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The replacement to the popular Canon EOS 40D has a higher resolution, a better rear monitor and is the first out of the stable sporting a new processor.
Canon EOS 50D: Specification
- Resolution: 15.1Mp
- Sensor type: CMOS
- Image size: 4752x3168
- Aspect ratio: 3:2
- Sensor size: 22.3x14.9mm
- Processor: DiG!C IV
- Autofocus points: 9 Autofocus system: TTL-CT-SIR
- Crop factor: 1.6x
- Lens mount: Canon EF/EF-S
- Metering system: 35-zone TTL
- Drive: 6.3fps (with UDMA enabled card)
- Sensitivity: True ISO100-3200 (expandable up to ISO12,800 equivalent)
- Screen size: 3.0in (920,000 dots)
- Card format: CF I/II, UDMA compatible
- Battery model: BP-511a
- Weight: 450g
- Size: 145.5x107.8x73.5mm
- File formats: JPEG, RAW
- Connectivity: USB 2.0
- Flash type: In-built, Hotshoe
- Flash metering: E-TTL II
- Flash sync speed: 1/250
- Image stabilisation: No (lens based)
- Integrated cleaning: Yes
- Live view: Yes
- Shutter speed: 30sec - 1/8000sec
- Viewfinder coverage: 95%
The Canon EOS 50D and 17-85mm lens fits snugly on the palm of your hand.
Canon EOS 50D: Modes and features
As a replacement to the 40D, it's good to see a camera with some upgrades worth talking about. Most noticeable on this new model is the higher resolution CMOS sensor but you have to look deeper to see the real improvements.
An addition to the ever popular Best Shot dial is the new Creative Auto mode found between auto and program. Setting the dial to this position brings up a display on the LCD screen. Here some basic settings for exposure are available to be changed. Pressing the D-pad will turn the selected option green and this can then be changed using the thumb wheel. Changes available are the flash options, background, exposure, picture style, resolution, image quality and drive.
The background option will blur or sharpen it depending on the position you set it to while the exposure will darken or brighten the image. It makes the changes by adjusting the aperture so it's not a special effect thankfully. This mode appears to be a bridge between auto which does everything for you and program which allows you to make the same changes albeit after scouring the menu system for them. In a nutshell, it's program mode for the lazy.
Considering the new "lazy" function, to activate the small quick access menu on the back you have to press the (too) small D-pad just above the thumb wheel. The modes will highlight as they're scrolled through but to manipulate the actual functions, you have to switch to the thumb wheel.
It's only a small concern which will be a case of each to their own and not really important in the bigger picture. I just found it annoying as I wanted to press the D-pad again to enter into the chosen option and alter from there.
The back of the EOS 50D has the same layout as the EOS 40D but some buttons are assigned differently.
The menu is bright and colourful but still looks futuristic.
The back of the camera has the same styling as the previous model, the 40D. The buttons have been changed around a bit such as the direct print doubling up as the live view activation, the jump feature being removed and a function button put in instead.
In a forum debate on the number of pixels and dots on a screen, I contacted Canon to get a clear understanding of how they measure their screen resolution. The reply was that they measure it in pixels and the current models had a resolution of 76,000. Canon felt it was unnecessary to include a higher resolution monitor as it made no difference to the human eye which came as a welcome opinion to some. However, the EOS 50D now has a 920,000 dot screen which is a similar specification found on the backs of Sony and Nikon DSLRs of the same classification.
However, the screen is really bright and the new UI certainly looks fresh and futuristic. The highlighted icons light up in a subtle green over the standard black and dark blue.
A vignette correction feature has been fitted which Canon have called Peripheral Illumination Correction. It's provided to combat the vignetting problem found when using certain lenses. However, it's important to know that this feature only works when you're recording in JPEG. When you record in RAW, you'll have to correct it using either the provided Canon DPP (Digital Photo Professional) software or another preferred editing software package.
In the custom menu, you'll find plenty of other extras features to keep you busy. Noise can be generated by pixels heating up and if you're performing long exposures then this can become a problem. You can activate long exposure noise reduction to try and combat this problem but bear in mind the longer you expose for, the more noise will appear and the longer the program will take to adjust the image. Luckily, this type of noise is predictable and can be compensated for according to Richard Shepherd, European Product Specialist for Digital SLRs and EF lenses when I chatted to him at the launch of the 5D MkII. He also mentioned that the microlenses on the 50D are gapless.
If I was to be cynical, I would say that the inclusion of high ISO noise reduction means that Canon don't have enough faith in their own products but maybe they just want you to get the best possible pictures you can. There are three settings of low, standard and high and an off setting if you don't require it.
Picture styles have been fitted to give more help to those of you who want the power of the EOS 50D but may not be fully up to speed with it's functions and are learning more. In a similar way to program being a more opened up version of auto, the picture styles are an opened up version of certain scene modes such as portrait and landscape. The good thing about these is that you can alter the make-up of the settings to a preferred style such as boosting contrast or reducing sharpness.
The picture styles can also be altered by registering on Canon's Image Gateway on their website.
To get your camera and chosen lens to perform to its optimum level, the Canon EOS 50D has an AF micro adjustment feature to calibrate lenses if they're having a problem with front and back focus.
As well as a higher resolution screen which is a carbon copy of the D300 and higher, the EOS 50D also has equivalent ISO settings available. The true setting ranges from ISO100-3200 with additional sensitivity of up to ISO12,800.
The higher ISO settings are not defaulted to on such as you'd find on the Nikon models which sport a similar function. To activate them you have to go into custom mode one and choose option three.
Canon EOS 50D: Build quality
The Canon EOS 50D can bask in its own glory being being built from magnesium alloy. This gives it a lighter and sturdier feel which is great for the enthusiast on the move. Coupled with the dust and water resistance on the battery and memory card door means that the 50D is pretty tolerant to the elements.
As with all Canon cameras, image stabilisation is in the lens and the 17-85mm f/4-5.6 comes with IS fitted. The switch is located just below the AF/MF switch near the mount. The kit lens is also the EF-S version and is noticeable by the white square indicating where the lens and body should align to fit together. This lens won't fit on a body that doesn't support EF-S fit but regular EF lenses will fit the EOS 50D.
When EF-S was originally created it was pretty obvious that it was a way to stop photographers using a cheap 18mm lens (the standard lens was the 18-55mm) on their back up body which, in those days, will have been a film SLR.
Side view of the EOS 50D with the 17-85mm f/4-5.6 EF-S lens fitted.
Detail of the IS switch and the EF-S fit icon is also noticeable next tot he branding.
Of course the EF-S lenses are built differently with the rear element closer to the film plane to help with the narrower field of view.
Canon EOS 50D: Performance
The sensor is larger by 0.1mm which only serves to aid in the quest to abolish noise. While it's going to be minimal improvements, it's improvements nonetheless. The larger resolution can run through onto the card at 6.3fps (frames per second) as long as you're using a UDMA enabled Compactflash card. To get to the card, the camera has to go through the processor so to have a drive of a similar performance from larger file sizes needs a faster processor and that's where the brand new DiG!C IV steps in. It runs at 14-bit which Canon say improves gradation and improves colours to look more natural. It also helps the start-up time and reviewing images on the new screen.
Fringing is clearly noticeable on the standard 17-85mm lens result.
I'm surprised that the new EOS 50D doesn't have a higher burst rate but then it's not a higher specification camera and the market it's aimed at probably don't need it any faster. Not to mention that raising the performance in that way will only lead to adding new technology which would inevitably raise the price.
I like the way the DiG!C IV processor handles colours in JPEG. The colour chart shows boosts to the primary colours and nicely settled earthy colours. I think the skin tone tile could have a little more colour and the pastels down the left side of the standard colour chart area (enclosed in red) are a bit muted.
I took two versions of the landscape image using the 50mm f/1.4 lens and one using the standard 17-85mm lens that comes in the kit. I originally took the shot just on the kit lens and thought it looked soft so took it with the 50mm lens too.
There's a definite difference in sharpness with the 50mm lens looking at the writing on the balance beam but it's the fringing on the white bars that comes up with the standard lens that puts me about. A thick, orange streak outlines the bars.
Good detail can be found in the grass areas and the camera has coped well with the shadowed area to the left of the image despoite using centre weighted metering.
The standard 17-85mm f/4-5.6 USM lens.
Using the 50mm f/1.4 USM lens.
I took a number of portrait images in the programmed portrait mode and aperture priority using the portrait picture style to see what, if any, differences spring up. Portrait mode gives a balanced image with a good skin tone and decent detail. I do feel the image is a little soft although I believe this is a lens issue.
The portrait image taken in portrait mode.
The portrait image with flash in portrait mode.
The portrait taken in portrait picture style.
The portrait taken in portrait picture style with flash.
Adding flash fills in the shadows seen on the image without and puts some nice catchlights into the eyes. Flicking between this shot and the portrait picture style image, there's definitely a boost of warmth in the portrait mode that's absent in picture style.
I went to The House which is an indoor skate park located in an unused warehouse in Sheffield and the only light available is from a row of windows just under the roof as well as a few skylights dotted around the roof.
I had to shoot at ISO3200 or higher with the standard lens to ensure that I got the shutter speed I required to freeze the action. I took a skater doing an awesome jump and managed to squeeze out seven frames within a two second timeframe. in fact the last six frames were all shot within a one second window.
This stands pretty firm with the claim and shows that the EOS 50D can produce some pretty cool images as the montage below illustrates.
Click on the image to see more detail. Images were shot at ISO3200 in shutter-priority at 1/200sec.
Noise at ISO3200 breaks down details in the face when enlarged but ensures images such as this can be captured.
At work, partial metering has coped well with the bright windows and still correctly exposed the backlit skater.
Canon EOS 50D: Focus and metering
Love it or hate it, live view is spreading to every DSLR now and it won't be long before we forget what it was like to struggle along without it. On the Canon EOS 50D, live view is activated by pressing the button to the left of the viewfinder with the camera screen icon above it. Of course that's after you've enabled it in the menu system. You can focus in live view by pressing the AF-On button on the right shoulder of the camera. The screen still flips up to perform the action which some may argue isn't live view AF but I don't think it's important.
It'll be interesting to see if this feature is needed or used by the market the camera is aimed at. If it is, then Canon will have scored a winner and you'll see the feature pushed onto all other future models.
Three focusing modes are available in live view which are quick AF, live AF and face detection AF. This works in the same way as you'd find on a compact camera by triangulating faces in the frame and prioritising the focus on them.
Focusing is nice and fast thanks to the Ultra Sonic Motors (USM) fitted to the lens. USM has been applied to certain lenses by Canon since the 80's and were one of the pioneers of the technology. Anyone who's anyone now has some kind of ultra sonic motor option for their lenses such as Sigma's HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) or Nikon's SWM (Silent Wave Motor).
The EOS 50D comes with four metering options of Evaluative, partial, spot and centre-weighted. For those of you venturing into DSLR territory for the first time or if you simply don't know the difference between the different modes, centre-weighted was once the most frequently used mode and will still be championed by some as it's also the most predictable metering mode. It takes a reading from the whole area with weight being given to the centre of the image. Overall, it's very reliable but can get confused in areas with tricky lighting conditions.
The 35 zones of the TTL metering found on the EOS 50D. The focus points can also be seen.
Spot metering does the opposite of centre-weighted and takes a reading from the very centre of the image only using around 3.8% of the image. It ignores everything else which can create some interesting exposures. It's useful if you have an object that is particularly bright in the image as this can send more general metering systems awry.
Partial metering is similar to spot metering with it taking a reading from the centre of the image but the area is much bigger of around 9% and is better for pictures such as backlit portraits. Evaluative metering is Canon's version of Nikon's Matrix or Minolta's Honeycomb metering.
It uses an algorithm programmed into the camera which is said to use information from various scenes to get the correct result. It's the most frequently correct exposure mode, is extremely complex and the actual algorithms are a closely guarded secret by the manufacturer.
Canon EOS 50D: Noise test
The Canon EOS 50D has 16 sensitivity settings before the two equivalent settings are added. These mean more versatility for the user as you can select a speed more appropriate to the scenario to reduce the risk of noise. In a test such as this, little difference would be seen between the ranges. Instead, I've included the settings normally found on film or in any other camera for comparison.
I'm impressed with noise control at the low ISO ratings. ISO100 shows no noise at all in anyarea of the image, especially the black square which shows it up first. In fact ISO doesn't really start to be noticeable until ISO800 and even that's at full size enlargement. Not to mention that it's not even that much of a big deal.
It only really begins to be a problem for me at ISO3200 where there's a rather drastic jump from good noise control to a decay in the detail of the petals. ISO6400 has coloured banding and white spots across the whole image although it's more prominent on the darker squares.
The top ISO12,800 exacerbates the problems found on the previous setting with the addition of some red spots forming on the black square. It's worth remembering that the two settings with the most problems aren't true ISO settings.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO3200 test.
The Hi1 test. (ISO6400 equivalent)
The Hi2 test. (ISO12,800 equivalent)
Not one for wanting to shirk my duties as a reviewer, I also took a shot with the lights down as low as possible to test the noise control in low light as well as taking an ISO100 image and ISO12,800 image in RAW. I had to convert the RAW images to .dng files to make them compatible for viewing as I couldn't even open the Canon EOS 50D RAW files with Lightroom 2 or Adobe Photoshop CS4 unless I downloaded the newest RAW converter update.
You can view the RAW files in the download area by clicking the links for the ISO100 image or the ISO12,800 image. Bear in mind these images are uncompressed and untouched so may take a few minutes to download.
ISO12,800 in low light.
RAW files compared side by side. Click the links above to download the full size images.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Canon EOS 50D.
Canon EOS 50D: Verdict
I originally panned this camera when I read the specification and this was picked up by a lot of people. I mentioned then that I could change my mind once I've seen and tested the camera and I can whole heartedly say that I have.
I've really enjoyed using the Canon EOS 50D. It's easy, fun, advanced and it's great to be able to see the pictures on the screen as nicely as a Nikon. I think the noise images are better than other reviews are reporting and maybe just as good as the D300.
It's a worthwhile replacement to an already popular model and I think you'll be pleasantly satisfied if you decided to go for the EOS 50D. My only advice to give would be to upgrade the lens as soon as possible. It suffers badly from CA in high contrast areas and I thought the results tended to be a little soft.
For a kit lens, it does have built in IS, is a USM and has a metal mount for longevity so it's not all bad.
Canon EOS 50D: Plus points
New DiG!C IV processor
Good noise handling
Nice colour rendition
Nice new menu system
Typical Canon ease of use
Canon EOS 50D: Minus points
Bad fringing on supplied lens
New CA mode for the ultra lazy (no I didn't use it)
Because of the new features, ease of use, build quality and attraction for upgraders or new comers to photography, I've awarded the Canon EOS 50D with our treasured Highly Recommended award. Well done Canon.
The EOS 50D (body only) costs £709 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Canon EOS 50D body only
The EOS 50D & EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM kit costs £999 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
The EOS 50D & EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM kit
Thanks go to The House skate park for allowing us special access to film and photograph.