Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Another short shoot - with a Canon 650D

I’m always keen to use different cameras when the opportunity arises. I used to review DLSR’s for a photography magazine here in New Zealand and could feed my camera addiction with a steady stream of cameras. Sadly, that stream has dried up. Now, I need to take my opportunities for using different gear any way I can. Sometimes that’s through friends who graciously loan me there cameras for a weekend. Other times it’s through things like work. One such chance presented itself recently, when I got to take a Canon 650D home for the weekend that belongs to the marketing department where I work.

I grew up on Canon gear. My first camera was a Canon T70, followed by a T90, and then on up through the various EOS lines of film and digital. The last camera I owned before switching to micro four thirds was the amazing Canon EOS 1D Mk3 – a beast (and beauty) of a camera. So I’m very at home with Canon camera equipment.

Generally, though, I’ve stayed away from the ‘Rebel’ line of cameras (although I did review a 400D for the magazine), preferring to use the more ‘advanced amateur’ or ‘semi pro’ models like the EOS 40D and full frame EOS 5D. In fact, when I made the move to digital about 10 years ago, I borrowed a Canon 350D and a Nikon D70 and tried them side by side. The 350D was horrible. Possibly the worst camera I’ve ever used. The Nikon D70 was hands-down the better camera, and so that’s what I bought. Fortunately, for Canon, their Rebel series of digital SLR’s has gotten much better. But I still wouldn’t buy one :-)

Dixon Park Band Rotunda. Canon 650D with 18-135mm STM IS f3.5/5.6 lens @ f8.
The 650D is something of a ‘limbo’ model (to my mind). It’s not a rank beginners model like the ‘thousand’ series cameras (1100D, 1200D etc), yet nor is it considered a camera for ‘serious’ photographers (like a 70 or 80D). In that sense, I’m not entirely sure who the 650D is aimed at exactly? If I owned a 1200D and found myself seriously getting into photography as a hobby, then I think I’d skip the 650D and go straight for the 80D – or even something like the 7D? In fact, this is exactly the scenario that a work colleague went through last month. She bought a 1100D to ‘get into’ photography, and has just opted for a 70D as her next camera because she didn’t see the value in ‘upgrading’ to the triple digit camera line. And neither do I quite frankly.

So for the reasons outlined above, I find it very difficult to recommend the Canon 650D (or 760D, or whatever triple digital Canon you care to name). If you’re just starting out in photography and don’t have a lot of money to spend, I’d actually recommend you go for a used Canon 40D or 50D (again, if you simply had to have a Canon).

Dixon Park Trees. Canon 650D with 18-135mm STM IS lens @ f8. Chromatic aberration and purple fringing is evident. 
Why a 40/50D instead? Three reasons. First – build quality. The 650D is of mostly plastic construction – although don’t get me wrong, it’s still well put together. Plastic cameras have more than proven themselves over the last ten years (and have come a very long way since the 350D). The 650D feels solid in the hand, and very well put together. There’s no creaking or moving of joins. But I still think that the more rugged, magnesium alloy construction of the 40 or 50D is the way to go.

Sculpture Park. Canon 650D with 18-135mm STM IS lens @ f5.6
Second – important features for photographers. When you move ‘up’ to the likes of the 50D from the 650D, then you get a faster, more responsive, weather sealed camera with a larger/brighter viewfinder. All the things that actually make a difference when taking photos. No, the 50D doesn’t have a flippy-out touch screen. So what? No, the 50D doesn’t shoot video. Who cares (unless, of course, you do)? 18MP vs 15MP. Seriously? It’s not an issue. It may be ‘older’ but in terms of picture taking, I just think the 50D is the better camera for the job. And it just gets better if you’re looking at the 60D, 70D or 80D instead (although oddly enough I think the 60D is a step backwards in terms of construction).

Cranes at the Wharf. Canon 650D
Third – ergonomics. How a camera handles when taking photos. I’ve left the best, and most important, until last. Don’t underestimate the user experience when taking a photo. It is, in fact, crucial to the enjoyment and experience of photography. If a camera works with you to create images, then you are more likely to want to use it. If it works against you…. well, you get the idea.

With my brief experience using the Canon 650D, I felt it was a camera that was working against me taking pictures. For example, the exposure compensation button is in a very bizarre, hard to reach place, and has to be held in while changing the value. A small thing maybe, but it drove me nuts! The scroll wheel on the back of a 40/50/60/70/80D is a much more intuitive and user-friendly way of changing exposure values on the fly, without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.

But speaking of taking your eye away from the viewfinder – the experience of shooting with a DSLR, whatever the model, would now be enough to drive me crazy. Photographers talk about ‘chimping’ – taking a photo and immediately looking on the back of the camera to see what you’ve got. It’s a derogatory term, but if you shoot with a DLSR with an optical viewfinder, then it’s almost impossible not to chimp at least 50% of the time! Shooting digitally means we have tools like the histogram and highlight/shadow warnings at our disposal to check exposure. So you’re going to use them – right? But you get zero feedback about exposure with a DLSR when looking through the optical viewfinder. So you shoot, you chimp, and you change the exposure value. You shoot again, chimp again, and change the exposure value. You compose another image, shoot, chimp, check the exposure, change the exposure, and shoot again. Ad nauseam.

Historic Coal Wagons. Canon 650D with 18-135mm STM IS lens @f8
 If it taught me anything, shooting briefly with the Canon 650D taught me how great it truly is to shoot with a camera that uses a state-of-the-art electronic viewfinder. The day before using the Canon 650D I had shot all afternoon with my Olympus OMD EM-5 Mk2, and the user experience was night and day. Whereas my time with the 650D was very stop-start, the EM-5 Mk2 was almost never away from my eye, and I never once looked at the lcd screen on the back (it was flipped around and closed on the back of the camera). All the exposure information I needed was accessed through the EVF while the camera was up to my eye. It’s such a superior shooting experience that I can’t imagine going back now.

Greymouth History House Museum. Canon 650D with 18-135mm STM IS lens @f8
There’s nothing wrong with the images you get from the Canon 650D. With the 18-135mm STM f3.5/5.6 IS ‘kit’ lens they were sharp, colourful and contrasty. All you would want from a digital file. I just didn’t enjoy the experience of creating them.

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