The Canon 650D is the latest addition to Canon's mid-range DSLR lineup. For the time being it will sit alongside the 18-month-old 600D, though it's likely it will eventually replace it completely. Upgrades over the older model are largely incremental, although taken collectively they do add up to a more flexible camera. The big talking point though is the addition of a new touchscreen monitor. While touchscreens are widely used on more expensive compacts and compact system cameras, the 650D’s claim to fame is that it’s the first DSLR to employ one.
In addition to the new touchscreen the 650D also benefits from a number of other upgrades and improvements to its core specifications. Perhaps the most significant of these is the APS-C CMOS sensor at its heart. While effective resolution remains pegged at 18MP, the 650D's revised sensor now employs some of the pixels in the central part of the chip for phase detection AF. Canon calls this ‘Hybrid CMOS AF' and claims that it improves focus performance when the camera is being used in live view mode and when shooting video. However, you'll still have to rely on the standard contrast-detection AF method when the subject you're shooting lies outside of the sensor’s central area.
The 650D's image processor has also been upgraded to the DIGIC 5 version, and while this isn't quite as fast as the DIGIC 5 processor used in Canon’s flagship EOS 1Dx and 5D Mark III models, it does offer a six-fold increase in processing speeds over the old DIGIC 4. Sensitivity, meanwhile, ranges from ISO 100-12,800 in standard mode, with an extended mode of ISO 25,600 making the 650D a stop faster than its predecessor.
On the back of the camera sits a 3in Clear View II LCD screen that offers a 1040k-dot resolution. The main difference between this and the Clear View screen found on the 600D is that the gap between the screen and the front panel has been removed - a technique used on many new phone and tablet screens to reduce internal reflections, increase viewing angles and improve overall image quality. As per the 600D the vari-angle screen pivots on a side hinge that allows it to be folded out by 175° and rotated through 270°.
Video recording capabilities extend to 1080p Full HD at a choice of 25 or 30fps, backed up by 720p HD recording at 50 and 60fps. Sound is recorded in stereo via two microphones on the top-plate, with a wind-cut filter available if required. An external microphone jack is also present should you want to attach a dedicated microphone to further improve audio quality. There's no headphone jack for monitoring audio levels, though.
Conventional autofocus has also seen a performance boost. Whereas the 600D offered only one cross-type AF sensor in the centre of the viewfinder, all nine AF points of the 650D are of the cross-type variety. This makes the 650D's AF module more flexible than its predecessor, as each AF point is equally able to function irrespective of whether the camera is being held in landscape or portrait orientation. In addition to improved AF performance, the 650D also sees a boost in Continuous shooting speed from 3.7fps to a much more credible 5fps. Whereas Canon's consumer-grade DSLRs have traditionally been a bit slower than their direct rivals, the increased burst speed of the 650D puts it on par, something that will doubtless increase its overall appeal to sports and action photographers.
Also new to the 650D is a Multi Shot Noise Reduction feature. This basically combines four images into one to reduce the effects of noise. In addition, there's also a new Handheld Night Scene mode that works on much the same principle of combining multiple images into one, although its primary goal is to reduce blur rather than noise. While the 650D offers a choice of six white balance presets, there isn't any way to set it numerically using the Kelvin scale. This does strike us as a rather odd omission, given how it's a fairly standard feature on other DSLRs, even entry-level ones. That said, the camera does allow you to make small adjustments towards particular colour hues, which can be quite useful.
Overall build quality is pretty good, with the stainless steel chassis and polycarbonate resin shell feeling robust enough while keeping weight down to just 575g. The grip, thumb rest and side all benefit from a rubberised finish too, making the camera feel more secure in the hand. The grip itself is rather shallow compared to some DSLR, which makes it better suited to those with smaller hands, but it's still markedly larger and more comfortable than any grip on a CSC.
In terms of design the 650D looks a lot like its predecessors, albeit with a handful of modifications. For example, the built-in stereo microphones are now located on top of the camera rather than on the front. In addition, the Menu and Info buttons have lost their edges to become round, while the thumb rest on the back is now slightly larger too.
While button shapes may have changed slightly, button layout remains pretty much the same as on the 600D, save for the removal of the Display button that used to be found on the top-plate and the addition of a dedicated ‘Movie’ position to the main on/off switch. While the former is unlikely to be missed, the inclusion of a Movie position on the main on/off switch can be a bit annoying as it’s quite easy to accidentally overshoot the ‘on’ position when turning the camera on, inadvertently putting the camera into movie mode instead.