A 12MP Performer For Less Than $450

by Jeff Dorgay

Published February 2008

The top-of-the-line in Canon’s A series of compacts, the A650 IS features a 12MP sensor like the G9, with a 6x optical zoom, 4x digital zoom and optical stabilization. Retail price is $449 with street price coming in at $399, so if you are pinching pennies at the 12MP level, this is a good alternative. (See a review of the G9 elsewhere in this issue.)

Still very compact, though a bit heavier than the G9, the A650 IS uses four AA batteries in the handgrip. Personally, I am not fond of this arrangement, because the battery door is located where the memory card goes and this can make for some harrowing moments if you are trying to change memory cards in a hurry. My suggestion if you purchase this camera is to get an 8GB SD card right away to keep card changing to a minimum and if possible, just download your images via the USB cable.

The good news about the AA battery setup is that a set of lithium batteries were still ticking after 1,200 shots, so you will not have to change them as often. Canon claims a 500 shot lifespan for AA Nimh rechargeables and considering that all of their battery life claims have been very conservative in my experience, this is also a good alternative.

Compact and Fun

This camera is definitely suited to grab and go. It does not offer RAW capture, but images captured on the JPEG Super Fine setting more than passed muster. I’m still blown away that this little camera has a 12MP sensor! It really makes for much better cropping possibilities than even an 8MP camera offers. Thanks to the 2.5-in. viewfinder that has the ability to pop out of the camera, it allows you to get those great shots way down low or up over the crowd with ease!

If you shoot a lot of action, the A650 is up to the task, between the viewfinder, burst mode (in JPEG) and the image custom programs, which allow you to decide how the camera weighs shutter speed and aperture settings. Thanks to Canon’s face recognition technology and a maximum ISO speed of 1600, you should be able to capture any live action situation.

Suitable for Pro Use

I used the A650 IS on a recent assignment to cover the Bluesmasters at the Crossroads festival. The musicians performed in a converted church, with minimal lighting, so all shooting was at ISO 800 and 1600 on my DSLR, which did not have image stabilization. Thanks to the excellent IS built into the A650, I was able to shoot at ISO 400 and was very impressed with the results. According to the display, I was often shooting at 1/30th of a second (sometimes as low as 1/10th of a second) with great results.

Shooting in the 400 to 800 ISO range with the A650 still produces images with decent tonal scale, however the noise increases quite a bit more at the 800 setting. I would save 1600 for when there is just no other way to get the shot. Again, the IS helps tremendously, so you shouldn’t have to venture up past 400 too often. Keep in mind to leave the IS turned off when shooting in normal light, because you will notice a bit of a loss in sharpness under these conditions! Again, thanks to a set of lithium batteries and an 8GB SanDisk SD card, I was able to shoot the whole event without changing either! In Super Fine JPEG mode, I had more than 800 images on tap.

A couple of the other pros at the event were pretty surprised to see me put down my DSLR and pick up a point-and-shoot, but the results were fantastic! This was definitely a situation where that adjustable LCD screen came in handy.

A Versatile Performer

With a very intuitive layout, you should be able to just take it out of the box and start taking pictures right away. But there are so many different functions and options available to you with the A650; I highly suggest reading the instruction manual fully so that you can take advantage of everything this camera has to offer.

The many available resolutions are very handy if you are taking pictures for the Web, or other applications where you know you won’t need a larger image. If you sell a lot of things online, the 640×480 setting is perfect and you will never run out of memory, even with a modest-sized card. Close examination of the images at the smaller resolutions did reveal a slight softening of the images, which was not a major issue, but plan on doing a little extra sharpening in your favorite image editing program if you use the lower resolution settings.

Should the need arise to capture a little bit of video for YouTube™, rest assured that the A650 is up to the task. If you see Paris Hilton at the mall or Bigfoot creeping around in the parking lot, you can capture about eight minutes of video per gigabyte of memory card at the highest quality setting. Another good reason to have an 8GB card in that memory slot!

As always, I suggest reading the manual to get the most of the A650’s custom functions that allow you to control the shutter and aperture weighting to your taste, but this cam also a very cool feature called Stitch Assist. If you enjoy creating panoramic images, this will make your job a lot easier than ever before. After you shoot the first image, it moves over to the left in a split screen window and then lets you compose the next image to the panorama in the right side. Line up the overlap portion in the new image and take another shot, it’s that easy!

You can keep doing this until you have the necessary amount of images that you want for your panorama. Landscape photographers and realtors will love this feature; I found it eating up a lot of my time because I had so much fun with it. Tech hint: Use this feature with a tripod and figure out where your picture’s center will be first. Then go off to the left (or right, depending on your orientation) and work through the center out to the end. That way the edges of your panorama will not be as distorted as if you just start from one end and shoot around. Make a quick trip into Photoshop and use the transform/warp command to pull the center up from the top and bottom a bit and you have super wide-angle shots with almost no barrel distortion.

  • Size/Weight: 4.41-in.W x 2.67-in. H x 2.21-in. D, 10.5oz.
  • Image Sensor: CCD
  • Maximum resolution: 12.4MP total, 12.1MP effective.
  • Zoom: 6x optical, 4x digital.
  • Lens Focal Length: 7.4 – 44mm (35mm equiv. 35-210mm).
  • Focusing capability: 19” to infinity, normal mode, down to .39” in macro mode.
  • Display: 2.5-in. vari-angle TFT.
  • Manual Exposure Control: Yes.
  • Exposure Metering: Center weighted, adaptive and spot modes.
  • Provided Accessories: 4 AA batteries, wrist strap, USB cable, AV cable, 32MB SD card. Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM.
  • Power Source: AA batteries.
  • Warranty: 1 year
  • Contact:

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