Canon EOS 50D Digital SLR Camera
At a Glance
At first glance the Canon EOS 50D digital SLR camera isn't a dramatic upgrade over its predecessor, the Canon EOS 40D (which remains available). For a price difference of about $300 (the 50D sells for $1600, including an EF 18-to-200mm, f/3.5-to-5.6 IS USM lens; body only, the price is $1200), you get a major boost in megapixels, an updated image processor, and a bevy of relatively minor feature tweaks.
Among digital SLRs, the 15.1-megapixel 50D has one of the highest megapixel counts currently offered (the 40D has 10.1 megapixels). The sensor size remains the same, which means you must effectively multiply the focal length of the bundled lens by 1.6 to calculate your 35mm-equivalent focal length. The extra reach is helpful in some situations, but as a result you may need a wider-angle lens for landscapes or for shooting in tight environments.
The EOS 50D received an image-quality score of Superior in the PC World Test Center's digital camera tests. Our test images showed good color saturation and accuracy, under both flash and natural light.
In spite of its higher megapixel count, in our ISO tests the 50D performed almost exactly the same as the 40D did. For both cameras, all our jurors deemed the ISO 3200 results unacceptable and found ISO 1600 adequate. The 50D can handle ISO 100 to 12800, another big change from the 40D (which tops out at ISO 3200). That means you can shoot with it in low-light situations, but you should expect the images to gain color noise.
The two models are notably similar in their design. The 50D's body is largely identical to the 40D's, with a few small tweaks (for example, Live View mode now has a handy dedicated button). Though the metering and autofocus systems are the same as those of the 40D, the 50D is Canon's first SLR with face-detection mode (in both viewfinder and Live View shooting), and it features auto-focus fine-tuning to match your lens. The 50D has the same dust-reduction system as the 40D, too. One much-needed improvement: The 3-inch VGA LCD screen has a 920,000-dots-per-inch resolution--a big boost over the 230,000-pixel LCD of the 40D. The higher resolution makes previewing your images easier.
The 50D also carries a rating of 6.3 frames per second. Although that's nearly even with the 40D's rate of 6.5 frames per second, I have to admit that, when shooting sports, I could feel an ever-so-slight difference in how this model handled compared with the 40D; sometimes the difference affected whether I could capture gymnasts' split leaps at their peak. The 50D, at least, has a burst mode of up to 90 JPEGs using UDMA CompactFlash cards (by comparison, the 40D is rated for 75 consecutive JPEGs). Fast burst mode is helpful for making sure you don't miss action.
I was disappointed in the Live View mode, though. It is now far more convenient to use, thanks to the dedicated Live View button positioned to the right of the viewfinder. And it now supports both contrast detection (which relies on detecting the contrast in the image to determine focus) and phase detection (which uses the focus system) for autofocus--in fact, the two-pronged approach should have made the Live View better to use. Unfortunately, in my trials with the 50D, I could not consistently lock in focus using Live View. I appreciate the advantages that Live View can offer, but I was routinely more frustrated by this model's Live View than I have been with the feature in competing models.
Like the EOS 40D, the EOS 50D has a nine-point cross-type autofocus sensor, and in my informal hands-on tests, I found the autofocus accurate. However, I also discovered that in some tricky, low- light situations with fast-moving action, the autofocus was, minutely, less responsive at tracking that action than I've come to expect from Canon models (including the 40D).
The 50D fits well within Canon's lineup. The menus have received a minor face-lift to look slightly more graphical; but they remain in keeping with the controls on other Canon models, which makes the system easy to use for someone graduating from a lower end model, or using this model as a backup to a professional-level camera such as the EOS 5D or even the 1D Mark III. Pros will appreciate items such as the ability to add a transmitter to control and transmit images from the 50D wirelessly. I particularly liked how the dial worked with the four-way joystick to navigate through the clean menus. My one complaint about the controls: Changing the focus points takes two steps, and often requires me to look away from the viewfinder.
Speaking of the viewfinder, as with the 40D, its coverage doesn't match what the sensor will capture. This sometimes meant retaking a shot to ensure the composition was accurate. But it also meant that I managed to capture shots with athletes' fingers and toes intact that might have otherwise been cut off (had I relied only on the viewfinder, and cut the cropping closer than I should have). Though this quirk was annoying at first, over time I learned to compose my shots to take the extra room into account.
Ultimately, the Canon EOS 50D is very much like its 40D sibling. Its strengths overshadow its minor drawbacks (unless you're eager to use the Live View mode). Its greatest assets are its wide-ranging controls and its ability to output great image quality. Together, those positives make this versatile model a great step-up choice from the Digital Rebel series, or a solid option for advanced users.