Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Review


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!

Photo Gallery

Have a look at our photo gallery to see how the PowerShot SX50's image quality looks!

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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.