I’ve just posted my review of the Canon EOS 50D, a mid-range Canon digital SLR. You can also check out photos taken straight out of the camera in the Canon EOS 50D photo gallery. Click on the link for the full review.
DPInterface Canon EOS 50D Review
Brad Soo – April 1st, 2009 (Updated August 31st, 2009)
The EOS 50D is Canon’s latest mid-range 1.6X crop camera. The camera offers several, mostly minor, updates over the old 40D and will sell alongside (not take the place) of its older sibling. Here is what’s new on the Canon EOS 50D:
- 15 megapixel CMOS sensor (versus 10 megapixels)
- New DIGIC 4 imaging processor
- Higher resolution LCD (almost 4 times the resolution)
- Support and ability to take advantage of UDMA Compact Flash cards
- Ability to take more pictures in a single continuous burst
- Extended ISO range of 100 – 12800 (versus 100 – 3200)
- Creative Auto mode and live view face detection
- Vignetting reduction feature (Canon calls it “peripheral illumination correction”)
- HDMI port
So the new features that most people will be looking at would be the higher resolution sensor with higher maximum ISO and even better performance of the camera (not that the old camera wasn’t fast enough). Then there are the usual mid-range digital SLR features: compatibility with EF and EF-S lenses and a full array of accessories, full manual controls and quick operation.
Time to find out how the EOS 50D performs now…
Size and Weight
(326.8) 145.5 x 107.8 x 73.5 mm (730 g) – Canon EOS 50D
(312.0) 132.0 x 103.0 x 77.0 mm (620 g) – Nikon Coolpix D90
(335.0) 147.0 x 114.0 x 74.0 mm (825 g) – Nikon Coolpix D300
(324.0) 141.5 x 107.5 x 75.0 mm (655 g) – Olympus E30
(312.5) 141.5 x 101.0 x 70.0 mm (715 g) – Pentax K20D
All the weight figures above show when the camera is empty without any lens, battery or memory card
The Canon EOS 50D is one of the larger mid-range digital SLR cameras in the market, with only the Nikon D300 bigger than it. That shouldn’t put you off however – once you factor in those lenses and accessories, you’ll be carry more than just the camera’s weight alone.
The Canon EOS 50D comes with the typical digital SLR camera bundle, nothing extra:
- BP-511A rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Neck strap
- USB and video cables
- Camera software CD (EOS Digital Solution disc)
- User’s manual
- EF 28 – 135 mm f3.5 – f5.6 IS USM lens (with first kit option)
- EF-S 18 – 200 mm f3.5 – f5.6 IS USM lens (with second kit option)
You can opt to purchase the Canon EOS 50D body only, or with your choice of two kit lenses – 50D with EF 28 – 135 mm or 50D with EF-S 18 – 200 mm.
The Canon EOS 50D doesn’t come with any memory card in the box and it has no internal memory either. The EOS 50D takes Compact Flash (Type 1 and Type 2) cards. It’s also able to take advantage of high-speed cards (including UDMA CF cards) and is able to perform faster with one. I would recommend getting at least a 4 GB high-speed CF card with the camera. If you wanna pick up an 8 GB or 16 GB card, go ahead; same with extremely high-speed cards (even a 200X model won’t be overkill here).
I’d like to place emphasis on using a high-speed memory card with the camera. Not only do high-speed cards help in increasing performance, they are almost a must if you want to shoot multiple RAW photos in a row or take an unlimited number of JPEG photos when using the 6.3 FPS continuous shooting mode.
640 shots – Canon EOS 50D
850 shots – Nikon D90
1000 shots – Nikon D300
750 shots – Olympus E30
530 shots – Pentax K20D
All the cameras above are rated with rechargeable batteries according to CIPA Standard
The Canon EOS 50D comes with the BP-511A battery, which I’m sure many Canon users have seen and used before, and charger. The camera is rated to 640 shots per charge, which is lower than both its predecessor (the EOS 40D) and other mid-range cameras of its class.
As a digital SLR, you’d expect the Canon EOS 50D to be very expandable – and that’s true. The EOS 50D supports Canon EF and EF-S lenses, and compatible third party ones; all being subjected to the sensor’s 1.6X focal length multiplication factor.
You can also add on external flash units to the camera. The official flash units from Canon are the 270EX, 430EX II and 580EX II models. You can also opt for third party flash units, but only Canon models will sync automatically with the camera. The EOS 50D can also use the ST-E2 wireless flash transmitter if wireless, multiple-flash setups are your thing.
There’s a way you can extend battery life on the EOS 50D: by using the optional battery grip. The camera supports both the BG-E2 and BG-E2N (the difference here is that latter is weather sealed), which will take two BP-511A batteries or 6 AA batteries. The battery grip also serves as a way to comfortably hold the camera in a portrait position.
Then there are things like a wireless transmitter you can tether to the camera, wired remote control, macro ring lights, focusing screens, an AC adapter, HDMI cable for connectivity to a high definition TV and the list goes on…
The Canon EOS 50D is a digital SLR which is solidly built and with good ergonomics. If you’ve used previous mid-range Canon digital SLRs, then you’ll probably feel comfortable with the EOS 50D (save for adapting to the remapped functions of the back and top buttons over the years).
The main thing on the front of the Canon EOS 50D is the camera’s EF/EF-S lens mount. Inside, there’s the camera’s 15 megapixel CMOS sensor complete with a dust reduction feature. You can attach both EF and EF-S lenses onto the camera; with the usual 1.6X crop factor of the sensor, so any lens you attach will be subjected to a 1.6X multiplication factor (ie the 18 – 55 kit lens becomes equivalent to 28.8 – 88 mm in 35 mm terms).
Right next to the lens mount is a large button for ejecting the lens. There’s also a button for releasing the popup flash (near the EOS 50D logo) and another button for depth-of-field preview. Directly above the lens mount is the camera’s popup flash unit (released electronically via the mentioned button) which has a guide number of 13 m at ISO 100, which is on par with other mid-range digital SLRs. The flash is also used for autofocus assist, where it fires strobes of lighting to illuminate your subject. The only other item of note on the front is the self timer + redeye reduction lamp.
The other big change on the EOS 50D versus previous x0D cameras is LCD panel on the back. The 3 inch display you see here has 920,000 pixels and is VERY sharp. The LCD is also very visible in low and bright light so visibility in a variety of conditions shouldn’t be a problem.
Directly above the LCD panel is the camera’s optical viewfinder. The viewfinder is decently sized and shows a good amount of information; with 0.95X magnification and 95% coverage. Inside the viewfinder chamber, you’ll also get to see various details and information about autofocus, exposure, flash and general shooting (ie remaining shots, remaining burst buffer). It also has dioptric correction, adjustable via the knob next to the viewfinder and interchangeable focusing screens, I believe.
To the left of the viewfinder are two buttons. One is MENU button while the other is the print button which now serves a purpose in shooting mode: toggling live view. More about live view later…
Below the LCD are five buttons and the camera’s power switch. The respective functions of the five buttons are quite straightforward (from left to right): playback, delete photo, info (toggle LCD display information), Picture Style and a customizable function button.
Picture Styles are not new to Canon digital SLRs – they are essentially sets of image parameters you can tweak and switch between quickly. I’m not sure if the Picture Styles feature deserves its own button though, since they don’t really matter if you’re gonna do your own editing/processing on the computer anyway. The EOS 50D has 6 preset and 3 custom Picture Styles, where you can adjust sharpness, contrast, saturation and color tone for each Picture Style (including the preset ones). If you’re shooting in monochrome, then you can even choose filter and color tones for photos.
Next to the LCD are the Quick Control Dial (which acts as the EOS 50D’s secondary control dial) and 9 direction joystick. To the upper right corner of the EOS 50D are three buttons: for AF-on (a dedicated button for autofocus), focus/exposure lock (you can customize the combination) and focus point selection.
We still have much to cover at the top of the EOS 50D. On the very left is its mode dial:
- Custom 1 and Custom 2 – for storing your own sets of camera settings
- Auto depth-of-field (ADEP) – the camera will analyze the scene and try to keep everything in focus (normally using a larger F-stop number)
- Manual mode – you get full control over both shutter speed and aperture; bulb mode available
- Aperture priority – pick an aperture value (depends on lens) and the camera will select a matching shutter speed
- Shutter priority – pick a shutter speed (between 1/8000 to 30 seconds) and the camera will select a matching aperture value
- Program mode – the camera will select both shutter speed and aperture; there’s Program Shift available so you can tweak the shutter/aperture combinations
- Creative auto
- Automatic shooting
- Portrait mode
- Landscape mode
- Close-up mode
- Sports mode
- Night portrait mode
- Flash off – disables all flash related functions; great when shooting in places like museums
While the 40D has 3 custom modes, the new EOS 50D sacrifices one spot for the new “Creative Auto” mode. Creative Auto is practically a little bit of Program Shift and automatic shooting – you get to manipulate what kind of exposure and background blur you want, while the camera chooses the appropriate settings to produce the desired outcome (shutter speed and aperture).
Next to that is the camera’s built-in flash unit (pulled up manually when you want to use it) along with an external flash hotshoe. You can use any flash with the camera but only Canon ones will sync automatically with the camera. The Canon EOS 50D can sync as fast as 1/250 sec with an external flash.
Nearby are the EOS 50D’s secondary info display panel and four small buttons:
- Display panel backlighting – lights up the secondary display for several seconds
- Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, partial, spot) and
white balance (auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash, custom, color temperature)
- Autofocus mode (One shot, AI Servo, AI Focus) and
drive mode (Single shot, continuous shooting [high-speed/low-speed], self-timer [2 or 10 seconds])
- ISO speed (Auto, 100 to 3200 or 100 to 12800 in your choice of 1/3 or ½ step increments) and
flash exposure compensation (+/- 2 EV in 1/3 steps increments
The last two items are the Canon EOS 50D’s shutter button and front command dial.
On the one side of the Canon EOS 50D is the Compact Flash card compartment. The other side features an array of ports hidden under sealed rubber covers – you can connect cables for USB, video out, HDMI output, remote control and external flash.
At the bottom of the Canon EOS 50D are the camera’s connectivity port for the optional wireless grip, metal tripod mount (which is in-line with the lens) and weather-sealed battery compartment. The compartment door is quite sturdy and is removable in order to insert the optional battery grip’s connector.
Taking pictures (Shooting mode)
You’ll shoot mostly using the viewfinder on the Canon EOS 50D, but there’s also live view available. Live view comes in handy for studio and macro shots as well as when using remote capture from a computer (you’ll have to install Canon’s bundled software first). The camera shows 100% of the frame with shooting and exposure information. There are also optional framing gridlines, a live histogram (not shown here) and focus enlargement up to 5X or 10X.
One nice thing is the fact you can toggle exposure and white balance simulation in live view, so you know how bright your picture will turn out along with its color tone. There are two ways of focusing: Quick AF uses the camera’s phase-detect autofocus, and does a whole lot of mirror flipping in the process. Live AF is essentially contrast-detect focus via the camera’s sensor.
The good things about contrast-detect focusing are face detection is available and there’s no screen blackout while the camera is focusing (unlike Quick AF which temporarily shuts off live view when flipping mirrors to focus). The bad side? It’s very sluggish, more so than Quick AF mode even. Unlike compact cameras which typically “snap” into focus in under a second, live view on the 50D is much slower – it takes 2-3 seconds, sometimes more, for the image to gradually transition into focus.
I should also mention that live view can only be used in Program, Aperture/Shutter priority and Manual modes. So don’t even think about buying the EOS 50D and using it as a big, expensive point-and-snap camera in automatic mode – live view is unavailable in auto or any of the camera’s scene modes.
The EOS 50D allows you to mix and match combinations from three image resolutions and three compression modes to suit your needs. The resolution settings available are 15 MP, 7 MP and 3.5 MP, with selectable compression options: Fine, Standard and RAW. You can take 7 MP and 3.5 MP photos in RAW format too (Canon calls the option “Small RAW”)
There’s a RAW image option and RAW+JPEG mode available on the EOS 50D (the latter option takes a RAW photo and stores a large/fine JPEG photo at the same time). RAW file sizes are much larger (20+ MB per shot) versus typical JPEG shots but you’ll get complete control over almost every single aspect of the image: white balance, noise reduction, contrast, saturation, exposure, colors, etc. If you messed up some camera settings but took the picture in RAW format, then most likely you’ll be able to correct it later on your computer. Canon includes some very capable RAW development software with the EOS 50D on the bundled disc. You’ll probably want a high-speed memory card here so the camera can write those huge files quicker. You can store about 180 RAW photos on a 4 GB card.
Besides the dedicated buttons for things like ISO and metering mode, there’s also a conventional “Shooting” menu on the EOS 50D for other (less frequently changed) settings:
- Image resolution and compression
- Redeye reduction (On/off)
- Camera beep sounds (On/off)
- Shoot without memory card (On/off)
- Review time – how long the image is displayed on-screen after a photo is taken
- Peripheral illumination correction
- Exposure compensation and exposure bracketing functions
- White balance settings
- Set custom white balance
- White balance adjustment and bracketing
- Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
- Picture style
- Dust delete data – software-based dust mapping
Here’s the “setup” area of the EOS 50D’s menu system:
- Auto power off time
- Image auto rotation (Off, computer only, computer and camera)
- Format memory card
- File numbering (Continuous, auto or manual reset)
- Select folder
- LCD brightness
- Date and time
- User interface language
- Video system (NTSC/PAL)
- Sensor cleaning (Auto cleaning, activate cleaning, manual cleaning)
- Live view function settings – toggle live view, exposure simulation, framing gridlines display, silent shooting and focus mode
- Info button – customize the screen type that comes up when pressing the INFO button
- Flash control – adjust all flash related settings here
- Camera user setting – also known as configuring the custom mode dial spots
- Clear settings
- Firmware version
The Canon EOS 50D has a Custom Function menu as well as a My Menu. The My Menu is user-customizable and you can put frequently used menu items here so you can access them quickly from one page. The Custom Function menu contains four categories of custom functions: exposure, image, autofocus/drive and operations.
Exposure custom functions:
- Exposure compensation (1/3 or 1/2 step increments)
- ISO compensation (1/3 or 1 step increments)
- ISO expansion – unlocks ISO 6400 and ISO 12800 settings
- Exposure bracketing auto cancel – resets bracketing whenever the camera is powered off
- Bracketing sequence
- Safety shift – automatically adjusts settings in Aperture/Shutter priority modes if exposure suddenly changes
- Flash sync speed in Aperture Priority mode (Auto, 1/250 – 1/60 sec, 1/250 fixed)
Image custom functions:
- Lens drive
- Lens AF stop button – you can assign a function to this button, found on Canon’s super telephoto lenses
- Autofocus point selection
- Auto lighting optimizer – adjusts contrast of the entire image to improve exposure at the cost of some extra noise
Autofocus/Drive custom functions:
- Lens drive
- Lens AF stop button – you can assign a function to this button, found on Canon’s super telephoto lenses
- Autofocus point selection
- Autofocus point illumination
- Autofocus assist beam
- Mirror lock-up
- Autofocus micro-adjustment – compensate for back-focusing or front-focusing for up to 20 lenses
Operation/Other custom functions::
- Shutter/AF-On button functions
- AF-On/AE Lock function swap
- Set button function
- Command dial direction
- Focusing screen
- Original decision data
- Function button
The EOS 50D also has a My Menu area, which allows you to store up to 6 menu items here (including those from the Custom Function area)
I already mentioned the scene modes available on the EOS 50D when we were talking about its mode dial in the previous section. In terms of macro mode, minimum focusing distance very much depends on the lens being used on the camera. Canon makes a few very nice 1:1 macro lenses (one EF-S and two EF) and a specialized 5X life-size MP-E super macro lens
The Canon EOS 50D doesn’t have a movie mode – however, the recently launched 500D has one… and perhaps the (speculation) EOS 60D of the future will too (/speculation).
All performance testing of the Canon EOS 50D was performed using a high-speed 4 GB SanDisk Extreme IV Compact Flash card.
The Canon EOS 50D boots up with dust reduction close to instantly – you can intervene and cancel dust reduction by half-pressing the shutter button if you’re in a hurry. In terms of auto focusing, your choice of lens will influence focusing times. With the Canon EF-S 18-200 mm USM lens, focusing can vary between 0.1 to 0.5 seconds with decent to good lighting while focus tends to hunt in low-light. With a better (and more expensive) lens such as the Canon EF 24-70 mm, focusing can vary from instantaneous in bright light up to 0.6 seconds in low-light.
When using live view, expect to add on 0.4 to 0.8 seconds using quick focus mode (A lot of mirror flipping happens here) or 2 to 3 seconds using contrast detection mode. The camera has a built-in flash strobe AF-assist system; or if you want even better & faster AF-assist, external flash units have a laser-based system.
- Shot-to-shot speed – 1 shot as fast as you can press the shutter button; very fast
- Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery – 3 seconds on average (built-in flash)
The 50D has two continuous shooting modes: low and high speed. Low speed mode shoots at a consistent 3.0 frames per second until the memory card fills up (JPEG), or up to 36 RAW or 22 RAW+JPEG shots. High speed mode shoots at a blazing 6.3 frames per second for unlimited JPEG shots, 16 RAW or 12 RAW+JPEG shots. After hitting those numbers, the camera still continues to shoot (Albeit at a slower frame rate). You’ll DEFINITELY need a high-speed, preferably UDMA-enabled, memory card (200X or 30 MB/s at least, if you want to shoot unlimited JPEGs).
The Canon EOS 50D doesn’t disappoint at all in terms of performance. Typical for a digital SLR (and a midrange one), you can shoot as fast as you can compose. The camera’s focusing is fast, especially with its 9 cross-type AF points, and the burst mode is very, very impressive. Now all you need is a high-speed memory card.
Let’s find out about the 50D’s performance in the image quality department:
Image quality on the EOS 50D remains consistently clean through ISO 400. Additional noise appears at ISO 800 and again at ISO 1600. I still managed to make large prints out of ISO 1600 photos though, since it is only at ISO 3200 where noise starts to intrude and create specks of grain in pictures.
ISO 3200 would be the most you’d want to go; at ISO 6400 and ISO 12800, there’s a lot of noise – including some hot pixels in both crops. For photo enthusiasts who use software extensively and know what they’re doing, you guys can go up till ISO 6400 and clean up images from your computer – though uses of images at that setting will be limited.
Lens distortion, edge sharpness and color fringing (chromatic aberration) are highly dependent on what lens is being used on the camera. In the case of the EF-S 18-200 mm kit lens, there’s moderate barrel and pincushion distortion. The lens also showed color fringing (chromatic aberration) and some edge softness. When I slapped on more expensive lenses on the EOS 50D (to be specific, the EF 24-70 f2.8 L and EF 70-200 f2.8 L), image quality turned out to be much better. One observation I noted about the EOS 50D is its high resolution sensor is taxing on lenses (more so than previous generation cameras) and pictures of large dimensions the camera shoots tend to make lens flaws even more apparent to the eye.
Redeye was not an issue when using the EOS 50D’s built-in flash (though this may vary). If you need more flash power, then you might consider adding an external flash (which also reduce chances of redeye even more).
Overall image quality is good on the EOS 50D – there’s slightly more noise than its sibling, the 40D but photos from the camera are still very usable. If you compare the EOS 50D to much older cameras (such as the 30D I have with me), noise levels are on par with them, if not less. Redeye was a non-issue while other image quality characteristics are largely determined by the lens being used on the camera. Keep in mind that the EOS 50D’s 15 megapixels of resolution it can take advantage of better/more expensive lenses; while at the same time, able to amplify flaws of less-perfect lenses thanks to the high resolution of images produced.
Check out full-sized, unedited photos taken straight out of the camera in the Canon EOS 50D photo gallery.
The Canon EOS 50D has a pretty straightforward playback mode. You can play back photos with 10X magnification available to confirm focus and details (Especially with that sharp LCD). There are the usual playback basics such as print marking, slideshows, image protection and rotation are here.
You can jump through pictures by date, folder, sets of 9 images or every 10 or 100 images. There are no editing features or in-camera RAW development tools on the EOS 50D, however.
By default, the Canon EOS 50D only shows shutter speed and aperture value of your photos. However, you can make the camera show shooting details, mode, full exposure information (with shutter speed and aperture value) and a brightness histogram by pressing the INFO button. A second choice of display shows four histograms on screen – Brightness and RGB! There’s also an overexposure alert feature which “blinks” overexposed areas of your photos to warn you about them.
The Canon EOS 50D is a mid-range digital SLR which has 15 megapixels of resolution and comes in your choice of three kits. The EOS 50D is one of the larger cameras in its class, but makes up for that with very good build quality and ergonomics. There’s a large and nicely sharp 3 inch LCD, buttons dedicated to many main shooting functions plus two control dials for quick and easy operation.
The EOS 50D is fully expandable and customizable with a broad range of accessories; most notably a battery grip, various flash units and macro ring lights and EF/EF-S lenses. You can opt to customize your own “My Menu” items and the function button too on the camera. The EOS 50D also has 2 custom spots on the mode dial, which is down from 3 spots on the 40D. What’s new here is a “Creative Auto” mode which is a great stepping stone for beginners to learn and move from the auto and scene modes to using manual controls… I feel that it’s a little out of place here on a mid-range digital SLR though and definitely not most users of this camera (photo enthusiasts and professionals using this as a primary/backup body) would use.
The Canon 50D also has an array of manual controls (including an elaborate white balance adjustment system) and custom functions… and did I mention blazing fast performance? With a high-speed card, you can literally shoot JPEGs without stopping or a LOT of RAW photos. The EOS 50D supports UDMA CF cards which enable high speed throughput.
There’s also live view on the EOS 50D, which seems to be all in the rage of digital SLR cameras nowadays. It certainly comes in handy for studio and over-the-head composition (though the LCD’s position is fixed, its viewing angle is good), and even works via remote control from your computer. A live histogram and manual focus enlargement can both be used in live view, and are very useful. Unfortunately autofocus in live view mode is much slower than regular focusing.
In terms of image quality, the Canon EOS 50D produced good image quality which can be usable up to ISO 3200, provided there’s at least some decent lighting or with some cleaning up in post-processing. Color fringing and distortion levels depend very much on the lens being used on the camera; though there’s vignetting correction available. One area where the EOS 50D is quite particular about the lens is image sharpness. Its high resolution sensor can be taxing on lenses, and lower-end lenses (example: the kit lens) tend to show their flaws rather prominently. Mount an L-lens (I tried using the 24-70 L and 70 – 200 L) on the camera, and you’ll notice a sizeable improvement – but then again, those L-lenses are expensive.
All-in-all, the Canon EOS 50D is a pretty good digital SLR that I am able to recommend. The camera offers a lot of functionality for photo enthusiasts and professionals, yet still has a small handful of scene modes and Creative Auto mode which appeal to users who want to enter and test the waters of the digital SLR world (if they’re daring enough to start out with this camera).
My recommendation isn’t one with two thumbs up though – there’s still much debate if the EOS 50D is worth the extra cash over the very capable 40D. Sure, you get more resolution, a much higher resolution LCD and even better performance… but you also get a drop in battery life, slightly higher noise, you lose one “custom” mode spot to Creative Auto mode (something that not all users will appreciate) and the camera is more taxing on lenses.
- Good image quality
- Sharp, very viewable 3 inch LCD
- Typical digital SLR expandability via various accessories
- Solid build quality and good ergonomics; partially sealed body
- Live view comes in handy at times; shows a live histogram and manual focus enlargement
- Full manual controls, flash hotshoe and RAW image mode
- Multiple, customizable custom functions
- Decent automatic shooting with scene modes and Creative Auto
- Custom menu, button and 2 mode positions for your own settings
- Very good performance; excellent continuous shooting mode
- Nice software bundle with RAW editor and remote control with live view
- Needs to use better/more expensive lenses for better image quality (less softness and fringing)
- One “custom” mode dial spot sacrificed for Creative Auto mode
- Slow autofocus in live view mode
- Below average battery life; lower compared to the old 40D
- Ultrasonic dust reduction not very effective
- 4 GB or larger high-speed CF memory card