DCRP

Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Review

Performance & Photo Quality

Back when I reviewed the PowerShot SX40, I complained that it's performance -- especially in terms of autofocus -- was not competitive. Canon must have been listening, as they've reduced focus times by 50% on the SX50, and shutter lag by 44%. That doesn't mean that the SX50 is suddenly blazingly fast. Rather, it's just average now, with cameras from the likes of Panasonic still quite a bit faster.

This next table summarizes the SX50's performance in a number of areas:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares

Startup

1.2 secs Above average
Autofocus 0.2 - 0.5 sec (W)
0.5 - 1.0 sec (T)
Average
Autofocus
(Low light)
~ 1.0 sec Average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 2 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
~ 3.5 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(with flash)
~ 2.5 secs Average

As I said, the SX50 is now average in most respects, and not a class-leader.

There are four full resolution burst modes on the PowerShot SX50, though one of them (Continuous LV) is for manual focus and fireworks mode only, and will not be included in my chart below. That leaves us with regular continuous (locks AE/AF on first shot), continuous AF (adjusts focus and metering between each shot), and High-speed Burst HQ, a scene mode. Here's what kind of performance you can expect for each of those:

Image quality Continuous Continuous AF High-Speed Burst HQ
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 1.0 fps Unlimited @ 0.7 fps N/A
RAW Unlimited @ 1.1 fps Unlimited @ 0.7 fps
Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 2.0 fps Unlimited @ 0.8 fps 10 shots @ 12.8 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Class 10 UHS-I SDHC card

First, the good news: the PowerShot SX50 can keep shooting until your (high speed) memory card fills up, even with RAW files. There's no waiting for the buffer to clear, either -- even with RAW. The bad news is that the burst rate isn't terribly impressive, especially if RAW images are involved. You can shoot faster using the High-Speed Burst HQ mode, though do note that it's only for JPEGs, limited to ten shots, and the ISO is set to "auto", so images may be noisy.

Enough numbers already -- let's move on to photo quality now!

Our usual macro test subject looks very good here. The thing that stands out the most to me are the colors, which really "pop". The subject is nice and sharp, with the "smooth" appearance that one usually sees on Canon cameras. Noise is not a problem here, nor would I expect it to be.

The minimum focusing distances range from 0 cm (that's not a typo) at full wide-angle up to about 30 cm at around the 20X position. The distance continues to increase along with the amount of zoom power, until it starts to go back down (to 1.3 m) at the full telephoto position.

It's around Christmas time, so the San Francisco skyline has a few extra decorations, as you can see. While I used manual exposure to bring in enough light here, you can do the same by using Smart Auto or one of the scene modes. There isn't too much highlight clipping here, with even the US Bank sign being sort-of legible. The buildings are nice and sharp. There's very little noise to speak of, and purple fringing is minimal.

Normally I like to show you how the camera performs in low light across its ISO range. Unfortunately, Canon won't let me do that. As on some of their other recent cameras (such as the PowerShot G15), they lock the ISO at 80 if the shutter speed is below 1.3 seconds. That makes sense from an image quality point-of-view, but putting such limitations one of their flagship cameras (especially in "M" mode) is as dumb move on Canon's part.

With that in mind, there's a big jump in the thumbnails below, from ISO 80 to 800, then continuing all the way to 6400.


ISO 80

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

Besides the fact that there's a fair amount of detail smudging at ISO 800, there's also a big change in color, with a noticeable green cast appearing at that point. I probably wouldn't go above ISO 800 in very low light situations, unless you plan on shooting RAW (more on that below). ISO 1600 is for desperation only, and I would avoid the top two sensitivities at all costs.

Can we make that ISO 1600 night shot look better by shooting RAW and doing some easy post-processing? Let's find out:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.3 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

The first thing you get back by shooting RAW is normal color! You also get back some detail, but not a ton. Still, it's worth shooting RAW if you're at ISO 800 or 1600 in low light, but don't expect great results at higher sensitivities.

I'll do this test again in normal lighting in a moment.


Straight out of the camera, both redeye reduction features turned on


After a trip through the redeye correction tool in playback mode

The PowerShot SX50 tries to eliminate redeye in two ways. First, it'll fire the AF-assist lamp a second or so before the photo is taken, with the goal of shrinking your subject's pupils. I've found that this rarely works. The second part of the removal system is a digital system (which needs to be turned on in the Flash Settings menu), which tries to get rid of any redeye that shows up in a photo. As you can see, neither of those methods worked. All is not lost, though -- there's a removal tool in playback mode that was able to get rid of the red, so definitely try that if your flash photos have redeye.

There's very mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the SX50's 24 - 1200 mm lens -- most likely since Canon is correcting for this automatically. There's some very slight corner blurring in real world photos, and thankfully no sign of vignetting (dark corners).

Okay, now it's time to see how the PowerShot SX50 performed across its ISO range in normal light. As usual, I'm using our standard studio test scene, which means that you can compare the results with other cameras I've tested over the years (Panasonic FZ200, anyone?). Remember that the crops below only show a small area of the total scene, so view the full size images too!


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

The first three crops and nice and clean, with vibrant colors. While there isn't much of an increase in noise at ISO 400, the photo does get noticeably softer. That trend continues at ISO 800, though that photo is still completely usable. At ISO 1600 we start to see some actual noise, and a drop in color saturation. I'd recommend stopping here if you're a JPEG shooter. The noise and softness continue to increase at ISO 3200, and I wouldn't even bother with the top setting.

I'm going to do another RAW vs. JPEG comparison, this time at ISO 3200. Can we turn that photo into something you can print? Let's find out:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.3 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

Ahh, detail. That's what you get back by shooting RAW here, and it's a welcome sight compared to the soft mess that is the JPEG. After some easy clean-up work in Photoshop, that ISO 3200 shot has gone from useless to usable.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the photo quality on the PowerShot SX50 HS. Its biggest problem, by far, is that it loves to clip highlights. The solution is to use the DR Correction feature that I mentioned earlier, though keep in mind that noise levels will increase as a result. You can also use the HDR feature, but that (usually) requires a tripod. The SX50 occasionally overexposed a bit at times, as well. Aside from that, the news is good. Colors are saturated, subjects are sharp, and noise levels are comparable to the best super zooms in this class (at least at lower ISOs). As you've seen, the SX50 isn't the greatest when the ISO gets to around 800, and the slow lens makes that happen quicker than I'd like. As long as you don't expect the PowerShot SX50 to be the low light champion of the world, you'll probably be happy with what it can do. If you are taking a lot of action or low light shots, then you should probably be looking at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200, with its constant aperture F2.8 lens. While purple fringing occasionally popped up in the photos I took with the SX50, it wasn't nearly bad enough for me to consider it a problem.

So that's my opinion -- now it's time to make up yours. Have a look at our photo gallery, maybe printing a few of them if you'd like, and then decide if the SX50's photo quality meets your expectations!

Shop, Save, and Support