Canon Powershot S50 Review
The S50 is Canon's first 5-megapixel Powershot and the bigger brother of the PowerShot S45. It features the same high resolution 3x optical zoom lens and stylish, pocket-sized and durable metal body with a sliding lens cover. The S50 captures and processes up to 2592 x 1944 images (JPEG or RAW) very fast and stores them on CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards or Microdrives. The auto focus system has 9 user- selectable focusing points (called Flexzone AF) and manual focusing now has an enlarged view on the LCD with a distance scale.
Drive modes include the usual single frame and a Low and High Speed 2.0fps Continuous mode capable of capturing up to 10 Large/SuperFine frames. The movie mode captures either 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 resolution at 15fps with audio up to three minutes in length. The average "power-up to capture" time is just less than 5 seconds. The average shot to shot time is just under 2 seconds. It also has a short shutter lag time of less than one second in wide angle. Shutter lag is the time from depressing the shutter release until the image is captured. Most of the shutter lag is due to the time it takes for the camera to auto focus. With the camera prefocused (half-depressed shutter release) the lag time is almost zero. These times were achieved with the LCD monitor off.
In Manual or shutter speed priority (Tv) mode you can select speeds from 1/1500 out to 15 seconds. Because of the iris and shutter assembly there are limitations on the 1/1500 shutter speed. In wide angle with the aperture between F2.8 and F3.5 the top shutter speed is 1/1000. In telephoto between F4.9 and F6.3 the fastest shutter speed is also 1/1000. Noise reduction is automatically applied whenever the shutter speed is 1.3 sec or longer. Program AE mode now has Program Shift so other combinations of shutter speed and aperture can be quickly selected. The AE Bracketing mode also now includes a Focus Bracketing option. Playback mode offers a histogram plus over-exposure indication. White balance options include TTL Auto, six pre-sets and two Custom positions where a balance can be read off a white object or 18% gray card for precise balance.
The S50 is powered by a hefty NB-2L battery pack, a lithium rechargeable type. Canon states you can capture 210 images, half with flash, or 210 minutes of playback per charge. I found no heavy power use problems like some of the other compact cameras. The battery life was even a little better than the S40 which I thought was very good. I would still recommend the purchase of a second battery because you can't power the camera with any other type of battery.
The lens is excellent and produces sharply focused images but it does exhibit a minor amount of barrel distortion at full wideangle. Considering the size of this retractable aspheric zoom it is to be expected. I also saw some softness around the edges of the frame but almost no chromatic aberration. Chromatic Aberration is what most people call a "purple fringe" that is often seen around brightly highlighted objects and is present in a lot of today's digicams. The overall image quality was very good with consistently proper exposure and white balance. Focus was quick and accurate in average lighting and the focus assist illuminator works well out to about eight feet even in total darkness. Flash coverage was good but not excellent, mostly due to the lens aperture being a bit slow at anything other than full wide angle.
Software improvements include improved auto-download and ZoomBrowser applications, the Remote Capture program now has live preview and allows for changing nearly all of the camera settings directly from the PC. The File Viewing Utility (FVU) allows for conversion of the RAW images. An excellent third-party program that reads Canon S50 RAW image data is Chris Breeze's BreezeBrowser for Windows. It handles RAW data from any Canon camera including the new EOS 10D and D60 SLRs too. The Powershot S50 can be connected directly to Canon's S830D and S820D Bubble Jet Printers to make up to 8.5x11- inch photo prints without a computer. Like all the newer PowerShot cameras, the S50 can also be directly connected to the pint-sized Canon CP-100 dye-sub 4x6" printer.
The Powershot S50 is the perfect choice for photographers that want a high resolution camera that can be operated by anyone and yet has the advanced features to satisfy even the most discerning users. It offers the simplicity of point-n-shoot operation with all the same advanced exposure, focus and image control options as those found in Canon's full size cameras. If you've ever wished that you could carry a G3 in your pocket -- you can now. And the S50 has even higher image resolution, enough image resolution to make photo quality prints up to 13 x 19" size and beyond. This is a camera that you can grow into and enjoy using for years to come.
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