While camera users must have realistic expectations; the SX50 HS is competitive with any camera in its class. When camera R&D folks design a camera with a very long zoom some operational speed must be sacrificed (particularly at longer focal length settings) because a longer lens will obviously move and focus more slowly than a shorter lens. I’ve reviewed ultrazooms from Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Canon and all of them have shared similar faults — slow maximum apertures, very complex zoom formulas (which reduce contrast), noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom, and fuzzy/soft images at the telephoto end of the zoom range. The SX50 HS is guilty on all counts — but less guilty than most of the competition.
The SX50 HS features the same TTL Contrast Detection AF system as its predecessor – with three AF modes – single, continuous, and servo AF, plus manual focus. In all exposure modes, the camera analyzes the scene in front of the lens and then calculates camera to subject distance to determine which AF point is closest to the primary subject (closest subject priority) and then locks focus on that AF point. The face detection AF mode is linked to the camera’s exposure and white balance systems allowing the SX50 HS to automatically find, locks focus on, and then optimize exposure for up to 12 faces. The SX50 HS’s autofocus is driven by the same ultrasonic motor (USM) and voice coil motor (VCM) technology as Canon’s EF series DSLR lenses. AF is reasonably quick, but this camera often hunts for focus at the telephoto end of the zoom.
The SX50 HS features Canon’s new Multi-area White Balance system which makes images look more natural by detecting situations where there are two different light sources in the frame and then automatically applying area-specific white balance correction. For example, when shooting a subject with flash in a room illuminated by tungsten lighting, the camera will apply tungsten WB to the background and flash white balance to the subject, ensuring that both the subject and the background retain their natural colors. The SX50 HS provides users with an acceptable selection of white balance options, including auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, and custom. The SX50 IS’s auto WB mode does a very good job in most outdoor lighting.
The SX50 HS provides an acceptable range of sensitivity options, including auto and user-set options for ISO 80 to ISO 12800. ISO 80/ISO 100 images are virtually identical – both show bright visibly oversaturated colors, slightly flat default contrast, and very low noise levels. ISO 200 images were also very good, but with a little less snap. At the ISO 400 setting, noise levels are noticeably higher and there’s a (barely) perceptible loss of minor detail. ISO 800 images are quite noisy, but substantially better than expected. ISO 1600 images show flat colors, fuzzy detail, reduced contrast, and lots of noise, but they do look like ISO 800 images produced by many of the SX50 HS’s competitors.
The SX50 HS’s multi-mode pop-up flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including auto, flash on (fill flash), flash off, and slow synchro, plus flash exposure compensation + /- 2EV in 1/3 EV increments. According to Canon, the maximum flash range is about 19 feet. Unlike most P&S digicams, the SX50 HS also features a hot shoe for mounting Canon DSLR speedlights.
The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC format memory media.
The SX50 HS draws its power from an NB-10L rechargeable Canon lithium-ion battery. Canon claims a fully charged NB-10L is good for 315 exposures, however – based on my experiences with the camera – that number seems a bit optimistic.
When the SX50 HS is powered up, the zoom extends from the camera body and when the camera is powered down, the lens retracts back into the camera body and a built in iris-style lens cover closes to protect the front element. Zooming is smooth and relatively quiet (especially for such a long lens) and the Zoom Framing Assist function makes it easier re-acquire subjects at the extreme telephoto end of the zoom.
The SX50 HS’s extraordinary focal length range makes Canon’s newest PowerShot an almost ideal choice for an incredibly broad variety of photographic applications. Shooting group pictures in tight indoor venues, capturing expansive landscapes, nailing distant wildlife, in-your-face sports action, and getting up-close macro shots of bugs and flowers are all easily accomplished with this camera.
Canon’s technical folks did a remarkably good job with this monster zoom – the longest in the imaging industry. The SX50 HS’s zoom is amazingly compact and astonishingly light-weight, but there really is no free lunch. As optical complexity increases, lens faults and optical aberrations are magnified exponentially. Images show visible corner softness and barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the zoom range is noticeably above average. Pincushion distortion is above average at the telephoto end of the zoom. Chromatic aberration is also above average, but not as much above average as I expected. Images shot at longer telephoto settings grow consistently softer as the lens is zoomed further out. Images shot at full telephoto will generally be acceptable for 4×6 prints or for posting on-line, but my attempts to capture a full frame picture of two slowly moving Sandhill Cranes (at approximately 100 yards) at full telephoto resulted in not a single usable image. There’s also an optional lens adapter available which allows the use of 67mm photo filters.
The SX50 HS’s optical image stabilization system reduces involuntary camera shake by quickly and precisely shifting a lens element in the zoom to compensate for movement. Typically, these IS systems allow users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three EV slower than would have been possible without image stabilization. Keeping a lens with a focal length range from ultra-wide to super-telephoto steady poses some daunting challenges. However, Canon has equipped the SX50 HS with what they claim is the most advanced and effective optical Image Stabilization system ever used in a P&S camera (it assesses camera shake about 8,000 times per second) providing up to 4.5 EV of exposure compensation.
Four IS modes are supported – Continuous IS works full time and includes an automatic Dynamic IS function adapted from Canon camcorders. Continuous IS consumes substantially more power than the other three modes, but is on full time. Shoot Only IS kicks the IS system in just before the shutter fires. Panning IS is designed to factor out involuntary vertical camera movement during lateral panning. IS can also be switched off.
The 4.5-stop optical Image Stabilization system has been enhanced with new Intelligent IS technology that detects the shooting situation and automatically applies the most appropriate image stabilization settings from seven options. For example, Panning IS is automatically enabled when following the action at a racetrack, ensuring the IS system stabilizes in only one direction, while Macro IS with Hybrid IS technology, is perfect for shooting sharply focused close-ups. Powered IS uses Canon camcorder technology to make it easy to film distant subjects with the long zoom, and Tripod mode switches off the Image Stabilizer when the camera is on a stable surface or attached to a tripod.
The SX50 HS’s 1920x1080p @ 24fps HD movie mode produces properly exposed and color correct videos clips. The SX50 HS also captures video at 1280x720p, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 also at 24 fps. Video capability is especially impressive since you can use the 50X zoom while recording. However, Canon recommends a class 6 (or higher) memory card for the best quality video capture. Also, the zoom lens utilizes Canon’s USM and VCM motors to reduce zooming noise when recording video. Also, as you can see, hand-holding the camera at 50x zoom is a challange.
The SX50 HS’s image files (like all Canon digicam image files) are optimized for bold bright hues and hard-edged but slightly flat contrast. Reds are a little warm, blues are a bit brighter than they are in real life, and greens/yellows are a bit more vibrant than those seen with the human eye. Images generated by the SX50 HS are consistently a bit soft – especially at the long end of that monster zoom and there is no in-camera sharpening option. Image quality is a bit below average, but for 3×5 or 4×6 prints and enlargements up to 8×10 the SX50 HS will do just fine.