS 650D is one such camera that caught our attention by its curious throat.
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Build and Ergonomics
The 650D is quite unassuming, looking no different from its predecessor (600D), except when you look close and notice two plastic grills on top of the flash. The geography of the top right side of the camera also gets a slight change, with the video function getting a dedicated mode on the on-off switch and the display button being removed, leaving the ISO button the solo occupant in the area. The “menu” and “info” buttons also get a redesign from the skewed rectangle shape on the 600D to a simpler circular shape.
Besides these minor changes, nothing has changed in the 650D from the 600D, well, not cosmetically at least. It is worth mentioning though that the 650D is constructed with stainless steel, polycarbonate resin and glass fibre. The choice of materials makes the 650D quite a sturdy camera, while maintaining the lightweight nature of the Rebel series.
There innards of a camera have always fascinated us far more than the build materials or the ergonomic design calls and the 650D has plenty of them. First off, the 650D uses an 18MP sensor, which at first might seem identical to the one in the 600D. But a closer look reveals all the crazy awesome good stuff that’s actually going on there.
The sensor on the EOS 650D is the first-of-its-kind hybrid APS-C sensor. Canon has managed to cram in phase detection pixels into the imaging sensor, allowing the 650D to achieve both phase and contrast based AF. We first saw this sort of thing in Nikon’s mirrorless cameras and we were quite impressed by the combined performance. The 650D is no less in that regard. With a large number of pixels in the centre of the frame dedicated to just performing AF duties, we found the AF acquisition to be rather quick (almost as if we were using an L Lens). The new kit lens shipping with the 650D (18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM) has a major role to play in this, but we’re going to take that up separately later in this review.
Due to the added need for processing power, Canon has swapped out the Digic IV chip with the newer Digic V, which, amongst other things, improved the burst mode from 3.4fps to 5 fps. The Canon 5D Mark III (read our review) shoots at 6fps, so the 5fps on the 650D isn’t all that bad, given how the original Rebel series camera (the 300D) could only shoot 2.5 frames per second and that too was limited to 4 frames.
The 650D also gains multi-touch functionality on the 3.2-inch 1.04 million dot articulated screen. When we first heard about Canon packing in a touchscreen on the 650D, we had horrible flashbacks of using the touchscreen on point-and-shoot cameras. In all fairness, we were pretty sure Canon was shooting themselves in the foot (no pun intended!) with this unnecessary addition. And then we got the camera and went to town on the LCD. The LCD on the 650D matches the speed, accuracy and responsiveness of most high end smartphones in the market. There, we said it. The screen allows all features of the camera to be controlled through touch, including menus, shooting settings and even browsing photos. There is even an option to enable to the touch shutter, but after using that for a while, we felt it was best left turned off since we prefer the old-school way of setting off the shutter. One thing we must mention though is that the settings cannot be changed just by tapping on the screen. There is a button labelled “Q” on the back that must be pressed before any of the settings can be changed using the touch function. While we felt that we should have immediate access to the settings through touch, we can see the sensibility of requiring pushing a button before the settings can be changed. Nobody likes having their settings change by an accidental touch of the screen. The multi-touch on the screen is also pretty impressive, allowing us to use the classic “pinch-to-zoom” action to zoom into our images. Sadly, double tapping on the screen didn’t zoom us out of the view, so we had to just “unpinch” the image.
Whatever said and done, the touchscreen doesn’t feel like a “first implementation of its kind, meaning it doesn’t feel problematic in any way. It’s nice to be able to see the settings and change them on this beautiful screen, as opposed to hunting for the numbers in the viewfinder. We’d love to see the touchscreen make its way into more DSLRs, entry-level and professional.
To start off, the focussing system in the 650D really isn’t the first of its kind. Nikon’s V1 (read our review) and J1 nailed the hybrid AF system, but Canon has brought it to the DSLR realm. The phase detect in conjunction with contrast detect AF has definitely improved focussing performance on the 650D as compared to the 600D. Looking through the viewfinder, you will still see 9 AF points (same number as the 600D), but all these points are now cross type and the centre AF point gains the sensitivity for lenses with apertures up to f/2.8. It seems that the AF point system on the 650D is taken straight out of the 60D, which a lot of people loved.
The new AF system has had Canon develop special motors for their lenses called Stepping Motors (STM) that will allow these lenses to leverage the new AF system, while achieving focus faster than regular lenses (not talking about that sweet, sweet L glass). The new motor is completely silent as we found out while using the new 18-135mm f/2.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens that the 650D ships with.
Another significant upgrade, perhaps one that has been long desired, is the ability to maintain AF while shooting. The phase detect system allows the lens to track focus, and the STM motor in the new lens does so quickly and quietly. We feel that everyone from amateurs to pros will benefit from this feature at some level as we’ve found that manual focussing can be cumbersome in certain situations and AF during video (by half pressing the shutter button or the AF button) first causes the image to go completely out of focus and then slowly comes into focus, causing the footage to have bad patches. The constant live AF while filming eliminates all those issues, which we are so very glad about.
The Canon 650D, with its new sensor and all, manages to deliver the same quality of images we have come to expect from Canon. We shot with the 650D on native RAW format at various ISOs using the kit lens and we’re quite happy with the results.
In real world settings, the 650D along with the new 18-135 STM lens shows some real promise. The colours in the images were vibrant and the 18 megapixel sensor captures detail quite well. The new lens has an exceptional macro mode that allows getting close than normal to subjects. Check out our 100% crop where we stalked a fly around the compound, only to shoot it when it landed on a trash bin.
We didn’t like the trash in our shot (sadly, our framing and work distance dictated so), so we just cropped the fly out. The resolution of the crop came out to 1400x700 at 300dpi, which is pretty good for web display purposes and small prints, so we’re quite happy with the resolving power of the lens and the sensor’s ability to retain detail. We also noticed that the 650D seems to in general a better handle on the dynamic range.
For example, in the image above, normally there would be a tendency for the subject under a tree to be completely in shadow (due to exposing for the tree, which is being lit directly by the sun), however, in this image, we see that the subject under the tree are quite clearly visible. This sort of dynamic range was not quite there in the 600D.
One thing we’d like to point out is the ISO performance of the 650D tops out at ISO 800. In the same shot of the fly (which we shot at ISO 1600), the grain is quite apparent in the image. Under low light conditions, this would reflect as noise. In fact, we moved indoors and shot a few images at ISO 3200 and the noise was just too much, regardless of overexposing by a third of a stop, which generally tends to reduce noise. You can check out the noise pattern in the image below"
Another somewhat of an expected drawback in the image quality is when shooting at the 18mm side of the kit lens. The distortion, as we noted, was too severe. We would strongly recommend not shooting things up close at this focal length as it would introduce quite a large amount of barrel distortion. However, shooting far off landscapes shouldn’t be a problem.
As we have already pointed out, the video feature of the 650D has received some massive upgrades. The ability to perform LIVE AF tracking while shooting video is absolutely wonderful. Not having to deal with manual focus, or the lens going completely out of focus brings a sort of ease that is generally associated well with entry level DSLRs. In fact, we wouldn’t mind seeing such tech make it into the more higher-end DSLRs, if not the 5D MarkIII’s next iteration, then at least in the upgrade to the 60D or the 7D. The live AF works with all lenses (that are capable of autofocus), but it works best with lenses that use the new STM motor, giving a very quiet and fast AF lock. The same performance can be got from using L series lenses too, but chances are if you’re on a budget, an STM lens is probably your best bet.
The stereo mics sitting atop the hot-shoe flash is a nice touch and they do a decent job of recording audio, but if you’re looking to do something in the periphery of the word “professional,” you’re much better off using external mics.
Other than the ability to perform live AF, the rest of the features are pretty standard. Full HD video at 30, 25 and 24 fps is what the 650D records at and the average file size for a minute of video at highest quality is 300 MB. We tested out the camera using Sandisk’s Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I card (64GB) and had no buffer issues whatsoever.
Canon is developing quite a reputation for itself for being a game changer. First it was the 5D MarkII with its mind blowing video capabilities, then the EOS 7D, which was a pro grade camera in a semi-pro price bracket and now, the 650D. In many ways, the 650D does not feel like an entry-level DSLR, if you just look at its feature set. Of course, the body and build are still very entry-level, but the insides and the capabilities are far beyond that of what has come to be expected from this segment. With excellent video qualities, a hybrid AF system that works beautifully and a touchscreen that adds a whole new dimension of comfort and ease to the shooting process, there isn’t a whole lot to dislike the 650D for.
Unfortunately, there are still a few concerns we have with the 650D. First off is obviously the size (this camera wouldn’t fit your hands if they’re slightly big) along with the lack of ANY semblance of weather sealing. Besides that, we were a little disappointed to see that the sensor starts tossing up noise at ISO levels as low as 1600. We’ve seen point-and-shoot cameras that can match the 650D ISO performance at ISO 1600, so it leaves us wanting more, especially since its rated to go up to ISO 12,800 natively and ISO 25,600 with boost.
The 650D is a camera, in some ways, like no other. The live AF during video recording alone is sufficient to make us drop the money on this camera. Given the price of INR 55,995, the 650D is flirting with the price bracket of the 60D, which has better noise performance and a slightly sturdier build. However, given that the 650D’s focus system includes the performance of the 60D and then some, the 650D is still a better bet, if you can live with shooting below ISO 800.