In stills mode, the 600D offers all the regular shooting modes expected of a Canon digital SLR, including the creative quartet of Manual, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Program. Canon’s Automatic Depth-of-field mode also features, along with a choice of five individual scene modes and a forced flash-off option.
Although not entirely ‘new’, two of the more beginner-orientated shooting modes have seen some revision over what was previously found on the 550D. The first is Scene Intelligent Auto mode, which replaces the old Full Auto mode. It’s still very much a point-and-shoot option, the primary difference being that, as the name implies, the camera will analyse what’s before it before selecting an appropriate scene mode and applying the appropriate colour settings (ie - vivid for landscapes, muted for portraits).
The second revision is the addition of Basic controls to the Creative Auto (marked CA on the shooting mode dial) mode. This again is a fully automatic option, but does allow you to select how much background blur you want via an on-screen slider, with another option whether to use flash or not.
Perhaps more useful to DSLR newcomers than either of the revised shooting modes is the addition of an On-Screen Feature Guide that displays a brief description of the 600D’s shooting modes and various settings as you navigate through them. Sadly this doesn’t extend into the menu options, so while you’ll get a brief description of how Shutter priority can be used to freeze or blur moving subjects, you won’t get any info on what ‘Live View shoot’ in the main menu refers to. For that, you’ll have to go down the old-fashioned route and look it up in the supplied manual.
The 600D retains the same individual Picture Style settings found on the 550D, namely: Auto, Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful, Monochrome, along with three user-defined settings. These control the level of sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone parameters applied to each image and store them, so that you can quickly switch between a rich, vivid look for landscape photographs to more muted settings when, say, shooting someone’s portrait.
As with previous Canon DSLRs, the Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone Priority options continue to be offered on the 600D. The former enables you to program the camera to automatically correct image brightness and contrast via three degrees of strength (along with an ‘off’ option), while the latter helps to retain highlight detail with a choice of three settings: ‘low’, ‘standard’ and ‘strong’.
For JPEG-only photography both of these features do have their benefits, with Highlight Tone Priority proving particularly useful on bright, sunny days where highlights can all too easily be lost. However, they are less essential for carefully exposed images recorded as lossless Raw files.
These days digital SLRs are increasingly expected to offer some kind of movie recording facility. The 600D duly obliges with the ability to record 1080p full HD movies at a choice of 24, 25 or 30 frames per second, or 720p movies at 50 or 60 frames per second. Movie mode is accessed via the video icon on the main Mode dial, with a one-touch record button also falling within easy reach on the back of the camera. You can't however, start recording without selecting the right mode and nor can you take a picture while recording video, without interrupting the clip.
Compared side-by-side, the 600D is slightly bigger and heavier than its predecessor; but thanks to some subtle design tweaks it still feels comfortable in the hand. The right-hand grip accommodates three fingers and feels noticeably bigger in the hand than the 550D’s grip. The thumb channel on the back is also more pronounced than it was on the 550D.
Over on the other side of the camera, the new model benefits from the addition of a rubberised finish, allowing you to get a better overall grip with your left hand too. Overall, we think the 600D feels slightly more secure to hold than its predecessor.
Button layout has also seen something of a re-jig, thanks to the space-hogging articulated monitor. The eye-sensor that used to be found under the viewfinder of the 550D has gone, with a Display button located just in front of the main shooting mode dial now employed to toggle the monitor display on and off.
In its place just to the left of the viewfinder is an all-new Info button, which is used to toggle between basic shooting and histogram information while in playback mode, and also as a quick reference guide to what camera functions are enabled and disabled while the camera is in shooting mode.
The directional-pad is now slightly smaller and both it and the buttons around it have shifted closer towards the thumb channel. We’d hazard a guess that the 600D’s more pronounced thumb channel is, at least in part, a deliberate attempt to ergonomically steer your thumb away from pressing any of these buttons by accident. If so, then it seems to work well as we didn’t inadvertently press any of the directional buttons during testing.
Elsewhere, the 600D also gets a flatter mode dial, with finer finger grooves giving it a slightly more premium look, and that’s about it.