Canon PowerShot A650 IS Digital Camera Review

Read an expert, independent digital camera review of the Canon PowerShot A650 IS digital camera.

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Color*(12.3) *

Ideally, a camera will reproduce colors as accurately as possible, making them look vivid, but natural. We test color accuracy by photographing a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test chart and comparing the colors the camera reproduces with the known colors of the test chart. The ColorChecker is made of 24 different color tiles from around the color spectrum. The image below shows how the Canon A650 IS’s colors compare to the test chart. The outer squares show the colors the camera reproduces, the inner squares show the actual colors of the ColorChecker corrected for exposure, and the small rectangles show the ColorChecker colors under a perfectly even exposure.


Most of the outer squares blend into the inner squares, showing how accurate the A650 IS’s colors are. The small rectangles appear lighter than the squares because the A650 IS’s colors are more accurate when slightly underexposed. The only colors that seem a little inaccurate are the yellows and blues. The graph below shows color accuracy in a different way. The locations of the ColorChecker color tiles are shown as squares on the color spectrum, and the corresponding colors the camera reproduces are shown as circles. The lines connecting the squares and circles show the extent of the color error.


The graph confirms that the A650 IS’s colors are extremely accurate, as demonstrated by how close the circles are to the squares. The only colors with some "drift" are yellows and blues. These colors are often shifted on purpose to enhance blue skies and green foliage. Overall, the A650 IS has fantastic color accuracy, making colors look natural and vivid at the same time.


Resolution*(9.49) *

We test resolution by photographing an industry standard resolution test chart at a variety of settings to find which settings produce the sharpest image. We use Imatest to analyze sharpness and amount of sharpening applied to an image by the camera. Imatest measures sharpness in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph), which refer to the number of equally spaced, alternating black and white lines that could fit across the picture frame without blurring.


Click to view the high resolution image

The 12-megapixel Canon A650 IS is sharpest at ISO 80, f/5.6, and a focal length of 19 mm. The camera resolves 2194 lw/ph horizontally with 7.7 percent oversharpening, and 1958 lw/ph vertically with 17 percent undersharpening. These are very impressive numbers, and show the camera’s optical system produces sharp images without too much sharpening being applied by the processor. However, images are slightly blurry and a fair amount of chromatic aberration is apparent in the corners. Yet overall, the A650 IS is one of the strongest performers in this test this year. It is a great choice if you plan to make large prints of images shot at low ISO speeds.


**Noise – Manual ISO ***(4.44) *

Image noise refers to the sandpaper effect you sometimes see in photos taken in low light or at high ISO speeds. We evaluate noise levels by photographing our test chart at all ISO speeds a camera offers. We run the photos through Imatest, which measures noise in terms of the percentage of image detail it drowns out.


The A650 IS keeps noise levels low at ISO 80 and 100, but loses control at higher ISO speeds, where photos look like they were taken in a sandstorm. This is one of the main problems with cramming 12 megapixels on a sensor; more pixels means smaller pixels, which produce more noise. The noise itself looks very sandy and granulated, with small splotches of blue and yellow spread throughout. It isn’t the ugliest noise we’ve ever seen, but there is enough of it at high ISO speeds to ruin photos. Keep this camera at low ISO sensitivities as much as possible.


**Noise – Auto ISO ***(1.35) *

We also test noise levels with the camera set to Auto ISO, under the same bright studio lights as above. The A650 IS chose ISO 200, yielding more noise under such bright light than we would like to see. This noise will be visible when viewing photos at full size.


**Still Life Sequences

***Click to view the high resolution images*

White Balance (13.63)

The A650 IS’s excellent color accuracy would be irrelevant if the camera couldn’t white balance properly. White balance is important because all types of light sources have different color casts, and a camera must be able to adjust accordingly. We test white balance by photographing the ColorChecker test chart under four different types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor shade, and tungsten. We test both the auto white balance setting and the appropriate white balance presets.

Auto (12.30)

Using the auto setting, the A650 IS very accurate in fluorescent light, outdoor shade, and the flash, but poorly accurate under tungsten light. These are great results, and show that you can leave this camera on auto white balance in most situations except for indoor tungsten light, where almost all cameras have difficulty.

Preset (15.00)

With the white balance presets, the camera is also extremely accurate. Every type of light source scored very well in color accuracy using the presets. If you take a photo that seems to have a color cast to it, simply switch to the white balance preset and it should correct the problem.


Low Light*(7.96) *

Not all shooting will be done in bright lighting, so we also test color accuracy and noise levels in low light. To do this, we photograph the ColorChecker test chart at light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. 60 lux is about as bright as a room lit softly by two table lamps, 15 lux is as bright as a room lit solely by a 40 watt bulb, and 15 and 5 lux are quite dim and test the limits of the sensor. All shots are taken at ISO 1600.

The A650 IS has no problem exposing at any of these light levels, and also keeps colors very accurate. Noise levels, however, are off the charts, and make photos look like sandpaper. If must take photos in low light with this camera, you should put the camera on a tripod and use the lowest possible ISO speed.

We also examine low light performance using slow shutter speeds, this time at ISO 400. This test shows that the A650 IS can also keep colors accurate in long exposures, but photos will still be affected by noise. Still, the image quality is good enough to stand up to long exposures.


**Dynamic Range ***(4.74) *

Dynamic range is another factor that affects image quality. Dynamic range affects how much detail a camera can discern in high contrast scene. A camera with good dynamic range will maintain details in bright highlights and dark shadows in an image. We test dynamic range by photographing a backlit Stouffer step chart, which consists of a long row of gray rectangles ranging in brightness from bright white to dark black. The more rectangles a camera can distinguish, the better its dynamic range.


The A650 IS has great dynamic range at ISO 80, but fairly disappointing dynamic range at higher ISO speeds. The camera’s high noise levels are a big factor in this, because the noise drowns out image detail in dark areas of photos. This is another reason to leave the camera at low ISO speeds as much as possible. The A650 IS scores poorly in dynamic range.


**Speed/Timing **– All speed tests were conducted using a Kingston Ultimate 120X 2GB SD Card, with the camera set to highest resolution and best quality, unless otherwise noted.

Startup to First Shot (7.9)

The A650 IS takes 2.1 seconds to take a photo after it has been turned on.

Shot-to-Shot (9.0)

The A650 IS has one continuous Record mode, in which it will take 3 photos 0.8 seconds apart and then shoots indefinitely every 1.1 seconds.

Shutter-Shot (9.0)

The camera has no measurable lag when it has been prefocused, but a lag of 0.5 seconds when it hasn’t been prefocused.

Processing (5.2)

The A650 IS takes 2.2 seconds to process one 2.2 MB full size image, with the camera set to superfine compression and ISO 160.

**Video Performance ***(4.49) *

*Bright Light – 3000 lux

*We capture footage of our video charts under bright studio lights to see how the camera renders colors and noise. The A650 IS as tremendous color error using auto white balance, but low noise levels.

Low Light – 30 lux

In low light, the video has far more accurate colors, but significantly more noise. The camera’s Movie mode certainly doesn’t replace a camcorder, but it should allow users to take decent videos in dimly lit situations.


*When aimed at the resolution chart, the A650 IS resolved 317 lw/ph horizontally with 6.8 percent undersharpening, and 455 lw/ph vertically with 21 percent oversharpening. These are decent numbers for digital camera video, but not anything special.

*Outdoor Motion

*We shoot video outside to see how cameras handle the motion of cars and pedestrians. The A650 IS’s Movie mode has nice looking colors and good detail, but suffered from moiré, overexposure, and some jerkiness when objects move off the frame. Overall, the camera has a decent Movie mode, but not quite as good as some of its competitors.



Viewfinder*(3.5) *

The eyepiece for the real image optical zoom viewfinder is located on the camera’s back side, just above the LCD screen. The lens for the viewfinder is located on the front of the camera, just above the main lens. The image in the viewfinder zooms in and out, tracking the magnification of the main lens.

Viewfinders are becoming scarce on point-and-shoot cameras. That Canon included one here is a nod to tradition. Viewfinders are useful in brightly lit conditions where the main LCD display screen may be washed out and hard to read. Optical viewfinders also consume a lot less power than LCD screens, so they can be used to extend battery life.

Optical viewfinders typically do not show the full image recorded by the sensor, only the central or bottom 85 to 95 percent. The optical viewfinder on the A650 IS seems pretty accurate, so I would place it subjectively at the high end of that range. Canon does not specify the coverage of the viewfinder.

Another common disadvantage of optical viewfinders is parallax. The viewfinder lens is offset a little distance from the main lens. Therefore it sees things from a different angle. At ordinary shooting distances this is not much of a problem, but it can be significant in close-up or macro work, for which a live preview on the LCD is recommended for image composition.

Related to the parallax problem, when the lens is zoomed all the way out (to the widest angle setting), the lens barrel shows up in the bottom of the viewfinder, blocking part of the image. It does not appear in the actual recorded image or the LCD live preview. It is simply an inaccuracy in the optical viewfinder.

No control information appears in the optical viewfinder. You must use the LCD screen if you need to change or monitor these settings.

There is no dioptric adjustment. The viewfinder image remains fully visible with the eye positioned up to an inch away from the eyepiece, so most people with glasses should have no problem with the viewfinder.

**LCD Screen ***(6.25) *

The A650 IS has a 2.5-inch, 173,000-pixel low-temperature polycrystalline silicon TFT liquid crystal display (LCD). The resolution is short of some cameras on the market, including the Fujifilm F50fd and Olympus Stylus 1200, which have 2.7-inch monitors with 230,000 pixels.

The display has a wide viewing angle. It does not fade out and lose contrast when viewed off-axis, rather than face-on. You can show it to a group of friends standing around you and they’ll all see pretty much the same thing.

The display position is adjustable, facing in or out against the body, or with a wide range of positions away from the body. The open positions increase the range of situations for which the display is useful. For ordinary, straight-ahead snapshots, the against-the-body position is fine. Tilt the display up and you can look down on it from above, great for photographing pets or rug rats at floor level. Tilt the display down and you can hold the camera overhead to grab pictures of sports and performance events despite the crowd. Flip the display forward, and the subjects can see themselves in it (the camera reverses the image so it looks right to them). Some people find it easier to pose or smile for a portrait with this kind of feedback.

A live preview image can be shown on the LCD screen while shooting. This consumes more power than the optical viewfinder, and can be hard to see in bright surroundings. However, one major benefit usually associated with use of the LCD screen’s "live preview" is that it shows 100 percent of the recorded image, or "what you see is what you get." This is in contrast to the possibly reduced image coverage of the viewfinder. Another advantage is that you can preview the effect of exposure controls, which can be hard to visualize with an optical viewfinder.

Various amounts of shooting information is displayed on the monitor by pressing the disp button. In Record mode, pressing the button navigates between three views: no information; shooting information, such as aperture and shutter speed; and off. In Playback mode, images can be viewed alone, with basic shooting information, with detailed shooting information, or zoomed in on to check focus.

The rotating LCD is something of a trade-off; it would be useful for shooting in some situations (such as over the head), but there are similarly priced  cameras with fixed screens that are bigger, sharper and do a better job of showing images. Whether the rotating screen is worth the price is something you'll have to decide.

Flash*(4.5) *

The built-in sliver-shaped flash is to the top right of the lens. Its position makes it a little too easy to accidentally cover with the fingers on the left hand when using two hands to hold the camera.

The flash has a range of 1.6 to 11 feet at the wide end of the zoom lens range. The range extends only out to 6.6 feet at the telephoto end. The range is on the wimpy side, and not as powerful as its predecessor, the A640. These flash ranges are specified by Canon for an Auto ISO setting, where the camera can boost the effective range by increasing the ISO, so the flash is not as strong as these figures imply.

Pressing the top of the navigation ring while in Record mode pops up an onscreen menu that selects Flash mode. Three choices are presented: Flash On, Flash Off, and Auto Flash.

In Flash On mode, the flash is forced to fire. This is useful to in brightly-lit situations in which the camera may not automatically flash. This can be used to fill in the shadows in harsh lighting situations like bright sunlight.

In Flash Off Mode, the flash is shut off, even in low-light situations in which one might normally have it on. This is useful for avoiding flash reflections off of glass, or in taking advantage of unusual and beautiful natural light. It does usually involve accepting slower shutter speeds, so consider image stabilization or a tripod in this mode.

In Flash Auto mode, the camera decides whether to fire the flash or not, based upon the amount of ambient light.

The flash compensation control is located in the function menu. The flash’s intensity can be adjusted +/- 2 EV in 1/3 stops. In the Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes, the flash output can be adjusted in three steps.

There are more flash options in the Shooting menu. Flash sync can be set to 1st or 2nd curtain, Slow Synchro can be set to on or off, and Red-Eye to on or off. The Safety FE feature can be utilized in the Program, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes. This feature prevents an image from being overexposed by the flash by automatically adjusting the aperture and shutter speed.

Red-eye reduction, if enabled, is performed by the focus-assist light rather than the flash. A red light shines into the subjects’ eyes before the flash fires.

There is no hot-shoe, nor a connector for an external flash. Canon offers a companion higher-powered flash, but it is essentially an optical slave and is triggered by the flash from the camera. It retails for $129.99.

The Canon A650 IS’s flash is poorly placed and its limited power makes it almost useless. Among its competition, the A650 IS has one of the weakest flashes.

Zoom Lens*(7.5) *

The A650 IS has an optically stabilized 6x Canon zoom lens. The lens retracts into the camera body when powered down, and extends in two tiers in use. When the camera is turned off, the lens is covered by an automatic cap.

The lens has a 35mm equivalent range of 35 to 210mm. The wide end of this range is fairly typical for point-and-shoots, though there are some cameras on the market, such as the 12.2-megapixel Panasonic FX100 ($399.95), with 28mm equivalent lenses, better for shooting large groups or expansive landscapes. The PowerShot A650 extends beyond the typical 3x optical zoom lens on most competing cameras. The longer zoom is nice to close-ups of a dance recital or playing field, for instance.

There are tele and wide converters that can be attached to the lens to widen or extend the range of the lens. The tele converter magnifies subjects by 2x and has a $149 retail price. The wide converter expands to range by 0.8x and sells for $199 from the Canon website.

A zoom indicator appears at the top of the LCD when the lens is engaged. It makes about a dozen stops throughout the range. There is noticeable mechanical noise while it is zooming, but it isn't noisy enough to distract the subject. Zooming in is smooth, but the lens backfires when zooming out.

The max aperture when the lens is zoomed out is f/2.8 and f/4.8 when zoomed in. This range lets a good amount of light hit the image sensor, allowing users to shoot in low light without a flash.

The normal focus range of the lens is from 1.6 feet to infinity. The lens has an impressive close-up focusing range of 0.39 inches to 1.6 feet at the wide end of the zoom range. Close-ups are not recommended at the telephoto end of the range.

Lens quality seems to be generally good. Light flare was not a problem unless the sun shone directly onto the lens. A small amount of barrel distortion was visible in closeup modes, making some straight objects at the edge of the frame look slightly curved.

In summary, the Canon A650 IS’s lens offers a lot of flexibility with its longer-than-average range and ability to accept conversion lenses.

Design / Layout

**Model Design / Appearance ***(6.75) *

The overall fit and finish of the camera is very good, sporting a tastefully low-key matte metallic color with matte black and shiny chrome accents. The body shape is boxy and rectangular. Contours are sleek, with smoothly rounded edges and corners. It’s not as trendy a Canon SD model, but its design is functional. Even though the body is plastic, it does not feel flimsy, and has a good heft and balance in the hand. However, it could benefit from a more graspable hand grip; the smooth plastic is slippery. The ergonomics are excellent, with the controls falling naturally under the fingers, and a functional handgrip. Dials and switches slide smoothly and click into place, and buttons all have a nice tactile feel.

Size / Portability*(5.25)*

The camera is 4.41 x 2.67 x 2.21 inches. It weighs 10.58 ounces without batteries. There are more portable point-and-shoot cameras out there. The main strength of Canon’s A series is value (good performance at modest cost) rather than the ultimate in either performance or portability. Those who want more portability might consider Canon’s SD series.

This camera is not exactly pocketable, but it could easily fit in a small bag or purse. Thanks to the automatic lens cap, and the ability to dock the LCD screen facing inwards against the body, the camera would probably survive a trip in a typical purse with only minor cosmetic scuffs.

A wrist strap is provided. There is no way to mount a neck strap, as there is only one strap anchor point. The A650 IS is too heavy to comfortably dangle from a wrist. We recommend a camera bag for this model for safe and comfortable transport.

Handling Ability*(7.0)

*The camera has a nice heft in the hands, and feels balanced. The handgrip is substantial enough that the camera can comfortably be held with one hand. We favor a more graspable surface than the smooth plastic that makes up the handgrip, especially considering the camera’s weight.

When a more stable or less fatiguing grip is needed (as in telephoto, low light or long-duration photography), one can use two hands with the left hand gripping the left side of the camera, curling the thumb along the bottom and bracing the left side with the index finger, curling the top of the index finger along the top of the body. The other fingers of the left hand should be splayed open and out of the way, lest they block the lens or flash. People with larger hands will find the left-hand hold easy, though they might also find the right-hand grip a little cramped.

Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(7.25) *

Controls are laid out so that they fall naturally under the hands and fingers that operate them. They are mostly large enough to be easily found by feel, and actuate smoothly with good tactile feedback. Yet the layout is not cluttered. Plenty of free areas are left for gripping the body.

The FUNC SET button in the center of the navigation ring is hard to press with the thumb (which is the natural choice) if one has large fingers. For that particular button, consider using the nail rather than pad of the thumb.

Menu*(7.0) *

The Canon A650 IS has a similar menu setup to its predecessor, the A640. Frequently used settings are located in the function menu, accessed by pressing the button in the middle of the navigation ring. Many of the options can be previewed on the LCD, which helps users pick the appropriate settings.

Pressing the menu button brings up an onscreen menu. A different set of menus is brought up depending on the camera mode (Record or Playback). The menus are tabbed, organized into related groups. The menus have a gray background with white text.

One navigates between tabs using the left and right sides of the navigation ring while at the top level of the menu. One navigates up and down to select menu items via the top and bottom sides of the navigation ring. One then picks a value for the selected menu item using the left and right sides of the navigation ring. It is fairly painless and intuitive, once you know what the options mean.

In Recording mode:

Ease of Use* (7.0) *

After grasping a few key concepts (in particular the recording vs. playback dichotomy), the control system is fairly intuitive. Much could be figured out just by playing with the camera, checking the manual only for confirmation. Many controls, such as exposure compensation, show the effect immediately in the live preview so you can see what you’re doing. The organized menu system and combination of manual and automatic modes make the Canon A650 IS very user-friendly.


Auto Mode* (7.5) *

With the exposure mode dial set to AUTO, the camera controls all exposure parameters using evaluative metering. The user has very little control, being able to influence or select only the high ISO, self timer, flash off, display modes, resolution and compression, and the AF frame mode (including Face Detection). This is "point-and-shoot" at its purest.

With the exposure mode dial set to P ("Program AE"), the camera again tries to set all exposure parameters. However, in this mode it allows more influence from the user, who can additionally set the exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, drive mode, picture color effects, flash compensation, program shift, AE and FE Lock, manual focus, flash modes, and AF frame mode.

Movie Mode*(7.0) *

The Movie mode is accessed by the mode dial. It records Motion JPEG images and WAVE monaural audio to an AVI video file, for up to 60 minutes or 4 GB or until the memory is full.

The basic movie resolution is 640 x 480 pixels at 30 frames per second (fps). A smaller 320 x 240 mode is also available at 30 fps. The 160 x 120 mode is geared toward producing short, small e-mail-friendly videos.

Control options available in Movie mode include white balance, self-timer, and My Colors. Optical and digital zoom are both disabled in the Movie mode, which means you’ll have to physically move closer to your subjects for close-ups.

In Playback mode, movies can be reviewed with VCR-like control. Clips can be played back in slow motion or by frame.

Given the limitations of digital cameras (internal microphone, limited memory, limited formats, low video and audio compression, etc.) you are not going to film the Great American Movie with this camera. Get a real digital camcorder for that. This is for hacks, viral videos, and vacation footage.

Overall, the Canon PowerShot A650 IS’s Movie mode offers a lot of control, but could be improved by allowing for optical zoom.

Drive / Burst Mode*(5.75) *

In Continuous Drive mode, the camera can take up to 1.2 fps (Large Fine quality) if the shutter button is held down. The flash is functional, which is a plus, but the frame rate is very slow. The 12-megapixel Fujifilm F50fd offers a snappier 2 fps rate.

The camera offers 2-second, 10-second, and customizable self-timers.

Playback Mode* (7.0) *

The Playback mode is accessed by pushing the switch on the camera’s back to the blue arrow icon. The Playback mode offers a variety of display, editing, and organizing options. The menus are as follows:


There are four display options when the camera is in Playback mode: image only, standard (the default), detailed, and focus check.

The standard display shows basic information overlaid on the selected image. Clockwise from the top right, this information includes: a ratio showing the relative position of the current image within the total number of images in memory; the image’s frame number; the date and timestamp of the image; and the image resolution and compression quality.

In the detailed display, the image is shown at reduced size in the top left of the screen. A histogram appears below it, which shows the brightness distribution within the image. An icon identifying the image resolution and compression quality appears at the lower left. A more complete set of image information is displayed along the right margin: a ratio showing the relative position of the current image within the total number of images in memory; the image’s frame number; the shutter speed and aperture at which the picture was taken; the amount of exposure and flash compensation applied; the white balance setting; the file size, number of pixels, and image dimensions; and the date and timestamp of the image.

The focus check display shows the selected at reduced size at the top left, with a small center rectangle outlined. This center rectangle is shown magnified at the bottom right. The relative position of the frame within the total number of frames in memory is shown as a ratio at the top right. An icon identifying the image resolution and compression quality is at the bottom left. Pressing the zoom lever enters a mode where the magnified view can be resized and repositioned within the overall image. The enlarged view is made bigger. The zoom lever allows you to zoom it in and out, and the outline rectangle in the overview image expands and contracts to show the size of the enlarged view within it. The arrow keys on the navigation ring allow the enlarged view to be moved around within the overall image. Pressing the menu key exits this navigable and zoomable magnified view.

When the jump button is pressed in Playback mode, an onscreen control pops up that allows one to skip through images. By using up and down arrows on the navigation ring, one can choose to jump over the next 10 images, or 100 images, or to the first image of the next shooting date, or to the first image in the next folder, or to the next movie (if any). Pressing the left and right arrows on the navigation ring executes the selected jump. A bar graph in the control shows the relative position of the current image within the overall set of images in memory. Pressing the menu key removes the control from the display.

Images can be displayed individually or in groups of nine and magnified up to 10x to check for focus and fine details. When displayed with focus check, frames appear around faces so users can easily magnify each face to check for focus and closed eyes.

The auto play option in the playback menu shows images in a slideshow. Audio can be added to the selected image by choosing the sound memo option from the menu.

Movies can be reviewed with VCR-like control, including slow motion and ability to view movies frame by frame.

Custom Image Presets* (7.75) *

The 12 preset image modes, in the Scene or Image Zone, are selected via the Record mode dial. Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, and Kids and Pets are located on the mode dial. The remaining Scene modes are accessed by turning the mode dial to the SCN position. They are: Night, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, and ISO 3200.

The Canon A650 IS provides basic Scene modes as well as a few fun extras, such as Foliage and Aquarium. Though some cameras offer more, this cameras offers plenty to choose from.

Control Options

Manual Control Options

Characteristic of the A-series, the Canon PowerShot A650 IS offers a blend of automatic and manual options. There are a full range of manual exposure modes and complete control of shooting parameters, including white balance, shutter speed, and aperture. This gives users the option to simply point-and-shoot or get more creative.


Autofocus (7.75)

The A650 IS has a nine-point through the lens autofocus system. The focus points are arranged in a 3 x 3 grid over the image. Users can choose one of four basic AF Frame selection modes:

• Face Detection: selects frames nearest the detection of up to three faces (must be frontal, not at an angle or profile) - reverts to AiAF if no faces detected;

• AiAF: selects frames based on a statistical analysis of the scene properties;

• Center: always uses the center frame (useful for "focus and shift" technique);

• FlexiFrame: allows selection of any one of the nine frames.

Pressing the bottom of the navigation ring, in Recording mode, pops up an onscreen menu that selects the focus mode. Three choices are presented, as icons and text: macro (or close-up), manual focus, and normal (auto) focus.

One moves between these focus modes by pressing the top or bottom of the navigation ring while the focus mode control is onscreen. One has to do this fairly soon after the control pops up, or it will go away and you will have to start over.

In normal autofocus mode, the focus range is from 1.6 feet to infinity. In macro or close-up autofocus range is from about 0.4 inches to 1.6 feet. When zooming, a bar graph pops up onscreen that shows the current zoom level. The zoom range not possible in macro mode will be marked on this bar graph in yellow. Best results are obtained in Macro mode at the wide end of the zooming; close-ups are not possible at the telephoto end.

The Canon A650 IS focuses quickly in bright light. In low light the camera emits an orange autofocus assists beam to aid in focusing.

*Manual Focus (3.0) *

While primarily an autofocus camera, it has a somewhat coarse manual focus mode. It also offers a mode in which autofocus "fine-tunes" a first approximation made by manual focus.

In manual focus mode, a bar graph pops up onscreen that shows the current focus distance. One judges focus quality from the live preview. To assist this, the image area around the current focus point appears magnified.

Exposure*(7.5) *

In Record mode, the exposure button brings up an onscreen control that allows the exposure compensation to be set. The image will then be recorded as darker or lighter than normal.

This is useful in tricky lighting situations, where the camera might ordinarily be fooled into making an incorrect exposure. The camera normally assumes that a scene averages out to medium brightness overall (that is, dark areas are equally balanced by light areas). Suppose as an example that we are photographing a backlit subject. The large bright background behind the smaller, darker subject might normally fool the camera into underexposing the picture. By setting a positive amount of exposure compensation, we counteract the underexposure with an equal amount of overexposure. The result is a correctly exposed subject (even though, less importantly, the background may be a little overexposed).

When the exposure button is pressed, a small scale pops up on the screen, overlaying the bottom right portion of the preview image. This scale ranges from –2 to +2, in EV units; 0 is normal, - is darker and + is lighter. A small green arrow shows the current value. Pressing the left arrow on the navigation ring will darken the image; the right arrow will lighten it. The effect of the change shows up immediately in the live preview (it darkens or lightens). The setting will be remembered until the next time it is changed, even if power is shut off. Pressing the menu button removes the control from the display.

Exposure compensation is not available when the mode dial on top of the camera is set to Movie mode, or to auto or manual exposure.

The full range of PASM modes are available, along with a dozen presets, giving the user a lot of control over exposure.

Metering*(8.0) *

The camera offers four light metering patterns:

• Evaluative: computes exposure from a statistical analysis of image properties;

• Center-Weighted Average: averages entire image with extra weight given to center;

• Center Spot: meters a small spot, fixed to the center frame;

• Frame Spot: meters a small spot, linked to the focus frame.

**White Balance ***(7.5) *

The camera provides the follow white balance settings: Automatic, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater, and Custom. White Balance is set, in Recording mode, by pressing the "FUNC SET" button twice, to bring up the menu of shooting parameters. Scroll vertically to the "AWB" (white balance) icon on the left using the navigation ring, then scroll horizontally using the ring to select the desired value from the icons arrayed along the bottom. Press the "FUNC SET" button again to select the new value. The new setting will be remembered until it’s changed again.


The camera offers a range of fixed ISO sensitivity in many Record modes. ISO values of 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 are available at full resolution. ISO 3200 is available at severely reduced resolution.

In Auto ISO mode, the ISO sensitivity is adjusted to yield the best image quality for the available light. In practice, this means the lowest ISO sensitivity is consistent with the selected aperture and shutter speed settings. This ISO mode is available only in the Program, Av, Tv and Manual exposure modes.

High ISO Auto mode is restricted to the Program and Auto exposure modes. In this mode, a higher ISO level is automatically selected, to force faster shutter speeds in low-light situations. A higher tolerance for image noise is required as a tradeoff.

When the ISO button is pressed in Recording mode, a small scale with possible ISO values (AUTO, HI, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200) is overlaid on the image. The currently selected value is highlighted, and also displayed below the scale. Pressing the left or right arrows on the navigation ring allows the selection to be changed. The control is automatically removed from the screen after a couple of seconds of inactivity, and the current value is remembered even if power is shut off.

One has to be fairly quick to hit the navigation ring after bringing this control up, or it will go away and you’ll have to start over.

The ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 choices are available only in the Program (P), Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv) and Manual (M) exposure modes. In Auto and Program modes, the user can choose either Auto or HI ISO. The ISO 3200 choice is available only in the Scene mode.

Shutter Speed* (6.5) *

The camera has an electronic shutter with shutter speeds from 15 to 1/2000 seconds. These speeds are user-settable in Aperture Priority and Manual Record modes; in all other modes they are selected automatically by the metering system.

Since electronic shutters are noiseless, the camera emits a synthetic "shutter noise" through the built-in speaker, to provide audible feedback to the user.


*The camera has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide angle end of the zoom, and a maximum aperture of f/4.8 at the telephoto end. The aperture can be stopped down as far as f/8.0, in 1/3 EV steps. The aperture can be set manually in the Av (Aperture priority) and M (Manual) Shooting modes. In all other modes it is set automatically.

Image Parameters

**Picture Quality / Size Options ***(8.0) *

The A650 IS camera records images only in JEPG format. The camera has three image quality (compression) levels:

• SuperFine provides the highest image quality but the least compression (largest file size);

• Fine provides a middle compromise on both image quality and compression;

• Normal provides the lowest image quality but the most compression (smallest file sizes).

These compression levels can be applied to any of the still image resolutions:

• Large: 4000 x 300 pixels (12 megapixels);

• Medium 1: 3264 x 2448 pixels (8 megapixels);

• Medium 2: 2592 x 1944 pixels (5 megapixels);

• Medium 3: 1600 x 1200 pixels (2 megapixels);

• Small: 640 x 480 pixels (307K pixels);

• Widescreen: 4000 x 2248 pixels (10 megapixels).

The largest average file size is 5.2 megabytes for a Large SuperFine image. The smallest average file size is 84 kilobytes for a Small Normal image.

Picture Effects Mode* (7.0) *

The camera provides several picture effects modes, known as the "My Colors" modes:

• Vivid

• Neutral

• Sepia

• Black and White

• Custom

There is nothing here that you can’t do as well in something like Photoshop, but doing it in camera offers a certain degree of convenience if you don’t mind throwing away color information in your origional image.

Connectivity / Extras


Software (6.75)

The centerpiece of the software package that comes with the camera is ZoomBrowser EX 6.0. It is provided in versions for Windows and Macintosh. Working through the camera’s TWAIN driver, ZoomBrowser downloads files from the camera, places them into folders on the host computer and allow for simple edits and printing. Once they’re on the computer, of course, you can do all sorts of things with them: mail them, rename them … they’re just files. Just remember that some of them are pretty big. Don’t try to e-mail a 5-megabyte file with a 12-megapixel image in it.

You may wish to purchase more powerful image editing software down the road, but ZoomBrowser will get you out the starting gate.


Jacks, Ports, Plugs (5.0) *

Hidden beneath a door on the handgrip are connectors for:

• Audio / video (A/V) signal output, used for connecting the camera to a TV for slide presentations.

• The 4.3Vdc input used to connect the AC power adapter to the camera.

• A USB 2.0 digital input/output port. It is used to connect the camera to either a computer or to a compatible printer.

*Direct Print Options (7.0)

*The camera supports printing directly to compatible printers (PictBridge, etc.) through a USB 2.0 connection, without an intervening computer.

*Battery (3.5)

*The camera accepts four AA cells, either alkaline or NiMH, so replacement batteries are not hard to find. Canon sells an AC adapter for it also.

You can get about 300 shots off a set of alkaline batteries. You get about 500 shots per charge with NiMH batteries.


*Memory (2.0)

*The camera accepts SD, SD/HC, MultiMedia, MMC Plus, and HC MMC Plus memory cards. It comes with a 32MB SD card, which you will quickly want to replace with a much larger one.

**Other Features ***(7.0)*

Stitch Assist mode – This mode is accessed by the mode dial. It can stitch up to 26 images into a large panoramic composite using the included PhotoStitch software.

Converter lenses – Canon sells a 0.8x wide ($199) and 2.0x tele converter ($149) for the A650 IS.

External flash – The A650 IS is compatible with a $130 slave flash that Canon claims doubles its flash range.

Overall Impressions

Value *(5.0)*

The Canon A650 IS is an excellent all-around camera for taking vacation snapshots and family pictures. How many people actually need 12 megapixels or more? Not many, but it doesn’t hurt too much either, and it provides the flexibility of being able to crop in on images and still keep the quality high. The 6x zoom range is more than offered by its 12-megapixel competitors. It performed well in our color, white balance, and resolution tests.

If you must have a 12-megapixel camera, the Canon PowerShot A650 IS is a good choice. But if zoom is the more important feature, the 8-megapixel Fujifilm S8000fd and Panasonic FZ18 both have 18x optical zoom lenses and sell for the same price.

Who It’s For

Point-and-Shooters - This is squarely the market for this camera. It is the ultimate general-purpose family snapshot and travel camera. It will appeal to people who just want to take fairly decent pictures without having to think too hard about them. It has enough spare pixels that people can be a bit sloppy about framing and cropping.

Budget Consumers - At $399, the A650 IS pushes the high end of the price range for a budget camera. It offers good value for that price, and may appeal to budget-minded consumers who put a premium on value. It will not appeal to those shopping primarily by price.

Gadget Freaks - The 12 megapixels may be enticing, but the rest of this camera’s features are offered by most cameras on the market.

Manual Control Freaks – The PASM modes and manual control options will appeal to this crowd.

Pros / Serious Hobbyists - Pros are not likely to see much in this camera to get excited about. Serious amateurs might consider one as a small, portable alternative to a DSLR for travel. Cumbersome manual controls might prove frustrating to some in this category, though.



Canon PowerShot G9 - Canon's flagship compact has some similarities to the A650 IS, including a 12-megapixel sensor and 6x optical zoom lens. Priced $100 more than the A650 IS, the G9 adds RAW capture, a 3-inch LCD monitor, a more powerful flash, and a hot shoe. The G9 was one of our top performing cameras of the year.

Canon PowerShot A720 IS - This is the step-down model to the A650 IS. The biggest difference between the cameras is resolution; the A650 IS has 12 megapixels and the A720 IS has 8-megapixels. Both have a 6x optically stabilized zoom lens, but the A650 IS adds a ISO 3200 mode and rotating LCD. The A720 IS sells for $249.99.

Fujifilm FinePix F50*fd* - This is an aggressively priced 12-megapixel camera with some interesting specs and some interesting letdowns. It features Fuji’s second generation of face detection, which enables it to detect faces and angles and in profiles. It’s quite fast, a bit smaller and lighter than the Canon, has a good resolution, and a nice flash. The Achilles’ heel? Poor overall image quality. The F50*fd *struggles with noise and color and has limited dynamic range. It also has slow processing and is difficult to handle. It does, however, cost $100 less than the Canon.

Kodak Z1275 – Kodak’s 12-megapixel model has a 5x optical zoom lens, slightly shorter than the Kodak’s 6x range. The Z1275 does not have mechanical nor optical image stabilization and a limited aperture range at the telephoto end of the lens.

The Canon has a manual white balance option while the Kodak relies on presets. Both cameras have PASM modes, but the Kodak lacks face detection. The Z1275 is one of a handful of digital cameras on the market that can record high definition (HD) video, but this feature is only really useful if you have an HDTV. It requires the purchase of a $100 HDTV dock. The Kodak Z1275 retails for $229.95.

Nikon P5100 – Priced the same as the Canon, the 12-megapixel Nikon P5100 has a shorter optically stabilized 3.5x optical zoom lens, but a superior 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD monitor. Its ISO range spans 64 to 3200, similar to the Canon’s ISO 80 to 3200 range. Both cameras have PASM modes and face detection. Both have a protruding handgrip, but the Nikon is slightly smaller and lighter than the Canon.

Panasonic FX100 - A 12-megapixel image-stabilized camera with a slightly sharper LCD (207K pixels), a 3.6x zoom lens that has a wider angle of coverage (35mm equivalent of 28mm vs. the A650 IS wide limit of 35mm), a more powerful flash, and a faster 2 fps burst rate. It has some interesting high-resolution video modes, but doesn’t have as many manual exposure modes as the Canon A650 IS. The Panasonic also retails for $399.95.



The Canon PowerShot A650 IS is a full-featured camera that is easy-to-use and relatively affordable. The 6x optical zoom lens coupled with 12-megapixels of resolution are undoubtedly an attractive combination.

In terms of image quality, the A650 IS sports Canon’s traditionally excellent color and white balance accuracy.  With 12 megapixels, the camera also provides great resolution, but suffers from high noise levels and poor dynamic range above ISO 100.This is typical of high-megapixel cameras; what is gained in resolution, is made up for with lots of noise.

Among similarly priced 12-megapixel models, the PowerShot A650 IS offers more features, manual control options, and zoom than most. If you must have a 12-megapixel digital camera, then the PowerShot A650 IS is a top contender. However, there are strong performers with more expansive zoom ranges at this price point, such as the 8-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18, that should also be considered.

Sample Photos

**Sample Photos

**Click on the thumbnails to view the full resolution images.

Specs / Ratings

Specs Table

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