Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Review

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.

Canon PowerShot S100 in the hand

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:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS 4.8 x 3.4 x 4.2 in. 68.5 cu in. 551 g
Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR 5.1 x 3.8 x 4.9 in. 95 cu in. 637 g
Nikon Coolpix P510 4.8 x 4.1 x 3.3 in. 64.9 cu in. 555 g
Olympus SP-820UZ iHS 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.7 in. 52.8 cu in. 485 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 4.9 x 3.4 x 4.3 in. 71.6 cu in. 537 g
Pentax X-5 4.7 x 3.4 x 4.2 in. 67.1 cu in. 507 g
Samsung WB100 4.5 x 3.1 x 3.4 in. 47.4 cu in. 403 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.8 in. 65.2 cu in. 531 g

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.

Front of the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS

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.

Back-angled view of the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS

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.

Back of the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS

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.

Top of the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS

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.

Left side of the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS

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:

Option Function
Movie mode While you can record movies in any mode by using the red button, here's where you'll find the Super Slow Motion and iFrame modes. You can also take stills while simultaneously recording video in this mode.
Creative Filters mode Take photos with special effects, which include HDR, fisheye, miniature effect, toy camera, soft focus, monochrome, super vivid, poster effect, Color Accent (selective color), and Color Swap. Many of these have a sub-menu which lets you adjust the color to your liking.
Special Scene mode Pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, smooth skin, Smart Shutter, high-speed burst HQ, handheld night scene, snow, fireworks, and Stitch Assist.
Sports mode This scene gets its own spot on the mode dial. The camera will use focus continuously and defaults to burst shooting in this mode.
Movie Digest mode Records 2-4 seconds worth of silent 720p video with every still shot. At the end of the day, these clips are compiled into a single clip which is supposed to summarize the days events.
Smart Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with the camera selecting one of 58 possible scene modes for you. Some menu items are locked up.
Program mode Automatic shooting, but with access to all menu options. A Program Shift feature can be activated by halfway-pressing the shutter release button and then pressing "up" on the four-way controller (AE lock). After that you can use the scroll wheel to move through various shutter speed/aperture combinations.
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/2000 sec. Note that the ISO sensitivity is locked at 80 when the shutter speed goes below 1.3 seconds.
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture and the camera picks an appropriate shutter speed. The range is a rather tight F3.4 - F8.0.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself, with the same ranges as above.
Custom mode 1/2 Store your favorite camera settings on these two spots on the mode dial.

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:

HDR off
HDR on

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.

Function menu

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!

Click to play movie (1920 x 1080, 24 fps, 91.2 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Click to play movie (1920 x 1080, 24 fps, 33.6 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Click to play movie (1920 x 1080, 24 fps, 70.6 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

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.