Canon A650 IS Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 02/12/08
The Canon PowerShot A650 IS is based around a 6x optical zoom lens -- the 35mm equivalent of a 35 to 210mm zoom, an excellent range for all-purpose photography. It also includes a high resolution 12-megapixel sensor, more than enough for tack-sharp 13x19-inch prints. Despite its high resolution, the Canon A650 IS offers an ISO range that's been extended at the top end for an equivalent of ISO 80 to 1,600 (with the ability to extend this to ISO 3,200 in one of the Scene modes, albeit at a lower resolution).
The Canon A650 IS sports an articulating 2.5" rear-panel LCD and a real-image optical viewfinder. In addition to fully automatic shooting, it features aperture-priority and shutter-priority exposure modes and even fully manual shooting, welcome options for more sophisticated users. There's also a wide range of 14 scene modes, including an Underwater scene mode that adjusts color balance and exposure for use with an optional underwater housing. The Canon PowerShot A650 also offers a range of metering modes, including evaluative, center-weighted, spot, and face detection-linked metering.
The Canon PowerShot A650 IS stores its images on SD/SDHC memory cards, with a 32MB card included in the product bundle. A USB 2.0 High-Speed computer connection provides for speedy downloads, fast enough that most users will find no need for a separate card reader. There's also NTSC/PAL video connectivity. Power comes from four AA batteries, with disposable alkalines in the product bundle. Shipping since September 2007, the A650 IS lists for US $400.
Canon A650 User Report
by Mike Pasini
The Canon PowerShot A650 IS is the new top-of-the-line A-series PowerShot. Now packed with a 12.1 megapixel sensor and a 6x optical zoom with optical image stabilization, its full featured exposure control enjoys Canon's DIGIC III image processor with enhanced Face Detection, ISO 1,600 and red-eye correction. And the 2.5 inch LCD is articulated, making it easy to frame shots you can't otherwise see.
But in the A650, Canon has retained what makes the A-series so special: full manual control in a compact camera that runs on AA batteries, four of them in this case.
Full manual control in the A-series doesn't mean just control of the aperture and shutter speed. It also means variable flash power, so you can shoot with fill flash and trigger an external slave flash. And unlike many compact digicams, the A-series can be expanded with a range of conversion lenses -- all of which enjoy the built-in image stabilization of the Canon A650 IS.
I think of the A-series as Canon's idea of the classic camera. It's a great learning tool for anyone who wants to explore their aptitude for photography. And it isn't a bad cheerleader either, with pleasing image quality and some excellent optics.
Design. The two-tone design of the Canon A650 masks its bulk. It is a good deal larger than those cute little subcompacts with 3.0-inch LCDs. It may not be jewelry, but you'll want to carry it strapped to your hand with the included wrist strap so it's ready for action at a moment's notice.
I held the Canon A650 easily with just my thumb and two fingers wrapped around the grip, my index finger on the Shutter button. You'll want to use two hands when you navigate the menu system or shoot at full telephoto, but you can one-hand the A650 to zoom and take most close-range shots.
Almost all the Canon A650's controls are on the substantial grip. The Mode dial is just behind the Shutter button, which is surrounded by a Zoom lever. On the back panel the Record/Playback switch sits above the button panel. A four-way navigator with the familiar Function Set button in the middle is surrounded by an EV button, an ISO button, a Display button, and a Menu button. All of which function just as you'd expect if you've used other Canon digicams.
My initial impression was that the touch of the A650's buttons was not quite as pleasant as other Canon digicams, but I narrowed that down to the Record/Playback switch. It lacked a little in the fit-and-finish department.
The Power button is inconspicuously located on the silver body of the Canon A650. So is the Print/Share button, which can be programmed for a Record function (like White Balance, Display Overlay, Display Off, etc.).
Canon didn't scrimp on viewfinders for the A650. Not only is the 2.5- inch LCD articulating but there's also an optical viewfinder above it.
The optical viewfinder isn't very exciting. It displays nothing but the standard 4:3 frame and lacks even targets. At full telephoto the top of the lens intrudes on the bottom of the viewfinder. And for all that, it only shows about 78 percent of the captured image. But when you need an optical viewfinder, you really need one. It's the only solution to shooting when the sun obscures the LCD.
Of course, with an articulated LCD, you can swing the LCD around a bit to avoid the sun. But the real fun of an articulated LCD is seeing the world from a different perspective. The only difference most LCDs have made in how people compose their images is they hold the camera in front of the face instead of against it. But swing that LCD out and you can frame the celebrity from way back in the crowd or see under your car or around corners. It makes the camera inconspicuous so you can get great candids of kids and other wildlife wary of the posed lens.
And you can always lay it flat back against the camera to shoot like everybody else when you want, too.
At 173K pixels, it isn't among the most detailed LCDs, but it isn't among the least, either. Type is sharp and clear, menus are easy to read, and images are clearly displayed.
Canon is rather conservative in its optical ranges so it's a relief to see a 6x zoom lens on a PowerShot. That's good enough that if you shoot a wide angle shot and then take a telephoto shot from the same spot, you'd think two different cameras took the pictures. You can't see the detail in the wide angle shot that fills the frame in the telephoto shot.
But the lens is also very nice in Macro mode, capturing as small an area as 1.01 x 0.75 inch. You can't use the flash that close, but you wouldn't want to anyway.
Aperture ranges from f/2.8 at wide angle and f/4.8 at telephoto to f/8.0, a good range for a digicam. That gives you something to play with in Manual and Aperture Priority modes.
That f/4.8 isn't quite as slow as it might seem, since the lens also includes Canon's optical image stabilization. The Canon A650's lens shift design has three modes. Continuous mode shows the effect of IS all the time, so you can enjoy its benefits when you are composing your shots. Shoot Only activates it only when you press the Shutter button, which saves battery power. Panning restricts the correction to up-and-down camera movement for subjects that move horizontally.
IS will also be quite welcome using the 4x digital zoom, which extends the 35-210mm 35mm equivalent range to 640mm, which is impossible to hold steady otherwise.
The chrome ring around the lens pops off to fit an adapter for both wide and telephoto conversion lenses.
And I was glad to see a Widescreen mode (16:9) available on the Canon A650.
Modes. The Mode dial on Canon cameras is divided into three distinct areas (conceptually, at least).
The Canon A650's green Auto setting is a zone unto itself (called Auto).
Below it is the Image Zone, a set of Scene modes ranging from individual settings for Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, and Kids&Pets and to a setting for the other Scene modes. Those include Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor, and ISO 3200 (at 1,600x1,200 pixels). Finally the Image Zone includes settings for Stitch Assist for panorama shooting and Movie mode.
The real fun, though, is above Auto in the Canon A650's Creative Zone. Here you'll find the usual suspects: Programmed Auto, Shutter Priority (Tv), Aperture Priority (Av), and Manual (where you can set shutter speed and aperture independently of each other). But it also includes a Custom setting to save your setup under any of the modes, including things like zoom position.
While the A650 features Canon's excellent face detection technology, I didn't get a chance to test it in the field. When activated as the focus mode, it sets not only focus, but exposure and flash, avoiding ghostly faces from too bright a flash or exposure setting.
Face detection also powers Canon's Focus Check edit mode. In this mode, the camera identifies the faces in the image. You can scroll from one to another and magnify them with the Zoom lever to check for expressions and closed eyes.
Canon's AiAF automatic focusing, Center-weighted focusing, and FlexiZone focusing are all available, too.
Storage and Battery. The A in the A Series stands for AA-size batteries. The Canon A650 needs four of them. But they seem to last forever. Even alkalines (which we never recommend because they don't survive the heavy power demands of a digicam) can muster 300 shots with the LCD on. And having an optical viewfinder means you can turn off the LCD to get about 1,000 shots. Pop rechargeable NiMH batteries in the Canon A650 and you get 500 shots with the LCD on and 1,400 with it off.
For the duration of my testing, I used a set of Duracell Ultra AA alkalines that were in the box with the camera (and no doubt used during testing in Atlanta). That never happens.
The Canon A650 comes with a 32MB SD card and it can handle SDHC, SD, or MMC cards, too -- although we recommend a fast card to keep up with the 30 fps video capture. The included card can hold about five images at the highest resolution and smallest compression. That's about a 5.6MB average file size.
Performance. One of the pleasures of writing a Canon PowerShot review is discussing its performance. They're always at the head of the class.
And the Canon A650 IS maintains that tradition in the things that matter. It ranked above average for Startup speed (1.2 seconds), combined wide angle and telephoto autofocus lag (0.541 second), prefocus lag (0.087 second), download speed (1439.4 Kb/s), LCD size (2.5 for an articulated LCD), and optical zoom (6x).
It ranked average for optical distortion both at wide angle where we measured 0.8 percent barrel distortion and at telephoto with 0.2 pincushion. It was also average in Shutdown time (2.2 seconds to retract the lens).
The Canon A650's only below-average rankings were in continuous mode cycle time (only 1.2 frames per second), and weight, as it comes in at 14 ounces (397 grams), but its weight is both expected and good for the type of camera that it is.
Shooting. Another of the pleasures of reviewing a Canon PowerShot is getting to use it for a few days. We took the Canon A650 for a ride up Twin Peaks to get our zoom range shots and a walk around town to shoot whatever we fancied. Normally we shoot in Auto or Programmed Auto (if available) to represent typical performance, but with the A650, we indulged in some Aperture and Shutter Priority shots, too.
One of the more rewarding tasks was shooting Macro shots. The shot of the Santa eraser was Shutter Priority at 1/15 second (which we felt we could easily hold with image stabilization). It was taken under warm fluorescent light with Auto White Balance and indeed appears quite warm. The f/4.5 aperture doesn't give us much depth of field (enough to read "Nice" on the pencil), which may also account for the blurred eyes.
But the shot of the berries really shows off the detail that a 12.1 megapixel sensor can capture. Look at the full-resolution image to see the water drops and spider webs (particularly along the top.
That was an Aperture Priority shot (as the Exif display shows) taken wide open at f/2.8 and ISO 84. Shutter speed was just 1/125 second and the DIGIC III processor hung on to the highlights. Very nicely rendered.
I was a little surprised to see the orange traffic signs pop out (they're a bit oversaturated, much like our fire alarm shot) but more disappointed in the noise at ISO 200. Our shot of San Bruno Mountain under clouds really tested the Canon A650's ability to render color in neutral light. That shot was ISO 80, but still exhibited a good deal of noise in the neutrals. If you look at the full resolution shot, you can see the trunks of the dark trees, though, which was impressive.
Our fire hydrant shot demonstrates a known problem with the Canon A650, which Canon has addressed with a free repair program. Our news story from Oct. 8, 2007 explains, "According to Canon, the issue is restricted solely to cameras with a zero as the fifth digit of the serial number, and occurs in sunny conditions with the tilt/swivel LCD display arm opened. When sunlight shines on the back of the camera in the area normally covered by the LCD display, image quality can be adversely affected."
As you can see in the hydrant shot, there are red and blue streaks in the purple shadows adjacent to the hydrant. You can't miss them even on the thumbnails. But the Canon A650's DIGIC III chip held the highlights well on that difficult shot.
There is a bit more chromatic aberration in the Canon A650 than I'm comfortable with. It's evident in a number of wide angle shots. In the shot of the stone wall, you can see it clearly in the top left corner.
As our test shots show, sharpness is very good from corner to corner. And the excellent resolution I noticed in the field resolves to 1,700 lines of detail in the test shots, too. Red and blue hues are oversaturated but for the most part the images rendered the scene accurately without the extreme oversaturation of most consumer digicams.
The tradeoff for the resolution of that 12.1-megapixel sensor, though, is noise -- even at ISO 200. The test shots are particularly disturbing, showing detail falling apart in Marti's hair in the ISO 200 sample and rather poor detail at ISO 400. The ISO 3,200 shot, which bins the pixels to a smaller image size of 1,600 x 1,200 holds its color at the expense of detail.
Appraisal. The hydrant shot nearly spoiled my fun with the A650. Fortunately Canon is on top of the problem with a free repair program, and a quick check of the serial number can avoid coming home with one (although there's a small mark on the inside of the hinge to indicate the repair has already been made). The noise at ISO 200 is disturbing. That boils down to the 12.1 megapixel sensor. Still, you have to consider that this is a 12-megapixel camera, and the printed results pretty much guarantee excellence up to ISO 400 at 8x10 (the practical maximum most people can print at home, and good quality in the ISO 800 to 1,600, both of which produce a fine 5x7 and 4x6, respectively. Add that better-than-ever quality to the Canon A650's articulated LCD, fill flash control, and Custom modes, and you have a great camera for photo enthusiasts without breaking the bank.
- 12.10 megapixel CCD sensor
- 6.00x optical zoom (35-210mm 35mm equivalent)
- 4x digital zoom
- Optical viewfinder
- 2.5-inch LCD with 173,000 pixels
- ISO Sensitivity from 80 to 3,200
- Shutter speeds from 15 to 1/2,000
- Max Aperture f/2.8 at wide angle, f/4.8 at telephoto
- SDHC/SD Memory cards
- USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
- Powered by four AA batteries
- DIGIC III image processor
- Canon Face Detection Technology sets the focus, exposure, and flash automatically
- Compatible with a wide range of accessories including Canon supplementary lenses and a waterproof case
In the Box
The Canon A650 IS ships with the following items in the box:
- PowerShot A650 IS body
- Four AA-size alkaline batteries
- SD memory card SDC-32M
- Wrist Strap WS-DC4
- Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
- USB interface cable IFC-400PCU
- AV cable AVC-DC300
- Large capacity SD memory card. These days, 2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case like Canon's Deluxe Soft Compact Case PSC60 for outdoor and in-bag protection
- High-Power Flash HF-DC1
- Lens Adapter LA-DC58J
- Wide Converter WC-DC58B
- Tele Converter TC-DC58C
- Waterproof Case Weight WW-DC1
The Canon PowerShot A650 IS emphasizes image quality and utility over size, and the end result is excellent images. The Canon A650's 6x zoom lens is optically stabilized, its 2.5-inch LCD is articulated, and its Creative Zone modes include all the manual control you expect from a real camera, and a Custom setting remembers special setups. You can dial down the flash to fill in sunlight and focus on faces both when you're shooting and when you're checking your shots. Performance was above average where it counts, with good autofocus lag times. Though noise insinuates itself starting at ISO 200, the Canon A650's output is still good for an 11x14 inch print. It's clear that though these extremely high resolutions come at the cost of higher noise, the sheer number of pixels means that you won't notice the noise unless you print large. Since most users seldom print larger than 8x10-inch images, we think the lion's share of photographers will be extremely happy with the image quality coming from the Canon A650 IS. Those who want more quality can stick to lower ISOs, shoot with a tripod, or else consider the Canon G9, which is capable of saving RAW files, for easier file adjustment after capture. Its excellent optical quality, 6x stabilized zoom lens, and articulating screen make the Canon PowerShot A650 a clear Dave's Pick.