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The Canon EOS-50D ($1399, body only) is a midrange digital SLR that "complements" the popular EOS-40D, rather than replacing it. It's no secret that I'm a fan of this line of Canon D-SLRs -- I've used three generations of them for the product shots on this website, the latest being the 40D.
So what does the 50D bring to the table? In short, you get more pixels, a new image processor, a higher resolution LCD, a wider range of ISO sensitivities, and HDMI video output. The camera retains the same EF/EF-S lens mount, manual controls, live view, and expandability of its predecessor.
This chart summarizes the differences between the 40D and 50D:
Hopefully that chart explains the differences pretty well! I'll cover all of the 50D's new features as we progress through the review. That said, let's get going!
What's in the Box?
There are at least three kits available for the EOS-50D. One has just the body ($1180), another includes the fabled 28 - 135 mm EF lens ($1400), while a third kit contains the new 18 - 200 mm EF-S lens ($1800). Here's what you'll find in the box for each of those:
If you bought either of the lens kits then you're ready to start shooting (well, almost -- see the next paragraph) with the 50D. The two available kit lenses include the 28 - 135 mm, a generally popular lens that I personally have never tried. This lens is equivalent to 44.8 - 216 mm on the 50D, which isn't great for for wide-angle shooting. The other kit lens, the new 18 - 200 mm EF-S lens, covers a much larger range: it's equivalent to 28.8 - 320 mm. While the lens has that impressive zoom range as well as optical image stabilization, it wasn't terribly sharp, and purple fringing was a problem. I wasn't thrilled with its build quality, either: if the camera was tilted up or down, gravity would adjust the zoom for you, which is not desirable.
As I mentioned, the EOS-50D does not include a memory card. In fact, no digital SLR does. The camera supports CompactFlash cards (both Type I and II), including the super high speed UDMA-enabled models. I'd suggest picking up a 4GB card to use with the 50D, the faster, the better.
The 50D uses the same BP-511A battery as its predecessor. For some mysterious reason, the 50D's is 20% lower than the 40D's, possibly due to the new LCD and DIGIC 4 processor. The chart below compares battery life numbers between the various midrange D-SLRs:
The EOS-50D's battery life numbers are the second lowest in the group, with only the Pentax K20D below it. Usually new models are supposed to be better than their predecessors -- I don't know what happened here. If you're using live view full time, you'll be able to take just 170 shots per charge.
Although none of the cameras above support AA batteries straight out of the box, quite a few support them via their optional battery grips. The 50D is one of those cameras -- just insert 6 AAs into the optional grip and you're ready to go.
The 50D with the optional battery grip
Image courtesy of Canon Europe
Speaking of the grip, above you can see the 50D with its optional BG-E2N grip. It can hold two BP-511A or six AA batteries, though you'll get much better battery life by using the former. The grip also includes extra controls for shooting in the portrait orientation. I should add that you can also use the old BG-E2 grip -- the only difference is that its battery compartment is not weather-sealed.
When it's time to charge the BP-511A battery, just snap it into the included charger. It takes about 100 minutes to fully charge the battery. This is my favorite type of charger, too, as it plugs directly into the wall (though it may not in some countries).
Digital SLRs support a load of accessories, and the table below covers just a selection of those available for the EOS-50D:
And that's just a small selection of the accessories available for the 50D. Other options include focusing screens and dioptric adjustment lenses for the viewfinder, macro lights, car chargers, and lots more.
EOS Utility - Main Screen
Canon includes version 19 of their EOS Digital Solutions Disk with the EOS-50D. The first application that you'll probably bump into is EOS Utility, which is sort of a gateway to all the other software programs. Here you can download photos from your camera, use remote capture, adjust camera settings, or monitor a folder (used with the optional Wireless File Transmitter).
EOS Utility - Selecting Photos to Download
If you choose to select and download images to your computer, you'll get the screen you see above. Once photos are transferred to your computer, you have two ways of viewing and editing them.
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
The "consumer-friendly" option for image viewing is ImageBrowser (for Mac) and ZoomBrowser (for Windows). On the main screen, you get the usual thumbnail view, with quick access to image e-mailing, printing, editing, and slideshows.
Double-click on a JPEG image and you'll bring up the photo in its own window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment feature, for those who don't mess with all those controls.
The Browser software can be used to view RAW images, but that's about it. You cannot edit or convert the 50D's RAW files. For that you'll need...
Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X
... Digital Photo Professional 3.5! The main screen isn't too much different from Image/ZoomBrowser, with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail w/shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.
RAW editing in DPP
The RAW editing tools in DPP are quite robust. Basic properties you can edit include exposure, white balance, the tone curve, Picture Style, saturation, and sharpness. In addition to adjusting the basics that I described above, DPP also lets you tweak color tone, saturation, the tone curve, both luminance and chrominance noise, and lens aberration (such as distortion and purple fringing).
Most D-SLR buyers know what RAW is, but in case you don't, here's a brief explanation. RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. Thus, you can adjust settings like white balance and exposure without damaging the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size (compared to JPEG), fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG. The EOS-50D supports three different RAW sizes: full size, 7.1 MP, and 3.8 MP.
Remote camera control, complete with live view
Jumping back to EOS Utility again, I want to mention a really nice feature -- Remote Capture. This lets you control the camera right from your computer, with access to most camera settings. The live view feature is fully supported, complete with a histogram, composition grid, and the ability to enlarge the frame and manually tweak focus. Photos are saved directly to your computer, though they can be stored on the camera too, if you wish. Most camera manufacturers charge extra for a remote capture feature, but Canon is not one of them!
Other things you can do with EOS Utility include customizing the My Menu (more on that later) and uploading Picture Styles that you've created with the software described below.
Picture Style Editor in Mac OS X
The last tool in Canon's software suite is the Picture Styles editor. To use this, you must first open up a RAW image. You can then tweak the tone curve, color settings, contrast, and sharpness, and then save a new Picture Style, which can be used both on the camera and in the Digital Photo Professional software.
The EOS-50D is a pretty complex camera, which means that you'll need a detailed manual to explain all of its features. Canon has delivered just such a book, weighing in at over 225 pages. While it's not terribly user friendly, the 50D's manual should answer any question that may come up. Documentation for the bundled software is installed onto your Mac or PC.
Look and Feel
The EOS-50D is a fairly large digital SLR. It has a stainless steel inner frame with a sturdy magnesium alloy shell on the outside and, as you'd expect, it feels quite solid. The camera has a large, rubberized grip for your right hand, giving the camera a secure feel in your hands. Like the 40D before it, the 50D is sealed against dust and moisture, though keep in mind that this does not mean that it's waterproof.
If you've used the EOS-40D, then you'll feel right at home with the 50D. The cameras are basically identical, with the only real differences being the 50D's silver mode dial (instead of black) and dedicated live view button. Canon has also done away with the Jump button on the back of the camera, replacing it with a customizable Function button.
Ergonomics are very good. You can adjust post settings using the direct buttons on the top of the camera, or with the joystick if you have the info screen up on the LCD. Manual exposure controls are set with the large quick control dial on the back of the camera and the smaller main dial on the top.
Now, here's a look at how the EOS-50D compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight (body only, of course):
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in.
69.4 cu in.
740 g Canon EOS-50D
5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in.
69.4 cu in.
730 g Nikon D90
5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in.
64 cu in.
620 g Olympus E-30
5.6 x 4.2 x 3.0 in.
70.6 cu in.
655 g Pentax K20D
5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in.
62.7 cu in.
714 g Sony Alpha DSLR-A350
5.1 x 3.9 x 2.9 in.
57.7 cu in.