Canon’s new EOS 50D bridges the gap between the novice and the seasoned pro with a perfect combination of high-speed and quality. It features an APS-C sized 15.1-megapixel CMOS sensor for tremendous images, new DIGIC 4 Image Processor for fine detail and superior color reproduction, and improved ISO capabilities up to 12800 for uncompromised shooting even in the dimmest situations. It features a refined 3.0-inch Clear View LCD (920,000 dots) monitor, supercharged Live View Function with Face Detection Live mode, plus a number of new automatic Image Correction settings and HDMI output for viewing images on an HDTV. Pick up the EOS 50D and you’ll experience true digital inspiration!
Sensor size was also a surprising issue. It was funny how much the big sensor of the 5D MII was actually a bit of an obstacle, both in focal length, depth of field and also just sheer file size. Between that and the physical size of the cameras, not to mention the great quality of all the files at a practical print size, well, we’re left with the old saying, use the right tool for the job. For the most part, the 5D MII felt a little bit like overkill, and honestly, the 50D was probably the most fun to shoot with. I’m not sure if, on having this assignment and having access to both cameras, I wouldn’t pick the 50D out of the bag as my first choice.
Canon’s latest enthusiast digital SLR camera may have come early, but it’s just in time for the current rapidly moving SLR market, and it’s also in time for the holidays. Had they come out with a 12-megapixel model, it would have felt like the 40D all over again. Though we don’t think megapixels are the end-all of digital camera design, Canon fell behind in both resolution and high ISO performance with the 40D, good as it was. The Canon 50D puts them back in contention for the high-resolution, high quality image crown. Unfortunately, the Canon 50D’s high ISO performance isn’t quite what we expected, but at least ISO 3,200 is now quite usable, as are all ISOs below that. Everyone should feel pretty comfortable shooting at ISO 800 and 1,600 without much worry about significant loss of image quality, since these can be printed at up to 13×19 inches and still look nice.
Its high frame rate, 14-bit A/D conversion, high-resolution LCD, and high-ISO are the Canon 50D’s most important features, with the high-resolution sensor coming in behind that. The 50D’s compatibility with older accessories is a plus for those already invested in the line, and all the new features come in thanks to a very competitive market. That’s great for intermediate and pro photographers on a budget, because many of Canon’s professional features have trickled down from the 1D-series cameras.
So while the 40D is great, and will remain in the market, the Canon 50D incorporates plenty of enhancements worth the couple-hundred extra bucks. The Canon 50D is an excellent digital SLR.
Image quality. Below ISO 1600 image output is clean with well balanced contrast and colors and as you would expect from a DSLR with a 15 megapixel sensor the 50D delivers a fair amount of detail. Having said that, in terms of per-pixel sharpness the 50D cannot quite keep up with the better 10 or 12 megapixel APS-C DSLRs in the market. At higher sensitivities the smaller photosites are clearly producing more noise (as shown from our RAW comparisons) and so Canon is having to apply more noise reduction to keep to acceptable noise levels, this of course means a loss of detail from ISO 1600 upwards.
Considering the disadvantages that come with higher pixel densities such as diffraction issues, increased sensitivity towards camera shake, reduced dynamic range, reduced high ISO performance and the need to store, move and process larger amounts of data, one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that at this point the megapixel race should probably stop. One consequence of this is that the 50% increase in pixel count over the 40D results in only a marginal amount of extra detail.
We’re by no means saying the 50Ds image quality is bad but it’s simply not significantly better than the ten megapixel 40D. In some areas such as dynamic range and high ISO performance it’s actually worse and that simply makes you wonder if the EOS 50D could have been an (even) better camera if its sensor had a slightly more moderate resolution.
The EOS 50D has to stand its ground in a highly competitive bracket of the DSLR market. It is currently almost $500 more expensive than the 40D, almost $500 more expensive than the Nikon D90 and for an extra $100 you can bag yourself a Nikon D300. Looking at the specification differences between the EOS 40D and our test candidate it appears you pay quite a premium for the 50D’s extra megapixels and as we’ve found out during this review you don’t get an awful lot of extra image quality for your money. The Canon EOS 50D still earns itself our highest reward but considering its price point and our slight concerns about its pixel-packed sensor, it only does so by a whisker.
The Canon EOS 50D is a worthy update to the already excellent EOS 40D, equipping it not just with the latest features, but also a significant boost in resolution without compromising noise levels. The presence of certain specifications, and the fact it’s arrived six months earlier than Canon’s normal schedule, proves just how seriously the company views Nikon’s D300 as a rival. And it’s testament to Nikon’s engineers that a body one year older than the 50D still stands-up very strongly against Canon’s latest.
As detailed above, there’s pros and cons to each model and the choice between them lies with which feature-set and system best suits your requirements – along with personal handling preferences of course. But there’s no doubt the new EOS 50D is a very powerful and feature-packed semi-pro DSLR which succeeds in its goals.
Many new DSLRs simply update the previous model with the latest gadgetry, and while there’s no movie mode on the 50D, it does sport a VGA screen and HDMI port. There’s also normally a boost in resolution, but rather than mess around with two or three Megapixels, Canon’s made a more significant leap with the 50D, crucially without compromising noise.
This coupled with the 50D’s other features all adds up to a very capable DSLR that handles confidently, delivers great results and is a joy to use. As such it easily earns our Highly Recommended award, although remember to exploit that high resolution you’ll need to couple it with a decent quality lens.