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
Design & Performance
Canon EOS 50D review – Design
Canon 50D review – 40D vs 50D
Where there were minor upgrades to distinguish between the Canon 40D and the Canon 50D with regards to specification and features, the difference between the pair cosmetically and aesthetically is barely apparent at all. As mentioned earlier, the two models are exactly the same with regards to external dimensions, meaning that they’ll be impossible to distinguish in the hand.
The angular feel of its stablemate remains, and the solid rubberised handgrip, which continues right to the top-plate LCD monitor, certainly ensures the feel of an enthusiast DSLR. There are several nice touches to the camera that also feature on the Canon 40D. For example, the Canon 50D features a motorised pop-up flash mechanism which, while slightly noisy, adds a feel of build quality.
The only real major difference with regards to design between the Canon 40D and Canon 50D features on the model’s top-plate. Where the 40D featured a mode dial with a stainless steel trim, the top of the mode dial of the Canon 50D is now completely stainless steel with black icons. As the only stainless steel feature on the camera (besides the hotshoe and tripod bush, of course), it feels somewhat out of sync with the design and styling of the rest of the body. You can’t help but feel that such a token gesture is merely aimed at distinguishing the 50D from the 40D beyond just the badge, and to give Canon 50D owners the feeling that they are getting a different camera, beyond just the internal workings.
Canon 50D review – Menu Navigation
Menu navigation is provided, again in the same vein as the Canon 40D, either via the joystick-esque control located on the rear of the camera, or through a combination of both ‘joystick’ and quick control dial. One issue that we have with this arrangement is that while the joystick allows the user to jump between both menus and sub-menus, the same is not true with the quick control dial, itself being restricted to merely scrolling through sub-menus. Now while this is no major issue, one can foresee constant jumping between buttons and frequent usage of the joystick, which itself is angular and not the most comfortable on the hand, so it could prove agitating.
On the subject of menus, and something that has been mentioned before in Canon tests, the Canon menu system is not particularly intuitive. Despite the fact that you can pick and choose the features from the various menus that take your fancy, the default menu layout seems a touch limited. The menu consists of three sections (shooting, playback and setup) and the ‘My Menu’ area, yet each tab within a menu is limited to no more than seven items, with a seemingly random amount per tab, and the allocation of the items thereof seems a touch scattered – ie. LCD brightness and auto-rotate listed in setup rather than playback. Though this is a relatively minor gripe, it’s one that frequently occurs and as such one that you would hope Canon would look to address in the near future.
Canon EOS 50D review – Performance
Canon 50D review – DIGIC IV Processor
While the 50D is presented with an increase in megapixels on the 40D, the introduction of the DIGIC IV processor means that image-processing times are swift to say the least. There is little-to-no delay between shots, even when shooting Raw + JPEG.
Another obvious benefit from the new DIGIC IV processor can be seen with the 50D’s focusing system. The model’s nine cross-type AF points are the same as with the 40D, and combined with the new processor deliver almost instant autofocus. On test, we found that even shifting from foreground to background subjects quickly, the 50D ‘locked on’ instantly. However, one point of note is that the focusing system was slowed slightly in more difficult lighting conditions. It is also worth pointing out that the nine cross-type AF points are by no means market leading – Nikon’s D300 has no less than 51 focus points, for example.
Canon 50D review – Continuous Shooting
One area that hasn’t been improved upon with the new DIGIC IV processor, however, is the continuous shooting speed. The 40D, in fact, boasts a fractionally faster continuous shooting speed. Having said this, the 6.3fps rate of the 50D is more than enough for most enthusiast photographers, and during our test the 50D met the claim sufficiently up to the stated buffer capacity of 90 JPEGs. While the buffer may be limiting for some, only stretching to some 15 seconds worth of capture, it’s quick to clear so no need to hang around waiting.
Canon 50D review – Metering System
In addition to experiencing AF issues, the metering system of the 50D also suffered in low light. We found that on overcast days when the sun did manage to break through the grey abyss, the 50D had no trouble nailing the correct exposure. However, with flat lighting it really struggled to get things right. Quite often the metering system would throw up either under or overexposed images. What’s more is that because of the irregularity and inconsistency of the under or overexposure, exposure compensation wasn’t much use in solving the issue.
Canon 50D review – 920K-dot LCD
The 50D’s 3in TFT LCD screen has no doubt benefited from an upgrade from the 40D’s 230k-dot resolution. The new 920k-dot resolution is now up to pace with the rest of the enthusiast market and, as with its competitors, really stands out on the rear of the camera, making accurate review of images possible and benefiting the overall capture experience. Not only that, but the increase in the viewing angle of the LCD screen will complement the extension of integration of the live view.