Is Canon’s Sensor Quality Regressing in Its Entry-Level DSLRs?

With each new generation of popular digital camera lines, consumers generally expect that feature upgrades also be accompanied by improvements to the image sensor. According to camera testing service DxOMark, that’s not the case with Canon’s entry level DSLR lineup.

The rating company released a report this week detailing its tests of the latest Canon EOS 650D, known as the Kiss X6i in Japan and the Rebel T4i in the US. In their conclusion, they suggest that Canon has grown complacent with the image quality of its entry level sensors, and is instead choosing to focus on feature improvements, such as ergonomics and consumer-friendly controls:

When we first heard the announcement about the EOS 650D and its new sensor, we hoped to see a gain in image quality sensor performance, but the Canon EOS 650D’s sensor scores have left our hopes high and dry […]

Canon is outclassed by both Sony in terms of sensor technology, particularly where color depth and dynamic range are concerned. So the Canon EOS 650D’s strong points must be found elsewhere […]

This said, the line that marks the gap between Canon sensor performance and those of Nikon and Sony is becoming more pronounced, particularly for dynamic range and color depth (less so for sensitivity). And in fact, the excellent test scores of the Nikon D600’s 24 Mpix full-frame digital reflex make us all the more eager to test the Canon EOS 6D’s 20 Mpix full-format sensor. For the EOS 650D’s sensor, however, even its hybridized autofocus cannot deflect the conclusion drawn from our DxOMark test results: “same old, same old.”

Here’s how the 650D’s sensor stacks up against the DSLRs from the previous two generations:

Could this apparent regression be opening to door to other camera companies chipping away at Canon’s massive market dominance?

A reader named Albert recently pointed us to a Google Trends head-to-head comparison of the terms “canon” and “nikon”. Canon appears to be dropping in public interest, while Nikon hasn’t changed much:

Companies like Nikon and Sony have been generating a good deal of buzz lately for things like sensor quality and pellicle mirrors, so perhaps Canon’s entry level lineup is starting to seem lackluster in comparison to consumer… Canonites should cross their fingers and hope that when the 700D arrives, DxOMark won’t be saying, “same old, same old.”

CANON EOS 650D: Strictly Status Quo [DxOMark via CanonWatch]

Update: Reader seza points out adding “dslr” to the Google Trends comparison returns a chart that paints a different picture.

  • Christopher Schiebel

    Funny. This was not the conclusion that Popular Photography came too…

  • Steve

    I have the 550D and haven’t seen a good reason to buy a 600D or a 650D. Canon do seem to be letting the competition catch up and overtake. If it wasn’t for the fact that people that have invested a lot in Canon lenses and its costly to change brands, they could be in a lot of trouble. I think they have some time to make some new cameras that are worth buying but they need to do much better than they have the last few years.

    When the 550D was new, I thought the other manufacturers had nothing quite as good at the same price. With the 650D there’s several cameras that I would rather have.

    I think they also made a big mistake with their compacts, making the G1 X too big when they could of made something like the Sony RX100. I ended up buying that, after having a couple of Canon G compacts in the past.

  • Michael Zhang

    Can you please link us to the review you’re referring to?

  • Michal Rosa

    DxO is using its own proprietary tests and marking system to mark the sensors. Despite its name it’s not a scientific laboratory of any kind, it’s a business company. Their tests show what they show but their methodology has not been in any way checked by others or verified in peer-review manner. It’s basically a meaningless score that they assign to a sensor that has very little to do with real life results.

  • Ali

    I lost My trust with canon when their announcement canon 6D with less features comparing with nikon d600 .. really I think to switch to nikon they respect us in what we need

  • peter25253

    canon has to do something…. and better fast.
    arrogance and the hope that canon fanboys will buy every camera no matter how underspeced and overprized it is (aka EOS 6D) will not help them in the long run.
    it may look not bad for canon right now… but things can change fast (nokia, sony TV, kodak…. etc.)
    the DSLR market is attacked by mirrorless and canons last DSLRs are just mediocre… when compared to the competition… except maybe the expensive 1D X.
    today only clueless peopel would buy NEW into the canon system.
    ambitious amateurs would buy nikon = better features for less money.

  • peter25253

    everyone can license the DXO test.
    techradar does for example.

    no matter what you think about the DXO test… at least get a clue what your talking about.

  • Renato Murakami

    Interesting… my T2i is still great then.
    But I guess I don’t care that much for digits of a score of a test that I don’t even know how reliable it is.
    The thing I like the most about keeping the T2i is, as one can imagine: Magic Lantern.
    When it comes to actually using the cameras, very few people will complain about those differences… you need very specific needs for them to be even noticed.
    That said, it’s true that I get the feeling Canon is… not exactly loosing the race, but more like Nikon is keeping a fast pace and Sony is catching up real quick.
    And to think Mark II was ahead in videography terms quite a lot years ago… I think Canon kinda lost the opportunity there.

  • madmax

    Canon, Nikon and Sony all boring stuff. Only Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax and Samsung really innovative today.

  • Mike

    My opinion is the same. Sadly, this is one of the only cases I must agree with DxO. I couldn’t find a review showing test shots of superior quality compared to the rest of Canon’s 18MP sensors.

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks, add this link to the post :)

  • Arnold Newman

    Criticize DXO all you want but when it comes to their assessment of a sensor’s ability to distinguish colors accurately or capture dynamic range they have been spot on compared to my own real world experience. Canon is getting trounced by Sony in terms of sensor IQ—and I write that as the owner of a Canon 5D3.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    Popular Photography is for the noobz

  • peter25253

    not the camera genius.. they are only testing SENSORS…

  • peter25253

    so it´s for you. be happy.

  • ScottyK86

    Shouldn’t have sold my 350D then….

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    Michael, some constructive feedback. Normally, the legend is important for graphs. Otherwise, it’s hard to tell what blue vs orange means ;)

  • matt

    Seriously? You dont think Sony is innovating? But you think pentax is? Is this suddenly bizarro world?

  • Xoc

    I’m still using our Canon 350D, and just today for the first time, bought a lens for it; a Tamron 18-50 f2.8.

  • ga1n

    i’m impressed w/ Sony for pushing things w/ mirrorless, full frame compact, evf, translucent mirror technology.. ..

    my only reason I hold back on Sony is that they are not a lens company and that’s been their major drawback and why I can’t see myself building a system on Sony dslr. If that improves as well, i’d reconsider .

  • mclarlm

    Samsung? What have they done besides throwing Android onto a P&S? Sony is at least as innovative as Panasonic and Olympus.

  • Jonathan Maniago

    Gotta admit though, most of the people in the target market of entry-level DSLRs wouldn’t notice a few points’ worth of difference in real world usage.

    That said, I do wish that Canon would be less formulaic with regards to sensor design. Their sensors are still functional, but none of them could be called “class leading” these days.

  • A Smart Person

    If you guys actually knew anything about DxO, then you would know that their reviews are hopelessly biased. Check any other website (dpreview, digital picture, imaging resources), and you would find that the Canon t4ihas better image quality than its predecessors and its Nikon counterparts.

  • KeeFyBeeFy

    People know that DXO mark is heavily sponsored by Nikon right?

    Just sayin :X

  • R E Casper

    Started shooting with the old T2i and its still the only DSLR I own. Loved that camera, but its merely collecting dust since I picked up my Oly OM-D E-M5… Micro4/3 has hit the ground running and took off fast.

    Canon should certainly be worried as Sony, Nikon, Olympus and Panasonic pick up steam in their tech and consumer/pro awareness.

  • Kushagra Udai

    While market trends aren’t being affected just yet (because most new consumers don’t really know if image sensor quality can even be objectively compared – features, on the other hand, they can see and therefore compare), the fact remains that image sensor quality is quickly degrading in the canon camp, at least in the entry level dSLR arena.

  • Michael Zhang

    Please offer some solid proof to back up your claims, and we’ll listen. Thanks :)

  • Miika Ylhäinen

    I added one more term:

  • Joe Gunawan

    They have the Zeiss lenses and having spent time trying a good number of them, they can hold to their own with Canon and Nikon’s lenses.


  • Ross Jukes

    Surely Canon as a multinational, multi-billion pound company are quite aware of how they are placing their products. The sensor capabilities are more than adequate for most photographers so they have added features to the camera such as the touch-screen capabilities.

    Consumers are generally intelligent creatures, they will set a budget, make a list of key features, compare several brands and make an informed decision. That said, they will look at what Canon offers as a ‘whole’ including brand, lenses, respect (or not) from peers…

    The point is, the way I see this article is that it is too easy to make sweeping statements that Canon are losing their way because sensor scores are lower when there are a host of other things to consider.

    I own a 650d and think it is great, it is far too good for my capabilities and most people in the market for an entry level camera would feel the same so worrying about sensor scores is really not an issue. I’m more concerned with the thing that money can’t buy, the ability to take an amazing picture in the firstplace…

  • Steve

    Sony shouldn’t be lumped in with Canon and Nikon. They’re probably the most innovative camera manufacturer at the moment. I also don’t think Nikon are doing as badly as Canon.

  • Francois

    It’s weard to read that! Do you compare all feature ? Because the Canon 6D, it’s a mid-range camera. I have many the build-in GPS, HDR, Wifi and i can go higer in ISO with less noise. The major bad point is the Auto-focus. But, for all other point the Canon 6D it’s a better choose at my opinion!

  • Mute

    I have no idea how relevant tests like these are to real life photography, you can find arguments for either side easily enough, but I’ve been disappointed with Canon’s direction recently. I’ve always used Canons, currently I use a 5d mk2 and a 7d and I’m very happy with both, but the 5d mk3 and the 6d are confusingly positioned, the 6d seems to have been ‘hobbled’ to ensure it doesn’t compete with the 5d too much. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle, but Nikon’s positioning has been so much smarter. First the d800 comes out with a whopping 36mp (and DxOMark’s ‘best ever’ plaudits) but cheaper than the new 5d. Then the d600 comes out with 24mp and significantly cheaper than the d800 but clearly positioned at a ‘lower’ level.

    Again, I’m not particularly technical when it comes to cameras and I’m pretty sure any modern DSLR will perform well, but compared to Canon the Nikon line up makes sense, it’s clear to the buyer which camera they would want.

  • Mute

    While the claim of Nikon bias is rubbish it would have been nice for the article to mention how much criticism there is of the DxOMark sensor tests, not just for the benchmarks and methodology they use, but for its relevance to real world performance, from established photographers and technicians, not just anonymous internet commentators.

    The conclusion of the article is that Canon users should “cross their fingers and hope” that DxOMark like the next Canon sensor, giving your endorsement of these tests without the context of the criticism or that, for many consumers, they may be irrelevant to their usage of the camera.

  • Nikon>Canon

    “Canon” and “Quality” do NOT belong in the same sentence together. LOL

  • Chris

    All the info you need is right there.

  • Jose Pablo Chavez Vega

    go to dxomark scores and compare canon t2i vs 7D…..

  • Seza

    I’m glad :)
    I’m always suspicious when it’s about DxOmark. Why Nikon’s reviews come so fast and Canon’s ones take so much time? How it’s possible than the actual rumors of Canon 1DX score will be under the D4 and D800? We all see 1DX’s image and there is no possible doubt about who is the best between them.

  • Sasebastian

    And yet people continue to buy canon. Nikon has a entry level slr in dxo top ten. Also 6 out the top ten cameras are nikon and not one canon. Canon has started to focus more on video than still image quality. They also try wooing people with numbers that they can’t live up to. 5d mark III has an iso range over 100,000 yet usable images stop after 12,800. What is the point of advertising iso capabilities like that if the camera can’t deliver good results even half that range. The D3S makes usable images at the max iso. Nikon doesnt get wrapped up in numbers. My D800’will produce perfectly usable images at 25,600 iso with almost twice the MP as mark III and yet the canon with all its specs and price tag can’t compete.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    Actually, he could have included 30 or so more pixels to the left of the graph and it would have been crystal.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    As a Nikon person, I can happily say that most of my photog friends are Canon users and are very happy with their equipment. There is always equipment envy from both sides of the aisle. I think there’s room in the market for more than one manufacturer, and consumers benefit from healthy competition.

  • Jacob Dole

    Canon sensors suck ass.

  • Jacob Dole

    Even my NEX5n has less noise @ 200 than the my 5D3 @ 50.

  • Carsten Schlipf

    Great! And that’s quite easy to explain. Nikon produces cameras only, while Canon also produces more stuff like printers, scanners or copy machines. I have no numbers but judging from the stuff I see around in shops and offices Canon seems to be struggling here.

  • Joe Gunawan

    @Steve: Wait, I didn’t write that. @694ad519494a63b010ff710ebcdfffea:disqus did. I agree that Sony and Nikon are more forward thinking than Canon right now.

  • Hasgarn

    Comparing Sensors is just a part of the equation.
    Truth is sensors are nothing without Matrix decoding processing algorithm.
    In this case, Canon is just the best on the market. When I see Sony’s DSLR photos and their quality after prossessing, I think they are not that good. And a good sensor don’t correct a bad prossessing.

    So, as we know (it’s in the pipe, there are persistent rumors in this direction) Canon is working on a new generation of sensors of their own, and knowing they totally master the question of prossessing, I think we are going to be surprised with the incoming 7D mkII (about to be annouced in few month).

    Let us see what mill happen for Christmas with the 6D and next year.

  • seobro

    I am happy with the quality of my canon camera.

  • 10fps

    Not sure about DXO, & I record they are also showing the numbers on EOS 1DX only scoring 82, but these actually may have very little relevance to actual usage. I shot 500 pictures in Macau, and one of them at night using Tripod to shoot the flashy building, ISO set at 4000, to ensure the laser lights flash are properly captured. Well, the results, quite stunning, no noise, and I shoot in RAW. Images are razor sharp. The same goes with my other pictures during day-time. I have 1D4, and 7D, 1DX basically creams them.. As for underexposure on two of my takes, I use Aperture to boost Exposure and Shadow, & the amended image is easily step better than my previous two systems. So, whether it beats D4 or not, its not important, most reviews rated them neck to neck, but what I see at full-resolution was spectacular, thats what it counts.. DXO figures may help to interpret dynamic range, but not the whole camera, you cannot have one number. Shooting pictures at different time and conditions varies, thats why other reviews will expose cameras to those conditions, not DXO

  • The_Badger

    I have a theory. That is, Canon made a deal with Nikon. Canon will keep a suck ass IQ through out all their cameras up to the 5D MarkIII while Nikon will cripple their video capabilities in all their DSLR lines up to the D800. As a Nikon user, I am outraged that the $2K+ D600 can’t do aperture control in live view nor has a histogram; doesn’t make sense even the Canon t2i has it.

  • Steven

    the reason was provided some time ago and Dpreview also stated the same: Nikon delivers their cameras for testing the minute the hit the market whereas Canon takes its time; no wonder with this kind of results…