For starters, the full Auto (green square) shooting mode is a more intelligent affair that analyses the scene in real time and adjusts camera settings automatically for best results. This feature is new to Canon DSLRs, although Nikon has long used a similar system for analysing scenes and comparing them with a built-in data bank.
Other improvements include in-camera editing that offers some neat tricks like fisheye effect, toy camera, grainy black and white and soft focus.
Basic+ shooting modes, as featured in the 1100D but not the 550D, enable you to adjust the white balance and 'ambience' (like Soft and Intense) when shooting in Basic Zone modes like Sports, Landscape and Portrait. However, of all the new features, our favourite for sports shooting is the pivoting LCD screen.
This innovative LCD makes it much easier to hold the camera high up and shoot over people's heads if you're stuck in a crowd of spectators, or to shoot from really low down for creative effect. The only drawback is that you have to shoot in Live View mode to compose images on the LCD, which brings with it a big reduction in autofocus speed.
Canon has thought out its AI Servo continuous autofocus mode rather cleverly. If you select this mode in conjunction with multi-point autofocus (AF), for example, the 600D uses only the centre AF point to achieve initial autofocus.
However, if the target strays to other areas of the frame, alternative AF points are utilised to track its movement. The system works well in practice, and is also featured on Canon's 1100D and 550D cameras.
As far as image quality, autofocus speed, continuous drive rate and metering accuracy are concerned, there's really nothing to choose between the 550D and 600D.
There's practically no difference in outdoor performance compared with the 550D, although this test shot is marginally lighter.
A step up from the 1100D and 550D, image resolution is still only equal to the 14.2MP Nikon D3100 and slightly lower than the other two Nikons.
There's no obvious difference in high-ISO image noise between the 600D and 550D, both cameras performing well under low lighting.
The 600D produces images with greater saturation than the 550D. As a result the images tend to be more pleasing straight from the camera.
Image test verdict
Lab tests revealed better resolution and colour than with the 550D, but in other respects image quality is very similar with the two cameras.