Canon EOS 50D SLR Review

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Canon EOS 50D

Steve's Conclusion

Blurring the line between amateur and professional dSLR cameras, Canon has introduced the EOS 50D, as an upgrade to the 40D released last year. This new model is expected to be the camera body of choice for amateur photographers this holiday season. What really makes it stand out from the 40D is the APS-C sized, 15.1-Megapixel CMOS sensor (4752x3168), the new DIGIC 4 image processor, 3-inch Clear View LCD monitor with 920,000 dots, ISO settings from 100-12800 and Live View with Face Detection. One thing that has carried over from the 40D is the 14-bit per channel color space, allowing for incredibly smooth tonal gradation.

Canon's new DIGIC 4 processor provides finer details and more natural colors thanks to the speed in which it operates. Making the 50D one of the fastest cameras on the market, the processor allows the camera to shoot at 6.3 frames per second for up to 90 JPEG or 16 RAW images. Using advanced signal technologies, it also allows the camera to detect and focus on up to 35 faces in live view mode, offers an improved Auto Lighting Optimizer and Peripheral Illumination for EF lenses. The latter two allow the camera to adjust brightness and contrast as well as evening the brightness throughout the image.

The new 15.1-Megapixel CMOS sensor provides the capability to record ISO sensitivities that have previously been too noisy for low-light or motion photography. This combined with an adjustable noise reduction feature allows you to shoot in situations that would have required a flash on previous cameras. The large sensor also brings large image files, approx. 5MB for a JPG and 20.2MB for a RAW file. To allow for all of the information of a RAW picture file with a more manageable file size, Canon has included two sRAW settings. Using either sRAW1 or sRAW2 your files will be 25% or 50% smaller as the camera will capture the files with a 7.1 or 3.8-Megapixel resolutions. This is the first dSLR that Canon has allowed the use of the sRAW settings in the Basic shooting zone.

Featuring body dimensions that are very similar to the 40D, the 50D's body is about ½ ounce lighter, but with the same basic sturdy build and design. Ergonomically the controls are set up very well, giving you the ability to make quick changes on the fly. Framing your images can either be done with the optical view finder or the LCD screen using Live View. The optical view finder shows approx. 95% of the captured image, provides all of the shooting information and a 9-point AF focusing system. Unlike a point and shoot with an EVF (electronic view finder), you never lose sight of your image when shooting in bursts. If the optical view finder is not for you, then you will definitely enjoy using the 3-inch Clear View LCD Screen. With 920,000 dots, you see an incredible amount of detail on the screen. Using the LCD also gives you a couple of options you don't get with the viewfinder. First you have the option of using Face Detection, with the ability to recognize and focus on up to 35 faces at once. Secondly you can press the zoom button on the back to zoom in to 5x and 10x the actual range in order to achieve the best focus.

Whether an amateur or a professional, you will not be disappointed with the performance of the 50D. After you flip the power switch, the camera is able to capture its first image in just 3/10 of a second. Shutter lag is almost non-existent when the camera is pre-focused, and only 2/10 of a second when allowing the auto focus to operate. Shooting in single shot mode, I was able to capture 5 images in 1.1 seconds without the flash, almost as fast as you can hit the shutter release button. With the flash it only took 2.6 seconds to capture 5 images. While shooting in RAW or JPEG mode, these results were the same.

The camera also features two burst shutter modes. In Continuous shutter mode, the camera was able to capture 10 images in 2.3 seconds without the flash and 10 images in 5.8 seconds with it. There is also the High Speed Continuous shutter mode that allowed me capture 10 images in 1.7 seconds (5.8 fps). The flash can also be used in this mode; however, it will produce the same results as in Continuous shutter mode. Canon states that the camera can capture up to 90 JPEG and 16 RAW files at 6.3 fps but as we have listed above, the best we were able to get was 5.8 fps. Our tests were completed using a SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition 4GB Compact Flash card (then duplicated with a 4GB Kingston Elite Pro 133x Compact Flash card), Program mode, flash off, ISO 100 and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

With the capabilities of the new DIGIC 4 processor and 15-megapixel imaging sensor and 14-bit A/D conversion, the image quality is nothing short of astounding. The exposures and colors are great, reproducing an image that looks identical to what you see when you take the picture. Shooting with the new 18-200mm (28.8-320mm with the 1.6x multiplier) 3.5-5.6 IS lens from Canon, you do not need to worry about changing lenses very often. On the wide end it was great for shooting landscape and group portrait shots, while on the telephoto end you are able to get extremely close to your subject. The Image Stabilization on this lens allows you to shoot using lower shutter speeds and the full zoom without the need for a tripod when compared to a similar lens without IS. There was a little barrel distortion on the wide end and the only noticeable flaws are the aberrations on the curb and right side of the firehouse shot, and also very slight on the sides of the museum shot.

Shooting indoors also produced the same impressive results. The auto white balance does an excellent job of reproducing the actual colors that you see when shooting. While shooting under standard fluorescent lights, we noticed that the metering system is so sensitive that the flickering lights would cause different exposures when shooting without the flash. Using the built in flash, the images were slightly cooler than without. If the built in flash does not have enough range for your needs, the camera also works with any EX-series Speedlite flashes. These allow the camera to adjust the angle of the flash to match the zoom of the lens. On the samples page, you can see shots taken with the built in flash as well as several using Canon's EX-380 speedlite.

Performance and quality really stand out when shooting sports. Our samples show the ability of the camera, with and without a flash, to capture images in all situations. Combining the 50D with Canon's EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM lens, I was able to shoot under the lights at night and inside around the pool without a flash while never raising the ISO over 800. Using a Canon 380EX speedlite, I was able to lower the ISO to 400 with no problems. The burst shooting modes make capturing those instantaneous sports moments much easier, with the 6.3 fps that Canon claimes (5.8 was the best we could get). Burst shooting did slow a little, however, shooting in the 20 degree (working temperature range 32-104°F) snowy weather causing the bursts to slow or stop after just a few shots, but overall the camera did perform well several degrees under the listed operating temperature.

Powering the 50D is a 7.4V, 1390mAh Li-Ion battery. Canon claims that this will provide enough power to shoot up to 800 shots without a flash and 640 with it, using the viewfinder. During our testing I was able to take just over 600 images using a 380EX flash unit and a Canon EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS lens, without the battery dying. When using Live View mode via the LCD screen, the number is drastically reduced down to 180 shots without the flash on a full battery. Unless you going to be taking several day trips in which you will be taking over 600 photos, it is not necessary to have a second battery, but it is always a good idea to have a backup.

Bottom Line - Upgrading the popular 40D, the 50D provides similar performance and increased image size and quality thanks to the addition of the new DIGIC 4 processor. The combination of speed and performance makes this the perfect camera for the enthusiast or anyone looking to upgrade from an entry-level dSLR. With a MSRP of US$1399 for the body, the size and quality of the images is in my opinion worth the extra money over the 40D. To go along with the body, Canon's new EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens adds a great deal of versatility without having to change lenses every time you encounter a new shooting situation.

4/23/2009 - Canon has announced an updated firmware for the EOS 50D

Details - EOS 50D Firmware Update Version 1.0.6

This firmware update incorporates the following improvements and fixes:

  • 1. Supports the AF assist beam feature of the new flash, Speedlite 270 EX, which is scheduled to be released in April 2009.
  • 2. Changes the error indications that are displayed on the camera.
  • 3. Addresses the vertical banding noise phenomenon.

To download either of these new updates, visit Canon's Japan Support site.

Canon has announced an updated firmware for the EOS 50D

Details - EOS 50D Firmware Update Version 1.0.3

This firmware update incorporates the following improvements and fixes:

  • 1. Corrects a phenomenon in which an image becomes overexposed when C.Fn.II-3 Highlight tone priority is set to 1 together with other camera settings. (This correction has already been incorporated in the Version 1.0.2 and later firmware.)
  • 2. Corrects a rare phenomenon in which busy blinks on the cameras display panel and the shutter cannot be released due to the timing of battery installation.
  • 3. Corrects a rare phenomenon in which Err 99 appears on the cameras display panel and LCD monitor and the shutter cannot be released due to the timing of pressing the shutter button.

To download either of these new updates, visit Canon's U.S.A. Support site.

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Sample Photos

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