The Canon EOS 650D’s all-new touchscreen functionality is very well integrated, which really adds to the overall user experience by making the camera more intuitive to use. Photographers likely to appreciate it the most are those who prefer to shoot using live view rather than the viewfinder, although it will also benefit those who will the vari-angle LCD to shoot at acute angles, where it might be impractical to reach all of the physical buttons.
In use, the big practical benefit of the 650D’s touch-screen is that it allows you to pinpoint where you want to focus simply by touching that part of the screen. Depending on how you’ve set the camera up, a single jab of the finger can be used to lock focus to that particular area, or to focus on that area and then record an image all in one go. And, of course, not having to reach for the shutter release also has its benefits if you need to shoot stealthily.
In terms of responsiveness the Canon EOS 650D’s screen is certainly on a par with an average smartphone if not slightly better. Using a finger to zoom around an expanded image in Payback mode, the image moves promptly around the screen with no lag. Ideally we’d like to see some kind of functionality assigned to double-tapping the screen though, for example zooming in and out. There’s also a slight delay as the camera renders individual images at their full quality.
The touchscreen has other benefits too. Menu navigation, for example, is also simplified; while scrolling through the various menus you need only to take your finger off at the desired function to call up its various options. Also, when using the camera in live view, pressing the Q button will bring up commonly used functions down the sides of the screen, which you can then tap.
Canon has exceeded expectations to deliver touchscreen functionality that actually changes the whole user experience, rather than one that just allows certain functions to be selected via the screen. In fact, the only minor niggle we have are that the on-screen controls are relatively small, which might make operation slightly hard work for anyone with sausage-like fingers.
The display itself scores highly too, 3in across and with 1040k dot resolution. It can be a bit of a struggle to see it clearly in bright but this is a problem that’s common to many camera displays. In less intense conditions it displays the scene naturally. The viewing angle is impressively wide too, noticeably better than the 600D in fact.
And so to autofocus. While the EOS 600D’s regular phase-detection AF system proved adequate enough, the use of cross-type AF points right across the 650D’s viewfinder demonstrably improves performance. Testing the two cameras side by side we found that the peripheral points of the 600D’s AF system missed some flat, low-contrast subjects whereas the 650D was able to lock on with a much higher rate of success.
While the Canon EOS 650D’s top 5fps burst speed still falls short of rivals such as the Sony A57 and Pentax K-30, it's still an improvement over the 4fps of the Nikon D5100. That said, we were unable to record the claimed 22 consecutive JPEG frames, even when using the fastest memory card available and with all processing options kept to a minimum.
Thankfully, the three-image HDR Backlight Control setting tends to tread on the side of lifelike with improved detail in lighter and darker areas, rather than producing a radical albeit unnatural-looking HDR images. However some sharpness is lost in the process and for this reason it may be preferable to shoot in Raw in less severe lighting conditions and then increase shadow and highlight detail in post-processing.
The 650D’s built-in Creative Filters offer three levels of intensity, which means they can be used to achieve subtly different effects. Processing times are a little on the long side though. One benefit of processing images post-capture though is that the original version is retained.
Metering is handled via the 650D’s iFCL 63-zone metering system, and for the most part this proves highly accurate with no particular bias towards shadows or highlights, including high-contrast situations. The Auto Lighting Optimizer works well too, although it can make certain images - particularly those captured in high-contrast conditions – look a little HDR-esque, which may not be to everyone’s tastes.
Straight from the camera colour appears neutral and lifelike and the differences between the various Picture Style processing options aren't as pronounced as you might expect. Auto white balance deals well with both natural and artificial light, although it does tend to produce slightly cooler images.
As might be expected JPEGs come out slightly sharper and more finely detailed than their Raw counterparts and contrast also receives a slight boost too. Thankfully though Canon hasn't been too aggressive with its default sharpening settings. If you’re buying the Canon EOS 650D with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II kit zoom, be aware that some softness is noticeable at either end of the focal range particularly when used at its widest apertures. Distortion and chromatic aberrations also make themselves known.
ISO performance is pretty good on the whole and while some noise does begin to show itself as low as ISO 400 images retain their integrity right up until ISO 12,800. The camera’s built-in noise reduction only advisable if JPEGs are not destined being viewed at their full size - if they are, the blurring effects are too apparent.
The Canon EOS 650D is the first mid-range DSLR to offers touch-screen functionality and is all the better for it. While Canon has implemented the technology well, it hasn't made it obligatory to the camera’s general operation. Autofocus performance has seen a fairly major improvement too, with the While other changes are more incremental they do make the EOS 650D a more enjoyable camera to use than its predecessor. At around £230 more than the 600D though, the 650D can't be said to be particularly good value at the moment. Once the price falls a little though it will certainly make a decent upgrade option for users of previous Canon DSLRs.