With even entry-level DSLRs boasting enough megapixels for poster-sized prints, manufacturers are being forced to find new ways to tempt upgraders. HD video recording is the current teaser.
The 550D first introduced 1080p video recording to Canon’s consumer DSLR stable, but the standout new feature of the 600D is a 3in camcorder-style flip-out screen. It’s bright enough to see what you’re shooting even in the fiercest of sunlight, and you can overlay a grid on the screen to help you keep the horizons perfectly level on those sun-drenched beaches.
However, the 600D isn’t the perfect camcorder. Although Full HD footage (recorded at 24fps) is sharp and well exposed to start, there’s no continuous autofocus. You have to semi-depress the shutter button to force the camera to refocus, or use manual controls.
Using the autofocus results in a blurry second or two as the camera struggles to lock on to the subject, but this isn’t the worst of its crimes. The integrated mic picks up the whine of the autofocus motor, making it sound like your idyllic beach scene is under attack from a flock of pterodactyls. An external mic (connected to the 3.5mm mic input) or a willingness to forfeit the soundtrack are a must for anyone relying on autofocus.
The Canon EOS 600D: photographers are being asked to pay a premium for that flip-out screen
The video features disappoint, but the 600D begins to shine in conventional camera mode. The flip-out screen isn’t only a bonus for videographers: it encourages photographers to experiment with creative angles, too, allowing you to accurately compose a shot with the camera held above your head.
For those who prefer to leave the creativity to the camera, there’s a Scene Intelligent Auto mode that hands full control of autofocus points, exposure, flash and other settings to the camera. It did a good job in our tests, automatically adjusting focus with a group of children running towards the camera, and adeptly balancing exposures in shots containing both sun and shade.
Images taken indoors were sometimes a half-stop under-exposed in this mode, but it was nothing that couldn’t be corrected in photo-editing software, especially as the Auto mode allows you to shoot in RAW.
Those who crave more artistic input, but don’t fully understand aperture and shutter speed, can head for Creative Auto mode. This allows users to choose the tone of the shot (warm, cool, intense and so on) as well as determine the background blur on a sliding scale.
One final flourish is the addition of Creative Filters, allowing users to apply in-camera effects to pre-taken photos, such as grainy black and white, a fisheye simulation or the ubiquitous Lomo toy-camera effect. These filters provide good results, and adjusted images are saved as a copy to avoid harming the originals. They offer little, however, that you wouldn’t find in even basic, free photo-editing packages.
Aside from the new screen and the revamped modes, there’s little difference between the core specification of the 600D and its predecessor. They share the same 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, nine-point autofocus and 63-zone metering system; the same 3.7fps maximum burst speed for up to 34 JPEG frames, or six RAW frames.
This, naturally, means the 600D is capable of the same richly detailed, accurately exposed photographs as the 550D. It also suffers from the same small flaws: most notably the lack of punch in brightly coloured scenes, although that’s easily rescued in post-production.
The ever-so-slightly revamped 18-55mm kit lens shares the same superfast autofocus and image stabilisation as its predecessor.
For those who find themselves shooting indoors without a flash, the 600D’s ISO settings range all the way up to an effective 12800 in manual modes, although noise does become intrusive at 3200 or above.
Ultimately, the 600D makes a far better camera than camcorder. But with the price starting at $1000, photographers are being asked to pay a premium for that flip-out screen, which more benefits videographers. If you’re serious about recording HD video, you’ll be better served by a dedicated camcorder. For photography, the Canon EOS 600D is superb; although you’ll find a near-identical feature set on the cheaper 550D.