The EOS 650D (Rebel T4i in North America) is a minor revolution in the world of Canon SLRs, as it's the first of the firm's models to boast continuous autofocus in video mode. This should stand it in good stead against interchangeable lens compacts, which are slowly eating away at the SLR market share. It also brings Canon up to speed with Nikon and its "full-time" autofocus. On top of that, the EOS 650D has a sleek new touchscreen interface.
At first glance, it can be hard to tell the 650D apart from a Canon 600D. However, a closer look reveals a new video setting on the On/Off switch. Personally, we prefer the kind of control seen in the 7D or the more recent 5D Mark III, with a separate ring-shaped switch for flicking between video record/photo Live View on the back of the camera. The EOS 650D is nicely designed and comfortable to use. The all-plastic body handles well and has a good-quality finish. The non-slip coating on the grip handle is a nice touch.
One of the great new features in this camera is the 1,040,000-dot swivel LCD. The swivel screen feels sturdy and robust, and gives you loads of freedom for lining up shots at ground level, at waist height, above a crowd or more. The onscreen display is smooth even in low light and colour fidelity is top-notch. That's not all, though, as the EOS 650D has also been treated to touchscreen controls. Responsiveness is excellent. In fact, you could even dare to compare it with a smartphone. The display supports multipoint gestures (pinch to zoom, etc.) and the graphic user interface has been partially redesigned to accommodate touchscreen use. Some of the icons are still a little on the small side but, on the whole, it's possible to set up and control the camera entirely via the screen. But die-hard button-users fear not—no physical controls have been ditched because of the new touchscreen, and the 650D can still be controlled in the traditional manner with the dial and buttons.
The graphic interface is easily accessible and pretty easy to get the hand of using. For beginners, the exposure mode dial on the top of the camera offers access to most of the basic functions with no need to go trawling through the menus. It's just a shame that the EOS 650D doesn't let you view two images simultaneously like you can in the 5D Mark III—a function that's really handy for comparing shots.
Note that the shutter-release isn't the quietest. We can't wait to see the noise-reduction systems used in higher-end models like the 5D Mark III trickle down into more consumer-oriented SLRs. The optical viewfinder isn't very big but it's relatively light and clear. Plus, a handy sensor automatically switches off the LCD when you bring your eye up to the viewfinder.
We used the 40 mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens to test our 650D, which is why we don't have any readings for telephoto settings. When using the 650D with the optical viewfinder, the camera detects subjects quickly and the autofocus is generally pretty good, even if it does get a bit more hesitant in low light.
In Live View mode, Canon is promising great things with a new hybrid autofocus system combining phase detection with dedicated pixels on the sensor and a contrast-detection system. On paper, it looks pretty tempting, but in practice it's a little more disappointing. The autofocus uses the phase-detection system to do the bulk of the work then fine-tunes using contrast detection, which is actually pretty accurate. But while it certainly works well and certainly works continuously, focusing is still quite slow compared with the kind of systems seen in Panasonic, Olympus and Nikon cameras. In fact, this hybrid autofocus often works out slower than Canon's Quick AF mode, which flips the mirror down (and up again) to use the standard SLR phase-detection autofocus. Note that for smooth, fluid focusing, you should also use the 650D with an "STM" lens (see inset).
There were no nasty surprises here. The 18-Meapixel CMOS sensor ensures excellent image quality up to 3200 ISO. Granularity and smoothing kick in at 6400 ISO but the images are still perfectly usable.
The DIGIC5 image processor does a great job, making a series of welcome corrections to JPeg shots (distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberration are all corrected on the fly). We didn't get chance to try the EOS 650D with a 18-55 mm lens, but the 40 mm f/2.8 STM pancake prime lens is excellent, giving good levels of sharpness over the whole frame.
Canon's SLR video modes have long lacked an autofocus, but this has now been corrected in the 650D ... well, kind of. In reality, a continuous autofocus is on hand, but it's a bit on the slow side—that's something we've seen before. Otherwise, the 650D does a good job, capturing decent stereo sound and image quality that's up to Canon's usual high standards. It's just a bit disappointing to see that you can't take a photo while filming—you have to stop recording first.
On the whole, the 650D is nice piece of kit for video, with automatic and manual modes available. There are 25 or 24 fps modes (50 fps unfortunately isn't available in 1080p HD) and there's a Video Snapshot function for shooting short clips (2, 4, 8 seconds) that can then be combined into one video file.
Until now, mirrorless cameras and other hybrid lens-switchers have been borrowing tech from SLRs (large-format sensors, viewfinders, fast burst modes, etc.), but the 650D marks a reversal of the trend, lifting several key features straight out of interchangeable lens compacts (swivel touchscreen, video with continuous autofocus, compact design, 40 mm pancake lens). All in all, the EOS 650D is a great SLR that's packed with the cream of Canon's technology.