Operation and Controls (cont.)

Like all other cameras at this level, interaction with the 600D is primarily via its rear LCD. This shows you the status of the camera and allows you to change its settings, with the degree of control available (and therefore complexity presented to the user) dependant on the exposure mode you're using.

Central to the interface is the Quick Control 'Q' button, a press of which allows you to access and change settings on-screen. New to the 600D is the 'Feature Guide', which displays brief explanations about what its various functions actually do. In this section we're using graphics supplied by Canon to illustrate the various display screens available.

Status screens

The camera has essentially two styles of status screen while shooting - a basic, unintimidating version that summarizes the key settings in the various 'Simple' modes (Scene Intelligent Auto, Creative Auto and the scene modes), and a more complex, control-panel style version that's used in the P, Av, Tv, M and A-DEP 'Creative' modes.

Camera settings in 'Basic Zone' modes Camera settings in 'Creative Zone' modes

'Basic +' image controls (in scene modes)

The 600D inherits the 60D's 'Basic +' image controls in scene modes, which are accessed by pressing the 'Q' button. You can choose from a number of 'Ambiences', which are like more extreme versions of the picture styles, giving more dramatic changes in color and contrast response. You can also get the camera to consider what type of lighting you're shooting under, essentially giving a less intimidating approach to white balance.

You can specify the 'Ambience' you wish to apply to the scene modes, including options such as 'cool' and 'intense.' You can also select the 'Lighting or Scene type' which looks very much like a list of white balance presets.

Other options are also available, depending on the exposure mode you're in at the time. They include drive and flash modes, and 'Background Blur' in Creative Auto - which essentially provides a friendly face to aperture control. This approach to offering a simplified, easily-understandable degree of creative control in what were previously fully-automatic modes makes a huge amount of sense in this class of camera - indeed more so than with the 60D, on which they first saw the light of day.

Feature Guide

The EOS 600D's beginner-friendly credentials are reinforced by its new 'Feature Guide', which essentially consists of little snippets of text that aim to inform the user what each function does. This isn't anything breathtakingly unique - plenty of other cameras do much the same thing - and it doesn't lead you through changing settings to achieve a particular result in the way Nikon's 'Guide Mode' does. But it should help users learn their way around the camera nonetheless.

The Feature Guide displays a brief explanation for each function; for example this is what you see when you turn the Mode Dial to 'A+'. Here's what the Feature Guide offers for the 'Background blur' function. The word 'concise' springs to mind here.

Quick Control (P, Av, Tv, M, A-DEP modes)

In the 'Creative Zone' exposure modes (P, Av, Tv, M and A-DEP), pressing the Q button 'activates' the status screen and allows you to change any of the displayed parameters.

Pressing the Q button allows quick access to a wide range of shooting settings. You can use the 4-way controller to select the item you want, then either change it with the control dial... ...or press the 'SET' button, which brings you to a new screen where you can choose from the available options.

Wireless flash control

The 600D becomes the first entry-level Canon to feature wireless flash control, which works with the two relatively inexpensive new flash units launched alongside it (the 270EX II and 320EX). You can also use Canon's existing higher-end, more powerful models such as the 430EX II and 580EX II.

Wireless flash control is available directly via the Quick Control panel. On this screen you can select from normal flash firing, 'Easy wireless' where the camera sets everything up for you, and 'Custom wireless'... ...in which you get a wide range of control, including the ability to set up multiple external flashguns and balance their light output.

Live View/Movie Displays

Live View and Movie Mode follow much the same approach as on the 550D. New to the 600D, though, is the ability to shoot still images in multiple aspect ratios, with 4:3, 16:9 and 1:1 options now available. The selected ratio is previewed on the screen.

Perhaps the only real inconsistency in the 600D's overall operation is found in Live View, where the buttons of the four-way controller no longer give direct access to their usual functions, but instead move the focus point around the frame. AF, drive mode, white balance and Picture Style are available via the 'Q' button instead. This can be an annoyance - we found ourselves pressing the wrong button more than once because of it - but overall it's not a huge flaw.

Pressing the Q button live view brings up this list of frequently-changed items. In movie mode you get a similar screen, with appropriate options. The preview is cropped to the aspect ratio of the selected movie format (in this case 16:9).

Movie mode options

Canon was one of the first manufacturers to offer video recording on an SLR, and after a slightly shaky start has rapidly developed its offerings in this area. The 600D therefore has one of the most fully-featured movie modes available at its price point.

The 600D offers full HD movie recording at up to 30fps, and now adds in digital zoom ranging from 3-10x. This uses the central region of the sensor only; full HD resolution is maintained at 3x, but quality starts to suffer at higher magnifications. The 'Video Snapshot' mode allows you to compile movies using a number of short takes. Snapshots are saved to 'Albums', and the camera will play back all those in an album sequentially as a single movie. You can have multiple albums active at any one time.
As usual from Canon, full manual control of shooting parameters is available if you want it... ...along with recording volume control and a wind filter function.

Playback mode options

Many of the playback options that were previously menu-driven are now available via the Quick Control menu, that's accessed via the 'Q' button. With still images the available options are Protect, Rotate, Rate, Creative Filters, Resize and Jump, all neatly displayed in a column down the left hand side of the screen.

Image tagging

The 600D offers the ability to tag each of your images with a 'Star' rating, from one to five. These can then be used to find and filter your images, or as a criterion for setting up slide shows. Once applied to images, these tags are also accessible through the supplied Digital Photo Professional software or third-party packages such as Adobe Bridge and Lightroom.

Each image can be rated individually, either via a menu option or through the on-screen playback 'Q' menu. Once rated it's possible to jump to rated images or use ratings as the basis for slide show image selection.

Post processing options

The EOS 600D has acquired some of the 60D's post-processing options, although sadly it doesn't have in-camera raw conversion for some reason. But you can still apply a range of 'Creative Filters' to your images after they've been shot, with the modified version being saved as a new file. You can also resize your pictures in-camera, if that's the sort of thing you like.

A range of 'Creative Filters' can be applied to JPEG images after they've been shot; Fish-eye, Miniature, and Toy Camera effects, along with Grainy Black and White and Soft Focus looks. You can also resize your images in-camera, which could be useful if (for example) you've managed to capture a particularly cuddly koala and want to email a copy to all your friends.

Movie editing and playback options

The start and end of movie clips can be trimmed in-camera. You can also add a soundtrack while playing back movies or slideshows, and can upload your own music to the camera for this.
The 600D can be controlled over an HDMI cable using the remote control of a compatible device (CEC-enabled). The 'Bass Boost' control is purely for use when playing back your movies.