Costing two-thirds of the way towards a grand, it's slightly silly to call this an entry-level camera, but that's precisely how Canon's describing it. As a 'first choice for those starting their dSLR adventures', it offers specs that would have been impossibly expensive just five years ago, including the first touch-enabled screen on any dSLR.
The Canon EOS 650D will set you back around £615 for just the body or £660 including an 18-55mm kit lens. So how does it shape up in the face of intense competition from cheaper highly-specced cameras?
Touchscreen and menus
Touchscreens are fairly common outside of the dSLR market, but this is the best I've used on any camera. It's extremely responsive and even the small controls in the main menus are easy to address accurately with a tap of your finger or thumb.
The screen itself is articulated on both planes. You can flip it out and tilt it so you can do overhead or low-down shots and still see how you're framing your subject, or turn it around so that it's facing towards the lens for timed self-portraits and group shots. More usefully, you can fold it back on itself so it covers the back of the body like the more conventional, less versatile screens found on theand earlier.
Wisely, unless you enable 'tap to fire', Canon has locked off most of the touch features outside of the menus so you don't press them with your nose when you hold the eyepiece to your face. The Q menu button in the lower corner remains active and opens up the most common shooting settings to save you a trip to the menus. If you don't get on with touch control, you can turn it off.
The menus are extensive and well thought out, with features broken down into logical tabbed groups. If you frequently find yourself using just a subset of the main options, you can group them together onto a bespoke 'My Menu' so you can find them without navigating the complete set of options.
Beyond the touchscreen, there are plenty of controls scattered about the body on physical buttons and dials. Canon's had since the launch of the 300D in summer 2003 to perfect the button layout, and it's now at the point where every shooting control falls easily under a finger (the menu and info buttons wisely sit out of the way).
650D and its rivals
Canon has taken a softly-softly approach to evolving the entry-level digital EOS, so while it's disappointing, it's no great surprise to see that the resolution remains the same as it was on both theand . It has 18 megapixels (5,184x3,456 pixels), arranged across an APS-C-sized sensor with a crop factor of 1.6x -- the amount by which you need to multiply the focal length of any lens to work out its 35mm equivalent. That makes the 18-55mm kit lens I used in my tests work like a 28.8-88mm zoom.
There's been no change in the shutter speed range, which stands at 1/4,000 second at the fastest and 30 seconds at the slowest, plus a bulb option. Continuous shooting has been given a boost though, increasing from a maximum of 3.7 frames per second to 5fps, although the maximum number of frames you can shoot at this level has dropped from 34 JPEGs to just 22. If you're shooting raw, you'll have to pause after 6, as was the case with the 600D.
However, sensitivity now stretches to ISO 12,800 in regular use, extendable to ISO 25,600. Naturally, at ISO 12,800, there's a fair degree of noise in the image, with both heavy grain and some false colours appearing in images. Halving the sensitivity to ISO 6,400 fixes the colour noise, and by the time you get down to ISO 3,200, the grain is easy to overlook. Although you wouldn't want to rely on the upper reaches too often, low-light performance is good.
I performed my tests with the EOS 650D set to shoot raw files with JPEG sidecars and used the raw originals for my analysis. The camera was set in Aperture Priority throughout so I could control depth of field while it handled all other shooting conditions. ISO was set to auto, except when I was testing low-light performance.
On the whole, the results were excellent. Sharp contrasts were a particular high point, with the 650D balancing extremes of both shadow and highlight. Even where the focal point was brighter than its surroundings, as is the case in the window below, it didn't dial down the exposure to such a degree that detail and colour were lost from the darker portions.
Punchy colours remained bold under all lighting conditions, including under dim and artificial light, when it was forced to increase the sensitivity.