Canon Powershot SX50 HS Review

The canon_sx50hs was first announced in September of 2012 as a replacement for the Powershot SX40 HS. Noticeable improvements over the SX40 HS include faster AF, less shutter lag, a longer zoom range and the ability to shoot RAW files.

The Canon Powershot SX50 HS is what is sometimes called a “bridge” camera. It’s much smaller and lighter than a DSLR, but it’s larger than a compact digital camera. The overall shape is more like a miniature DSLR and so it’s not a camera you can put in your pocket, yet it’s far easier to carry than a DSLR and a selection of lenses.

Like a compact digicam, the SX50 HS uses a small sensor. Technically described as a 1/2.3" CMOS sensor, the physical size is approximately 6.2mm x 4.6mm.

Who the Powershot SX50 HS is for

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The Powershot SX50 HS makes and ideal general purpose and travel camera since the huge 50x zoom range of the lens lens can capture everything from sweeping landscapes (at the 24mm setting) to distant wildlife (at the 1200mm setting). It’s not pocketable, so it’s for someone who doesn’t mind carrying a small camera bag. Like all small sensor digicams, it’s slower in focus and operation than a DSLR and so it doesn’t excel when shooting fast moving action and sports. The small sensor also limits image quality at higher ISO settings, so, considering the relatively slow speed of the lens, it’s not an ideal camera for low light work.

Special Features

The real special feature of the Powershot SX50 HS is the lens. It’s actually a 4.3mm to 215mm zoom, but the small sensor gives the lens a 5.6x multiplier, so it has the same diagonal angular coverage as a 24mm to 1200mm lens would have on a full frame DSLR. That’s an enormous range and currently it’s the widest range found on any digital camera designed for still photography. The lens is not particularly fast though, at f3.4 at 24mm and f6.5 at 1200mm.

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The 1200mm (equivalent) long end of the zoom range requires a very effective IS system if it is to be usable handheld and the SX50 HS has an unusually good image stabilization system. It’s a smart system which takes into account focal length, shooting mode, camera movement and whether stills or videos are being shot to determine which of six different IS modes to use. Stabilization up to 4.5 stops is claimed and I believe it.

Also notable is the ability of the SX50 HS to save images in JPEG or RAW formats (or both simultaneously in most shooting modes). The SX50 HS also has a hotshoe which allows the use of any Canon Speedlite of compatible flash unit.

The “HS” of the SX50 HS refers to a high speed shooting mode. In HS mode the camera can shoot at 13fps for up to 10 frames, though only in JPEG mode and the ISO is set to “auto”. In normal continuous shooting mode (JPEG) the frame rate is about 1.9 fps with focus fixed on the first shot. Shooting RAW+JPEG the frame rate is around 1 fps for 5 shots, dropping to 0.7 fps after that [measurements made using a class 10 SD card].

Video has a dedicated start/stop button and the SX50HS can shoot 1080p full HD video at 24fps or HD 720p at 30fps, with stereo sound.

The SX50 HS can shoot in-camera HDR images (3 shots are taken, though only in JPEG mode and only the final HDR image is saved).

Using the Powershot SX50 HS

The Powershot SX50 HS is easy to use, especially if you are familiar with any fairly recent Canon poweshot camera. The menu system is fairly consistent between the various Powershot models and doesn’t take long to get used to. The camera is generally quite responsive by the standards of small digital cameras, though certainly not as fast as a DSLR.

Canon cites a typical shutter lag of around 0.25s including focusing, but that probably depends somewhat on the light level and the focal length setting. Generally it’s fast enough if there isn’t any rapidly moving subject, but it’s also slow enough that if anything is moving fast you’re quite likely to miss a few shots. Focus is generally good, though at times, especially on low contrast subjects, it can fail to lock. This isn’t unexpected for a small digital camera using a contrast detection AF scheme.

Performance and Usability

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The lens performs well, even at full zoom. There is some “purple fringing” evident on high contrast edges, but sharpness and contrast hold up quite well. In general the performance of the lens (especially at the long end) exceeded my expectations. It’s not as good as a prime lens on a DSLR, but it can’t reasonably be expected to be. However image quality can be comparable to that from a DSLR when looking at smaller prints or on-screen images.

Exposure is generally good, but the SX50 HS does have a slight tendency to overexposure the highlights in high contrast scenes under bright lighting. The experienced user shooting JPEGs will either dial in some negative exposure compensation or activate the DR (dynamic range) correction under these conditions. If you are shooting RAW you can usually correct the problem using exposure compensation in the (supplied) DPP software (note DR correction is not available when shooting RAW).

The electronic viewfinder is very useful, but might best be described as being of “adequate” quality. It’s perfectly fine for framing the image and it shows the important shooting information OK, but it’s only 202,000 dots and the viewfinder optics aren’t that great so it’s tough to judge focus or see fine detail in your subject. Still, it’s very useful to have an EVF and I still prefer to use it over the LCD most of the time. The tilt and swivel LCD is very useful at times (e.g. for low level macro shots), where getting your eye to the EVF would be difficult.

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Though the ISO range runs from 80 to 6400, like all small sensor digicams performance is best at lower ISO settings. It’s not so much that you see noise in the JPEG images from the camera, but the noise reduction algorithms result in some “smearing” of detail and loss of resolution at higher ISO settings. Again, shooting RAW is the best option since you can them choose the level of noise reduction which is applied to the image. I’d say that staying below ISO 800 is probably a good idea whenever possible.

One “quirk” of the SX50 HS is that for exposures longer then 1 second (which are only available in manual mode) the ISO setting is fixed at ISO 80. In P, Av, Tv and auto modes, the longest exposure the camera will set is 1 second and so the ISO can be set to any value.

Brief Specifications

  • World’s first 50x Optical Zoom (24-1200mm) with Optical Image Stabilizer
  • 12.1 Megapixel High-Sensitivity CMOS sensor
  • ISO range 80-6400
  • 1080p Full HD video with stereo sound
  • High-Speed Burst HQ captures up to 10 (JPEG) frames at 13fps
  • Intelligent IS chooses from six different modes to optimize image stabilization for the
    shooting condition
  • 2.8-inch Vari-angle LCD with 461,000 dots plus an Electronic Viewfinder
  • Smart AUTO selects the proper camera settings based on 58 predefined shooting situations
  • RAW and JPEG image capture
  • Built-in hot shoe for Speedlite
  • Support for wired remote
  • Size (WxHxD) 4.82 × 3.44 × 4.15 in. / 122.5 × 87.3 × 105.5mm
  • Weight 21.0 oz. / 595g (inc. battery)

Full specifications can be found on the Canon SX50 HS web page.

Conclusions

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Despite the obvious drawbacks of a small sensor digicam, I found the Powershot SX50 HS a very useful camera indeed. While I didn’t expect the lens to perform like a 1200mm lens on a full frame DSLR, it did exceed my expectations. Even at 1200mm the image quality is good (especially at lower ISO settings) and the IS system exceeded my expectations by actually allowing handholding of the camera at full zoom at shutter speeds as slow as 1/100s, and with a little added stability gained by leaning on a tree or a wall, even shutter speeds as low as 1/50s at 1200mm yielded sharp images.

Image quality was good, especially shooting RAW and optimizing the images in the supplied Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software. “Out of the camera” JPEGs weren’t bad but using the default settings sometimes seemed a little flat. I’d certainly suggest that serious photographers take advantage of the ability to shoot and store RAW files. All the sample images shown here were shot in RAW and optimized for contrast, color, exposure etc. in DPP.

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My overall rating on the canon_sx50hs is positive. Certainly in the hands of a reasonably experienced user it’s capable of yielding images of good quality at all focal length settings. When you consider that the cost is of the order of $400 and the weight is only 1.3lbs for a camera that can produce good quality images at an effective focal length of 1200mm, it’s quite remarkable. A DSLR outfit with similar capability would probaly cost well over $10,000 and weigh in excess of 15lbs, plus require a study, heavy tripod! Yes, the DSLR images would be better and could be enlarged to poster size while the SX50 HS images might be limited to smaller print sizes, but still the SX50 HS is pretty remarkable in term of capability.

On a recent trip I took along a number of cameras including an EOS 6D and EOS 7D with lenses up to 500mm, plus the SX50 HS. I actually found myself using the SX50 HS more than the DSLRs because it was so convenient. In addition I got a number of long telephoto wildlife shots while hiking that I would not have taken with the DSLRs and lenses simply because I would never have carried them due to their size and weight (and need for a tripod with the long lens).


SX50 HS @ 1200mm (equiv). 1/100s @ f6,5, ISO 80

Alternatives

If the 1200mm reach of the SX50 HS is the feature you are attracted to, then there is only one alternative, the fujifilm_sl1000. The specifications are pretty similar to the SX50HS, with a 1/2.3" sensor and a 24-1200/2.9-6.5 lens. The Fuji LCD tilts but doesn’t swivel and the sensor has a higher pixel count (16MP vs 12 MP).

However if 600mm would be long enough, the panasonic_fz200 has a 25-600mm (equivalent lens) and it’s f2.8 throughout the range, so it’s quite a bit faster than the SX50 HS lens which has a maximum aperture of f5.6 at the 600mm setting (2 stops slower). The FZ200 also has a higher resolution electronic viewfinder with around 1,312,000 dots vs the 202,000 dots of the SX50HS.

There’s also the nikon_p510 which has a 24-1000mm (equivalent) lens, though it’s almost as slow as the SX50 HS at f3 (24mm) to f5.9 (1000mm). The P510 has GPS built in, so that could be an advantage for some. The biggest disadvantage for me would be that the P510 doesn’t have the option for saving images in RAW format.

canon_sx50hs. From the Canon website: The Imagine getting right down on the field to capture sports action, zeroing in on your child’s expression on a crowded stage, and recording elusive wildlife shots. All this and more is possible with the PowerShot SX50 HS offering the world’s first 50x Optical Zoom lens* in a compact digital camera, which goes all the way from a wide-angle 24mm to 1200mm (35mm equivalent) to capture any shot you choose.

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    • This is a really impressive sounding camera.  Thanks, Bob.

       

      --Lannie

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    • Thanks for the in-depth review Bob.  It really helps to have your objective analysis based on your many years of experience with Canon equipment.  I am really tempted.  It is not always possible to carry around the DSLR and big lens for bird photography.  In strong light this might be a good compromise.  I especially like the RAW capability.  For the shot of the merganser, did you handhold or was that tripod?  I see you were down to 1/80th, which is right at the margin where you said handholding was still possible.  I wouldn't envision myself using this camera with a tripod.  So a second question would be, were all of your sample shots handheld?

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    • I've used this camera for well over a year now. I do a lot of traveling and this camera is very light and easy to use. I was amazed at the sharpness of the images and true rendition of colors. The 1200 zoom is wonderful and its images are sharp.

      If you expect to be in low light situations a lot, its best to pack a monopod or tripod. That's not a bad idea with any camera but I think its all important here.

      This is a marvelous walking around travel camera. I do understand that as of this writing there is an upgrade to this camera so you might want to check that out.

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