Canon’s entry-level ‘Rebel’ series has enjoyed continuous success in its film and digital incarnations for more than two decades. Over this time these little SLRs have been increasingly improved and refined to the point that the company has seemingly struggled to find ways of making the latest iteration stand out from the last. Put the new EOS 650D / Rebel T4i side-by-side with its predecessor, the EOS 600D / Rebel T3i, and you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a very minor update, so similar are the bodies and specifications. But delve a little deeper and it’s a more intriguing prospect than it first appears.
The headline specifications – 18MP CMOS sensor, 9-point AF sensor, 3:2 flip-out 1.04m dot screen are all familiar from the 600D. But each of these has been significantly improved and it’s the fine detail that makes the 650D interesting – both as a product in itself and in what it says about Canon’s view of the future.
The problem facing camera manufacturers is that the basic SLR concept is in danger of appearing anachronistic to the very people entry-level models are supposed to appeal to: users upgrading from smartphones and compact cameras who are now accustomed to setting up their shots using LCD screens rather than optical viewfinders, and who expect their camera to shoot video for upload to YouTube just as well as it captures stills for Flickr. The traditional SLR design, with its roots in 35mm film photography, has struggled to adapt to these demands, most notably offering poor focusing performance in Live View and video, and ergonomics centered around eye-level shooting.
Because of this, conventional entry-level SLRs have come under increasing pressure from mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, which offer a more compact camera-like user experience and superior video capabilities in smaller, more portable bodies. Meanwhile Sony’s SLT cameras offer significantly improved live view and video in an SLR-like design by using an electronic viewfinder. Both types of camera offer features such as fast face-detection autofocus that compact-camera users now take for granted.
The EOS 650D appears to be designed to meet these challenges head on, with new features aimed at improving its live view and video performance. Firstly, it becomes Canon’s first SLR capable of continuously tracking and maintaining focus on a moving subject while recording movies. This may not sound like a big deal – lots of cameras claim to be able to do so, with varying degree of success – but what matters is how it’s implemented.
The EOS 650D has a new ‘Hybrid CMOS’ sensor that now includes pixels dedicated to phase detection autofocus (in a similar fashion to Nikon’s 1 J1 and 1 V1 mirrorless cameras). The Hybrid AF system uses these to set the lens quickly to roughly the correct distance, then uses contrast detection AF to fine-tune focus. In principle, this should provide faster and more certain focusing for live view and video shooting compared to previous cameras that relied on CDAF alone. There are more details later in this preview.
Canon EOS 650D / Rebel T4i key features
18MP APS-C ‘Hybrid CMOS’ sensor
Phase detection AF from imaging sensor for Live View and Video
Continuous autofocus in movie mode with subject tracking
14-bit DIGIC 5 processor
ISO 100-12800 standard, 25600 expanded
5 fps continuous shooting
9 point AF system, all sensors cross type, central sensor F2.8 (from 60D)
63 zone iFCL metering
1080p30 video recording, stereo sound with internal or external mics
1.04m dot 3:2 touch-sensitive vari-angle ClearView II LCD (capacitative type, multi-touch support)
The EOS 650D also becomes the first SLR to feature a touchscreen. This is of the capacitative rather than resistive type, meaning it’s sensitive to contact rather than pressure, like most modern smartphones. In Live View and Movie modes the screen can be used to specify the point of focus and release the shutter, as we’ve seen before on several mirrorless cameras. It also supports multi-touch and gestures, meaning that it offers iPhone-like pinch-to-zoom and swiping from image to image in playback. The results is a user experience that smartphone users will immediately find familiar.
What’s more, the entire interface can be controlled by touch in a completely seamless fashion, including the onscreen Q menu that’s used to access secondary functions, and the entirety of the menu system. Fortunately this doesn’t come at the cost of external controls, and the EOS 650D offers essentially the same level of button-and-dial operation as its predecessors; the screen simply adds an additional control option. You can turn it off entirely and still get just as much control as on the 600D.
Further updates and improvements
Aside from these headline features, the EOS 650D gains several new tweaks and updates. It uses Canon’s DIGIC 5 processor (as seen in the S100 and G1 X compacts), which helps enable a boost in the sensitivity range to ISO 12,800 (25,600 extended), and allows correction for chromatic aberration in the camera’s JPEG processing to give cleaner-looking images. The ‘conventional’ autofocus system for eye-level shooting is borrowed from the EOS 60D, and uses nine focus points which are now all cross-type, with the center point offering additional accuracy with fast lenses. The rear screen has been improved too, with no air gap between the display and cover glass, which should reduce reflections and improve visibility in bright light. There’s also an anti-smudge coating in an attempt to reduce the impact of its newfound touch-sensitivity.
The camera also gains a built-in stereo microphone to provide sound for video, and a slightly-tweaked control layout that makes movie recording more accessible by placing it as a third position on the main power switch, as opposed to an exposure mode on the top dial. The 650D retains its predecessor’s mic socket if you need better sound than the internal mics can offer.
There are a couple of new scene modes in its place, ‘HDR Backlight’ and ‘Handheld Night Scene’, both of which combine multiple exposures to give a final processed image. A four-exposure ‘Multi Shot Noise Reduction’ setting is also available in the PASM modes, unusually placed as an option in the High ISO Noise Reduction menu screen (and for JPEG shooting only, not RAW). There are also two additional processing filters but, as has been the case with previous Canon DSLRs, these are after-effects, rather than live previewed effects.
As is Canon’s way, the EOS 650D won’t directly replace the EOS 600D in the overall lineup. Instead the older model will remain in the line and effectively drop down a notch to the position currently occupied by the EOS 550D (T2i), which will be discontinued.
Two new lenses with ‘STM’ motors for video: EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake
Canon EOS 650D with EF 40mm f/2.8 STM (mounted) and EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
Alongside the EOS 650D, Canon has announced two lenses which both use linear stepper motors for autofocus, and which therefore gain an ‘STM’ designation. This type of motor is commonly used in lenses for mirrorless cameras as it offers fast, silent focusing during video recording, and is especially well-suited to working with contrast detection AF. However, it’s the first time this particular technology has been used in a conventional SLR system. Both lenses feature ‘focus-by-wire’ manual focus (as opposed to mechanically-coupled focus rings), which allows full-time manual focus even when the lens is set to AF mode.
The 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM is an EF-S lens for APS-C cameras that also features ‘Dynamic IS’ image stabilization; this is designed to compensate for the different patterns of camera movement encountered when shooting video (for example when walking with the camera). It will be one of the EOS 650D’s ‘kit’ lenses, along with the cheaper EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS II. It’s a little smaller than Canon’s existing EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, and adds a switch to lock the zoom at 18mm and prevent it from extending under its own weight when you’re carrying it around. Its close-focus distance is also reduced to a pretty reasonable 39cm.
The EF 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake, meanwhile, becomes comfortably the smallest lens Canon makes, at about half the thickness of the EF 50mm f/1.8 II. It will also be sold as a kit with the EOS 650D in some regions (where it offers a slightly unconventional 64mm equivalent field of view), but Canon says it’s aimed at least as much at EOS 5D Mark III owners. Indeed we can see it becoming a firm favourite with full-frame users, for whom will offer a slightly-wide-of-normal angle of view