Canon EOS 650D Review: The Best Budget DSLR Is Kind Of A Bummer

More than two years ago, the Canon EOS 550D set the standard for beginner DSLRs. The camera proved that for a little over $1000 you could get beautiful photos and slick HD video. It was incredibly popular, as was Canon's 2011 follow-up, the EOS 600D.

But things have changed. The Canon EOS 650D comes to the market at a time when the case for buying a sub-$1000 DSLR has never been weaker. Mini mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX F3 and the Panasonic GX1 produce nearly identical image quality with less bulk.

With an autofocus video and an incredible touchscreen, the EOS 650D is the most refined version of this camera yet. But is is a mini DSLR still relevant?

What Is It?

A consumer DSLR with an 18-megapixel, APS-C sensor and 1080p video powers. The body only costs $900 in Australia. It's about $1050 with an 18-55mm lens, and $1350 with an 18-135mm STM lens.

Who's It For?

The aspiring amateur looking for near-professional image quality in a body that feels and handles like a serious single-lens-reflex film camera.

Design

The EOS 650D is as black and boring as any affordable DSLR. It's like the EOS 600D with a touchscreen.

Using It

The camera handles like the 600D. That new 3-inch LCD touchscreen lets you abandon most of the buttons. A new continuous autofocus system works while recording video.

The Best Part

The wonderfully responsive capacitive touchscreen. This smartphone feature, on this camera, has impressive results.

Tragic Flaw

The much-touted continuous autofocus for video takes several seconds to find its mark. It's annoying for video. For photography, it's excruciating, with its unpredictable, hugely disappointing performance.

Test Notes

  • We tested the EOS 650D for about a month, mostly using the tiny, lovely, new wide-aperture 40mm pancake lens.
  • We also used the new 18-135mm STM lens,and a standard Canon 18-135mm lens.
  • The 650D's image quality hasn't improved much from the 600D.
  • The camera's video quality is virtually identical to the performance on the EOS 550D. The noise at high ISOs is still a mess, the image could be sharper, and the aliasing and moire distortions haven't been fixed. Given that video is one of the selling points for this (and all Canon cameras), we expected better.
  • The 650D did get an upgraded Digic 5 processor, which will reduce noise and improve colour in certain shots. It also boosts the continuous shooting speed to five frames per second. But the change is so slight that the target audience for this camera probably wouldn't notice it.
  • The 650D uses its slow live-view autofocus any time you're in live-view mode. AF is annoying when you're shooting video, but using it for photography is disappointing. You can avoid this by using the optical viewfinder — in fact, this is one of the major advantages of using a DSLR over a mirrorless camera.
  • Canon introduced a new line of STM ("stepping motor") lenses with this camera, which are designed to focus quietly for video. As promised, they're quiet.

Should You Buy It?

It's easy to say there's no difference between an affordable DSLR and a mirrorless camera. But the subtle differences are actually pretty significant. If you're going to use your camera as a way to just take high-quality snapshots, the limitations of mirrorless might not bother you. But if you really want to learn photography, there's no substitute for the controls afforded by a DSLR. These cameras teach you how fundamental concepts like ISO, aperture and shutter speed affect your photos. The manual focus on mirrorless cameras is a joke when compared to using an optical viewfinder to dial it in.

So if you're really serious about learning photography — like so serious that you're already dreaming of upgrading to a pro DSLR one day — you could consider the EOS 650D. But even then, to get the best value, you might as well go for the 600D.

If what you find enticing is the 650D's touchscreen, then before you make your decision, wait for the reviews of Canon EOS-M and the Sony NEX-5R. These two tiny touchscreen cameras will have APS-C sensors. We'll need to test them to be sure, but either could have comparable performance to the T4i in a cheaper, more compact package.

Canon EOS Rebel T4i

• Price: $900 (body only), $1050 w/18-55mm lens, $1350 w/18-135mm STM lens • Sensor: 18MP, APS-C (23.4mm x 15.4mm) • Max ISO: 12800 (standard)/25600 (expanded) • Image: Up to 5184x3456 pixels • Video: 1920x1080 30/25/24 and 1280x720 60/50 • Screen: 1,040,000-dot 3-inch capacitive touch LCD • Weight: 510g (body only)

Video by Michael Hession. Additional photography by Nick Stango.


Comments

    "Learning photography" isn't just about manual controls. There's more to photography than owning a camera with lots of buttons and dials. And I managed to learn manual controls with a Lumix GF1.
    You can achieve fantastic photos with M4/3rd cameras as much as you can with a dSLR. They're not just for "high-quality snapshots."

      I don't think they're trying to say that the buttons and dials make it superior. I'll note that you said you 'managed' to learn manual controls on the Lumix. The benefit of these canon cameras are that they make it incredibly easy and clear to understand what functions do what and the basics of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I started on a 550D and was able to step back to analogue from what I learned on it. A lot of the controls on the canon are very similarly placed on older cameras, and when I eventually step up to a higher quality SLR it will be a smoother transition because I have grasped the function of all the 'buttons and dials'. Sure, the lumix probably does take photos that are comparable in quality to the 650D. But that's not what they're talking about.

        All I'm saying is you can learn manual controls with a mirrorless camera just as well as you could with a basic dSLR. Infact, I personally found it easier learning the basics with a GF1 and then later moving into a higher end dSLR with more control. For me, it didn't work the other way around being thrown into the deep end first.

        "If you’re going to use your camera as a way to just take high-quality snapshots, the limitations of mirrorless might not bother you."
        I just think this is ignorant of what people can achieve with a mirrorless camera.

        "But if you really want to learn photography, there’s no substitute for the controls afforded by a DSLR."
        And from experience, this is rubbish.

      Purely down to opinion, but no having an optical view finder becomes more of an issue the more seriously you get into it. You can line up 2 cameras and get comparable shots using a non dslr camera, but you are watching and composing using an already processed, low pixel image. With a dslr, your whole view is through the camera and lens. Minute changes in height and positioning can make a shot. You're imposing an extra level between your eye. Not that it's a perfect example but if you put a camera on the bonnet of your car, blacked out your windscreen and displayed the road ahead on a row of lcd screens, it just wouldnt be as good as a windscreen. I know it's not the same thing but hopefully you know what i mean.

        It's the person using the camera, not the camera itself, that takes good photos.

          this is true but having a good camera certainly doesn't hurt. And it's much easier to build experience and skills using an slr than it is with a point and shoot or mirrorless camera.

    I have a 600D and my friend has a Panasonic Lumix. We both have had our cameras for about a month. In the same light as my 600D whether it was in the day or the night, across a weekend holiday, his shots on the mirrorless were consistently sub-par and the focus was slow and inaccurate. We had the kit lens on both and I could tell he really regretted getting the similar expense of the funky new modern mirrorless camera over a DSLR. Really, it is worth getting a DSLR right now. A pro shooting with a mirrorless may do better than the average, but for an amateur, there is no question that you will get more even with limited skills, with a DSLR.

      My wife can't take an in-focus shot using my 5d mk3. seriously, it's f#!$ing annoying. i don't know how she does it. =) i think it's more your friend would have the same issues on the 600d

        Are you generalizing Lumix cameras in general or do you know the exact model? Because yeah, if it was a really low end Lumix, it probably would perform badly.

          Oh I just read the bit where they wrote similarly price to a 600d kit. I also read the bit where they wrote that all the photos came out bad. if you can't get a decent shot out of any camera in that price range then it's because you aren't taking the care to figure out what you're doing wrong and a Dslr ain't gonna help u :)

            It probably was user error more than anything else.

    You can actually buy it online for 759A$ bodyonly from digitalrev website.

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