Canon introduced the new SX50 HS, the successor to the very popular Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, at the semi-annual Photokina imaging products trade show in Cologne, Germany this past fall. The fifth generation Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is an entry-level DSLR-sized point and shoot digital camera that is essentially an evolutionary update; however, at least one of the new features seems almost revolutionary.
Digicam zooms just keep growing longer; the SX40 HS featured a 35x zoom, while the SX50 HS sports a spectacular new 50x (24mm-1200mm equivalent) zoom - currently the longest zoom lens in the world. A DSLR shooter would need a virtually unlimited budget and an extremely large (and VERY heavy) camera bag to carry enough lenses to cover the 24mm to 1200mm focal length range of the SX50 HS. With a current street price of only $430, this camera is a great deal if it lives up to our testing.
Build and Design
The SX50 HS, like the previous model, seeks to be to be that most elusive of imaging tools: an all-in-one camera that can do almost anything photographic, nearly anytime, virtually any place, for just about anyone - a camera that successfully bridges the gap between DSLR flexibility and P&S convenience.
The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS digital camera is the world's first digital camera with a 50x optical zoom lens. The impressive focal length range extends all the way from a wide-angle 24mm to a super-telephoto 1200mm (35mm equivalents). The camera has a 12.1 megapixel CMOS image sensor and a DIGIC 5 Image Processor, enabling users to capture high-resolution JPEG and RAW still images, as well as full HD 1080p video with stereo sound. The SX50 HS is the most recent Canon digicam to feature the HS System, which combines a high-sensitivity back-illuminated CMOS sensor with Canon's DIGIC 5 processor to capture low noise images in virtually all lighting conditions. Canon claims the DIGIC 5 processor, CMOS sensor, and HS technology combination reduces image noise by up to 75% at all ISO levels. The camera's ISO sensitivity ranges up to 6400. Coupled with Canon's nifty HS (High Sensitivity) system, the camera produces clear, detailed, almost noise free images - even in low-light.
The SX50's monster zoom provides what is currently the longest zoom range available on any camera. A digital camera with a zoom lens that can go all the way from a true 24mm wide-angle to a whopping 1200 mm super telephoto allows photographers to cover essentially the entire spectrum of outdoor photographic genres -- from classic landscape shots to tightly framed environmental portraits and from distant shots of skittish wildlife to up close macro images. In other words the magical "one lens covers it all" zoom that camera and lens manufacturers have been trying to attain since the introduction of the world's first consumer zoom lens, the Voightlander Zoomar, in 1959. The Zoomar produced soft images across its entire 2.2x range. The SX50 HS with an f3.4/24mm-1200mm (equivalent) zoom weighs just 1.31 pounds/595 grams with SD card and battery, a roughly 70% reduction in weight (when compared to a Voightlander Zoomar mounted on an Exacta VXII) and it's zoom has almost 15 times the reach of the Zoomar, but the SX50 HS also produces soft images -- although mostly at the telephoto end of that incredible 50x zoom range.
Optical image stabilization compensates for camera shake to produce sharper images at all focal lengths. High Speed AF almost guarantees that users won't miss the shot due to shutter lag or slow AF lock. The Zoom Framing Assist function makes it easier to track your subjects and keep them centered in the frame until you capture the image and the High-Speed Burst HQ mode enables continuous capture at 13 fps for up to 10 frames. With the camera's built-in hot shoe, users can mount optional Canon DSLR Speedlites. Using the included USB cable, the PictBridge interface, and a compatible printer - users can print images directly from the camera - without a computer.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS handles nicely due to its near perfect balance and excellent hand-grip. It feels solid and stable in your hands. The SX50 HS not only looks a lot like an entry-level DSLR, it handles very much like one too. The camera is not a particularly compact (4.84 inches-123mm x 3.43 inches-87mm x 4.17 inches-106 mm) or especially light-weight (595 grams or 1.31 lb). In fact, the SX50 HS is rather chunky and not particularly stylish.
The SX50 HS polycarbonate body is tough enough to go just about anywhere. The SX50 IS weighs about the same a Canon entry-level DSLR (with SD card, battery, and EF-S 18mm-55mm IS kit lens) which is impressive when you consider that the SX50 HS can do almost anything an entry-level DSLR can do - and it has a 50X zoom. Canon entry-level DSLRs generally include a kit lens that is equivalent to a 3x zoom.
The control layout for the SX50 HS will be familiar to anyone who has ever used a Canon digicam. All controls are logically placed and easily accessed - for right handed shooters, but some buttons are very small. Canon's "func" button offers direct access to WB, ISO, or other functions you want to easily recall at the touch of a button. The SX50 HS also provides a "one-touch" video start/stop button. Simply frame your shot and push the red button. When you wish to stop recording, simply push the red button once again. And, best of all, that monster zoom can be used during video capture.
Most users will have no difficulty using the camera right out of the box. Like essentially all point and shoot cameras, the SX50 HS will function nicely in auto mode, but this camera was designed for photo enthusiasts - so there are lots of creative options. For more advanced shooters, there is an impressive level of individual inputs, too.
Menus and Modes
Auto: Just point and shoot - no user input.
Smart Auto: Automatic scene recognition program that instantly compares what's in front of the lens with an on-board image database and then matches that information with the subject's distance from the camera, white balance, contrast, dynamic range, lighting and color (just before the image is recorded) to determine the best scene mode for that specific shooting situation. No user input except for flash on/off.
Scene: 58 Scene modes
Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, flash, etc.).
Aperture priority: Users select the aperture and the camera selects an appropriate shutter speed.
Shutter priority: Users select shutter speed and the camera selects an appropriate aperture.
Manual: Users select all exposure parameters.
Movie: The SX50 HS records HD video at a maximum resolution of 1080p @ 24fps. Interestingly, the camera automatically switches to 30fps for 720p and VGA. Best quality 1080p video consumes around 4 megabytes per second and recording maximum is 4GB, around 15 minutes @ 1080p or 20 minutes @ 720p. Canon recommends using SD cards rated Class 6 or higher. Default audio is stereo.
One of the SX40's most serious design flaws is its outdated 2.7 inch camcorder style flip-out and tilt/swivel PureColor II LCD monitor. Nikon, Panasonic, Pentax, and other OEMs have been offering LCD viewfinders with double, triple, and even quadruple the resolution of the SX40 HS's grainy 230,000 pixel LCD. Canon updated this with the SX50 HS. The camera now has a new 2.8 inch TFT camcorder style flip-out tilt/swivel LCD monitor with double the resolution (461k) of its predecessor. The SX50's LCD screen is noticeably brighter and sharper than the LCD screen featured on the SX40 HS. The SX50's LCD screen is hue accurate, fluid, automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, and covers approximately 100% of the image frame. The SX50's LCD, like all LCD monitors, is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor light, but Canon's Quick-bright mode makes it easier to frame and compose your images outside, even in open sunlight.
The SX50 HS also provides an EVF (electronic viewfinder). Resolution is a bit coarse, but the viewfinder is reasonably bright and fluid. The EVF display provides the same information as the LCD, but the print is so small on the tiny EVF screen that those who lack eagle-like visual acuity (read older folks) will find it virtually impossible to decipher. There's a diopter adjustment for those who wear glasses, but there's no button for switching back and forth between the LCD and EVF - instead the SX50 HS automatically defaults to the LCD when the monitor faces out and to the EVF when the monitor is turned inward, to face the back of the camera.
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