Canon PowerShot A650 IS Digital Compact Camera review

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, March 2008
Manufactured by: Canon US, Canon Canada
Requires: An interest in photography
MSRP: US$299.95

What I like most about a good compact point & shoot camera is also what I consider to be about the only thing that separates the huge assortment of mediocre ones from the good ones in the first place: image quality. Canon has consistently come up with designs and technology which continue to keep it in the forefront of compact camera design, usability and image quality. The Canon PowerShot A650 IS Digital Compact Camera is a feature packed, versatile handful designed to please intermediate and advanced amateur photographers and to attract beginner photographers who want something noticeably more complex than so many of the dumbed-down and control-free point & shoot cameras available today.

The PowerShot A650 IS is the top-of-the-line A-series model as of this writing. It is a 12.1 megapixel camera with a 6x optical zoom coupled to Canon's patented Optical Image Stabilizer (IS) technology. IS is specifically designed to deliver clear, blur-free images in many low light situations and all through the zoom range. The PowerShot A650 IS is built around Canon's latest generation DIGIC III Image Processor which now provides among other things enhanced Face Detection, ISO 1600 and fast in-camera red-eye correction.

Canon's extremely popular A-series is a curious thing to observe. All of the models in the series are relatively lightweight, use 'AA' batteries (two in most models; four in the A650 IS), most models have IS, very good ergonomics and offer a large number of shooting and picture controls. After using the PowerShot A650 IS for a week or so and occasionally perusing the user manual during that time, you'll begin to wonder if Canon made some sort of mistake. The question you end up asking is why Canon decided to pack so many well-designed and easy to use features into a camera at this price point. There's nothing on the market right now which has this much packed into it at this price point and which does so much so well at this price point.


The Canon DIGIC III image processor is found in everything from the PowerShot G9 to the Digital Rebel and all the other semi-pro and professional digital SLR Canon models up to its flagship 1Ds MK III monster. The processor provides the computing horsepower for advanced features such as perform accurate fautomatic ace detection, noise reduction and in-camera image editing among other things. As well, the 6x zoom lens is not just a low-grade piece of plastic but rather a multi-coated optical wonder of zoom lens design similar to the quality offered in the Canon PowerShot G9 and in competing high-end compact cameras from Nikon/Nikkor, Panasonic/Leica and Sony/Carl Zeiss.

Canon has taken a couple of other steps in the right direction. First, you will likely notice, after taking only a few shots, that the perceptible shutter lag (the elapsed time between a press of the shutter button and the actual photo capture) typical until recently in most digital compact cameras has basically disappeared. In other words, this compact works and feels just like a real camera. Press the shutter button halfway to get a focus lock, then press it all the way to fire the camera with little or no lag. Second, the PowerShot A650 IS is equipped with Canon's Vari-angle LCD screen—an articulating LCD. Why the camera makers ever stopped equipping their compact models with articulating LCDs is a conundrum. I mean, consdering the terrible viewfinders found on many compacts and the difficulty of framing shots using a fixed LCD screen, an articulating LCD would seem to be a basic features that should be found in all compacts. Surprisingly though, Canon and all the other makers expect us to use mainly fixed LCD screens, most of which are completely useless at viewing angles greater than 45 degrees. So tell me again, what's the point of having a compact camera if you can't get a properly framed and composed shot of the gorillas at the zoo by holding your camera over your head and tilting the LCD toward you to make it easy to aim, frame and shoot above the crowd of people who got to the gorilla enclosure first? For my money, an articulating LCD was always the best reason to leave the SLR gear at home with the kids in tow on days when I knew there were going to be photo ops amid crowds and so on. Thank you Canon for bringing back the Vari-angle articulating LCD screen on a truly worthwhile camera.

I put the PowerShot A650 IS through its paces during a two week on-again/off-again set of shooting sessions. Cold weather, snow, overcast, blinding sun and reflections, haze, smog and various other things (mainly ridiculously cold temperatures) kept hampering my efforts. But this Canon model is fun to use and offers so many creative possibilites that I was not put off by the goofy and unpredictable weather. After making about 1,500 photos I realized that I had stopped reviewing the camera and was beginning to treat it as my own rather than a review unit which had to be sent back to the supplier. Too bad—the PowerShot A650 IS is almost as good as my prized Canon PowerShot G7, weighs half as much as the G7, has a better grip & hold than the G7 and is literally half the cost of the G7. Image quality is not quite up to the high standard set by the expensive G7, but it rivals that of the Nikon P50, P5000 & P5100, Fuji FinePix F100fd and the Sony DSCH3 (all of which—with the exception of the Nikon P50—are more expensive than the A650 IS). Hmmm.




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