Canon's budget-friendly digital cameras have been one step ahead of the DSLR competition for years. The latest incarnation, the Canon EOS 650D (or, Rebel T4i in the US), builds on that tradition with innovations you won't find on even the most expensive DSLRs: It brings touchscreen controls and new beginner-friendly video features. Sounds great, but it'll cost you.
For the money, last year's 600D is a fabulous camera. It's a popular shooter, but compared to the 550D that came out in 2010, it didn't bring a whole lot of new features to the table. Sure, it has a swivel screen borrowed from the more expensive 60D, which makes shooting video easier. But other than that, there isn't any other real reason to splurge on the 600D when you can find 550Ds for cheap.
On paper the 650D's upgrades make it worth the extra money: A gorgeous new touchscreen, continuous autofocus in video mode, on-board stereo microphones, and improved photos thanks to a new image processor.
From the point of view of usability the 650D's capacitive glass touchscreen is a major boon to beginners who are used to smartphones. One of the drawbacks of relatively compact bodies on cheaper DSLRs is that you just can't stuff that many buttons onto them, which means that many adjustments are buried behind menus. The touchscreen liberates you from confusing button navigation, allowing you to reach out and point to many of the adjustments you want to make.
Powerful autofocus for video is an overdue feature for the beginner Canon line. You see, for regular people the mere ability to shoot great video doesn't mean much. Until now, the DSLR has been a clunky video camera for beginners. Professionals and enthusiasts have been getting excellent results from DSLRs for years, but these shooters rely on manual focus to get their shots. If you're at a birthday party, you want to move the camera from your kid to the cake to the presents and have the shot snap instantly into focus without touching buttons or the lens. That's the promise of the 650D's new Movie Servo AF setting. Canon's accomplished a tricky technical feat that requires a revamped superfast AF sensor system, but here's what you need to know: Shooting HD video with the 650D is as close as a DSLR has come to using an easy camcorder.
With continuous autofocus in mind, Canon's got a new line of "STM" (stepping motor) lenses, which are specifically designed for shooting video with the camera's Movie Servo AF mode. They're precisely tuned to the 650D's AF so that they're fast and precise, and they're designed to be silent. The result is that your video's not marred by annoyingly slow focus or the sound of an AF motor. (Canon's also got a new 40mm pancake lens pictured throughout this post, which turns your DSLR into a slim package great for street photographers.)
While we're on the topic of sound, the 650D upgrades the 600D's mono mic to a built-in stereo mic setup. Want more? An external mic jack is still there.
As for the camera's guts, the 650D gets the incremental bump you'd expect. The camera still sports an 18-megapixel, APS-C sensor, but the sensor's technology has been ramped up so that the camera can shoot at up to ISO 12,800 compared to ISO 6400 on the 600D. That means you'll get better photos in the dark of night or in situations like sports games where you want to be able to freeze fast-moving action. The HD video recording quality is unchanged: 1080p at 24 or 30fps, 720p at 50 and 60 fps.
The chart below explains the difference in specs between the 650D (T4i); 600D (T3i); 550D (T2i) and 1100D (T3).
As we'd expect, the 650D is powered by the Digic 5 image processor that Canon introduced last year. You'll instantly notice that the 650D can now shoot at up to 5 frames per second compared to 3.7 on the 600D. The new processor also improves the camera's automatic white balance and high-ISO noise-reduction in certain settings.
Bottom line: Taking better photos should be easier than ever. The colour in your photos will look more like what your eyes see and photos will be less grainy when you shoot in a dark bar.
With all these improvements the only thing that gives us pause is the 650D's price tag. The standard package with an 18-55 zoom kit lens runs £800. But Canon is pushing its "video" package hard. For £1,020 you get the 650D with the new 18-135mm STM lens. That's pretty steep considering the Nikon D3200, the 650D's main competitor, comes in at just £650 with an 18-55mm kit. Body only? That's £700. All models will be out July 15th, expect the STM lens package.
Overall, the Canon EOS Rebel 650D is a very exciting upgrade. We'll find out whether it's worth the premium price when it's available later this month. [Canon]