Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Canon Powershot A650 IS Review

Submitted by J. Keenan on DigitalCameraReview.com

Canon’s newly-introduced Powershot A650 IS becomes their self-described "new top-of-the line" A-series camera offering, and anyone who follows Canon knows they view the A-series as providing a lot of performance at a value price. For someone who wants/needs to shoot at 12+ MP with a camera by Canon, there are only five choices in the current lineup: 1Ds-Mk. III, 5D, G9, SD950 IS or the A650 IS. Opt for any of the Canons other than the A650 IS and you can expect to pay anywhere from $90 to $7,635 more for the privilege. The value part of the equation is looking pretty good so far.

The A650 IS features Digic III processing, Face Detection focus/exposure technology, a 6X optical zoom with optical image stabilization that provides a 35 to 210mm focal length range (35mm film equivalent), a 2.5 inch variable angle LCD monitor to go along with that 12MP sensor, ISO to 1600 with a 3200 setting on tap as a "special scene" mode (albeit at reduced resolution), and a full set of manual controls to complement the typical point-and-shoot automatic modes. Canon packages this all into a nicely-appointed titanium-colored metal and composite body with bright chrome accents.


Canon provides 4 AA alkaline batteries, a 32MB memory card, wrist strap, CD-ROM software, AV and USB cables and an owner’s manual with each camera.

Camera dimensions are about 4.41 x 2.67 x 2.21 inches with the lens retracted, and a shooting weight (4 AA batteries and memory card installed) of 13.25 ounces. The camera accepts SD, SDHC, and MMC memory cards.

The A650 IS will capture JPEG still images in seven pixel sizes: 4000 x 3000 (L), 3264 x 2448 (M1), 2592 x 1944 (M2), 1600 x 1200 (M3), 640 x 480 (S), 1600 x 1200 (postcard) and 4000 x 2248 (widescreen).

Movies may be captured in AVI format at 640 x 480 pixels and 30 frames per second (fps) or 30 fps LP (selecting LP results in file sizes of 960KB/second versus 1920KB/second) ; 320 x 240 (30 fps) for up to 4GB or 60 minutes and 160 x 120 for 3 minutes at 15 fps.

Canon A720 IS on left, Canon Powershot A650 IS on right


With an integral handgrip-style body (like most of the A-series cameras), the 650 IS proved a pleasure to hold and shoot one-handed. With the power on/off, shutter button, zoom control and mode dial all arranged in close proximity on the camera top, it’s an easy task to start up, select a mode, zoom and shoot one-handed if need be.

Auto Mode

The default settings for the A650 IS include the "L" (4000 x 3000) pixel setting at "Fine" quality compression. Except where noted, images produced by the A650 IS to illustrate this review were shot at Large/Superfine quality settings and in "auto" or "P" (programmed auto) mode. As a practical matter, I noticed little apparent difference in image quality between the "superfine" and "fine" settings, particularly with snapshot-sized enlargements.

Specific Scene Modes / Special Scene Modes

Portrait, landscape, night snapshot, kids & pets, stitch assist and "SCN" modes may be selected directly from the camera’s mode dial. A "SCN" selection leads to additional choices of night scene, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, underwater, and ISO 3200. The camera automatically adjusts settings for what it considers optimal shooting in any of these conditions, allowing for little more than image size, quality and exposure compensation inputs from the user.

Manual Controls

In addition to the suite of automatic settings, the A650 IS also provides for traditional programmed auto (P), aperture priority (Av), shutter priority (Tv) and manual (M) exposure modes. A "custom" (C) setting is also available that allows the user to save frequently used shooting modes or settings to the "C" setting and return to them by simply selecting "C".

In-Camera Editing Tools

The A650 IS permits manual red eye correction, image resizing and attaching sound memos to images.

Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation of +/- 2 stops in 1/3 EV increments is available except in auto, movie and manual (M) exposure modes.

Light Metering

Evaluative metering is the default method, with center-weighted and spot metering options available. Spot metering can be further refined to meter the center of the monitor or to correspond to the AF frame. Evaluative metering was used for the images captured by the A650 IS. In general, it did a good job across a broad range of lighting conditions/subjects, but as with most cameras, it would on occasion lose highlights in high contrast shots.

Focus/Macro Focus

Normal focus range extends from 1.6 feet to infinity; macro is .4 inches to 1.6 feet; manual is .4 inches to infinity and kids & pets mode is 3.3 feet to infinity.


The 2.5 inch LCD monitor on the A650 IS boasts a 173,000 dot composition, in the middle of a pack where typical compositions range from 115,000 to 230,000 dots. The monitor is difficult to use for image composition in bright sunlight, particularly with subjects of uniform contrast, but is fine for composition or editing in good light. There is no brightness adjustment possible.

The camera also comes with a viewfinder, but it is quite inaccurate. Canon doesn’t quote a figure, but it seems to offer something in the 70 to 80% range of accuracy – there will be a lot of extra material in any frame composed via viewfinder compared to what is seen through the viewfinder. Still, the viewfinder is much preferable to trying to work with the monitor on bright days.


Canon quotes a flash range of 1.6 feet to 11 feet at wide angle, and 1.6 feet to 6.6 feet at telephoto, both with auto ISO. These ranges seemed accurate in my use. The flash did a good job with color rendition and exposure.


Default color with the A650 IS seemed typical based on recent Canon P&Ss I’ve reviewed, which is to say pleasing and accurate. Color may be adjusted to "Vivid" via the "my colors" mode in the P, Tv, Av, M, movie and stitch-assist modes.


Auto ISO is the default setting for the A650 IS, but high ISO auto may also be selected; auto ISO ranges up to 200, high auto ISO to 800. Manual settings of 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 may be selected, and ISO 3200 may be accessed via the "SCN" mode. ISO 3200 shots are limited in size to M3 (1600 x 1200 pixels).

ISO performance was typical for recent Canon P&Ss I’ve reviewed – 80, 100 and 200 were quite good and relatively hard to differentiate in the blue sky shots. 400 and up got progressively noisier, with the biggest jump appearing to be between 800 and 1600.

White Balance

Auto white balance is the default setting, and works well for most situations. Daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, underwater and custom settings are also available in the C, Av, Tv, P and M modes.

Battery Performance

Canon reports a 300 shot capability with AA alkaline batteries, and my experience mirrored this result.

Shutter Performance

The A650 IS powers up in about a second, acquires focus quickly in good light and fires the shutter with minimal lag. Shutter performance with flash is also good – the camera uses the red eye reduction lamp rather than pre-flashes in red eye reduction mode. Shutter speeds may vary from 15 seconds to 1/2000th second. With the AF assist beam on, focus acquisition times were quite good in low light conditions.

There is a continuous shooting mode available in most auto and manual modes that can "shoot continuously……until the memory card is full". I got 5 shots in 4 seconds and 10 shots in 8.5 seconds – there was a slow down after five shots, but the A650 IS will shoot a bunch if you need it to. The monitor is not the way to go about shooting sequences, since it blanks out for a short period after the first shot, then lags about a shot behind if you’re panning. The viewfinder maintains a constant picture and makes it much easier to track moving subjects.

Lens Performance

The 6X Canon zoom lens was quite uniformly sharp across the frame at both wide and telephoto ends, with some slight softness in the corners. There was some barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) at the wide end which could impact images with prominent straight lines for sharp-eyed viewers. Some purple fringing was present in high contrast boundary areas, but only when greatly enlarged. Overall, very good lens performance.

A 4X digital zoom capability also exists, as well as a "safety zoom" feature that provides some additional zoom factor above the 6X optical capability when shooting at reduced resolutions without the image deterioration generally associated with digital zooms.


The A650 IS PictBridge compliant, and there are wide and tele converters available that allow the camera to shoot as wide as 26mm or as long as 420mm.


The Canon A650 IS packs a lot of features into a reasonably priced, relatively compact digital point and shoot that Canon hails as the leader of its value-intensive A-series line. But that reasonable price has to be matched by performance, and the A650 IS delivers the goods. Good image quality and color; good shutter and flash performance; optical image stabilization; a lens focal range that goes from modestly wide to modest telephoto and the ability to add options to the camera that broaden the focal range are only a few of the nice details in Canon’s latest offering. The camera features auto functions that can have a novice taking great shots right out of the box, but also provides a full complement of manual controls for folks who wish to get more involved. It’s the lowest-priced 12MP camera in Canon’s current fleet.

When I reviewed my last A-series camera, the A570 IS, my gripes with it were that Canon had basic and advanced camera guides instead of a single guide, and the battery cover was difficult to close and felt a little flimsy. The A650 IS has a single guide, and while the battery cover is still a little difficult to close, it feels more substantial. There’s not much to dislike with the A650 IS.


Good image quality and color
Optical image stabilization
Good shutter response

Battery cover awkward to close

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