Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Review - The SX50 HS boasts impressive features on paper, but read on to find out how it fares in the full What Digital Camera review
Recent times have seen camera manufacturers chase “numbers on the box”, particularly around pixel counts, which has been almost relentless. Today there’s a new chase however, the chase for longer and longer lenses within compact cameras and Canon has now pushed that boundary further than ever with the SX50 HS.
This model sports a 50x optical zoom lens offering an amazing 24mm wide focal length at one end and a monstrous 1200mm at the tele end of its zoom.
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Review – Features and Handling
The Canon PowerShot SX50HS’s lens astonishing feat of optical engineering, but it comes with a few health warnings. For a start its maximum apertures of f/3.4 to f/6.5 are rather limiting in terms of light gathering power and depth of field control, while you’ll need to carry a tripod or have surgeon steady hands to keep things shake free at lower ISO and at full zoom.
The SX50 HS actually preserves many features from its SX40 predecessor and this includes its 12.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, DIGIC 5 processor, a rotating LCD display (though the SX50’s is very slightly larger) and full manual controls. The hot shoe remains too, as does the very useful Zoom Framing Assist feature which allows you to control the framing at bigger zoom ratios where there’s a tendency for the framing to wander due to you (cameras shake) or the anti shake system making things stray across the frame.
There are some really cool new features too and my favourite among them is RAW shooting including combined simultaneous RAW and JPEG capture a faster AF set up, though this has its foibles, and improved continuous shooting speeds of up to 13fps. Another plus is there are now extra scene modes within the camera’s Smart Auto mode.
Camera size and handling
In terms of design, even with that 24mm to 1200mm lens, the SX50 HS is actually still a mid-sized super zoom snapper. The build quality is okay in that it has a plastic body and lens barrel over a metal skeleton.
The camera’s relatively small then and sits nicely in the hand, but I found use one handed – of course that’s assuming you want to risk such a relaxed approach with that long zoom – meant the controls under your right thumb are too easy to depress by accident.
I also found the aforementioned maximum aperture range makes the camera one of the slowest lensed models in its class, something that is the comprise necessary to get such a long focal range crammed into one optical train.
Like the SX40, here the 50x zoom lens utilises Canon’s excellent USM (ultrasonic motor) for very quiet focusing – great when shooting HD movies – but apart from that gigantic zoom, the front of the camera has just one other feature of note, its AF-assist lamp. This is squeezed into the upper-right corner of the camera (from the front). The lamp doubles up as the redeye reduction lamp and as the self-timer’s count down indicator.
As with other similar long zoom cameras such as this, the image Canon SX50 HS’s stabilisation system needs to be good and it is here, thankfully. The SX50 utilises Canon’s lens-shift IS, and includes Canon’s Intelligent IS feature to choose between the panning, hybrid, or tripod modes for the situation at hand.
There’s a natty dynamic IS mode that can reduce extreme camera shake when recording movies as well as a powered IS mode for shooting at the full telephoto 1200mm zoom. Other kit includes the camera’s tiny manually control flip-up flash unit, which offers a modicum of extra light but is woefully underpowered and so the addition of the hot shoe makes the use of a “proper” flashgun something that then adds a great dollop of extra flexibility and versatility to the camera and makes up for the built-in flashes limitations.
The SX50 HS’s rear has the slightly larger 2.8-inch 461K-dot LCD fully tilt, turn and swivel-able display, (the SX40 had a 2.7-inch 230k-dot screen); up to 270 degrees, allowing you to snap shots over heads of those in front of you or use a tripod (particularly when low to the ground) without straining your neck, a la waist level finders on camera of yore.
The LCD is best described as acceptable; it was just about usable outdoors in bright sunlight, if a little flat and lacking sharpness. But what really disappointed was the electronic viewfinder (EVF).
I much prefer a camera to have some form of “proper” viewfinder and if it has to be an EVF, that’s better than nothing. But this is not what I was expecting. It’s blurred and not sharp across the (very tiny) frame, the dioptre adjustment is good to have but was really hard to use as the dial is too slippery and it’s adjustment was way to course to get it set just right.
The SX50 HS’s top plate houses the excellent-to-have hot shoe, a flash mode button and the main mode dial. If you use an external flash Canon’s guns will sync with the SX50’s metering system, you’ll be able to adjust the flash settings using the camera’s interface, and the AF-assist, redeye reduction, and high speed flash sync features will be at your command as well. If you don’t have a dedicated Canon flash you’ll have to adjust everything manually.
On the SX50 HS’s mode dial, you can get at all the meat of the camera’s settings that includes the manual controls, the automatic settings and the scene and filter modes as well. A large on/off button is crouched alongside the mode dial; forward of this is the shutter button and its surrounding lens zoom lever.
Move to the back plate and as well as the large display, you’ll find the playback button, a dedicated movie recording button, which is just a little to recessed for my large thumb, and so was problematic to use quickly and under that you’ll find the focus point selection button.
On the right side of the camera, sheltering from dust and dirt under a snug, flush fitting rubber cover, are the SX50’s three I/O ports. These cater to wired remote control, which is another new feature over the SX40, the USB + A/V output, and mini-HDMI port and finally you’ll find the port for the (optional) mains power cable.
The camera’s four-way jog button houses the camera’s direct buttons for ISO, exposure compensation, self-timer functions and the focus modes. It’s central ‘FUNC/SET” button is used to access the usual Canon on-screen menu system or choose and scroll chosen options, pictures or settings.
A thin rotating dial surrounds this but it is recessed just enough to get it out of the way, but too much to make it really easy to use. Another button, not mentioned yet but one which is my favourite, is the “S” button sat to the left side of the EVF on the back, it’s the shortcut button.
Essentially, it is a user assigned button, so you can load it with functions (or rather a function) you use a lot but not catered to elsewhere on the camera, including the excellent i-Contrast.
Metering, aspect ratio, AF type, white balance (WB) and drive modes are all other functions that can be assigned here; what you use depends on your style of shooting or the type of photo you’re about to take.
The SX50 HS’s manual controls are all adjusted using the abovementioned rotating dial that sites around the four-way jog controls. Spin it in aperture priority and the apertures adjust through their modest range of f/3.4 to f/8; switch to shutter priority and you can spin it through the 15 second to 1/200th-second settings; in full manual control it defaults to shutter speed adjustment, to change apertures (and back again) you press the exposure compensation button on the top of the four way jogger.
This is all simple to do and straightforward enough, but should you want to stick to the automated features then you have Program AE (it’s like auto but without the camera choosing a scene mode for you), Auto mode is as described previously, the camera does the “thinking” in terms of subject mode but it’s very slow and gets it wrong on occasions too.
The SX50 HS’s movie settings include Full HD 1080P capture but at 24fps. Many similar cameras today boast the “smoother” 60fps rate and it’s true to say, pan too fast on the SX50 and the results are a little jumpy.
The camera’s Ultrasonic focusing system means you can have continuous AF during movie capture without any audio interference on the stereo audio. And zooming that massive lens during shooting is also noiseless, both things I’ve not been able to write for cameras of this ilk before, so well done Canon on both of those.
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Review – Performance and Image Quality
The overall level of the Canon SX50 HS’s performance is, on the whole, good although not without its flaws.
The “normal” continuous shooting mode is a modest with 2fps, and if you want the camera to focus it drops to around 0.8fps depending on how quickly the AF bites.
The flash recharge time is quite fast and the flash will sync at the camera’s top 1/200 sec shutter speed and because you have the accessory shoe, plop an external flash on there and you have a whole new ball game.
And so lets move on, onto the nitty gritty of how the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS’s image quality stacks up, and first up, that monster lens. While the camera retains a certain amount of pocketability, even with that 50x optic. But the glass is very sharp and performs well overall with bags of detail able to be rendered and held onto by the camera’s CMOS sensor.
As you zoom through the range, the SX50 HS’s relatively modest maximum apertures means as you increase the zoom ratio in use, you’ll increasingly need to either employ the services of a tripod or start to bump up the sensitivity (or both) even with the otherwise excellent image stabilisation switched on and active.
There’s little distortion, even at the 24mm end, but slight edge softness and drop in definition is apparent at full zoom. Use the Dynamic Range (DR) Correction Auto mode and the sensitivity bumps to ISO 320 and this can be useful as you zoom, yes there’s a tiny bit more noise, but the increase in detail in highlights and shadows is well worth this.
Again disappointingly should you switch to JPEG and RAW capture, then the DR Correction mode is not an option, it is switched off so you loose it’s extra bit of versatility (for the JPEGs) at a point where it might be most useful to have it to hand in your shooting armoury.
High ISO noise
Next up, let’s look over the image noise issues. Stick to settings below ISO 800 and you’ll be fine; Canon’s DIGIC 5 image engine does a great job of keeping the vagaries of image noise at bay, but beyond ISO 800, while noise increases, so does the camera’s efforts to reduce the noise issues and while it does a good fist of it, it also starts to strip finer image detail.
Bump the ISO to 1600 and it’s more of the same, noise well controlled but image detail scrubbed away and at ISO 3200 while the noise issues are well dealt with, the images look, well, unfocused. At ISO 6400, the SX50’s top sensitivity setting, it’s even more of the same, poor image sharpness, all fine detail is smoothed into oblivion, but image noise is reduced.
The SX50 HS’s metering is very good, overall, but as is common with such cameras, I found the centre-weighted average metering provided the best balance between subjects, the evaluative system seemingly underexposing slightly, but on everything; enter exposure compensation, if you need it.
Colour capture is also very good, natural and clean, again I left the camera to its own default devices here, but use any of the camera’s subject modes, filters or other gadgets and you can then tailor (or change) this to suit.
It’s here we enter one of my biggest gripes with the SX50 HS however, because if you shoot simultaneous RAW and JPEG files, and then switch to one of the camera’s automated shooting modes, in fact any setting outside of the manual control shooting options, it reverts back to JPEG capture only. Why?
One of the most useful ways to implement simultaneous RAW and JPEG shooting is in exactly this environment, where you want to shoot a JPEG with the filter or subject mode applied; I don’t know, say, the vivid setting for boosted colours, and have RAW version, to fall back on if you wish to.
That’s where the versatility of such a feature can lay within a camera such as this, a camera that allows for a more a creative approach for the novice and yet more snapping power for those more advanced photographers out there, per haps on a tighter budget or looking for – or wanting – that monster optic. To omit such a clearly useful feature seems, well, odd.
There’s a fair amount of chromatic aberration around high contrast “edges” in a shot, which lower apparent sharpness of the pictures, and when shooting JPEGs with neither DR or HDR modes on, highlight detail is blasted away very quickly and likewise shadow detail albeit to less of an extent.
White balance (WB) control is rather good on the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, providing the usual range of presets, for most lighting such as tungsten, direct sunlight, shadow, two fluorescent modes, flash and two custom WB settings. Left on the Auto WB mode, the camera makes all the right choices, performing well on the subjects I’ve used for this test.
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Review – Verdict
The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is a camera that combines an amazingly long zoom lens and a set of enthusiast and novice features, all packed into a surprisingly small bridge-style body and keeping it all relatively easy to use too. Honestly, make no mistake, that’s no mean feat.
The monster zoom grabs the headlines perhaps, but it does not come without the compromise, such as the modest maximum apertures notwithstanding the PowerShot SX50 HS’ other assets. But imagine if will, just how much it might cost to buy the equivalent optics to match the 24mm -1200mm focal length built into this camera for, say, a D-SLR system. Exactly! It would be both very costly and indeed, very difficult to carry due to the bulkiness.
The all too obvious chromatic aberrations disappoint but is one of the few real demerits. There are other, arguably equally important features here too, such as the arrival of RAW format shooting, the accessory shoe or off camera flash and the neatly sculpted handgrip.
The increase in resolution on the larger display are also key advances, that all together mean the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is a strong contender as an alternative to a DSLR not just the other super-zoom rivals on the market.
In short then, Canon’s PowerShot SX50 HS has great image quality, D-SLR-like advanced shooting features and improved handling; it’s 50x zoom lens can bring the distant into sharp focus and all at a price that makes it a real alternative to a system camera and hefty bag full of lenses and accessories.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a few sample images captured with the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. For a full range of images, including ISO comparison shots, visit the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS review sample image gallery.
Canon’s launch of the EOS 6D may have taken the limelight at Photokina 2012 but the announcement of the Powershot SX50 HS also caused quite a stir.
The Canon SX50 HS stands out from many of its rivals in the market by boasting a 50x optical zoom. It’s the first compact stills camera to offer such a huge focal range and in 35mm terms it’s equivalent to 24-1200mm. On the barrel of the lens there are focal length indications and the zoom lever offers reasonable control though we wouldn’t have minded a touch more precise control. The lens zooms from wide to full telephoto incredibly quickly and the maximum aperture at the wide end is f/3.5, closing to f/6.5 at the long end. Canon’s Optical image stabilizer technology is also used and allows you to shoot 4.5 stops slower than would otherwise be possible.
Lens aside, the SX50 features a back-illuminated CMOS sensor which is the 1/2.3 type. Offering a 12.1MP resolution, ISO can be manually set between 80 and 6400 and the shutter speed can be set anywhere from 15seconds to 1/2000sec. Full manual control is taken from the top plate using the mode dial and as well as program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual modes there’s a selection of scene modes, including stitch assist, that lets you shoot panoramic images in one fluid movement.
To aid focusing in the dark the SX50 HS has an AF assist beam and pop up flash that can be flicked up from the body. Sitting behind the flash is an electronic viewfinder that boasts a 202,000 dot resolution. There’s no eye sensor though so you do have to hit the display button to activate it. Looking through the viewfinder reveals it is an extremely small display but we shouldn’t grumble too much. It’s better to have one than not one at all.
The screen at the rear is the vari-angle type, measures 2.8inches and has a 461,000 dot resolution. First impressions of it are good. It’s sharp and seems to display faithful colours. The way it swings out and up and down will be particularly useful for macro work or when you need to hold it high up above the crowds. Something often overlooked on bridge compacts is the ability to shoot in the Raw format. This has also been considered on the SX50 HS. You’re given both Raw and JPEG image formats to choose from, or you can shoot in both simultaneously. AF point selection is fairly quick. Just hit the button below the movie-rec button before using the dpad to reposition the AF target. It’s not possible to move the AF point to the far edges of the frame but you can reduce its size using the display button.
As for the build, the handgrip feels comfortable but the exterior of the camera is made from very smooth plastic and there’s no rubberised grip to give it some bite in the hand. That said, it does feel fairly strong for a camera with a plastic exterior and it’s reasonably lightweight too.
Other points to note are Full HD video support at 24frames per second, it accepts SD, SDHC and SDXC cards, features a rechargeable battery that’s good for 315 shots and costs £450.
To sum up our first impressions, the SX50 HS has an extensive zoom that operates quickly. We would have liked finer control of the zoom but the ergonomics are excellent and it’s not too heavy. A rubberised grip was also lacking and the plastic finish gives it a very smooth feel in the hand.