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Canon EOS 50D Digital SLR
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Date: Jan 22, 2009
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction

Whether you’re an amateur photographer or someone who’s more serious about photography, a D-SLR can provide a lot of benefits over a simple point and shoot camera. With a D-SLR, you’ll get faster shooting speeds, better optics (and therefore a better quality picture), the ability to change lenses for ultimate flexibility, complete control over image exposure, sharpness, other image quality settings and a lot more.

Like many products, there are entry-level D-SLRs, professional-grade D-SLRs, and plenty of models in between. Canon’s 50D blurs the line between amateur and professional D-SLR cameras. This camera strikes a good balance with its price and feature set. With the 50D, you get a lot of features you wouldn’t find on entry-level models, but you won’t pay professional-grade prices, either. Users who are just making the jump to a D-SLR, for example will appreciate the 50D’s Live View mode, which lets you use the D-SLR’s LCD to frame an image, similar to the way you would frame an image using a point and shoot camera. For more advanced shooters, the 50D also has full manual controls to give you all the traditional adjustments in image staging for your photographs.

In Canon’s lineup, the 50D will serve as a sister model, not a replacement to the 40D that was released last year. With both models in Canon’s line, the manufacturer is offering consumers a choice between two solid DSLR cameras with slightly different features and prices.

As one might expect, the 50D offers a number of improvements over its predecessor, including an APS-C sized, 15.1 megapixel CMOS sensor (4,752 x 3,168). While more megapixels don’t always result in a better camera, it’s still a worthy feature to mention, and one that the average buyer is sure to notice. It’s also important to remember that the 50D is not just any 15.1 megapixel camera.  This is a high resolution Digital SLR model from a well-known and well-respected brand that has a history of excellent optics. But since brand and megapixel count alone aren’t enough of a reason to select a camera, we’ve put the 50D through a few tests to see how it fares.

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Included Accessories & Specifications


Included Accessories

In the box, you'll find the following:

  • EOS 50D body
  • Eyecup
  • Wide Neck Strap EW-EOS 50D
  • Video Cable VC-100
  • USB Interface Cable IFC-200U
  • Battery Pack BP-511A
  • Battery Charger CG-580
  • Great Photography is Easy Booklet
  • Do More with Macro Booklet
  • EOS Digital Solution CD
  • Software Instruction Manual 


Canon 50D
Specifications & Features

Effective Pixels Approx. 15.10 megapixels 
Aspect Ratio 3:2 (Horizontal: Vertical)
Image Sensor Size 22.3mm x 14.9mm
Image Type JPEG, RAW (14-bit, Canon original), sRAW, RAW+JPEG 
File Size Large/Fine: Approx. 5.0MB (4752 x 3168 pixels)
Large/Normal: Approx. 2.5MB (4752 x 3168 pixels)
RAW+Large/Fine: Approx. 20.2+5.0MB (4752 x 3168 pixels)
RAW: Approx. 20.2MB (4752 x 3168 pixels)
sRAW 2: Approx. 9.2MB (2376 x 1584 pixels)
sRAW 1: Approx. 12.6MB (3267 x 2178 pixels)
Exact file sizes depend on the subject, ISO speed, Picture Style, etc.
Color Space sRGB, Adobe RGB
Recording Media CF Card Type I and II, UDMA-compliant CF cards, via external media (USB v.2.0 hard drive, via optional Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E3A)
Compatible Lenses Canon EF lenses (including EF-S lenses) (35mm-equivalent focal length is approx. 1.6x the lens focal length) 
Lens Mount Canon EF mount
Dust Deletion feature (1) Automatic sensor cleaning
(2) Manual cleaning of sensor
(3) Dust Delete Data appended to the captured image 
LCD Size 3.0 in.
LCD Dots Approx. 920,000 (VGA)
Shooting Modes Program AE (Shiftable), Shutter-priority AE, Aperture-priority AE, Depth-of-field AE, Creative Auto, Full auto, Programmed image control modes (portrait, landscape, close-up, sports, night portrait, flash off), Manual exposure, E-TTL II autoflash program AE
Live View Shooting Modes

(1) Live View shooting

(2) Remote Live View shooting (with a personal computer installed with EOS Utility) 

AF Points 9 (Cross-type)
White Balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten Light, White Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom, Color Temperature setting
Color Temperature Compensation

White balance correction: ±9 stops in full-stop increments

White balance bracketing: ±3 stops in full-stop increments

Metering Modes Evaluative metering (linkable to any AF point)
Partial metering (approx. 9% of viewfinder at center)
Spot metering (approx. 3.8% of viewfinder at center)
Center-weighted average metering
ISO Speed Basic Zone modes: ISO 100-1600 set automatically
Creative Zone modes: ISO 100-3200 (in 1/3-stop increments), Auto, or ISO speed can be expanded to ISO 6400 or ISO 12800
Extension settable (with C.Fn.I-3-1): ISO 12800
High Tone Priority settable: ISO 200-1600 
Exposure Compensation Manual: ±3 stops in 1/3- or 1/2-stop increments (can be combined with AEB)
Shutter Speeds 1/8000 to 30 sec., bulb 
Drive Modes Single, High-speed continuous, Low-speed continuous, and Self-timer (10 sec. or 2 sec. delay)
Continuous Shooting Speed Max. 6.3 shots/sec.
Maximum Burst JPEG (Large/Fine): approx. 60 (CF)/approx. 90 (UDMA CF)
RAW: approx. 16
RAW+JPEG (Large/Fine): approx. 11
Remote Control Remote control with N3-type terminal
Built-in Flash Type Retractable, auto pop-up flash
Flash Metering E-TTL II autoflash
Recycling Time Approx. 3 sec.
Flash Exposure Compensation Up to ±2 stops in 1/3- or 1/2-stop increments 
Compatible Flash EX-series Speedlites
Connections USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, Video out, Mini HDMI connector, N3 type wired remote control, PC Sync flash terminal, Communication terminal on base for WFT-E3/E3A
Start-up Time Approx. 0.1 sec. (Based on CIPA testing standards)
Dimensions (WxHxD) Approx. 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in.
Weight Approx. 25.7 oz. (body only)


Looking at its specs alone, certainly the 50D’s 15.1MP sensor is sure to catch a person’s eye. Beyond that, the 50D’s burst rate of 6.3 frames per second is impressive as well, considering the amount of data the camera must move in that timeframe.

Canon’s improvements to the 50D’s LCD do not go unnoticed, either. This LCD is vibrant and its ability to display VGA resolution gives you a good feel for what your shots will look like on screen. The camera’s ISO range is noteworthy as well. While most photographers will tell you to use the lowest ISO possible, it’s certainly nice to have a range to work with, especially in low-light situations. More details and a deep dive on a few key technologies built into the 50D are next.
 

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A Look at what’s New

As we would expect with any new product, Canon has added new features and refined other features with the 50D. Here’s a closer look at what sets the 50D apart from its predecessors.

Canon APS-C CMOS Sensor15.1 Megapixel CMOS Sensor

As mentioned, the Canon 50D has a 15.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, which is increased from the 40D’s 10 megapixel sensor. At the time the 50D was released, it had the largest megapixel count for an APS-C sensor.

The large sensor also results in large image files—approximately 5MB for a JPG and 20.2MB for a RAW file. Recognizing that some users won’t always need these super high resolution formats, Canon included two sRAW settings to assist with more manageable file sizes. sRAW1 results in a 25% smaller image, while sRAW2 provides a 50% smaller image, which is the equivalent of files captured at 7.1 or 3.8 megapixel resolutions, respectively.

 

Canon DIGIC 4 Image ProcessorDIGIC 4 Processor

Canon’s DIGIC 4 Image Processor moves the larger sized photos of the 50D at a faster pace than its predecessor. Although the 50D has a slightly lower burst rate of 6.3 frames per second, compared to the 40D’s 6.5 frames per second, keep in mind that the 50D is transmitting significantly more data. Given this, 6.3 frames per second is very respectable for the 50D. Furthermore, Canon was able to maintain 14-bit data for RAW images. The faster processing speed of the DIGIC 4 Image Processor also works hand-in-hand with UDMA cards to support fast writing speeds. In fact, with a UDMA CF card, you’ll be able to shoot at 6.3 frames per second for up to 90 JPEG or 16 RAW images. Using a standard CF card, you’ll still get a maximum burst up to 60 JPEGs.

Additionally, the new DIGIC 4 Image Processor provides for finer details and even more natural color reproduction, compared with the previous DIGIC III Image Processor. The DIGIC 4 also offers Peripheral Illumination Correction for up to 40 EF lenses, along with the improved Auto Lighting Optimizer, which corrects brightness and contrast automatically.

Nine Cross-type AutoFocus

The 50D has a high-precision 9-point wide area AF that uses cross-type points at f-stops of f/5.6 or faster, making it possible for the camera to focus faster, more accurately, and in difficult lighting situations. The EOS 50D also has a diagonally mounted cross-type sensor that is sensitive to both vertical and horizontal lines at f/2.8, which improves operation in dim lighting conditions.

ISO Sensitivity Expandable to 12,800

The 50D’s ISO sensitivity is now expandable to 12,800. Even with the aforementioned increase in resolution, Canon has managed to reduce sensor noise, thanks to changes to the design of the microlens array as well as to the sensor itself. These changes made is possible for Canon to offer its widest range of ISO settings yet, ranging from ISO 100 to 3,200, with two higher settings: H1 is equivalent to ISO 6,400 and H2 provides an ISO equivalent of 12,800.

Even though Canon reduced the noise significantly, it’s best to avoid the highest ISO settings whenever possible since they still do cause some digital noise (as you’ll see in the test shots later.) Still, the expandability is nice, since sometimes it will mean the difference of a respectable shot or nothing at all. By combining the ISO expandability with the adjustable noise reduction feature of the camera, you’ll be able to shoot in situations that would have otherwise required a flash on previous cameras.

New, High-resolution LCD

The Canon 50D features a 3-inch LCD with 920,000 dots. This high-resolution display supports a VGA resolution of 640 x 480 RGB pixels, making it easier to view all of the fine details of a photo directly on the camera’s display. To help make the screen viewable in bright conditions, Canon built three anti-reflection layers into the screen. The LCD has a broad viewing angle of 160 degrees horizontally and vertically.

Canon 50D Creative Auto ModeCreative Auto Mode & Quick Control Screen

For users who are just getting into photography and don’t understand how different shutter and aperture settings affect an image, Canon’s Creative Auto Mode simplifies things. In this mode, you can choose to blur or sharpen the background; control the firing of the flash; adjust picture brightness; change the picture style; access single, continuous, or self-timer shooting modes; and change the image recording quality using easy to understand and manipulate controls.

In both the Basic Zone shooting modes as well as the Creative Zone modes, you can access the Quick Control Screen by pressing the joystick straight down. From this screen, you’ll be able to easily change various settings, including drive modes and image recording quality. This screen also provides a good overview of current camera settings.

Live View Mode with 3 AF Modes

The Live View mode on the 50D offers face detection, which is something we haven’t seen with other Canon D-SLRs released prior to the 50D. This feature is pretty self-explanatory and can detect up to 35 faces in a frame and adjust the exposure of the image appropriately.

There are two other AF modes within Live View as well, namely Quick Mode and Live Mode. In Quick Mode, the dedicated AF sensor is used to focus in the same way as when you are using the viewfinder. Thus, the Live View image will be momentarily interrupted while the camera is focusing. If you want the Live View to display constantly, then use Live View mode, which uses the image sensor to focus. This mode will take longer to focus, but you won’t miss seeing any of the action on the camera’s LCD. Of course, you can always focus the camera manually in Live View mode as well by switching the lens to manual focus.

While in Live View mode, you can press the zoom button on the back of the camera to zoom in 5x and 10x. This helps you select and achieve the best focus.

HDMI Connection

To help you show off all of your fantastic shots, the EOS 50D has a HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) output that allows you to display crisp, clear images on a HDTV. When the camera is connected to a HDTV, the resolution is set to match the TV and images are displayed in a full-frame 3:2 ratio with black bars to the left and right of the image.

Micro Adjustment of Focus

For serious photographers, the 50D lets you adjust the position at which the lens thinks the focus is perfect. The micro adjustment of focus feature is a 40 step scale from +20 to -20 units that let you finely tune the focus of the lens. You can apply changes as a constant offset to all lenses if the camera body is slightly out of adjustment, or you can record an offset for each Canon lens, with support for up to 20 different lenses.

Canon Self-Cleaning Sensor UnitDust Removal

The early problems that D-SLRs had with dust have largely been taken care of, thanks to new technologies such as Canon’s Self-Cleaning Sensor Unit, which was upgraded for the 50D with a fluorine coating on the low-pass filter for even better dust resistance. The Self-Cleaning Sensor Unit also uses ultrasonic vibrations to shake dust particles off of the low-pass filter in front of the sensor each time the camera is powered up or shut down. Another part of the dust removal system includes a software component which lets you map and save sensor spots as Dust Delete Data. This information is attached to the image file for removal during post processing using Canon's DPP software.





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Body Design and Controls

The 40D had a nice body, so Canon didn’t see the need to change much. In fact, if you were to set the 50D and the 40D side by side, it might be difficult to tell them apart, save for the 50D and 40D logos. Here’s a closer look at the 50D’s body and controls.

Front

The 50D has a standard metal EF / EF-S lens mount, making the camera compatible with all Canon EF and EF-S lenses as well as compatible third party lenses.

On the side of the lens mount, there’s a button that will pop-up the internal flash along with the lens release button and the depth of field preview button. 
     
Canon EOS 50D Body - click for high res

Back

The 50D has a 0.95x magnification viewfinder that is nicely designed. As with previous D-SLRs from Canon, the eyepiece rubber is removable, so you can attach different eyepieces or angled finders if you choose.

The 50D also has a dedicated Live View button, which is also the Direct Print button. On the 40D, you had to press the SET button in order to activate Live View. Even though the SET button did the job on the 40D, we prefer using the Direct Print button to access Live View instead.

Below the LCD, Canon removed the 40D’s Jump button and moved the Info and Picture Styles buttons to the left to make room for the FUNC. button.

   Live View Button
    

Sides

The Compact Flash compartment is on the side of the camera near the hand grip. To open the door, you simply slide it towards you and flip it outward. The door leaves plenty of room to insert and eject the CF card.

 
   


On the other side of the camera, you’ll find the 50D’s connections. There are two columns of connectors, and each has its own cover. There’s a PC sync and remote terminal (N3) on the left and video out and USB 2.0 on the right. The right side also has the HDMI connection.  

   

Top

One of the easiest ways to distinguish the 40D from the 50D is by looking at the mode dial: The 40D’s is black, the 50D’s is silver. On the mode dial, you’ll find two groups of exposure mode controls, which Canon calls the Basic Zone and the Creative Zone. The Basic Zone provides automatic shooting modes for specific situations. In the Basic Zone, you’ll find Full Auto, Creative Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait, and Flash Off modes. The Creative Zone gives you more control over your pictures, with Program AE, Shutter-priority AE, Aperture-priority AE, Manual exposure, and A-DEP (automatic depth of field AE) modes. Past the Creative Zone, there are also two customizable user setting modes.

 

The 50D’s pop-up flash has a guide number of 13 (approximately 3.3 meters at 17mm or 2.3 meters at 85mm using ISO 100) and a wide angle coverage of 17 mm. The flash supports E-TTL II, meaning that the camera uses lens distance information to calculate the necessary flash power. Flash sync speed is 1/250 second.

Behind the pop-up flash, you’ll find the camera’s hot shoe mount for an external flash. As with the internal flash, the hot shoe supports E-TTL II metering.

   

At the top of the grip on the right side, you’ll find an LCD that provides status and setting information. Near the LCD, there’s also four buttons, three of which are control buttons; the other button turns on the backlight for the LCD. In front of these, there’s the main dial and the shutter release button. To the back of the LCD, you’ll find AF-ON, AE-Lock, and focus point selection buttons.

 

Bottom

The battery compartment of the 50D is located on the base of the hand grip behind a clip-locked door. The door is removable to make way for the optional battery grip.

 

On the bottom of the camera, you’ll also find a traditional tripod mount.

Finally, the 50D’s body is about a half ounce lighter than the 40D’s, but has the same basic sturdy build and design.

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Sample Images

Of course, a camera’s sole purpose is to take pictures, so without further adieu, here are a few sample images taken with the 50D in combination with Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens and an Extreme III card from SanDisk.

     

   

Sample images - click for high res

The camera is fun to shoot with, and the nine auto focus points give you the ability to easily single out a portion of the image on which to focus. The camera’s pop-up flash provided adequate light to illuminate close subjects, as you can see with the grass and pinecone shots. Using a fast shutter speed, I was able to stop action in the photographs of the two boys swimming.  

ISO

Even though the 50D supports ISO expansion up to 12,800, you’ll still want to use as low of an ISO setting as possible when taking pictures. As you can see from these test shots, higher ISO settings do cause some noise.

 

 

 

ISO-100 

 ISO-200

 ISO-400

 

 

 

 ISO-800

 ISO-1000

 ISO-1250

 

 

 

 ISO-1600

 ISO-2000

 ISO-2500

 

 

 

 ISO-3200

 ISO-6400

  ISO-12800

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The Final Shot

Overall, we were very pleased with the 50D’s performance and controls. The camera’s fast burst rate of 6.3 frames per second definitely puts it a notch above most entry-level D-SLRs, which generally offer about 3 frames per second. This faster speed can make a big difference in your ability to capture a shot, such as when you’re trying to get the perfect shot of a leaping athlete or the like. In addition, the camera took almost no time to power on before it was ready to take a picture.

The 50D also looks like and feels like a serious camera with its black, textured surface and beefy grip. It’s comfortable to hold and has the feel of a quality built product, in part due to its weight; with the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens attached and a battery and memory card inserted, it weights about three pounds. Furthermore, the 50D’s controls seem to be in the right locations, and we like that Canon made better use of the Direct Print button by allowing it to serve dual purpose as easy access to Live View Mode. Canon’s Quick Control screen is another helpful addition. Both of these features also make use of the 50D's gorgeous 3-inch LCD.

For users who are transitioning from a film SLR, it’s important to keep in mind that Canon’s D-SLRs have a 1.6x digital crop factor, so a 28-135mm lens is really the 35mm equivalent of 44.8 to 216 mm lens.

 

The 50D's overall image quality was good and it delivered consistently clean images with crisp details. For users who are upgrading from earlier Canon D-SLR models, Canon’s across-the-range Picture Style tone and color combination will give you consistent performance between both cameras.

Canon offers the 50D in a body only configuration with an MSRP of $1,399 and as a kit version with Canon's EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM zoom lens at an MSRP of $1,599. Of course, many retailers are offering their own kit configurations or bundle deals, and you can often find better sale prices as you’ll see in our PriceGrabber listing below.

  • Fast power on, feels zippy and responsive
  • Fast continuous shooting (6.3 fps)
  • DIGIC 4 Image Processor
  • Large, clear, high-resolution LCD
  • 10x magnification in Live View
  • HDMI output
    • 15.1MP could be considered an overkill by some users 
    • Automatic white balance was sometimes a little off
    • Live View shutter can be a bit loud
       


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