The 15-megapixel Canon 50D digital SLR builds upon the strengths of the 40D with a higher pixel count, a revamped image processor and a higher resolution LCD screen. But what makes it a vast improvement over the 40D? The What Digital Camera Canon EOS 50D review investigates...
Canon EOS 50D Review
The Canon 50D is not a replacement for the Canon EOS 40D, but essentially an upgraded version of the popular semi-pro model. With said upgraded features, however, comes an increased price and whereas the Canon EOS 40D can now be bought for a touch over £600, the 50D will currently cost you around £1,199 (body only) – putting it almost directly in price-competition with the Nikon D300. So, can Canon battle back against Nikon? And what exactly does the Canon 50D provide for an extra £500 that a Canon EOS 40D doesn’t already provide? The What Digital Camera Canon 50D review investigates…
Canon EOS 50D review – Features
Canon 50D review – 50D in Context
Canon’s 40D has been a popular camera since its introduction just over a year ago. The model proved to be a more affordable alternative to the Canon 5D, and boasted what was, at the time, about as good an enthusiast DSLR specification on the market. However, Nikon soon released its bevy of new models, and as a result pushed the Canon 40D out of the spotlight – and thus the Canon 50D was born as an upgrade to the Canon 40D.
Canon 50D review – Cramped Sensor?
Close inspection of the new Canon 50D reveals that the upgrades from the Canon 40D, while many and varied, are on the whole relatively minor. One of the headline upgrades is the resolution of the sensor – where the 40D accommodates 10.5MP, outputting 10.1MP, on its 22.2 x 14.8mm CMOS sensor, the Canon 50D manages to cram 15.5MP, outputting 15.1MP effective respectively, on to a CMOS sensor just a fraction larger at 22.3 x 14.9mm. The question this raises is whether the sensor is large enough to accommodate the extra megapixels. After all, there is a growing trend in the compact camera market to abandon the ‘megapixel race’ in favour of looking at improving the size of the sensor. The issue is slightly different if you’re looking at an enthusiast DSLR, however – the level of photographer likely to buy the Canon 50D is, after all, more likely to actually find a use for the extra megapixels, and as such the possible blights of fitting another 50% as many megapixels onto only a marginally larger sensor could prove problematic. This issue has been addressed with another area of upgrade, with Canon introducing its new DIGIC IV processor, to replace the DIGIC III, bringing with it the usual claims of faster image processing, improved noise reduction at high-ISOs and improved handling of Raw files.
Canon 50D review – Hi-Res LCD
In keeping with the increase in resolution, the rear of the camera also sees a ‘major’ upgrade. One of the big draws of the current breed of enthusiast or even pro-level DSLRs is the improvements seen in LCD screen technology. Where previously, as seen with the 40D, a resolution of 230,000 dots had been the norm, the current crop boast around 922,000 dots, around four times that of the 40D. This is something of which Canon is clearly aware, and the Canon 50D joins the club with its 920k-dot, 3in TFT LCD. The improvement not only means that images will be clearer on the screen, and as such easier to review, but the Canon 50D now has an improved viewing angle of 160° – as opposed to the 140° viewing angle of the Canon 40D’s LCD. It’s also worth noting that the Canon 50D now offers HDMI output, meaning you can bore your relatives with all your lovely holiday snaps by wiring them straight to your HDTV.
Canon 50D review – Live View
While on the subject of the LCD screen, it seems fitting to mention improvements made to the live view system. Canon seems to be following the moves made across the industry towards improving and integrating its live view systems, rather than just have them as an aside, and as such the Canon 50D features the same system as the Canon 40D, but now with live contrast autofocus and face detection included. Having said this, the autofocus isn’t quite that of several other DSLRs on the market – it involves pressing a separate ‘AF’ button to initiate the focusing system, which in turn involves either mirror lock-up or contrast detection ‘trial and error’ focusing, adding extra time to the process. The overall effect is that it doesn’t quite feel as integrated as it could be and not entirely suited to use ‘on the fly’, but more for still-life and tripod work.
Canon 50D review – Embedded Copyright Protection
One nice feature that has been seen on the more high-end DSLRs is the capacity to write copyright information directly to the EXIF data of the photo. In a time of proliferate photo sharing, it’s safe to say that more images than ever are being used without consent, and though writing your copyright information directly to the images is by no means a
fail-safe against such infringement, it could go some way to defending your case.
Canon 50D review – Sensitivity
An extended ISO range features, which now runs from ISO 100 through to ISO 3200 in standard mode, as opposed to ISO 100-1600 with the Canon 40D. The Canon 50D now also features two extended ISO (‘H’) settings, as opposed to just the one on the Canon 40D. The new ‘H’ settings provide extended ISOs of 6400 at ‘H1′, and 12800 at ‘H2′, an extended range that is class leading in the ‘enthusiast’ market.
Canon 50D review – Buffer Upgrade
Another of the Canon 50D’s minor upgrades appears in the area of the camera’s buffer. Where the Canon 40D manages to shoot JPEGs continuously up to around 75 images before the buffer becomes full, the Canon 50D features an increased buffer capacity, meaning that around 90 JPEGs can be captured continuously at a constant speed before the buffer begins to slow. However, it’s not all increases with regards to continuous shooting – where the Canon 40D managed 6.4fps, the Canon 50D can only capture at a fractionally slower 6.3fps.
Canon 50D review – Battery Life
It’s also worthy of note that all of these ‘upgrades’ come at a cost, and that cost (aside from financially) manifests in reduced battery life. Where Canon claimed that the Canon 40D would muster 800 images at optimal shooting conditions on a full charge, it claims the Canon 50D will only manage 80% of that, at around 640 shots per charge. This is, to an extent, to be expected. After all, the Canon 50D is essentially the same camera as the Canon 40D, but with more hardware in place to add extra drain to the battery.
Canon 50D review – Dust, Dimensions and In-Camera Flash
Other than one more minor upgrade – the Canon 50D’s integrated cleaning system now features a fluorine coating on its low-pass filter to prevent static, and as a result means that less dust will be attracted to the sensor – much remains the same. The Canon 50D features the same dimensions as the Canon 40D, and is only 10g lighter in its body-only form. The Canon 50D also features the same on-camera flash as the Canon 40D, complete with a guide number of 13 @ ISO 100, and the same shutter, focusing and metering systems.