Juha Saarinen looks at the piggy in the middle DSLR from Canon.
Canon makes lovely gear – mostly – but the Japanese imaging giant has an annoying tendency to come up with confusing product lines.
For instance, you may wish to buy an expensive full-frame DSLR for the benefits a bigger imager brings. Unfortunately, that often means you’ll lose out on some other, truly useful features that newer and cheaper cropped-sensor models bring to the table because Canon updates its cameras one model at the time.
I’m looking at the new EOS 600D, known as Rebel T3i in some markets, and wondering what Canon’s marketing team is thinking here. The camera sits tightly between the older EOS 550D and EOS 60D models, with very similar specifications so the main differentiator becomes the price of the unit. Don’t get me wrong: the EOS 600D is actually a rather nice camera. Canon sent an EOS 600D with a kit 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens to D-Photo for a quick test drive and together the two produce some rather pleasing images and HD video without too much effort.
In making the EOS 600D, Canon was aiming the camera at entry-level users and it’s well-suited for that segment.
Even though this is supposedly a beginner’s camera, the feature list for EOS 600D is long and complete. You get an articulated screen just like its big sibling EOS 60D, which is 770mm in size and with a high 1,040,000P resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio – it’s really rather good for reviewing shots taken, indoors and outdoors.
I’ve been a fan of articulated screens since they appeared in compact and video cameras, and despite additional point of failure worries, think they have a place on every DSLR. Live view and low-level and ‘Hail Mary’ shooting are heaps easier with an articulated screen – once you tried it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Similarities with the EOS 60D model continue as you go through the features list. The EOS 600D shares the same 18.7MP APS-C CMOS sensor of that camera, which is also found in the cheaper EOS 550D and the more expensive EOS 7D. That means you’ll get the 1.6 times crop factor and pretty much equivalent image performance across the cameras, when using the same lenses.
Both have an ISO sensitivity range from 100 to 6400 with an extreme 12,800 setting available too, and the DIGIC-4 image processor with RAW and JPEG output support.
The nine-point autofocus system with 63-zone metering in the EOS 60D has found its way into the EOS 600D too although with only one cross-type sensor. Both cameras use a single SD/SDHC/SDXC card for storage, and by now you could be excused for asking why the former is considered to be above the latter in the model range.
However, there are some areas in which the EOS 600D is inferior to the EOS 60D. As I don’t have an EOS 60D myself, I went into a camera shop in Auckland, ignored the funny looks and gave that Canon-cam a good squeeze and fired the shutter a few times.
Back home I did the same with the EOS 600D and noticed it is considerably lighter, somewhat smaller in size, has marked shutter lag in comparison and a far less reassuring Canon-quality ‘thunk’ sound when you press the release button. What’s more, the viewfinder on the EOS 600D is a penta-mirror one with slightly less coverage (95 percent as opposed to 96) on the EOS 60D’s penta-prism one, which seems lighter too.
Going down the EOS 600D route means you’ll lose out on the fast 1/8000s shutter time, and the continuous shooting frame rate drops from 5.3 per second to 3.7.
For DSLR video shooters, the EOS 600D covers the major HD formats such as 1080p at 24 and 30 frames per second, as well as 720p and 480p at 30fps. EOS 60D adds support for 50 and 60 frames per second at the same HD resolutions.
Also included with the two cameras is a truly useful feature that’s convinced me I have to upgrade: wireless flash control. In a similar fashion to the articulated screen, it’s not easy to envision the creative freedom that comes with being able to remove your flash from the hot-shoe until you use it. Trust me: add wireless control and two remote flashes to your DSLR gear shopping list. With the pop-up as a fill-in, shooting with the remote units makes for some fun flash photography.
In use, the EOS 600D brings few surprises for Canon shooters. The Basic Zone settings on the Mode Dial keep the EOS 600D in full-auto mode, allowing the photographer to point the camera at the object and shoot pictures without worrying about technical details.
By and large, the full, Intelligent Auto mode works well, with the Auto Lighting Optimiser being enabled to take care of difficult light scenarios. Other Basic Zone modes provide more control over the picture-taking, such as Creative Auto that lets you select the ambience and background blur for the image, and you get the usual Portrait, Landscape, Close-Up, Sports and Night modes.
Even though the new 18-55mm kit zoom feels a bit plastic and insubstantial, it does come with image stabiliser and, for the price, produces okay results. There is some barrelling and substantial vignetting at extreme wide angle, but these can be fixed later on the computer. Other than that, this little el-cheapo lens is sharp and for under $200 street price, great value.
Of course, the EOS 600D is compatible with a huge range of excellent EF and EF-S mount lenses from Canon and third-party vendors such as Tamron and Sigma, with the size of your wallet being the only limit.
Unfortunately, the wireless flash control gets turned off in the Basic Zone and as you’d expect, the settings menus on the camera miss the items that can be controlled once you hit the normal Creative Zone and take control over aperture openings and shutter timings.
Basic Zone also sets the ISO mode to Auto. Luckily, the EOS 600D produces acceptable results without too much noise up to ISO 3200. Above that, at ISO 6400 and 12,800 which is hidden under the Custom Functions menu, noise and blotchy colours means you have to have a very good reason to go that high.
Auto-focusing was fast and accurate in good light. In darker situations however the EOS 600D tended to hunt a great deal, especially with the rather slow 18-55mm kit lens mounted.
As for the DSLR video, I’m not a huge fan of it but the EOS 600D with a good lens or two is certainly capable as an HD shooter. There’s a single-button trigger to shoot video, but disconcertingly there are few indications that recording takes place.
Is the Canon EOS 600D good value for money then? Maybe in some markets; Canon NZ quotes an RRP of $1499 including GST for the body only, and $1649 with the 18-55mm zoom. The company encourages people to check out the street pricing in shops too, and you’ll easily shave off $200-300 from the above prices.
With an EOS 550D body going for a shade under a grand, the EOS 600D looks like a worthwhile step up from the older model.
What sinks the EOS 600D however is that the street price in New Zealand for the EOS 60D is pretty similar if you shop around: depending on your favourite camera shop, you’ll pay the same or maybe a hundred dollars more for an EOS 60D body, ditto with a kit lens.
Sorry Canon: feature-rich as the EOS 600D is, we’d rather go for the EOS 60D instead.
Canon EOS 600D – Specifications
Effective pixels: 18.7 million
Image sensor: 22.3 x 14.9mm CMOS, 1.6 APS-C crop factor; 3:2 aspect ratio; anti-dust cleaning.
Shutter speeds: 30 seconds to 1/4000 of a second
Auto-focus: 9 points, single cross-type at centre.
Metering: Evaluative, 63 zones
Image formats: JPEG, 14-bit RAW up to 5184 x 3456P
Viewfinder: Penta-mirror, 95 per cent coverage
Monitor: Three-inch articulating LCD with 1,040,000P
Movie modes: 1080p at 30 and 24fps; 720p and 480p at 30fps
Interfaces: USB 2.0, HDMI
Battery: Lithium-Ion LP-E8 rechargable good for roughly 440 shorts (CIPA).
- Excellent 18.7MP APS-C sensor
- Image quality even at high ISO levels
- HD video
- Articulated screen
- Wireless flash control
- Decent kit lens
- Somewhat plasticky and insubstantial construction
- Not great value in NZ
Image Quality 19
Value for money 14
This article is from D-Photo issue 41. Click here to check it out.