Originally Posted: December 12, 2012
Last Updated: January 15, 2013
As you may have noticed, the "Megapixel Wars" have calmed down a bit in recent years. That doesn't mean that camera manufacturers haven't found something else to drive up to absurd levels. In the case of "big zoom" cameras that thing is, of course, how powerful the lens is. Remember a few years ago, when 12X lenses were considered a lot? Since then we've gone through 18X, then 24X, and 30X. Things really started to get crazy over the past year, with Nikon releasing their Coolpix P510, which has a 42X lens. Then Canon did what I never thought I'd see: announce the PowerShot SX50 HS ($479), which has a whopping 50X, 24 - 1200 mm lens.
|Full wide-angle (24 mm)||Full telephoto (1200 mm)|
As you can see, the SX50 lets you capture vast landscapes at wide-angle and can also fill the frame with subjects two miles away. There is a caveat that goes along with lenses this powerful, though. If you're shooting at ISO 80 (for best image quality), you're going to need hands of stone or a tripod in order to get a sharp photo. Conventional wisdom says that you need a shutter speed of 1/focal length in order to get a sharp photo, though you get a few stops back thanks to image stabilization. What I'm getting at here is that you may need to crank up the ISO sensitivity in order to get that sharp photo, unless you're using a tripod.
The PowerShot SX50 HS retains many of the features of the SX40 that came before it. They include a 12.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, DIGIC 5 processor, rotating LCD display, manual controls, a hot shoe, and the handy Zoom Framing Assist feature that I'll explain later. Some new features include RAW support, a slightly larger/sharper LCD, faster AF and continuous shooting speeds, and more available scenes in Smart Auto mode.
The chart below compares last year's SX40 with the SX50:
While the PowerShot SX50 improves upon its predecessor in many respects, there are a few trade offs. First, the lens is slower, which will affect its performance in low light. In addition, battery life has dropped by nearly 20%.
Is the PowerShot SX50 the perfect camera for the photographer that can't get enough zoom power? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SX50's bundle is certainly nothing to write home about. Canon has really managed to strip things down to a bare minimum, not even including a USB cable anymore. Here's what you will find in the box:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel PowerShot SX50 HS digital camera
- NB-10L lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Neck strap
- CD-ROM featuring Digital Camera Solution and camera/software manuals
- Quick Start leaflet + full manual on CD-ROM
Unlike nearly all camera manufacturers, Canon does not build internal memory into their cameras. Therefore, you'll need to buy a memory card right away, unless you have one sitting around already. The PowerShot SX50 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend picking up a 4GB card if you'll be mostly taking stills, and 8GB or 16GB if recording Full HD video is a priority. A high speed card -- Class 6 or higher -- is recommended for maximum performance.
The SX50 HS uses the same NB-10L lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. This battery holds 6.8 Wh worth of energy inside its plastic shell, which is about average for a super zoom camera. Here's how the SX50 compares against other mega zoom cameras in terms of battery life:
You already know that the SX50's battery life is quite a bit lower than that of its predecessor. For the cameras that I have numbers for, the SX50's battery life is nearly 30% below the group average. So, you might want to pick up a spare battery, with a Canon-branded NB-10L setting you back around $39.
When it's time to recharge the NB-10L, just pop it into this compact battery charger. It plugs right into the wall (in the U.S., at least) and takes 110 minutes to top off the battery.
There are a couple of accessories available for the PowerShot SX50, which include:
That's a pretty good selection, if I do say so myself. And sorry conversion lens fans, 50X is the most that you're gonna get out of this camera!
Canon has one of the nicest software bundles out there. You'll first encounter CameraWindow, which will transfer photos from the camera onto your Mac or PC. The main photo organizing suite is called ImageBrowser EX, which replaces the old ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser twins that came on earlier models. I'm not sure what Canon used to build this software (it feels like Adobe Air), but it definitely doesn't feel like a native application anymore, at least on the Mac side. That said, it'll let you edit your photos in a number of ways, including auto-correct, redeye removal, tone curve and level adjustment, and more. It also allows you to edit your videos, including adding transitions and special effects, and save the results as a new movie. Both stills and movies can be shared via e-mail, Facebook. YouTube, or Canon's own Image Gateway service.
For editing RAW images you'll need to use Digital Photography Professional, which is a very capable product. Here you can adjust exposure, highlight and shadow detail, the tone curve, noise reduction, and white balance. There are also tools for reducing lens distortion, vignetting, and purple fringing. If you want to use Photoshop to edit RAW files, you'll need version 7.3 RC or newer of the Camera Raw plug-in.
Also included with the PowerShot SX50 is PhotoStitch. This product can take photos that you've lined up (manually in the case of the SX50), and combine them into a single panoramic image.
Remember the days when you used to get a full manual in the box with your new camera? Those days have passed, with manufacturers now putting the whole thing on a PDF file on an included CD-ROM. To make matters worse, the printed "Getting Started" leaflet that is included is so bare-bones that you'll be reaching for that CD-ROM disc in no time. And users shouldn't have to do that, in this reviewer's opinion. Instructions for using the bundled software will be installed onto your Mac or PC.
Design & Features
Despite its giant lens, the PowerShot SX50 HS is still a mid-sized super zoom camera. Build quality is quite similar to that of Panasonic FZ200, which means that it has a plastic shell covering a metal chassis and lens barrel. The camera feels fairly solid, though the grip could be larger and less slippery. I'm mostly content with the control layout, though I can't stand the combination four-way controller / scroll dial on the back of the camera. The dial doesn't turn smoothly, and the way the two parts are flush with each other is uncomfortable. The SX50 is an excellent candidate for a supplemental zoom controller on the side of the camera, which you'll find on Nikon and Panasonic's flagship super zooms.
I will add that the matte black body tends to scratch easily, though you can "buff it right out" easily enough.
Here's a look at how the SX50 compares with its predecessor, at least from the front and back:
|Last year's PowerShot SX40 versus the new SX50, fairly close to scale
Images courtesy of Canon
One thing's for sure, the PowerShot SX50 is a much better-looking camera than the whale-shaped SX40 that came before it. The sleek, inward leaning lines make it look a lot more modern. Aside from the cosmetic differences, the only other real change here is the lens. The back views of the camera are quite similar, with the SX50 having a slightly larger LCD and a relocated movie recording button. It also loses the hot shoe cover that didn't serve much of a purpose on the SX40.
While I don't have any comparison photos, I can tell you that the tops of the cameras are more-or-less the same, save for the location of the power button.
As you can see, the PowerShot SX50 is a good-sized camera, so don't expect to be putting it into any pockets. Let's take a look at how it compares to other super zooms in terms of size and weight:
The PowerShot SX50 is above average for both size and weight.
Let's move on to our tour of the camera now. Use the tabs to move between the various sides of the camera.
The biggest feature on the PowerShot SX50 is undoubtedly its lens -- no pun intended. This F3.4-6.5, 50X Canon zoom lens has a focal length of 4.3 - 215.0 mm, which is equivalent to an unreal 24 - 1200 mm. With that maximum aperture range, the SX50 has one of the slower lenses in its class, meaning that it allows less light through the lens. That's the trade-off that one will have to accept to have this much zoom power. Like that of its predecessors, the lens uses an ultrasonic motor (USM in Canon-speak), which allows for quiet focusing, which is especially useful when you're recording movies. While the lens itself isn't threaded, the optional filter adapter has 67mm threads.
It goes without saying that a camera like this needs image stabilization. The SX50 has IS of the lens-shift variety, and uses Canon's Intelligent IS feature to select the right mode (panning, hybrid, dynamic, tripod, etc) for the situation. The camera has a dynamic mode to reduce extreme camera shake when recording movies, as well as a powered mode for shooting at full telephoto.
Directly above that 50X lens is the SX50's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 5.5 m at wide-angle and 1.4 - 3.0 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). That's about average, and if you want more flash power and a reduced chance of redeye, then you may want to attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in the "top" tab.
The only other item of note on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, located to the upper-right of the lens. In addition to its focus-aiding abilities, this lamp is also used for redeye reduction and for visually counting down the self-timer.
Here you can see one of the features that have been with Canon's super zoom cameras for a long time: a rotating LCD. This 2.8" display flips out to the side, and can rotate a total of 270 degrees. This allows you to shoot over the heads of people in front of you, or take photos on a tripod without straining your neck. The LCD can also put in the traditional position (shown in the next tab), or closed entirely.
The first thing to talk about here is the SX50's new and improved LCD. While it's only slightly larger than the one on the SX40 (2.8" vs 2.7"), it has twice the resolution (461,000 vs 230,000 pixels). While there are sharper LCDs out there (on the Coolpix P510 and Sony HX200V, for example), the one on the PowerShot SX50 is more than adequate. I was pleased with both the outdoor and low light visibility of the LCD.
Right above the LCD is the SX50's electronic viewfinder. Canon doesn't say how large it is, though I'd estimate that it's around 0.2". The resolution of the screen is 202,000 pixels -- same as on the SX40. I wasn't really thrilled with the sharpness and clarity of the viewfinder, and found the LCD much more pleasant to use. Since there's no eye sensor, you'll have to press the Display button to switch between the LCD and EVF. You can adjust the focus of the EVF by using the diopter correction wheel on its left side.
The button immediately to the left of the EVF is a customizable shortcut button. By default it does nothing, but there are plenty of camera functions you can assign to it. On the opposite side of the EVF is the button for entering playback mode. Keep going to the right and you'll find the dedicated movie recording button. Under that is the button that you'll use to select the focus point.
Under the focus point selection button is the combination four-way controller / scroll wheel that I alluded to earlier. In case you missed it I don't like it. The wheel is used for adjusting exposure, navigating menus, and quickly flipping through photos you've taken. The four-way controller does many of the same things, and also offers direct buttons for exposure compensation, focus mode, ISO, and the self-timer. Pressing the center button will open up the Function (shortcut) menu, which I'll tell you more about later.
The last set of buttons on the back of the camera are for switching between the LCD and EVF (and toggling what is shown on each) and for entering the main menu.
First thing to see here is the flash button, over on the left side near the strap mount. This doesn't pop up the flash (you do that yourself), but it does let you adjust the flash mode.
At the center of the photo is the hot shoe (finally freed from the silly cover that was on the SX40), with the stereo microphone above it. If you're attaching an external flash, do note that Canon models will work the best, as they'll sync with the SX50's metering system. You'll be able to adjust the flash settings using the camera's interface, and you will also be able to use the AF-assist, redeye reduction, and high speed flash sync features of the flash. If you're using the really fancy flashes (580EX and above), they can also serve as wireless masters. Not using a Canon flash? Then you'll probably have to adjust the exposure manually. As far as I can tell you can use any shutter speed that you wish with an external flash.
To the right of the hot shoe we have the power button, with the mode dial next to that. At the top you'll find the combination shutter release button / zoom controller. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.6 seconds (don't worry, it moves slower in movie mode). I counted around thirty-eight steps in the camera's 50X zoom range.
As you can see from this picture, the major focal lengths are marked on the lens.
Right where the lens barrel meets the body are two buttons. The one on the top activates Framing Assist - Seek, which comes in very handy when you're at the telephoto end of the lens. Hold this button down and the camera will zoom out, allowing you to reacquire your subject. Let go and the lens will return to its prior position. Using the zoom controller while zoomed out allows you to slightly tweak what the focal length will be when the camera zooms back in.
The lower button is a new addition to the SX50: Framing Assist - Lock. When you hold this button down the image stabilization system kicks in, so you can accurately compose your photo.
The only other thing to point out here is the speaker, located just below the strap mount.
The lens is at the full wide-angle position in this photo. As I mentioned earlier, the SX50 could really use a secondary zoom controller on this side of the camera.
On the right side of the camera, under a rubber cover, are the SX50's three I/O ports. They're for a wired remote control (new to the SX40), USB + A/V output, and mini-HDMI.
Underneath those is the flap through which you feed the power cable for the optional AC adapter.
The lens is at the full telephoto position here. It doesn't extend nearly as much as one would expect, given its huge focal range!
On the bottom of the PowerShot SX50 you will find a metal tripod mount (barely visible here) plus the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is of average quality. As you can probably tell, you won't be able to get at what's inside the compartment while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NB-10L lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.
The SX50 provides plenty of information on its LCD or EVF, including a histogram, electronic level, and grid lines
Let's begin our discussion of the PowerShot SX50's feature set by going over the items that you'll find on the mode dial. They include:
Lots to talk about before we can continue to menus. If you're of the point-and-shoot persuasion, then look no further than Smart Auto mode. In this mode the camera will select one of fifty-eight scene modes for you. It can tell when the camera is on a tripod and adjust settings accordingly, and it even knows the difference between a smiling and sleeping baby (though when I tried this with the PowerShot G15 it kept switching between the two).
I want to quickly mention a few of the Creative Filters and Scene Modes on the PowerShot SX50 and will begin with HDR, which stands for high dynamic range. In this mode, the PowerShot SX50 will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value (which you cannot adjust). Those three shots are combined into one, with the end result being a photo with better shadow detail and fewer clipped highlights. Since the camera doesn't take the shots quickly enough for handheld usage (in most cases), you will probably need to use a tripod. Here's the effect of the HDR feature on our purple fringing torture tunnel:
As you can see, there's a huge improvement here. Highlight clipping is way down, the ceiling is much more visible, and the sky has changed from white to blue. I'm a fan of HDR features in general, but wish the SX50 could shoot fast enough so that a tripod wasn't needed.
Some of the notable scene modes on the PowerShot SX50 include:
- Smart Shutter: choose from smile detection, or wink and face self-timers; smile detection waits until someone in your photo smiles, and then it'll start taking photos; the wink self-timer takes a photo two seconds after someone in the frame winks at the camera; face self-timer takes a photo 2 seconds after a new person (presumably the photographer) enters the frame
- High-speed Burst HQ: the camera takes ten photos in a row at 13 frames/second; do note that the LCD goes black while shooting is in progress, making tracking a moving subject nearly impossible; since the ISO is set to Auto, photos may be noisy
- Handheld Night Scene: the camera takes several exposures and combines them into a single photo, which reduces blur and noise; the results are best suited for small prints or web viewing
- Stitch Assist: helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panorama (using the bundled software); I keep waiting for Canon to make add a "sweep panorama" feature to their cameras, but they are yet to do so
White balance fine-tuning
Manual controls include those for shutter speed and aperture, as well as white balance and focus. Unlike its predecessors, the SX50 can also save photos in the RAW image format, a feature enthusiasts are bound to like. White balance options include two custom slots (for use with a white or gray card) as well as fine-tuning (pictured). You cannot set the color temperature, nor can you bracket for white balance. You can, however, bracket for both exposure and focus. As noted earlier, there are two spots on the mode dial on which you can save your favorite camera settings. And let's not forget the electronic level (single-axis), which should reduce the amount of crooked horizons in your photos.
Moving onto menus now, I want to start with the SX50's function (shortcut) menu, which is activated by pressing the center button on the four-way controller. Here are the most interesting options you'll find there:
- DR correction: reduces highlight clipping; choose from off (default), auto, 200%, or 400%; ISO will be boosted as high as 320 in order to make this feature work
- Shadow correction: brightens the darker areas of a photo, with off or auto being the options here
- White balance: choose from auto, the usual presets, or two custom slots; as mentioned earlier, you can fine-tune, but not bracket for white balance
- My Colors: enhance colors or skin tones, take B&W or sepia photos, or manually adjust contrast/sharpness/saturation/RGB/skin tones
- Bracketing: you can bracket for exposure and focus on the SX50
- Still image aspect ratio: select from 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 1:1, or 4:5
- Image resolution/compression: choose from JPEG, RAW, or RAW+JPEG, with two JPEG qualities (Fine and Super Fine) to choose from; a RAW image is about 18 MB in size, while a Large/Super Fine JPEG is around 5.8 MB
The one feature from that list that I want to illustrate is DR correction (formerly i-Contrast). This feature's goal is to reduce the highlight clipping that is a common issue on the SX50 and cameras like it. In order to do so, the camera must raise the ISO to as high as 320, so noise levels will increase. I think it's worth the trade-off, though, as this example illustrates:
|DR correction Off
View Full Size Image
|DR correction Auto
View Full Size Image
|DR correction 200%
View Full Size Image
|DR correction 400%
View Full Size Image
Thanks to miracles of Photoshop, I was able to put together this comparison without using a tripod (which is what got me in trouble with Stanford last year). The DR correction feature certainly works as advertised, especially when you get to the 400% setting. Unlike the HDR comparison earlier, you don't get any shadow detail back. You can, however, turn on the camera's shadow correction feature to resolve that issue. Why would you use DR correction over HDR? It's simple: because no tripod is necessary.
|Shooting menu, with help info at bottom||Customizable My Menu (with room for one more)|
The rest of the shooting-related options that I want to talk about can be found in the PowerShot SX50's main menu. The menus are attractive, easy-to-navigate, and feature "hints & tips" that describe each option. You can also create your own menu, using the My Menu feature. You can put up to five items into your My Menu, and even have the camera go to it automatically when you hit the Menu button.
Some of the notable menu items here include:
- AF Frame: choose from Face Detect (finds up to nine faces, and falls back to center-point if none are found), Tracking AF, FlexiZone (select any point in the frame), or center-point; if you're using either of the last two options, you can select the size of the focus point (normal or small)
- Digital zoom: Canon quietly introduced a new feature called ZoomPlus, which lets you apply up to 2X worth of digital zoom with a minimal drop in image quality; that means that you can have 100X worth of zoom power, though you'll almost certainly need to use a tripod; if you lower the resolution, the amount of lossless digital zoom you can use goes up even higher
- Servo AF: the camera keeps focusing with the shutter release halfway-pressed, which is helpful for moving subjects
- Continuous AF: the camera is always focusing, even when you're not pressing the shutter release button; this will lower battery life, though
- Flash control: you can manually control the flash strength, turn on redeye reduction (see below), and choose the slow sync mode
- ISO Auto settings: choose the maximum sensitivity the camera will use in Auto mode, and also choose how quickly the camera will increase the ISO (basically, how slow of a shutter speed it'll use)
- Movie audio: choose between auto or manual mic level control, then adjust it manually; the wind filter can be found here, too
- Blink detection: the camera will warn you if someone in the frame had their eyes closed
- IS settings: choose from continuous or "shoot only" stabilization, or turn it off entirely; there's also a dynamic IS mode which can be used to reduce severe camera shake while walking
- Framing Assist - Seek display area: choose how far back the zoom goes when you press this button
- Face ID settings: the SX50 not only recognizes faces -- it also lets you register your favorite people, who will then get priority when they appear in a scene; you can enter their name and birthday, and this information is saved into the metadata of the photos they appear in
- Set Shortcut button: choose one of fifteen functions to assign to the shortcut button on the back of the SX50
Hopefully I explained everything well enough up there!
The movie mode on the PowerShot SX50 HS is the same as on its predecessor. While other super zooms are shooting true 1080/60p video, the SX50 is stuck at 1080/24p. While 24 frames/second is preferred by filmmakers (except Peter Jackson), some folks may find it to be a little choppy. Regardless, you can record video (with stereo sound) at this setting until the file size reaches 4GB, which takes about 15 minutes.
Two lower resolutions are also available on the SX50. You can choose from 720p or VGA settings, both of which are recorded at 30 frames/second. Recording will stop after 21 minutes at the 720p setting, and 44 minutes at VGA. The camera also supports Apple's iFrame codec (which you've probably never heard of), which records 720p video that is supposed to be easier to edit.
Naturally, the SX50 lets you use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie, and the zoom moves slowly and quietly. The camera focuses continuously, so everything stays in focus. The image stabilizer is also available, which keeps things shake-free (less so at full telephoto). Do note that if dynamic IS is turned on, the field-of-view will be enlarged slightly, to allow for rotational stabilization. You can turn this off in the IS menu to return to the normal field-of-view.
Movie recording is a point-and-shoot experience on the SX50, with no manual controls to be found. The only thing you can adjust is the brightness, by pressing "up" on the four-way controller (only when the mode dial is set to the movie position). You can also adjust the mic level, or turn on the wind filter.
Most of the camera's special effects are available while recording movies, including miniature effect. There's also a "super slow motion" mode which records at 120 or 240 fps (though the resolution is lowered to 640 x 480 and 320 x 240, respectively) and plays them back at 30 fps, creating a slow motion effect.
While you can take full resolution stills in movie mode, you will capture the camera refocusing, and then recording the image to the memory card, which freezes things for a second or two.
I have three sample movies for you, all taken at the 1080p setting. One is your typical train sample clip, while the second attempts to demonstrate how the camera can track fast action (not terribly well). The third videos was taken indoors and is a little noisy as a result (since the ISO cannot be adjusted in movie mode). Be warned that these are large downloads!
I'd say the quality is decent, but not great. There's quite a bit of highlight clipping, and the camera could really use a 30p option (at the very least).
The PowerShot SX50 HS has a pretty nice playback mode. Some of the notable features here include:
- Movie Digest playback: I told you about this feature earlier; here you can playback the video of the day's events
- Smart Shuffle: a bizarre feature which shows four photos similar to the one you're viewing; well, that's the idea, at least
- My Category: assign a category to a photo, which is then transferred over to the ImageBrowser EX software; if a photo was taken via a scene mode, the camera may have done this automatically
- Photobooks: you can put photos into a "book" containing up to 998 photos; the book structure is transfered to ImageBrowser EX
- i-Contrast: brightens dark areas of your photo
- Redeye correction: digitally remove this annoyance from a photo
- My Colors: apply color effects (vivid, monochrome, sepia, etc) to a photo you've taken
- Rotate/Resize/Crop: gotta have these!
- Jump: press "up" on the four-way controller to move through photos by date, category, file type, whether they're tagged as a favorite, or be registered face
In terms of movie editing, you can trim unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip, which is definitely handy.
By default, the PowerShot SX50 shows you just basic information about a photo. Press the Display button, though, and you'll get a lot more, including your choice of histograms. You can also enlarge the area on which the camera focused, to verify that everything is sharp (you can do this in post-shot review, as well).
Since the SX50 has "transitions" turned on by default, there's a slight delay as you move between photos. Simple solution: turn them off. If you want to really move through your photos quickly, just spin the dial on the back of the camera. Using the dial also allows you to just to photos taken on a certain date.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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!
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:
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!
For photographers who just can't get enough telephoto power, there's the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. This camera packs a whopping 50X, 24 - 1200 mm lens, which is more than you'll find on any other super zoom on the market (at least for now). While having all that telephoto power sounds appealing, keep in mind that you'll need to either use a tripod or crank up the ISO a bit in order to get a sharp photo at full telephoto. The SX50 has received a nice face-lift since last year's PowerShot SX40, with good control placement and solid build quality. The only thing I didn't really like is the rear dial, which is flush with the four-way controller and difficult to turn. I think this camera would also benefit from having a side-mounted zoom controller, which you'll find on some of its competitors. A few other things about the SX50's monster lens: it has a maximum aperture range of F3.4-6.5, so its on the slow side. The camera features a handy Zoom Assist feature which lets you quickly zoom out, recompose, and then return the lens right back where it was before. Naturally, there's an image stabilization system built into the lens, and the SX50 can select the correct IS mode (e.g. panning, macro, dynamic) depending on the situation. On the back of the camera is 2.8" LCD display with 461,000 pixels (both numbers are improvements since the SX40) which can flip to the side and rotate 270 degrees. You can also compose photos on the camera's electronic viewfinder, though I wouldn't, as it's pretty lousy. The PowerShot SX50 supports an external flash, filters (with an optional adapter), and a wired remote control, among other things.
The PowerShot SX50 has the standard 2012 Canon feature set, and that's mostly a good thing. Point-and-shoot photographers can simply set the mode dial to the Smart Auto position and let the camera do the rest. It'll select one of fifty-eight scene modes for you, with the ability to detect when you're using a tripod, or whether the baby in the frame is sleeping or smiling. There are also a host of scene modes and "Creative Filters" (special effects) at your disposal. One of them is an HDR (high dynamic range) feature, which dramatically improves image contrast, though a tripod is essentially required. There are two other tools for improving contrast: DR and Shadow Correction, though you'll need to be in one of the manual modes in order to use those. DR Correction is especially helpful at reducing the highlight clipping that is a big problem on this camera. The SX50 allows you to manually adjust the shutter speed and aperture, white balance (with fine-tuning), and focus. While you can bracket for exposure and focus, you can't do so for white balance. One good piece of news is that the PowerShot SX50 supports the RAW format, where prior models did not. The camera also features a customizable button, menu, and spots on the mode dial. One beef I have with the SX50 (and several other recent Canon models) is that the ISO is fixed at 80 when the shutter speed is 1 second or less, even in full manual mode.
The SX50's movie mode hasn't changed, which means that it records Full HD video at 1080/24p with stereo sound for up to 15 minutes. While you can use the optical zoom and image stabilizer, there are no manual controls available, aside from a wind filter and mic level adjustment. It would be nice if Canon brought their cameras into the 21st Century and increased the frame rate and offered some real manual controls!
Canon made it a point to improve performance on the PowerShot SX50, and they certainly did. Is the SX50 now the fastest super zoom in the land? No, but it's still pretty good. The camera starts up in a very respectable 1.2 seconds, which is better-than-average. Focus speeds are 50% better than on the SX40 (per Canon), bringing them up to "average". I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were in the 2-3 second range. The PowerShot SX50 has several continuous shooting modes. The fastest one, High-Speed Burst HQ, takes ten shots in a row at 12.8 frames/second. Unfortunately, the LCD is blacked out during shooting, so you can't track a moving subject. If you want to do that, you'll have to slow things down considerably, to 1-2 frames/sec (depending on the quality setting). The SX50 clears its buffer quickly, so there are no long delays after a burst of photos is taken. One of the weak spots on the SX50 is battery life, which is not only worse than on the SX40, but 30% below its peers.
Photo quality was very good, and comparable to the best super zooms on the market. The SX50's biggest flaws are in the exposure department. The biggest issue is highlight clipping, which is a common problem on cameras with small sensors (which is to say, most compacts). You can reduce this quite a bit by using DR Correction, though noise levels will increase when using that feature. The SX50 also overexposes at times. Otherwise, you'll get good color and relatively sharp subjects when shooting with the PowerShot SX50. Noise levels are low until around ISO 800 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light. You can get better results by shooting RAW and post-processing, which is usually the case. While its predecessor did not have any issues with redeye, that's not the case with the SX50. Thankfully, there's a tool in playback mode which will remove it for you.
If you're looking for a camera that can really cover some distance, then you should certainly be looking at the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. With its 24 - 1200 mm lens, there's really no scene it can't capture. I wouldn't say it's a great camera for low light or fast action, as its lens is slow and continuous shooting lackluster. If that's something you're into, you should really be considering Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ200. But if you're looking for something to capture the moments on your exotic vacations, then the SX50 is worth checking out.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality for a super zoom
- Enormous 50X, 24 - 1200 mm lens
- Optical image stabilization, with Intelligent IS feature that selects the right IS mode for you
- Sharp, rotating 2.8" LCD display with 461,000 pixels offers good outdoor and low light visibility
- Full manual controls, now with RAW support
- Smart Auto mode picks a scene mode for you, can even tell when babies are smiling or sleeping (well, it tries)
- Plenty of scene modes and Creative Filters
- Dynamic range correction and HDR features improve image contrast (though a tripod is recommended for the latter)
- Customizable button, menu, and spots on mode dial
- Electronic level (single-axis)
- Handy Zoom Framing Assist feature lets you quickly recompose when at the telephoto end of the lens
- Records Full HD (1080/24p) video with stereo sound, use of optical zoom, and continuous AF
- Support for external flash, wired remote, and lens filters
What I didn't care for:
- Likes to clip highlights (hint: use DR correction)
- Redeye a problem (though removal tool in playback mode helps)
- Electronic viewfinder isn't great
- Lens is on the slow side (in terms of maximum aperture); tripod almost a necessity when shooting at 50X zoom
- ISO fixed at 80 at shutter speeds at or below 1 second
- Below average battery life
- Rear dial is flush with four-way controller, difficult to turn
- Movies are a bit choppy due to 24 fps frame rate; no manual controls available
- Can't access memory card when using a tripod
- Cheapo bundle puts manual on CD-ROM, doesn't even include a USB cable anymore
Some other super zoom cameras to consider include the Fuji FinePix HS30EXR, Nikon Coolpix P510, Olympus SP-820UZ iHS, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200, Pentax X-5, Samsung WB100, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V.
As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot SX50 HS and its competitors before you buy!
Have a look at our photo gallery to see how the PowerShot SX50's image quality looks!