For the four remaining DSLR manufacturers (Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony), these are challenging times. On one front, companies such as Panasonic and Fuji are aggressively marketing CSCs that can rival the image quality of DSLRs, and on the other increased smartphone ownership has contributed to a general decline in camera sales. Add a worldwide economic downturn into the mix and you have a very tough marketplace indeed. Canon dipped its toe into the CSC market with the EOS M, but with only one model and three lenses currently available, it’s clear its focus remains firmly on DSLRs. And there appears to be wisdom in its approach, as research reveals Canon has secured the largest share in the interchangeable lens camera market for the 10th consecutive year.
The 1200D is Canon’s new entry-level model, replacing the hugely successful 1100D. This camera is designed mainly for first-time DSLR users who want to step up to a more serious camera with full manual capability. The combination of intuitive controls, a lightweight, compact body and a new accompanying app will appeal to those beginners who find advanced DSLRs both daunting and impractical.
The most important part of any digital camera body is the imaging sensor, where light coming down the lens is received and translated into the electronic data used to form an image. The CMOS sensor in the 1200D has an 18MP resolution, nearly 6MP more than its predecessor. Most users will never need more than 10MP, so in normal shooting situations, the extra resolution isn’t hugely useful. However, if you ever crop images heavily on your computer or print at A2, a few extra megapixels come in very handy. The sensor is APS-C, which is the standard size in most DSLRs on the market.
On the rear of the body is a 3in 460k-dot LCD, which is 10% larger and twice the resolution of the 1100D. While this is a welcome improvement, it’s still fairly low res as DSLR screens go. On close inspection it’s easy to make out the dots that make up the screen, which isn’t the case on, say, the 100D, which has a 1040k-dot resolution. It’s worth noting that Nikon’s entry-level model, the D3300, is 921k-dot, though at £598 for the kit it is significantly more expensive. As expected on an entry-level model, the 1200D has no touchscreen capability and it doesn’t flip or tilt out. For this functionality you would need to consider the 100D (touchscreen only) or the 700D (flip-out and touchscreen). Don’t let this put you off the 1200D though, as an articulated touchscreen is by no means a must for getting great shots. In fact, not a single one of the pro-level models in the current Canon or Nikon DSLR line-up has this functionality.
One of the ways Canon has made this camera as beginner-friendly as possible is with the introduction of the EOS Companion app. Available on both iPhone and Android devices, it helps the user with camera settings, tips and inspiration. Some Nikon DSLRs have a similar function (Guide Mode) built into the DSLR menu itself, though it’s less comprehensive and user-friendly than the Canon app (see below for details). But it’s not just the app that makes this camera so user-friendly. It also has several pre-sets on the mode dial, and it will automatically choose the best settings for the type of shot you’re taking. There’s even a Scene Intelligent Auto mode for fully automatic shooting, so if you just want to point-and-shoot, you can. When changing between these modes a Feature Guide appears on-screen to explain what each one does so you can be sure you’re shooting in the best mode possible. The 1200D has a battery life of 500 images, which is actually 200 shots less than its predecessor.
At the heart of the 1200D is a DIGIC 4 image processor. This is the same processor that was used in the more advanced 60D and 5D Mk II, and is also the focusing engine for the top-of-the-line 1D X.
During testing, we found the camera very responsive, with an almost instant start-up time and hardly any delay when reviewing images or flicking through the menu. We particularly liked the short shutter-lag, which is the time between pressing the shutter button and the camera actually taking a picture. So if you use the camera to shoot fast action subjects like sports or children, you can capture the moment with impressive accuracy. The camera’s shooting speed, which is the rate at which you can take successive images, is a below average 3fps for approximately 69 JPEGs or six RAWs until the buffer fills. While this is fast enough for shooting most subjects, it does underperform the Canon 100D’s 4fps, the Nikon D3300’s 5fps and the Pentax K-500’s 6fps. If you’re planning on buying a serious telephoto lens for motorsport or wildlife, you may want a model with a faster burst rate.
The 1200D has a similar focusing system to the 1100D, with nine AF points, including a cross-type point in the centre. When shooting with the viewfinder the camera uses phase-detect autofocus, which proved very impressive in testing. Not only is it fast and accurate, but it even performs well in low light.
However, in Live View the camera uses contrast-detect AF, which is far slower, albeit supposedly slightly more accurate. For some low-contrast subjects, Live View focusing can take around 5 seconds to lock onto a subject, which is painfully slow. Cameras such as the slightly more expensive 100D use a hybrid of phase and contrast detection in Live View mode, which is far quicker, and therefore a better option for users who always compose shots using the screen rather than the viewfinder. It’s also worth noting that the ISO button becomes inactive in Live View as it’s used to control the focus point selection instead.
The most noticeable difference between the 1200D and 1100D is an improved body coating, with a high-friction rubberised material on the grip and thumb rest. This helps the camera feel secure in the hand and gives the whole body a more premium feel. The buttons are intuitively placed on the right of the screen, leaving the user’s left hand free to operate the lens. The only button that is strangely placed is the Image Playback button, which sits in an awkward position right at the bottom of the body. This frequently used button would have been better next to the thumb rest. All other buttons are in the perfect location, and I really like the accessible ISO button.
Even though the 1200D is small and light, it feels very comfortable in the hand and build quality seems excellent. The menu is similar to other Canon models, and the usual Quick Control menu gives fast access to the most frequently used settings.
18-55mm kit lens
The 1200D comes body only, or with a choice of two different lenses: the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 III or the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II. Both lenses have the same zoom range so are equally well suited to shooting portraits, landscapes and macro-style close-ups. However, the second of the two lenses has image stabilisation (IS) built-in, so is better for capturing blur-free handheld shots in low light. At the time of writing, the difference in price between the two kits is only £25, so it’s well worth getting the IS kit.
We tested the non-IS lens in the studio, and against our test charts images were fairly sharp at all focal lengths and most apertures. There was some softness in the corners wide-open, and a general lack of sharpness and contrast at f/22 due to diffraction. A degree of green and purple fringing was evident on the test charts, and was noticeable when shooting areas of extreme contrast, but this can be removed easily in post-processing.
Companion app for DSLR beginners
Canon has recognised that many budding photographers find the idea of using a DSLR a little daunting, so it has created a Companion app, which is free to download on iOS and Android. In the Learn section of the app, there are tutorials, step-by-step exercises and troubleshooting tips to help users get the results they want. In the Explore section there’s an instruction manual and an interactive ‘Get to know your camera’ guide. And the Inspire section sets users creative challenges that should help you feel confident using the 1200D in no time.
ISO performance test results
The native ISO range of the 1200D is 100-6400, and there’s one expanded setting of 12,800. While some other comparable cameras have higher ISO settings, it’s rare you’ll be shooting beyond ISO 3200 anyway. Digital noise is very impressive indeed on this camera, which produces clean images right up to ISO 1600. At ISO 3200 there is some evidence of colour noise, but only when zoomed right in. Even at the highest native ISO setting of 6400, images are very useable, especially if you apply High ISO Noise Reduction in-camera (JPEG only) or in post-processing. The expanded ISO of 12,800 displays severe noise, so isn’t really useable in any shooting situation.
The 1200D is a superb option for photographers wishing to make the jump into the world of DSLR photography. The controls are simple and accessible, with a range of fully automatic shooting modes, and the EOS Companion app helps users get to know their camera. In terms of features, the 1200D has seen some worthwhile tweaks over the 1100D, such as a larger, higher res screen and Full HD video, but overall it’s still a fairly basic model. But at under £400 for a kit, you’d fully expect it to be. Leaving off features like Wi-Fi and a tilting screen is how Canon keeps the price so reasonable. That said, it would have been nice to have seen faster Live View AF, a higher resolution screen and a longer battery life. Overall, for under £400 the 1200D is excellent value for money, and perfectly designed for those new to DSLRs. For those who are slightly more advanced, the 100D or Nikon D3300 may be better, albeit more expensive, options.
- Body price: £235 (Secondhand price as of June 2016)
- Effective resolution: 18MP
- Sensor type: 22.3x14.9mm CMOS
- Crop factor: 1.6x
- Processor: DIGIC 4
- Kit lens: 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 III (or 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II for £420)
- Image stabilisation: On IS lens
- Autofocus: 9 points (1 cross-type)
- ISO range: 100-6400 (12,800 exp)
- Metering: TTL 63-zone
- LCD: 3in 460k-dot
- Shooting speed: 3fps
- Viewfinder: 95%
- Video: Full HD (1080p) at 25fps
- Other features: 5 creative filters, pop-up flash, HDMI out, Photobook function, Companion app
- Battery life: 500 shots
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Size (WxHxD): 130x100x78mm
- Weight: 480g
- Visit: www.canon.co.uk
This review was first published in the May 2014 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.