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DCRP Review: Canon EOS-50D  

Front of the Canon EOS-50D

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 1, 2009
Last Updated: April 4, 2009

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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:

Feature EOS-40D EOS-50D
Street price, body only * $959 $1266
Sensor size 22.2 x 14.8 mm 22.3 x 14.9 mm
Sensor resolution (effective) 10.1 MP 15.1 MP
LCD size / resolution 3.0" / 230,000 pixels 3.0" / 920,000 pixels
ISO range (fully expanded) 100 - 3200 100 - 12,800
RAW sizes available 2 3
Continuous shooting rate 6.5 fps 6.3 fps
Continuous shooting buffer size 17 RAW / 75 JPEG 16 RAW / 60 JPEG **
Peripheral illumination correction No Yes
Creative Auto Mode No Yes
Face detection in live view No Yes
Support for UDMA CompactFlash cards No Yes
HDMI output No Yes
Battery life (CIPA standard) 800 shots 640 shots
* Pricing was accurate when review was published
** Can take 90 JPEGs with UDMA-enabled CF card

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:

  • The 15.1 effective Megapixel EOS-50D camera body
  • F3.5-5.6, 28 - 135 mm IS USM lens [28-135 lens kit only]
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 200 mm IS EF-S lens [18-200 lens kit only]
  • BP-511A lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Shoulder strap
  • Body cap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring EOS Digital Solution and Software Instruction Manuals
  • 227 page camera manual (printed)

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:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS-40D 800 shots BP-511A
Canon EOS-50D 640 shots BP-511A
Nikon D90 850 shots EN-EL3e
Olympus E-30 650 shots BLM-1
Pentax K20D 530 shots D-LI50
Sony Alpha DSLR-A350 730 shots NP-FM500H

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

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.

EOS-50D with optional battery grip
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:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The 50D supports all EF and EF-S mount lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion
External flash

430EX II
580EX II

From $130
From $261
From $366
You'll get more flash power and less chance of redeye with an external flash. These two models fully integrate with the camera.
Speedlite transmitter ST-E2 From $196 Allows you to control multiple wireless flashes
Right angle finder Angle finder C From $182 For looking into the optical viewfinder from above
Wired remote control RS-80N3
From $50
From $128
Basically a shutter release button on a 2.6 foot-long cable. The RS model is a shutter release only, while the TC model has a self-timer
Wireless remote control LC-5 From $430 A pricey, long range (330 ft) wireless remote with self-timer function; attaches to the hot shoe
Battery grip BG-E2N From $160 Get double the battery life and a comfortable vertical grip
Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E3A From $769 Transfer images to your computer via Wi-Fi or Ethernet; can also be used for remote capture from a Mac or PC. Insanely expensive.
AC adapter ACK-E2 From $60 Power your camera without draining your batteries
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

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):

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS-40D 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. 582 g

The EOS-50D is just shy of being the largest camera in the midrange D-SLR group. It's the same size as the 40D, but just a bit lighter.

Alright, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning (as always) with the front:

Front of the Canon EOS-50D

Here's the front of the 50D, with the lens removed. Behind the mirror is a brand new 15.1 effective Megapixel CMOS sensor, up from 10.1 MP on the EOS-40D. The camera has several ways of keeping dust off of the sensor. It shakes dust off with ultrasonic waves when the camera is turned on or off, and the low-pass filter has a new fluorine coating, which repels dust. Should you still find dust in your photos, the camera can "map" where the dust is, and later remove it using the DPP software that I described earlier.

The camera's lens mount is unchanged from the 40D. It supports both EF and EF-S lenses, with a 1.6X focal length conversion ratio. Thus, a 50 mm lens has a field-of-view of 80 mm. Canon's lens selection is exceptional, and third party manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron also have nice offerings. The only thing worth a mention is that if you ever upgrade to something like an EOS-5D Mark II, your EF-S lenses will not be compatible.

Directly above the camera's lens mount is its pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The flash has a guide number of 13 meters at ISO 100 -- unchanged from the 40D. The competition all have the same guide number, with the exception of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350, which has a slightly weaker flash. If you want more flash power or the flexibility of wireless flashes, then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe or flash sync port that you'll see in a bit.

The flash doubles as the camera's AF-assist lamp, firing quick bursts until the camera locks focus. This results in locked focus a lot quicker than your typical compact camera, though it can be quite blinding to your subject. If you don't actually want to take a flash picture, you can simply close the flash after focus is locked.

On the left side of the photo you'll find the shutter release button and the self-timer / redeye reduction lamp.

And that's it for the front of the 50D!

Back of the Canon EOS-50D

When the cameras are powered off, you'd never know just how different the LCDs on the EOS-40D and 50D really are. Both screens are three inches in size (diagonally), but the one of the 50D has 920,000 pixels -- four times the resolution of the 40D's screen. This LCD has been seen on several other midrange D-SLRs, and it's truly stunning. Calling it "sharp" is an understatement; high definition is a much better description. The place you'll probably notice the improvement the most is when using the menus, but you'll certainly appreciate the high resolution screen when reviewing your photos, as well.

The standard live view You can also turn on your choice of two composition grids, plus a histogram that blocks nearly a quarter of the view

Like with the 40D, the EOS-50D supports live view on its LCD display. This means that you can compose your photos in real-time on the LCD, just like you could on your compact camera. One hundred percent of the frame is shown (obviously), as opposed to 95% with the optical viewfinder. The image on the screen is bright and easy to see, both outdoors and in low light. The camera previews what the exposure and white balance will look like, and you can overlay a composition grid and/or histogram as well (though the latter blocks a good portion of the view). Live view is only available in the "creative zone" shooting modes, which are P/Tv/Av/M and A-Dep. You cannot use this feature in any of the auto shooting modes.

You can focus automatically or manually in live view. For auto focus, you can select from three different modes: quick, live, and live with face detection. You just press the AF-On button to activate the AF system. Quick mode uses the camera's main AF sensor for focusing. Thus, it must stop the live view, flip the mirror down, focus, flip the mirror back up, and enable live view. This takes a bit of time, but the camera focuses a lot faster than in the next two modes.

The camera has detected at least two faces here

Live mode uses the sensor itself to focus, using the same contrast detection system as your point-and-shoot camera. Unlike with a compact camera, the 50D focuses very slowly when using contrast detection. You'll easily wait for one or two seconds for the camera to lock focus, and in some cases it could take upwards of five -- yes, five -- seconds before focus is locked. Needless to say, you won't be using this mode for action shots. You can also enable face detection in the Live AF mode. This feature works a bit differently than on your typical compact camera in that it only highlights one face at a time. If it shows arrows pointing to the sides (see screenshot above) then you can use the joystick to move to the other face or faces that it has found.

Checking manual focus in live view mode

Live view is perhaps the most useful when you're manually focusing (and using a tripod). You can enlarge the image on the LCD by 5 or 10 times and then scroll around the image, which makes fine-tuning the focus a snap.

Another live view feature worth mentioning is called silent shooting. Since the camera isn't doing any mirror-flipping, you can take photos with a lot less noise than if you were using the optical viewfinder. Silent shooting mode 1 is what most folks will use, with the only caveat being that the burst rate drops a bit, to 5.8 frames/second. Silent mode 2 will keep the shutter closed until you let go of the shutter release -- I guess so you can get the camera away for your subject before the "click" disturbs it. You cannot shoot continuously using mode 2. You can hear the difference between shooting with the viewfinder and using silent mode 1 in this brief audio clip (MPEG-4 format). You will first hear the sound made when using the viewfinder, followed quickly by live view silent mode 1.

When the LCD is not being used for live view, you can use it for showing the current camera settings (Canon calls this the Quick Control screen). You can change virtually any of these settings by pressing the joystick inward. A secondary info screen (not pictured) is also available, showing things like the color space, white balance shift/bracketing, color temperature, and more.

Hey, enough about the LCD and live view -- let's get back to the tour. Right above the LCD is the camera's optical viewfinder, which is unchanged from the one on the 40D. It has a magnification of 0.95X, which is equivalent to 0.59X in 35 mm terms. That's about average-sized for a midrange D-SLR. Below the field-of-view is a line of green-colored data, containing such information as shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity, exposure, shots remaining, and more. A diopter correction knob on the top-right of the viewfinder can be used to focus what you're looking at.

Direct Transfer menu

To the left of the viewfinder are buttons for entering the menu system and for activating live view (this last one is new to the 50D). The live view button doubles as the Print/Share button, which becomes active when you connect to a PC or printer. You can press it to select photos to transfer to your computer, or to print the current photo.

Moving downward, here's a look at those five buttons located just under the LCD:

  • Playback mode
  • Delete photo
  • Info - toggles what is shown on LCD
  • Picture Styles - see below
  • Function - a customizable button (new to the 50D); can be used to adjust LCD brightness, image quality, exposure compensation/bracketing, image jump, and live view settings
Picture Style menu Editing a Picture Style

Picture Styles have been on Canon's digital SLRs for a few years now. These are sets of shooting parameters that you can easily adjust and switch between. There are six preset Styles, plus three spots for custom styles, as well. The presets include standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, and monochrome, and you can tweak the following parameters for each:

  • Sharpness (0-7)
  • Contrast (-4 to +4)
  • Saturation (-4 to +4)
  • Color tone (-4 to +4)
  • Filter effect (None, yellow, orange, red, green) - for monochrome styles only
  • Toning effect (None, sepia, blue, purple, green) - for monochrome styles only

Do note that Picture Styles are not available in any of the automatic shooting modes.

To the right of the Function button is the power switch, which is also used to "lock out" the large Quick Control dial that I told you about earlier. In the center of the Quick Control dial is the Set button, which serves as the "ok" button in the menus. Above the dial is the joystick, which you can use for menu navigation, changing settings on the LCD info display, and more.

At the top-right of the back view of the EOS-50D are these three buttons:

  • AF-On - activates the autofocus system in live view mode
  • AE/FE lock + zoom out (in playback mode)
  • Focus point selection + zoom in (in playback mode)

The focus point selection button lets you use the joystick to select from one of the camera's nine focus points. You can also leave it in auto area mode, which will have the camera select one of those points on its own.

And that's finally it for the back of the EOS-50D!

Top of the Canon EOS-50D

There's plenty more to see on the top of the EOS-50D. I'll start with the mode dial (now in silver!), which is located at the left of the photo. The options here include:

Option Function
Flash off Disables the flash (including for AF-assist)
Night portrait These are all scene modes; note that live view is not available in these modes
Full auto mode Point-and-shoot, with many menu options locked up; live view is not available
Creative auto mode An auto mode with a twist; see below for more
Program mode Point-and-shoot but with access to all camera options; a Program Shift feature lets you use the main dial to move through various shutter speed/aperture combinations
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You set the shutter speed and the camera selects the appropriate aperture; shutter speed range is 30 - 1/8000 sec
Aperture priority (Av) mode You set the aperture, and the camera selects the appropriate aperture; aperture range will vary depending on your choice of lens
Full manual (M) mode You select both the shutter speed and aperture, with the same ranges as above; a bulb mode is also available, allowing you to take exposures for as long as the shutter release button is held down (AC adapter and remote shutter release strongly recommended)
Auto depth-of-field (A-Dep) mode All subjects covered by a focus point will be in focus
Custom 1/2 Your favorite camera settings, easy to reach

As you'd expect, the EOS-50D has a full set of manual exposure controls. If you have camera settings that you particularly like, you can save them to the to the two custom spots on the mode dial.

This is how you adjust the aperture in Creative Auto mode

There are automatic and scene modes available as well, plus a new "creative auto" mode. This mode lets you adjust exposure and "background" (aperture) by adjusting two guides (see above). You can also change the Picture Style setting, which you cannot do in the other automatic modes.

The next item on the top of the 50D is the hot shoe, one of two ways in which you can connect an external flash to the camera. Canon's own 220EX, 430EX II, and 580EX II Speedlites will work best with the camera, as they integrate with the camera's metering system. The 430EX II and 580 EX II even let you adjust their settings right from the 50D's menu system. If you want to use wireless flashes, then you'll need to use either the 580EX II or the ST-E2 as the "master" --- the camera itself cannot do it. The two high end Speedlites also allow you to use high speed FP sync mode, which lets you use any shutter speed that you'd like, no matter how fast. For third party flashes, you'll have to set the exposure manually, and the maximum shutter speed is 1/250 sec with a compact flash, and 1/60 sec with large studio strobes.

Continuing to the right, we find the camera's LCD info display, which shows every setting you could possibly imagine (I'll spare you by not listing there here). You can turn on a backlight by pressing the small button located to its upper-left.

Above the LCD info display are three buttons (in addition to the one for the backlight). They do the following:

  • Metering (Evaluative, partial, spot, center-weighted) + white balance (auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom, color temperature)
  • AF mode (One-shot, AI servo, AI focus) + drive (single-shot, high speed continuous, low speed continuous, 2 or 10 sec self-timer)
  • ISO (Auto, 100 - 3200) + flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV)

There are three AF modes on the 50D: One-shot AF is for stationary subjects (focus is locked when you halfway press the shutter release), AI servo is for moving subjects (the camera continues to focus, even with the shutter release pressed), and AI focus automatically selects one based on what's going on in the frame.

Now let's talk about the EOS-50D's continuous shooting performance. The camera is actually a bit slower compared to its predecessor, in terms of both burst rate and buffer capacity, which isn't entirely surprising, given the increase in resolution. There are two speeds to choose from: low and high. Here's how the 50D performed in the real world:

Quality setting Low speed High speed
RAW+ Large/Fine JPEG 23 shots @ 3.0 fps 10 shots @ 6.1 fps
RAW 38 shots @ 3.0 fps 16 shots @ 6.1 fps
sRAW1 Unlimited @ 3.0 fps 16 shots @ 6.2 fps
sRAW2 Unlimited @ 3.0 fps 20 shots @ 6.2 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) Unlimited @ 3.0 fps Unlimited @ 6.1 fps

The EOS-50D performed very well in continuous shooting mode, even when shooting RAW. For best results, you'll want to use a UDMA-enabled CompactFlash card, like I did. It's worth mentioning that the camera doesn't just stop after the number of shots I've listed in the table. It'll keep on shooting, just at a much slower burst rate (usually around 2 fps).

The 50D supports both automatic and manual adjustment of the ISO sensitivity. The auto ISO setting really varies depending on what shooting mode you're using. In most of the shooting modes, it'll pick something between ISO 100 and 1600. In portrait and full manual (M) modes, the ISO is fixed at 400. The ISO range can be expanded by adjusting one of the custom settings, expanding the range to ISO 6400 and 12,800. I'll have more on the camera's ISO performance later in the review.

The final items on the top of the camera include the main command dial and the shutter release button.

Side of the Canon EOS-50D

On this side of the 50D you'll find the flash release and depth-of-field preview buttons, plus the I/O ports. You can also catch a glimpse of the AF/MF and image stabilization switches on the 18 - 200 mm kit lens, as well.

The I/O ports are kept under a pair of rubber covers. Let's take a closer look:

Close-up of the I/O ports on the EOS-50D

The ports here are for:

  • Flash sync (another way to connect to an external flash or studio strobes)
  • Wired remote control
  • USB
  • Video out
  • HDMI

The HDMI port is one of the other new features on the EOS-50D. It allows you to connect the camera to an HDTV. The cable isn't included with the camera, so if you buy one, do it online -- you'll save a bundle.

As you'd expect, the 50D supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.

Side of the Canon EOS-50D

On the other side of the 50D you'll find its CompactFlash slot. This supports "regular" Type I as well as thicker Type II cards, including things like the Microdrive (if anyone actually uses those anymore). The door over the memory card slot is fairly sturdy.

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the "extension system terminal" (for the wireless file transmitter, I think), a metal tripod mount, and the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is fairly sturdy, and (like the other doors on the camera) is sealed against dust and moisture.

The familiar BP-511A lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.

Using the Canon EOS-50D

Record Mode

Flip the power switch and the EOS-50D is ready to shoot almost immediately. The camera does run a sensor cleaning at startup, though you can interrupt this by pressing the shutter release button.

Focus speeds will vary quite a bit, depending on what lens you're using, and whether you're using the viewfinder or live view. When shooting with the viewfinder, focus speeds are very good. At wide-angle, the 18 - 200 mm lens (that I used the most) would lock focus in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds. Telephoto focus times were typically between 0.3 - 0.6 seconds -- very snappy. Low light focusing isn't great with the flash down. Pop it up, and the camera will use it as an AF-assist lamp, and you can expect reliable and responsive focusing, with focus times typically staying under a second. As I mentioned earlier, the flash-based AF-assist lamp can be quite blinding to your subjects.

Live view focus times depend on everything I mentioned above, plus which of the three modes you're using. For quick mode, focus times are maybe 1/2 second longer than with the viewfinder alone. If you're using "live mode" focusing, you can expect multi-second waits while the camera tries to focus.

If you're shooting with the optical viewfinder then shutter lag won't be a problem. There's a tiny bit of shutter lag with live view, but it's really not much, as the mirror is already out of the way, and the focus is locked.

As with all digital SLRs, there's no delay between shots, regardless of image quality or flash use. You can shoot as fast as you can compose the next shot.

You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button.

Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB card (optional)
4752 x 3168
RAW 20.2 MB 91
3267 x 2178
12.6 MB 140
2376 x 1584
9.2 MB 200
4752 x 3168
Fine 5.0 MB 370
Normal 2.5 MB 740
3456 x 2304
Fine 3.0 MB 620
Normal 1.6 MB 1190
2352 x 1568
Fine 1.7 MB 1090
Normal 900 KB 2040

There are three RAW sizes available on the EOS-50D. There's your everyday full resolution RAW mode, plus two lower resolution modes (sRAW 1 and 2) which record at 7.1 and 3.8 MB, respectively. You can take a RAW image alone, or along with a JPEG at the size of your choosing. I explained the benefits (and drawbacks) of the RAW format earlier in the review.

Images are named XXX_YYYY.JPG (or .CR2), where X=100-999 and Y=0001-9999. File numbering is maintained as you swap or erase memory cards.

The 50D's menu system isn't a whole lot different than the one on the EOS-40D. The most obvious change is that it looks really nice on the 50D's super high resolution LCD. The menu is split into several tabs, which include:

Shooting 1
  • Quality (See above chart)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Beep (on/off)
  • Shoot w/o card (on/off)
  • Review time (Off, 2, 4, 8 sec, hold) - post-shot review
  • Peripheral illumination correction (on/off) - see below
Shooting 2
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV) + AE bracketing - see below
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, custom, color temperature) - see below
  • Custom white balance - see below
  • WB shift/bracketing - see below
  • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Picture Style (Standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, monochrome, user 1/2/3) - I described these earlier
  • Dust Delete Data - obtains data to aid with dust removal on your computer
Playback 1
  • Protect images
  • Rotate
  • Erase images
  • Print order - tag photos for printing
  • Transfer order - tag photos for auto transfer to your computer
  • External media backup - backup data to a USB flash drive when you're using the wireless file transmitter

Playback 2

  • Highlight alert (on/off) - shows clipped highlights
  • AF point display (on/off) - shows the AF points that were used
  • Histogram (Brightness, RGB)
  • Slideshow
  • Image jump with main dial (1, 10, 100 images, screen, date, folder) - how many images are skipped when using the main dial

Setup 1

  • Auto power off (Off, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30 mins)
  • Auto rotate (Camera+PC, PC only, off)
  • Format card
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset, manual reset)
  • Select folder
  • WFT settings - control the wireless file transmitter
  • Recording function+media select - for use when a USB flash drive is attached to the optional wireless file transmitter
Setup 2
  • LCD brightness (1-7)
  • Date/time
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Sensor cleaning
    • Auto cleaning (enable/disable)
    • Clean now
    • Clean manually
  • Live view function settings - I described these earlier
    • Live view shooting (enable/disable)
    • Exposure simulation (enable/disable) - when on, image on LCD reflects actual exposure
    • Grid display (on/off)
    • Silent shooting (Mode 1, mode 2, disable)
    • Metering timer (4, 16, 30 secs, 1, 10, 30 mins)
    • AF mode (Quick, live, live w/face detection)

Setup 3

  • Info button (Normal display, camera settings, shooting functions) - which of these screens is displayed
  • Flash control
    • Flash firing (enable/disable)
    • Built-in flash func. setting
      • Shutter sync (1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain)
      • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV)
      • E-TTL II (Evaluative, average)
    • External flash func. setting - these next three require a 430EX II or 580EX II flash; options will vary
    • External flash custom func. setting
    • Clear external flash custom func. setting
  • Camera user setting - save current settings to the mode dial
    • Register (C1, C2)
    • Clear (C1, C2)
  • Clear all camera settings
  • Firmware version

Custom functions

  • I. Exposure
    1. Exposure level increments (1/3-stop, 1/2-stop)
    2. ISO speed setting increments (1/3-stop, 1-stop)
    3. ISO expansion (on/off) - opens up ISO 6400 and 12,800
    4. Bracketing auto cancel (on/off)
    5. Bracketing sequence (0/-/+, -/0/+)
    6. Safety shift (enable/disable) - whether the shutter speed or aperture are automatically adjusted in Av or Tv mode to get a good exposure
    7. Flash sync speed in Av mode (Auto, 1/250 - 1/60 sec auto, 1/250 sec fixed)
  • II. Image
    1. Long exposure noise reduction (Off, auto, on) - for exposures longer than 1 second
    2. High ISO speed noise reduction (Standard, low, strong, disable)
    3. Highlight tone priority (enable/disable) - improves highlight detail and dynamic range, but increases noise in shadow areas
    4. Auto lighting optimizer (Standard, low, strong, disable) - see below
  • III. Autofocus/Drive
    1. Lens drive when AF impossible (Focus search on/off) - whether the camera keeps trying to focus when it's having trouble
    2. Lens AF stop button function (AF stop, AF start, AE lock, AF point selection, one shot <-> AI servo, IS start) - for super telephoto lenses only
    3. AF point selection method (normal, multi-controller, quick control dial)
    4. Superimposed display (on/off) - whether focus points are illuminated in the viewfinder
    5. AF-assist beam firing (Enable, disable, only external flash emits)
    6. Mirror lockup (enable/disable) - to avoid blur caused by the vibrations of the mirror flipping
    7. AF micro-adjustment (DIsable, adjust all by same amount, adjust by lens) - lets you fine-tune the focusing on lenses; new to the 50D
  • IV. Operation/Others
    1. Shutter button/AF-On button (Metering + AF start, Metering + AF start/stop, Metering start/Metering + AF start, AE lock/Metering + AF start, Metering + AF start/disable) - define what the shutter release and AF-On button do
    2. AF-On/AE lock button switch (enable/disable) - swap the function of these two buttons
    3. SET button when shooting (Disabled, image quality, Picture Style, menu display, image replay, Quick Control screen) - what the button in the center of the Quick Control dial does
    4. Dial direction during Tv/Av (Normal, reverse)
    5. Focusing screen (Ef-A, Ef-D, Ef-S)
    6. Add original decision data (on/off) - whether image verification data is stored along with the photo
    7. Assign Function button (LCD brightness, image quality, exposure compensation / AE bracketing, image jump with main dial, live view settings) - what this button does
  • Clear all custom functions

My Menu settings

  • Up to six of your favorite menu items can go here; menu can be set up on the camera or in EOS Utility

There's a lot to talk about before we move on. The peripheral illumination correction feature is new to the 50D, and it aims to reduce vignetting (dark corners) in your photos. The camera has data for 20 lenses built in, and you can add more via the EOS Utility software. To see if this feature worked, I attached a wide-angle lens, popped up the flash, and took a photo of the wall. Here's the result:

As you can see, this feature reduced the amount of vignetting in the photo. It can't really do anything about the shadow of the lens (bottom) -- you'll need to use an external flash to get around that.

As you'd expect, the 50D features an auto exposure bracketing option. This feature takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The exposure interval can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV. If you've got a large memory card, this is a good way to ensure properly exposed photos every time.

WB shift and bracketing (at the same time, no less)

The EOS-50D has plenty of manual white balance adjustments. First, you can use a white or gray card as a reference, for accurate color in mixed and unusual lighting. Another option is to manually set the color temperature, which can be adjusted between 2500K and 10000K, in 100K increments. If either of those are a little off, you can use the white balance shift to move the white balance in the green, blue, magenta, and amber directions (see screenshot). If that's still not enough, you can bracket for white balance, with the camera taking three shots in a row, each with a slightly different WB setting.

There are two items in the custom function menu that I want to mention: highlight tone priority, and auto lighting optimizer. Highlight tone priority aims to increase the dynamic range of your photos, by producing more detail in the overexposed areas of a photo. One of the side effects of this feature is that the ISO is increased to a minimum of 200. I took what I thought would be a good photo to test out this feature, but the results are very subtle, as you'll see:

Highlight tone priority off

Highlight tone priority on

With highlight tone priority turned on, you see a little more detail in the branches, and the fence posts don't appear to get thin at the top, either. Not quite the dramatic change I was hoping for. You can also see the strong purple fringing produced by the 18 - 200 mm EF-S lens.

View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
ALO Standard
View Full Size Image

ALO Strong
View Full Size Image

The auto lighting optimizer attempts to improve overall contrast, though it's almost as subtle as the highlight tone priority feature I just discussed. You can select from low, standard, or strong applications of ALO, or you can turn it off altogether. There isn't much of a difference between low and standard, and you won't really see the feature kick in until you put it on strong. Seeing how the 50D tends to slightly overexposed, I'd probably keep this setting at its default -- standard.

Let's move on to photo quality now. Since there's no single kit lens, I did not perform the distortion test. For the macro test, I used the Canon F2.8, 60 mm EF-S lens. For the night shot, the Canon F4L, 70 - 200 mm IS. Finally, for the redeye and ISO test, the 18 - 200 mm EF-S lens that was also used for all the gallery photos.

The EOS-50D produced a nice photo of our standard macro test subject. Colors are nice and saturated, and the camera's custom white balance feature handled my studio lamps perfectly. My main complaint about this photo is that the subject is on the soft side -- a complaint you'll hear more than once in this section of the review. If you're looking for any noise in the photo, keep looking: there isn't any.

The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you have attached to the camera. I used the Canon F2.8, 60 mm EF-S lens here, which can be as close as 20 cm.

The night shot turned out exceptionally well, and the 70-200 F4L IS lens that I used has a lot to do with that (I love that thing). The 50D captured an incredible amount of detail, with sharp corners on all the buildings, and no detail loss. The camera did clip a few highlights, though closing down the aperture should take care of most of that. Purple fringing is mainly a lens thing, and it's almost nonexistent here (I imagine that the 18-200 would've performed a lot worse in this test). Noise and noise reduction artifacting aren't an issue, and I sure as heck wouldn't expect them to be.

I have two ISO tests for you in this review, and the first one uses the night scene you see above. The long exposure noise reduction option was set to "auto". If you want to compare these photos with those taken with the EOS-40D, then click here to open up that review (do note that the photos were not taken at the same time). Here we go with the test!

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 3200, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR) + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

ISO 6400 (H1)

ISO 12,800 (H2)

This may sound funny, but I actually like the ISO 400 shot a little more than those taken at ISO 100 and 200. Why, you ask? The tiny bit of noise that appears at ISO 400 makes things just a little bit shaper, and more to my liking (obviously, this is a subjective thing). There's more noise at ISO 800 and 1600, but they're still very usable for large prints, especially if you run them through noise reduction software. You don't really start to lose any detail until you hit ISO 3200, where noise reduction starts its smudging. I threw in a post-processed RAW conversion to show you that yes, you can get a little more detail out of the 50D if you go that route. I would probably pass on the two "high" ISO settings, as there's just too much detail loss for the photos to be usable. There's also noticeable "banding" in the sky at those two settings.

We'll see how the 50D did in normal lighting in a moment.

The redeye test turned out in much the same way as it did in the EOS-40D review. There's a tiny bit of redeye, but it's really not enough to be concerned about.

Here is the second of the ISO tests in this review. Since the lighting doesn't change, you can compare it with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the image quality at each sensitivity, I highly recommend opening up the full size images, so you can get the complete picture (no pun intended).

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 3200, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

ISO 3200, RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage

ISO 6400

ISO 12,800

Everything is nice and clean through ISO 400. You start to see a tiny bit of noise at ISO 800, but details remain intact. At ISO 1600 the image starts to soften, and this becomes a lot more noticeable at ISO 3200. It's at this point that you might want to think about shooting RAW, and I included a conversion (one untouched, one retouched) so you can see why. I would save ISO 6400 for desperation only, and I wouldn't even bother with ISO 12,800.

How does the EOS-50D compare to its predecessor at high ISOs? Here are crops of the ISO 3200 shot from each camera:

ISO 3200 - EOS-40D

ISO 3200 - EOS-50D

In terms of noise, I'd say that the EOS-50D does a noticeably better job, at least in this particular test. The only thing I like better about the 40D's performance here is the color -- it's a lot more vibrant.

Overall, the EOS-50D produced very good quality photos. The camera generally exposed photos well, though it overexposed by 1/3 stop or so on occasion. It also did a little more highlight clipping than I would've liked. Colors are great -- vivid and accurate. Sharpness is going to depend on your lens, and the 18 - 200 mm lens I used for all my gallery shots leaves something to be desired (a detailed review of this lens can be found here). It's sharp enough in the middle, but things get soft quickly as you move toward the edges of the frame. Put on a better lens (like the 70-200 F4L I used for the night shot) and you'll get much sharper photos, though I'd still crank up the sharpness a notch, if it were up to me. The 50D does a good job at keeping noise under control, offering you the ability to make large prints as high as ISO 1600 (and perhaps higher if you shoot RAW). Only at the very highest sensitivities do you encounter what I'd call noise reduction artifacting. Purple fringing is also lens-dependent, and it was fairly strong on the 18-200.

Now, have a look at our photo gallery. Look at the full size images, maybe printing a few if you can, and then decide if the EOS-50D's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The EOS-50D does not have the ability to record movies. Its close competitor, the Nikon D90, does. If you want a Canon that can do it, you'll have to pony up the money for the EOS-5D Mark II.

Playback Mode

The EOS-50D has a pretty basic playback mode, with no gimmicks. Features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo (by up to 10X), and then move around in the zoomed-in area -- perfect for checking focus. By using the quick control dial, you can move from one photo to another (maintaining the zoom setting), which is quite handy. You can jump through photos using the main dial on the top of the camera, by groups of 10 or 100 photos, or by thumbnail screen, date, or folder.

The only "editing" tool on the camera is image rotation. There's no way to resize or crop photos on the camera.

Photos can be deleted one at a time, in a group, or all at once.

By default, the 50D doesn't tell you much about your photos, but if you press the Info button, you'll see a lot more. Pressing the button again switches the histogram from brightness to RGB.

The camera moves through photos instantly, as you'd expect on a D-SLR.

How Does it Compare?

The Canon EOS-50D is a very competent midrange digital SLR. It offers very good photo quality (with a quality lens attached), rocket-fast performance, plenty of manual controls and customizable features, and a super-sharp 3-inch LCD. There aren't too many negatives to mention, but the major ones are the noticeable drop in battery life compared to the EOS-40D that came before it, occasional highlight clipping and overexposure, and sluggish contrast detect focus in live view mode (par for the course, I'm afraid). While I'm not rushing out to sell my EOS-40D and upgrade, the 50D is a solid D-SLR that I can definitely recommend.

If you've seen the EOS-40D, then you've seen the 50D. The two cameras look almost identical, with just a few cosmetic changes. Things have changed considerably behind the scenes, of course. The 50D sports a 15.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, an enhanced dust reduction system, and a much higher resolution LCD, to name a few things. The camera is very well built, with a solid metal frame. The right hand grip is the perfect size, giving the 50D a secure, comfortable feel in your hands. The camera supports both EF and EF-S lenses, with the usual 1.6X focal length conversion ratio. Unlike cameras from Olympus and Sony, the EOS-50D doesn't have built-in image stabilization, so you'll need to rely on the lens for that. One thing I complained about on the 40D was the low resolution of its LCD, compared to the competition from Nikon and Sony. Canon took care of that on the 50D, offering up a 920,000 pixel, 3-inch display that's amazingly sharp. As with most D-SLRs these days, you can compose photos on the LCD using a "live view" feature, and I found it bright and easy to see indoors and out. The 50D has two ways of attaching an external flash (hot shoe or flash sync cable), though Canon is seriously lagging in the wireless flash department (you need to buy a pricey flash or transmitter to do this). A new addition to the 50D is an HDMI port, allowing you to connect the camera to a high definition television (cable not included).

While it has a few features for beginners, the 50D will mainly appeal to advanced amateurs and professionals. If you're not quite ready for manual controls, there are several scene modes, and two auto modes -- regular and creative. The creative auto mode (new to the 50D) tries to simplify aperture and exposure adjustment, and it opens up a few more controls, as well. I wasn't terribly excited by this feature -- you might as well use Program mode instead. I should also point out that the live view feature is not available in any of the automatic shooting modes. Ready for more? Then you'll like all of the manual bells and whistles on the EOS-50D. They include controls for exposure, white balance (including fine-tuning and bracketing), and various image parameters (via the Picture Styles feature). You can create a custom My Menu, save favorite camera settings to two spots on the mode dial, and define the function of the, well, Function button. There are three RAW sizes to choose from, so if you don't need all 15 Megapixels that the camera offers, you can use a lower resolution and still get all the benefits of the format. Canon's bundled Digital Photo Professional software is a capable RAW editor, and you'll also find remote capture software in the box -- something that costs a lot more from other camera manufacturers. One of the new features on the 50D is called peripheral illumination correction, and from my experience, it does a fine job at reducing vignetting.

Camera performance is excellent. Flip on the power switch, and the EOS-50D is ready to roll. If you're shooting with the viewfinder, you'll get very responsive focus times. If you're using live view, focus times range from good (with "quick" focus) to miserable (with "live" focus). Low light focusing is very good if you have the flash / AF-assist lamp popped up, and just okay without it. Shutter lag is not a problem, even when using live view. Shot-to-shot times are minimal as well, just as you'd expect from a D-SLR. While the EOS-50D is actually a little slower than its predecessor in terms of continuous shooting, it still delivered some excellent numbers. With a UDMA-enabled CompactFlash card, I was able to take 16 RAW and a seemingly unlimited number of JPEGs at 6.1 frames/second. If you drop the frame rate to 3 frames/second, you can take a whopping 38 RAW images in a row. The only performance-related area in which the 50D disappoints is in terms of battery life. It's down 20% from the 40D, and is below average among its competitors. On a brighter note, you can double the battery life by picking up the optional battery grip, and it supports AA batteries, as well.

While very good overall, the EOS-50D reminded me that you need a quality piece of glass attached to get the most out of the camera. While it has a nice zoom range, the 18 - 200 mm kit lens (one of two available) doesn't let the 50D do its best work. That said, you'll get good exposures out of the 50D, though it did clip highlights more than I'd like. Colors were just right -- no complaints here. The camera captures plenty of detail, and with a nice lens, you'll see it. I do wish that things were a bit sharper straight out of the camera, and if you think so too, you can adjust the Picture Styles to your liking. The EOS-50D performs quite well at high ISOs, producing very usable photos through ISO 1600 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light. If you shoot RAW, you'll be able to get a little bit more out of the camera at the highest sensitivities. There was just a tiny bit of redeye in our flash test, though it wasn't enough to concern me.

Canon has created a very nice digital SLR with the EOS-50D. As someone who has owned a D60, 20D, and now a 40D, I don't think I'll be upgrading, as the changes aren't significant enough (though l love that LCD), and I don't need the extra resolution. If you're looking to upgrade from something older, or one of Canon's entry-level models, then the 50D is absolutely worth a look. Just remember to save a little money for some decent lenses!

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (with a good lens)
  • Low noise levels through ISO 1600 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light
  • Sturdy, well-designed body; easy to hold; resistant against dust and moisture
  • Ultra-sharp 3-inch LCD display
  • Live view allows you to compose photos on the LCD; manual focusing is easy with frame enlargement; histogram and composition grids available
  • Newly enhanced dust reduction system
  • Full manual controls; Picture Styles let you quickly change between different shooting parameters
  • Three RAW sizes available; capable editor included
  • Responsive performer, in terms of startup, focus, shot-to-shot times
  • Fast continuous shooting mode can take 16 RAW or an unlimited number of JPEGs at 6.1 fps (with a fast CF card)
  • Custom spots on mode dial, custom Function button, and built-it-yourself My Menu
  • Two ways to connect an external flash
  • Peripheral illumination correction effectively reduces vignetting
  • Remote capture software included, live view available
  • UDMA-enabled CompactFlash cards supported
  • Optional battery grip, which supports AAs
  • Available (and very expensive) wireless file transmitter
  • HDMI output

What I didn't care for:

  • Images on the soft side, especially with "average" lenses
  • Slight tendency to clip highlights and overexpose
  • Battery life is below average, and 20% worse than on the 40D
  • Very slow contrast detect AF in live view mode
  • Live view not available in auto/scene modes
  • No built-in support for wireless flashes

Some other midrange D-SLRs to consider include the Nikon D90, Olympus E-30, Pentax K20D, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A350.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the EOS-50D and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.