Canon EOS 50D Review

The Canon EOS 50D is Canon’s latest “prosumer” DSLR. It’s quite clearly based strongly on the EOS 40D, being virtually identical in shape, size, weight and control layout, but the EOS 50D adds a number of features.

Though the EOS 50D improves on the EOS 40D in many areas, Canon has not yet discontinued the EOS 40D. It’s still listed as a current camera and is being sold alongside the EOS 40D. At the time of writing (November 2008), the EOS 40D is selling at around $900 (discounted from $1100 “list”), while the EOS 50D is selling for around $1200 (discounted from $1400 “list”), due in part to a $100 “instant rebate” from Canon.

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What’s new on the Canon EOS 50D?

  • A 15MP CMOS sensor with a “gapless microlens” design for higher efficiency
  • A 920,000 pixel, 3" high resolution LCD
  • Improved weather sealing (though still not “weather resistant”).
  • Microfocus adjustment on a fixed or lens by lens basis
  • 4 levels of high ISO noise reduction
  • 4 levels of auto lighting optimization
  • An ISO range from 100-3200, plus 6400(H1) and 12800(H2)
  • Auto ISO range 100-1600
  • Contrast detection AF in Live View mode
  • Face detection in Live View mode
  • In camera illumination (vignetting) correction for JPEGs
  • A “creative auto” mode
  • HDMI output
  • A Digic IV processor
  • Faster USB data transfer

Where to Buy

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If you are new to digital photography, start with the photo.net guide Building a DSLR System.

Operating Speed

Like all Canon EOS DSLRs, the EOS 50D appears to turn on instantly, taking less than 100ms to be ready to shoot. All other operations are fast too, no doubt helped by the new Digic IV processor. When reviewing images, the time for the display to update with a new image is under 1/2 second.

In high speed continuous mode, the EOS 50D operates as specified by Canon, reaching up to about 6.3 fps (manual focus, shutter speed 1/500s) for an unlimited number of JPEG frames if you are using one of the fastest (45MB/s) UDMA CF cards. Even with a medium speed card (20MB/s), the buffer is good for over 60 frames. When shooting RAW the buffer size is reduced to around 15 frames, but the frame rate is still 6.3 fps until the buffer fills. There is also a 3 fps continuous mode available when you don’t need 6+ fps.

The use of high ISO noise reduction results in a significant reduction in the number of images which can be stored in the buffer, presumably due to the fact that the image processing power required for noise reduction slows down writing from the buffer to the memory card and so the buffer memory fills up faster.

Controls

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The control layout of the EOS 50D is almost identical to that of the EOS 40D. The only obvious change is that the color of the main control dial has gone from black to silver. The main control dial has a new setting “CA” which stands for a “creative auto” mode. This is somewhat like the full auto mode, but allows you to save some custom settings. You can save flash mode, picture style, image brightness, single shot or continuous mode, image recoding quality and bias exposure toward smaller or larger apertures. Once saved, these settings will be remembered every time you select the “CA” mode. If you don’t change the settings from default, they will be exactly the same as the normal “full auto” exposure mode. There are also two custom modes, C1 and C2 which allow you to save almost any camera setting from metering mode to ISO setting, shooting mode (M, Av, Tv etc.) to AF mode. The EOS 40D has three custom modes (C1, C2, C3) but it seems that one was replaced by the CA mode on the 50D.

The shooting modes available are C1 (custom), C2 (custom), A-DEP (Auto depth of field), Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, CA (creative Auto), Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait and Flash off.

Control buttons and dials on the rear of the camera are almost identical those on the 40D. The only real difference is that the “direct print” button now serves a second function to enable Live View and the “Jump” button on the 40D, which enables options for the user to browse though stored images, is now labeled “Func” and is customizable to control several different parameters including LCD brightness, Image quality, exposure compensation/AEB, Live View and Jump.

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As with all EOS DSLRs other than the Digital Rebel series, the EOS 50D has a rear thumb-wheel (“Quick Control Dial”) which defaults to adjustment of exposure compensation, but which is also used to scroll through menus and select items. The main exposure control dial (used to set shutter speed, aperture etc. depending on the shooting mode), is on the top of the camera, just in front of the shutter release.

Like the 40D, EOS 50D parameters such as shooting mode, white balance mode, ISO setting, shutter speed, aperture etc. can be displayed either on the top LCD, or via use of the rear “Info” button on both the top and rear LCDs. Though the top LCD can be illuminated, in dark conditions the operating parameters are more easily read from the rear LCD.

Image Resolution

In a nutshell, the EOS 50D clearly shows higher resolution than the EOS 40D, which really isn’t surprising given that the 50D has a 15MP sensor and the 40D has a 10MP sensor. In fact, the EOS 50D has the highest pixel density (which in theory leads to the highest native resolution) of any Canon EOS DSLR including the EOS 1Ds MKIII. There has been some conversations on the web that you need the best lenses and need to shoot them at their best aperture in order to see the improvement in resolution, or to put it another way, such a sensor “outresolves” most lenses. In reality this is nonsense and the improved resolution is visible using just about any lens at just about any aperture. Certainly the highest quality lenses will make the most of the resolution increase, but you’ll see the difference no matter which lens you use.

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I looked at the resolution of EOS 40D and EOS 50D images side by side using a high quality “L” series lens at f/8 and sure enough, the 50D image showed higher resolution. My estimate is around 70 lp/mm for the EOS 40D and around 80 lp/mm for the 50D. Then I took the canon_18-55, a low cost consumer zoom “kit” lens and shot images with it wide open, at 18mm and 55mm. Again, the 50D images showed more detail. Then I took the same EF-S 18-55/3.5-5.6 lens and stopped it down to f/22, where diffraction significantly blurs the image and yet again the 50D image showed slightly more detail than the 40D image. So even with a low cost consumer lens at the most unfavorable apertures, the 50D images show more detail than the 40D images. I didn’t get the same image detail from both cameras until I stopped the EF-S 18-55 down to f/36. At that point the image was so degraded by diffraction that the EOS 40D and 50D images looked pretty much identical. At f/36 the theoretical maximum possible resolution of the lens is around 45 lp/mm and when viewed at 100% on a monitor they look quite soft.

The difference in image detail between the EOS 40D and EOS 50D isn’t huge, but it’s visible when looking at the images closeup. Theoretically you’d expect to see something like a 20% improvement in resolution when going from 10 to 15MP on the same size sensor. In practice I’d estimate I saw more like 10-15%. Such detail would only really be visible when looking closely at large prints. I doubt you’d see it in an 8×10 and maybe not even in an 11×14 print when viewed from a normal distance. Nevertheless, all else being equal, higher resolution is certainly not a bad thing and it’s worth having any improvement. Of course whether all else is equal is another question.

Image Noise

In general, if you increase the pixel density on a sensor by making the pixels smaller, the image gets noisier, especially at high ISO settings (e.g ISO 800 and faster). In the past improvements in sensor technology have pretty much nullified this effect, with increasing pixel count often not resulting in higher noise, but clearly there is a limit (just look at the noise performance of digicam sensors which have very small pixels). So has the EOS 50D gone past the point where more pixels means more noise? The answer seems to be both yes…and no.

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If you look at the RAW images from the EOS 50D and EOS 40D at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 and turn all noise reduction functions off, the EOS 50D images show a slightly higher noise level than the EOS 40D images do. The smaller pixels yield an image with higher noise, just as you’d expect unless there was also some accompanying technology improvement large enough to cancel out the effect. Though Canon has used a more efficient microlens system on the 50D, which directs more of the light falling on the sensor onto the photosensitive area of the pixels, it still doesn’t seem to be quite enough to cancel out the noise from their smaller size.

All cameras apply some level of noise reduction to high ISO images when saved as JPEGs. Software noise reduction techniques can be remarkably effective at lowering noise without obviously degrading resolution, but all do degrade the image to some extent. The noisier the image, the more noise reduction which has to be applied and the more detail is lost.

The EOS 50D images start out with more detail than EOS 40D images do, so you can in theory apply somewhat stronger noise reduction and still end up with a more detailed image—and in practice Canon seems to have achieved this goal. While looking at the RAW images you can see higher noise in the 50D images, after applying noise reduction to both 40D and 50D images to bring them to the same noise level, the 50D images do seem to retain more detail even though they needed stronger noise reduction.

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The EOS 50D adds ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800, though both settings need fairly aggressive noise reduction applied to tame the intrinsic noise. This results in significant smearing of fine detail, especially at ISO 12800. While 4×6 prints are acceptable at these settings, the image degradation would be quite noticeable in larger prints, particularly at the 12800 setting. ISO 12800 is really for emergency use only. It’s not useless as I’ve seen suggested elsewhere, but the image can be quite noisy in darker shadow areas, which can also show some readout pattern noise. Even ISO 6400 is not something I’d want to use very often if I could avoid it. Still the availability of these ISO settings might just save the day when the light is low and you have no other options. Most of the noise problems in high ISO images are found in the dark areas, so night shots often look pretty bad, especially in the deep shadow areas. Shots taken in better light at high ISO (perhaps in order to get a fast shutter speed) and which do not have deep shadows often look much better.

At lower ISO settings (up to around ISO 800), noise levels are low and there is no need for aggressive noise reduction techniques, so the images reflect the full resolution of the sensor. Most work is probably done at these lower ISO settings and in that case, noise is a non issue.

Autofocus

The EOS 50D inherits the basic AF system of the EOS 40D. There are 9 AF zones arranged in a diamond pattern. All 9 zones have a horizontal/vertical cross type sensor which operates at apertures of f/5.6 or faster. Additionally, in the center zone is also a diagonally mounted cross type sensor with added sensitivity when lenses of f/2.8 or faster are used. The specified operating range is -0.5 to 18 EV (ISO 100 at 73°F/23°C), which is the same as the EOS 40D.

There are the usual 4 focus modes: manual focus, one shot AF, AI (which tracks moving subjects) and AI servo (which uses one shot for static subjects but switches into AI if subject movement is detected).

Some users have reported that the AF performance of the EOS 50D is better than that of the EOS 40D, but I didn’t really have the opportunity to test that in detail. I can say that it’s at least as good. Canon themselves say that the EOS 50D has “…same high-performance Autofocus (AF) system as the EOS 40D camera…”. If there is an advantage to the 50D AF, it may come in terms of tracking ability due to the faster DIGIC IV processor rather than any hardware differences.

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For the first time on a Canon APS-C sensor DSLR, the EOS 50D has the capability of AF micro-adjustment, which allows fine tuning of the AF system to eliminate front and back focusing with specific lenses. This was first introduced in the EOS 1Ds MkIII. So, for example, if you find that your canon_100/2, consistently focuses slightly in front of the intended focus point, you can use the AF micro-adjustment to compensate. There are three modes, “off” which makes no adjustment, a mode which applies the same adjustment to all lenses (which is what would be needed if the AF adjustment of the body was slightly wrong) and a third mode which allows you to set and store adjustment factors for up to twenty different lens types. The camera recognizes the focal length and aperture range of the lens automatically. It can’t tell the difference between two different samples of, say, an canon_24-105, but it can tell the difference between an canon_300/4, and an canon_300/2.8, and apply the appropriate stored correction for each. The AF micro-adjustment is accessed through a custom function in the custom function sub-menu III and covers a range of +20 to -20 “steps”. To me, AF micro-adjustment is perhaps the most interesting and significant feature of the EOS 50D.

Metering

The EOS 50D inherits the metering system of the EOS 40D, with 35 zone multi-segment metering, plus a center-weighted averaging option, partial metering (9%) and spot metering (3.8%). In general metering is accurate, as on the EOS 40D. Canon specifies the operating range of the EOS 50D as EV 1-20 (at 73°F/23°C with an EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens, ISO 100). The specification for the EOS 40D is EV 0-20 (ISO 100 at 73°F/23°C with EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens, ISO 100), which would indicate that it’s a stop more sensitive. I don’t see any reason why this would be so, so I’m not sure if it’s correct or an error on Canon USA’s specification sheets.

Auto exposure bracketing with the EOS 50D is possible over a ± 2 stop range, from -4 stops to + 4 stops. What this means, for example is that you can shoot one shot at -4 stops, one at -2 stops and one at the meter reading, or you can shoot at the meter reading, +2 stops and +4 stops, or you can shoot at -2 stops, the meter reading and +2 stops. What you can’t do automatically is bracket at -4 stops, 0 stops and +4 stops from the meter reading. You can only bracket over a ±2 stop range, but you can center the bracket over ±2 stops from the meter reading. This sounds more complex than it actually is!

As with the EOS 40D, the EOS 50D allows ±2 stops of exposure compensation to be applied to the automatic metering.

Viewfinder

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The EOS 50D viewfinder is the same size as that of the EOS 40D, showing about 95% (linear) of the actual image at a magnification of 0.95x (based on a 50mm lens focused at infinity). The eye point is 22mm. The standard focusing screen can be replaced by one with grid lines (Ef-D) or one optimized for manual focusing (Ef-S). The Ef-S screen is darker than the standard screen (Ef-A) so unless you do a lot of manual focus work, the standard screen is probably a better choice.

The viewfinder also contains extensive shooting information (see illustration), including a constant readout of the ISO setting in use, the number of frames remaining in the buffer, shutter speed and aperture, exposure compensation, a highlight tone priority indicator, a focus confirmation light and various parameters relating to flash usage.

White Balance

The EOS 50D has the same white balance settings as the EOS 40D, namely Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, White Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom WB Setting and User-Set Color Temperature (2,500~10,000K).

Most of the white balance modes do a good job, but images shot under domestic tungsten lighting are noticeably warm, even when using the tungsten setting. This is a common trait of all Canon EOS DLSRs and it’s because Canon uses a color temperature of 3200K for the tungsten setting. This is about right for professional photographic tungsten lighting, but too “hot” for domestic lighting. It’s also the color temperature for which “tungsten” balanced film is designed. A typical 100W domestic tungsten light bulb has a color temperature closer to 2900K and a 40W bulb is usually around 2500K. I’ve found the tungsten WB setting on the 40D and 50D to be about right for 500W tungsten halogen lights, but they’re typically not what you would use to light your living room. If you want neutral colors under domestic tungsten lighting you need to either do a custom white balance, or set a color temperature appropriate to the lighting.

LCD

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The EOS 50D includes an improved LCD monitor, for high quality playback and easier menu navigation. The large 3-inch high-resolution screen makes it easy to zoom in, for examining focus and fine details. The dot count has been increased from 230,000 on the EOS 40D to 920,000—now equal to the LCD used by Nikon on the nikon_d300, and as good as the best available LCD quality for any digital SLR currently on the market. The new LCD has a 160-degree viewing angle triple-layer multicoating (anti-glare, anti-scratch, and anti-reflection), which makes for easier viewing.

Live View

In addition to phase contrast based focus of the EOS 40D, the EOS 50D adds contrast detection and face detection AF. Phase contrast AF uses the standard AF sensors and requires that the mirror be lowered (which blanks out the LCD display). Contrast detection AF uses the actual image being recorded by the sensor to set the focus point and so the mirror does not need to be lowered and the LCD image does not black out. Phase detection AF is faster and more accurate, but contrast detection AF is more convenient if somewhat sluggish. Focus can take 2-3 seconds in contrast detection mode. The 50D also has a “face detection” AF mode, which is basically the same as contrast detection AF, but the image is analyzed for faces (up to 34 or them!) and focus and exposure is optimized for them.

In contrast detection AF mode, the focus zone can be manually moved around the screen. In face detection mode, if more than one face is detected, the one which is most important can be selected by using the Quick Control Dial.

The image can be zoomed up to 10x in order to get a closer look at the image for checking focus and for fine focusing in manual focus mode.

Peripheral Illumination Correction

While Canon has offered peripheral illumination correction (also known as vignetting correction) in DPP when doing conversions from RAW image files for quite a while, the 50D can now apply the same corrections to in-camera JPEGs when certain Canon lenses are used. The camera has a database of about 20 Canon lenses. The Canon EOS Utility software can be used to check which lenses are in the database and to add others for which the data is available.

Self Cleaning Sensor

The sensor cleaning system of the 50D has been upgraded to include what Canon calls a “fluorine coating” on the low pass filter (I presume this is a fluoride coating, since fluorine is a corrosive gas!). This is said to provide “better dust resistance”. The sensor uses the same ultrasonic shaking mechanism as the 40D to shake any dust particles off the low pass filter when the camera is turned on and off. The position and size of any dust stuck on the sensor can also be saved as reference “dust delete data” and this data can be used for removal of dust spots using post processing with Canon’s DPP software.

In the brief time I had with the EOS 50D I didn’t find any dust problems, but it’s not really possible to judge the effectiveness of the sensor self cleaning process in a few days. It can take weeks or moths of use to evaluate. I can say that the sensor cleaning function on the EOS 40D (which is similar to that on the 50D) does seem quite good. While no system can remove 100% of the dust spots 100% of the time, my EOS 40D sensor certainly requires cleaning less often than the sensor in my EOS 20D did, and I’d assume the 50D cleaning system will be as effective as that in the 40D, probably more effective if Canon’s comments are accurate.

Color Rendition

The EOS 50D renders colors in a very similar manner to the EOS 40D and in a manner which is fairly consistent across the whole line of Canon EOS DSLRs.

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Color rendition can be modified using any of the supplied “Picture Styles,” which are:

  • Standard – for crisp, vivid images that don’t require post-processing
  • Portrait – optimizes color tone and saturation and weakens sharpening to achieve
    attractive skin tones
  • Landscape – for punchier greens and blues with stronger sharpening to give a crisp edge to mountain, tree and building outlines
  • Neutral – ideal for post-processing
  • Faithful – adjusts color to match the subject color when shot under a color
    temperature of 5200K
  • Monochrome – for black and white shooting with a range of filter effects (yellow,
    orange, red and green) and toning effects (sepia, blue, purple and green)

Canon also supplies a Picture Style editor, which allows the user to create and upload new picture styles to the camera. Picture Styles can also be applied to RAW captures using Canon’s DPP software.

Highlight Tone Priority

As on the 40D, the 50D includes a highlight tone priority (HTP) setting. What this does is to reduce the clipping of bright highlights. It appears to work by using a nonlinear amplifier gain setting to the sensor data, which effectively could be considered to be the equivalent of shooting the highlights at an ISO setting about one stop slower than the shadows. The slowest ISO setting which is allowed when using HTP is 200. HTP is quite effective at increasing highlight detail, at the possible cost of slightly noisier shadows.

Auto Lighting Optimizer

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The Auto lighting optimizer function analyzes the image and can optimize the brightness and contrast to improve the image (e.g. it can correct for dark subjects in back light situations). The 40D offers only “on/off” options, but the 50D has 4 options (off, low, standard and strong). This function can also be applied to RAW images during post-exposure processing using Canon’s DPP software.

The effect of the auto lighting optimizer is subtle. On some images it makes no difference at all, while with others the effect is small but noticeable, even on the “strong” setting.

Memory Cards

The Canon EOS 50D uses CompactFlash (CF) memory, as do all Canon EOS DSLRs other than the Digital Rebel series (which now use SD memory). In contrast to the EOS 40D, the 50D can take advantage of the extra speed of UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) enabled cards. The ability to use UDMA as well as the extra speed of the DIGIC IV processor over the DIGIC III used in the EOS 40D means that the EOS 50D can take better advantage of the fastest CF cards.

Note that any CF memory camera can utilize both UDMA and non-UDMA cards. If you use a non-UDMA card in the 50D it’s just fine, but data transfer to the card will be a little slower. If you use a UDMA card in a camera like the EOS 40D that does not have UDMA support, it will be fine too, but it won’t be able to take advantage of the UDMA transfer protocol.

Given the size of the files generated by the EOS 50D, I’d recommend a 4GB or 8GB card. If you shoot RAW + JPEG (as I often do), the combined file size will be in the 15-30MB range (depending on the subject and ISO setting), so an 8GB card will store somewhere between 250 and 500 images. I’d look for cards rated at 30MB/s or more (200x) in order to take advantage of the 50D’s transfer speed.

Batteries

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The EOS 50D uses the same Canon standard BP-511/512 series batteries as the EOS 40D. It can also use the Canon BG-E2N Vertical Grip/Battery Holder which adds a vertical shutter release, and is compatible with up to two BP-511, 511A, 512, 514 Lithium-ion battery packs, or six AA batteries with the included BGM-E2 battery holder. The BG-E2N also fits the EOS 20D, 30D and 40D.

In warm weather (73°F) Canon claims up to 800 shots using a BP-511A battery if you don’t use flash and don’t do too much image reviewing (and you don’t use Live View). With two batteries in the BG-E2N grip, you should get twice as many shots before needing to change the batteries. If you use Live View you can expect maybe 150 shots. In cold weather (32°F) you can expect to get about 20% fewer images per battery.

Choosing a Lens

The EOS 50D can use any Canon lens, both EF (full frame) and EF-S (crop sensor). The obvious choice for a wideangle lens would be the canon_10-22. It’s a good lens and has a very useful superwide zoom range. The excellent canon_24-105, would pair well with the 10-22 (nobody will miss 23mm!). It’s a very sharp “L” series lens with built in image stabilization.

If you wanted one lens to do as much as possible, the canon_17-85, would be a good choice. With a focal length range equivalent to a 27-136mm lens on a full frame camera, it covers most wideangle and short telephoto needs. If you want something faster and with higher quality, look at the canon_17-55. As long as the smaller focal length range isn’t a problem, it’s a better (though more expensive) choice.

For a telephoto zoom, my pick would be the canon_70-300/4is. It’s small, inconspicuous, sharp and the IS works well. One of the EF 70-200 “L” series zooms would also be a good match, which one depending on the size of your wallet. The EF canon_70-200/2.8Lis, is the best, but it’s quite large and heavy. The EF canon_70-200/4L, is smaller, lighter and one of the least expensive “L” series lenses, though it doesn’t have image stabilization built in. All the 70-200 “L” series lenses are optically excellent.

Compared to Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus

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Possible less expensive alternatives to the EOS 50D would be the 12.3MP nikon_d90, which has the features of being able to shoot video and in-camera chromatic aberration correction, the 14.6MB pentax_k20d, which has the features of in-body image stabilization and weather sealing, or the 14.2MP sony_a350, which has both in-body stabilization and a tiltable LCD. The 10.1MP canon_eos40d, is also still available at a price over $300 lower then the 50D If price isn’t an issue, the nikon_d300, is an excellent all-around semi-professional DLSR well worthy of consideration, and of course if you’re tempted by the possibilities of a full frame DSLR, the canon_eos5d, price is dropping now that the new canon_eos5d_mark2, version has been announced.

EOS 50D vs. Rebel XSi

The canon_rebelxti, is a very good camera and, under many circumstances, can produce images, which are very close indeed to those that he EOS 50D produces. However it lacks a number of features that more advanced photographers might want or need. Among the added features of the EOS 50D are:

  • A higher pixel count (15.1MP vs 12.2MP)
  • A higher frame rate (6.3fps vs. 3.5fps)
  • A larger image buffer (60-90/16 Jpeg/RAW vs. 53/6 Jpeg/Raw)
  • A faster shutter (1/8000s, 1/250s sync vs. 1/4000s, 1/200s sync)
  • Peripheral illumination correction
  • Micro focus adjustment
  • A larger, brighter viewfinder
  • A higher resolution LCD
  • A second, top mounted, LCD
  • A rear quick control dial (QCD)
  • Faster DIGIC IV processor
  • Faster USB based image download
  • ISO range of 100-12800 (vs 100-1600 for the XSi)
  • Better environmental sealing
  • PC socket for external flash control

A novice might not need these added features of course, and in that case the 50% less expensive canon_rebelxti, might be a good choice for them.

EOS 50D vs. Nikon D300

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Both the Canon EOS 50D and nikon_d300, are class leading semi-professional DSLRs. Choosing between them is difficult and would probably depend more on whether the buyer is a Nikon or Canon fan than any technical aspects of the two cameras. Both have more bells and whistles than most users are likely to ever use.
When it comes to differences, here are a a few:

  • The EOS 50D sensor has 15.1MP, while the Nikon D300 sensor has 12.3MP. In reality the difference is small and unlikely to significantly affect image quality.
  • The EOS 50D has a 1.6x “digital multiplier”, the Nikon D300 has a 1.5x “digital multiplier”. Again, in practical terms no big deal.
  • The EOS 50D has 9 AF zones, the Nikon D300 has 51. How may do you really need?
  • The EOS 50D has ISO 100-3200, expandable to include 6400 and 12800. The Nikon D300 has ISO 100-3200, expandable to 100-6400. So the EOS 50D has ISO 12800 available – though the quality of the image is significantly degraded at that setting.
  • The EOS 50D viewfinder has 95% coverage, the D300 viewfinder has 100% coverage.
  • The EOS 50D can shoot at 6.3 fps, while the Nikon D300 can shoot at 6 fps. No big deal, but the Nikon D300 can go up to 8 fps with the optional battery grip MB-D10.
  • The Nikon D300 can use its built in flash as a wireless controller for external speedlites. The * Canon 50D requires a hotshoe mounted 550/580EZ speedlite in order to wirelessly control additional speedlites.
  • The EOS 50D is currently selling for around $300 less than the D300

So it’s pretty much a toss up between these two camera based on what they can do. The 50D has some features the D300 doesn’t and vice versa. I’m sure Nikon owners will stick with Nikon and Canon owners will stick with Canon!

Key EOS 50D Features

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Image Sensor 22.3mm x 14.9mm, 15.1MP CMOS, (4752 × 3168 pixels)
Autofocus TTL-CT-SIR AF-dedicated CMOS sensor, 9 AF points (Cross-type)
ISO Speeds ISO 100-3200 + H1 and H2 (12800)
Metering Modes 35-zone Evaluative, 9% Partial, 3.8% Spot, Center Weighted
Viewfinder Pentaprism, 95% coverage, 0.95x
Shutter Speeds 1/8000 to 30 sec. + B,  X-sync at 1/250 sec.
Type Retractable, auto pop-up flash, GN 13/43 (ISO 100 m/ft), coverage for 17mm
lens
Memory CompactFlash (CF) with UDMA support
LCD TFT color, 3.0 in, 920,000 pixel, 160 viewing angle
Power BP-511A, optional Battery Grip BG-E2N (2 x BP-511A or 6 x AA)
Dimensions (WxHxD) Approx. 5.7 × 4.2 × 2.9 in./145.5 × 107.8 × 73.5mm
Weight Approx. 25.7 oz./730g (body only)

Conclusion

A number of EOS 50D reviews have been somewhat critical, suggesting that by reducing the pixel size in going from the 10MP of the sensor used in the EOS 40D to the 15MP sensor used in the 50D Canon have overreached themselves and this has resulted in an increase in noise and a reduction in dynamic range. In the strictest sense this may be true, however what really counts is the final print, not the lab tests. At low ISO settings (say up to ISO 800), noise isn’t really an issue and the higher resolution is certainly useful. If at higher ISO settings the 50D can (via noise reduction techniques) yield images that have more detail and less noise then those from the EOS 40D, it’s an improvement, and the 50D can indeed do that.

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You also have to consider the new features of the EOS 50D, such as microfocus adjustment, contrast detection AF in Live View, the high resolution LCD, greater autobracketing range, peripheral illumination correction, expanded ISO setting range (100-12800) and improved environmental sealing when when weighing up whether the EOS 50D represents an overall advance over the EOS 40D – and I think it certainly does. Whether those improvements are worth the extra cost of the camera and how much the higher intrinsic noise of the sensor weighs against other improvements is something that each user has to consider.

Would the 50D have been a better camera if Canon had been less ambitious and used a new optimized 12MP sensor? We’ll never really know the answer to that one. It’s obvious why Canon went to 15MP and the reason is marketing. After getting criticized that the EOS 40D at 10MP didn’t match up the the competition’s 12-15MP sensors, Canon obviously felt they needed to make a substantial pixel increase. While the number of pixels don’t define the quality of a camera, they’re certainly a very important factor in marketing!

Overall the EOS 50D is a very good camera. I think it’s a better and generally more capable camera than the EOS 40D and if money was not involved, I’d rather have an EOS 50D than an EOS 40D. Whether it’s worth the cost of upgrading from an existing 40D is an individual decision of course. I’m sure quite a few 40D owners will decide to wait for a possible 60D, but the 50D represents a good upgrade path for 10D/20D/30D owners and those looking to move to a camera with features beyond those of a Digital Rebel.

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Example EOS 50D Photographs

8262682 canon_70-300/4is, set to 170mm, f/8. By setting the ISO to 800 and chosing a 1/60s shutter speed, I could record enough of the distant background to set the scene. The main illumination was from a hoteshoe mounted 550EX Speedlite with -1/3 flash exposure compensation. Normally, the redeye effect would be highly undesirable, but in this shot of the NYC Halloween day parade, I think it actually adds to the image.
8262759 canon_50/1.8, at f/1.8. The ability to dial in high ISO values can be useful in situations like this, which was handheld available light photography on a New York City Street at night. ISO 3200 was used and for this shot the shutter speed was 1/160s. If you look near the light at the top left, you can see some noise and slight evidence of “banding” (readout noise), but overall the image isn’t bad. It was shot in RAW and color balance later set to 2900K. High ISO noise reduction was used.
8260815 canon_17-85, set at 85mm, f/8,
1/30s, ISO 400. I used a very makeshift home studio set up to accomplish these fruit and product photos. WB set at tungsten, which required additional WB tweaking in Lightroom to get a neutral white. The EOS 50D’s tungsten white balance setting requires a custom balance to achieve the proper tones. The water droplets can be accomplished by either freshly washing the fruit or using a spray bottle.
8261213 canon_17-85, set at 35mm, f/6.3,
1/60s, ISO 400. Seltzer water does the trick. I had my fruit ready for their portrait and poured in the seltzer water on top of the lime while using a remote to trigger the shutter to get the most bubbles captured as possible.
8261184 canon_17-85, set at 56mm, f/11,
1/13s, ISO 400. Ideally, I would have stronger lights with more diffusion for this project to really wash out the background and use a highlight light to control the white accents.

Original text ©2008 Bob Atkins. Photos ©2008 Bob Atkins and Hannah Thiem.

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    • Bought my 50D yesterday; with a 50/1.4 lens.
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    • Bob, what an incredibly detailed, complete review. Thanks Greg Sava
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    • ...mine should arrive tomorrow. Thanks for the "wrap-up"--it's going to be a big "leap" from an EOS3.
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    • A noteworthy review written with a most unique (and rare) quality: clarity, instead of a ton of techno-gibberish. Usable information suitable to out-in-the-field application. A job well done, Bob. Keep up the good work - it is appreciated.
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    • *sigh* i'm still putt'n around with with my oooold 10d. anyone still using a 10d these days? nice review. it makes me... wonder what i would do with all those settings. ;) http://www.flickr.com/photos/22921053@N05
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    • I noticed no mention of how well the SDK works with the 50D. If there are users out there interested in this, please visit: http://canonsdk.com
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    • Hi Bob, Thanks for the good review; one thing I did notice is in some parts you are referring to the XSi as the XTi; an e.g. is where you are comparing the 50D with the XSi. Otherwise a good review. I got my 50D from my wife for Christmas, since then I have put it through some tests and the outcome of these tests are amazing. This camera was made for the wildlife/sports photographer; no other camera can be compared with the 50D in this field. The high density 15 mega pixel sensor is perfect for telephoto work and when the camera is used with the 500 f/4 and 100-400 f/5.6 lenses, the results are the best I have ever seen. The 6.5 fps and the crop factor of 1.6 with 15 mega pixel sensor is the best combination you can have for wildlife, especially bird shots where you need all the focal length and image size you can get. I have heard a lot of talk about it being noisy at high ISO; I find it produces low noise below ISO 400 and is good at ISO 800 above 800 is not a problem for me as I never go there. I compared it to my 30D using ISO 800, and when the images are viewed at actual pixels, the 50D is twice the size with good noise levels. This camera is by far the best choice for any wildlife photographer and the price is the icing on the cake.
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    • This is a very comprehensive review. Thanks. I would like ot know how well the camera performs with a third party zoom lens such as Sigma
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    • I just sold my 10D for only $300.00 (including the zoom 35-105 lens)...almost gave it away. (it was for a nice so almost a Christmas gift!)..Got the Canon 50D for Christmas and boy, what a difference, five years can make. Bought the 10D in 2003 for about $3000.00 ($2495 for body only, battery grip was $299.) Too bad the grip didn't fit the 50D...All around, camera still has that solid feel but too many improvments to mention now..
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    • Awesome review, Bob. Stepping up from the Canon 30D to the 50D was a no-brainer for me. I really like the functionality of the 50D, but didn't have high expectations for better image quality. The larger 3 inch screen and easier access to menu controls were two important selling points for me. I blogged about some of my other favorite functions, such as being able to create a set of custom menu items. The larger resolution size means that I need to buy 4 and 8 gig cards because shooting RAW files on smaller cards will feel up too fast during a wedding.
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    • I have the EOS 450D (Rebel XSi) and I tried the 50D, to my conclusion the 50D has one mayor advantage for the 450D which is the grip, and handling. The 450D with a heavier lens is pretty useless to hold with it's crappy grip. The 50D has a much better grip so it's way more comfortable to use. I will change my 450D for a 50D due to that alone.
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    • A pleasure to read such an informative article - I am considering updating from my 30D to a 50D but would like to know just how much I would gain as a part time professional comparitively new to digital ( about 5 years ). I use a 70/200 , 14/70 4L , 1.8/50 , 580 speedlight ,for most work which was my first venture into digital slr. Thanks again Ash Davis.
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    • Great write up! Thanks!
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    • We bought a 20D in June 2005; and have shot over 50K pictures on that body since then. We made the upgrade to the 50D last month; and for our first real test took it to the Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona. We took several hundred pictures with a new 10-22Canon zoom; a 24-105 Canon zoom and a 75 to 200 Canon zoom. The camera performed wonderfully in all light conditions, including tracking pictures of cars overnight on the track. Lots of range; some issues with graining at high ISO (what else did we expect??) and a really easy white balance setting. A very good investment.
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    • I just recently purchased the 50D as a replacement for my 20D. The 15 mp image sensor is what sold me above everything else as I often found after cropping down images from the 20D that my usable area was lower than I would like. Not to say the same won't happen now, but usable starting area is certainly higher. All in all a good, solid product. The only thing I would like Canon to add to the custom function menu is the ability to adjust the self timer to go above its max of 10 seconds. There are more user settable variables than I will probably ever be able to take advantage of. Congrats to Canon for maintaining a good degree of backward compatibility with things such as batteries, battery grip, angle finder, etc. The 20D was a solid workhorse but it's time to retire it and move on ahead in the electronic revolution.
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    • My 20D retired eventually and I got my 50D two days ago. It is a wonderful camera and a worthy upgrade from 20D. there are too many mouth-watering features to go into but the larger and finer LCD, Live View mode offering three focusing modes, the AF microadjustment, and 14-bit processing plus improved focusing ability, to name a few, are worth considering. I personally don't own a 40D but one of my friends does and it is a little disappointing specially the Live View settings and the crappy LCD resolution which is a total disappointment when reviewing shots. the microadjustment feature on the 50D is a winner though performing the task is a little intricate and takes a lot of time to use the proper chart, loading each one into your PC, compering the results one by one, and arriving at the correct fine tuning measure. I finally did it for my 17-70mm sigma and Canon 60mm Macro but Pooh! I sweat over the task and I was confused a lot at the beginning as there are virtually tens on techniques over the net and nobody really provides a definit technique. It is all down to your personal judgment and preference to find the right solution. The important thing was also the capability to use the older 20D accessories as it saved me a lot of money specially the battery grip BG-E2 which, though lacking the AF-On button, still functions impeccably. I have been sort of experimenting with my new 50D ever since and I have found some features like the Highlight Tone Priority and the Auto lighting Optimizer extremely versatile and useful to save the day in some difficult lighting situations. Another improvement is the lower mirror sound. The 20D was a disappointment in this respect with its spring-actuated mirror mechanism. 50D utilizes a motor-actuated mirror for quieter performance. all in all, it has been a worthy upgrade. I am not sure about the 40Ders, but even for them, a number of additional features can be interesting enough to consider.
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    • I read every review on Canon’s 50D and compared it to Nikon D300 and Pentax K20D. Being a Canon fan I may be bias and after all the Pros and Cons may choice is Canon’s 50D. For me it’s a quantum leap from a Canon XT to a 50D. Thanks everyone for your feedback.
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    • Hello, Thanks very much for details review about 50D camera with others. I'm more interested in buying canon DSLR camera. I'm novice to the world of EOS/DSLR camera . I have gone through some articles in this website and now I'm really confused in buying the camera 40D or 50D ?There aren't much differences in the both the camera apart from pixel, ISO etc.. Btw, I'm very much interested in doing cityside, nature and landscape photography. Can you suggest me which camera and lens will be good to start of with.. Thanks, Mani
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    • I have to agree with the first paragraph of the conclusion. Noise tests are better taken outside of the lab with real world results. I just bought my 50D and have been extremely pleased with the output of this camera. I haven't shot beyond ISO 3200 yet, but hand held shots in a bar with evening lighting turned out brilliantly.
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    • I've recently upgraded from a 20D.  I had not planned to upgrade at all for another couple of years, but some dude who apparently needed money desperately offerred his three month old 50D with only 1500 pictures on it for an amazing $575.  So I jumped before he changed his mind.  His last comment to me was "MY big loss is your amazing gain."  So I guess he just needed money really fast.

       

      Is this camera producing better 8 x 10's, 11 x 14's, or 16 x20's than my 20D's 8 mp?  probably but its hard to tell.

      Is it able to do all this dramatically easier, with much faster modifications, and with a bit better color?  OH Yeah!!

      I never wanted teh 7D since if I wanted a camcorder, I'd buy a cam corder.  Its the best upgrade I could have made.  If you already have a bunch of canon lenses, then you already know you want a canon, and if you don't need part time camcorder duty, then the 50D is a real sleeper in the line, even if it doesn't get all the publicity of the 5D2 or the 7D.

      Zarathu

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    • I love my 50D but Im already itching for a 7D for the video. I use my 50D  for my aerial photography  business  where I attach it to an rc helicopter. Even usi9ng the kit lens from a rebel XTi, I get very high quality shots.

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    • I just upgraded from a 20d. Difference is night & day ! And like Ken Rockwell said - the LCD alone makes it worth the upgrade.

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