Canon PowerShot SX50 HS £449.99
15th Oct 2012 | 14:48
Canon's superzoom bridge packs a whopping 50x zoom
The bridge area of the compact camera market is one part of the market that is still doing well in what is otherwise a declining segment.
Manufacturers are packing larger and larger zooms onto these cameras which, for many, act as an alternative to a DSLR, or a step up from a standard compact camera.
The Canon PowerShot SX50, announced at Photokina 2012 alongside the Canon PowerShot G15 and Canon EOS 6D, has a 50x optical zoom that covers the equivalent of 24-1200mm, whereas the zoom range on the Canon SX40 is 35x, or 24-840mm.
This is a phenomenal zoom range that most DSLR users can only dream of, or perhaps look to achieve at huge expense. The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is much more affordable, with a price of £448 (about AU$700) in the UK and US$479 in the US.
The 24mm point is ideal for capturing landscapes and indoor scenes, while the longest telephoto point is perfect for photographing distant wildlife or picking out details.
For those who feel that a 50x zoom still isn't enough, the camera boasts a digital zoom that expands it to 100x. Canon calls this 100x Zoom Plus.
Another important improvement that the Canon SX50 HS makes over the Canon SX40 is that it can record raw format images as well as JPEG files. For enthusiast photographers, this makes the camera a much more attractive proposition, since it means that the files can be processed manually if you desire.
Probably the biggest competitor to the Canon SX50 HS in the bridge camera market is the also recently announced Panasonic FZ200. Although that camera only features a 24x optical zoom, it does boast an f/2.8 constant aperture throughout the range. By contrast, the Canon can only manage f/3.4 at the widest point, rising up to f/6.5 at the telephoto end.
Other features of the Canon SX50 include a Digic 5 processor, which is the same as those found in Canon's top-end DSLRs such as the Canon 5D Mark III. This should mean that noise is controlled well at high sensitivity settings, and it also facilitates Full HD video recording.
Build quality and handling
The Canon Powershot SX50 HS is styled very much akin to a miniature DSLR, with a pronounced hand grip, electronic viewfinder, hotshoe and mode dial.
It's also relatively heavy, giving the same kind of feeling as an entry level DSLR with the kit lens attached, such as the Canon 1100D.
But of course the lens that is attached is far more flexible than a standard 18-55mm kit lens, with its 50x optical zoom.
Unlike a DSLR, this is controlled via a switch around the shutter release button on top of the camera, rather than by manually twisting the zoom by hand.
Zooming in and out is quick and smooth, meaning you can quickly go from the fully wide angle right up to the full telephoto with the minimum of effort.
Thanks to the large hand grip, the camera feels very secure in the hand, making it easy to use when shooting one-handed - even when extending the full range of the zoom.
Anyone familiar with Canon's range of DSLRs will recognise the mode dial at the top of the camera. Here you'll find access to full manual, semi-automatic, automatic, scene, movie and creative effect modes.
When using aperture/shutter priority, to change shutter speed or aperture, rather than using a dial on the grip, as you might do a DSLR, the wheel on the back of the camera must be used. If shooting in fully manual, you can switch between shutter speed and aperture by pressing up on the control pad.
The Canon SX50 HS features a fully articulating, 2.8-inch PureColor II 461k dot LCD screen. It's a bright and clear display, avoiding glare and reflections in a variety of lighting conditions. We've been unable to test it in the brightest of sunlight to fully assess that, though.
Having an articulated screen is very useful, because it gives that extra flexibility when shooting at awkward angles.
A small pop-up flash can be found at the top of the camera, which needs to be raised manually. There's a button at the side of the flash which is used to access different flash modes once the flash is raised. It can take a lot of jabbing at the button to realise that it doesn't raise the flash automatically.
You can either elect to have the camera decide autofocus points for you, or choose a singular point.
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This is achieved by pressing a dedicated button on the back of the camera, then using either the arrow keys or the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to move the autofocus point into the correct position.
An electronic viewfinder is included on the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. Unfortunately there's no eye sensor to automatically detect when your eye is lifted to the EVF, so you will need to hit the display button twice to switch it on.
This slows down the image taking process somewhat, and is a shame on a camera with an otherwise great specification.
Next to the thumb grip on the back of the camera is a dedicated button to activate Full HD video recording. This is particularly handy and can be used even when the camera is not in video mode, which really speeds up capturing the moment as it unfolds in front of you.
We were pleased with the image performance from the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, and given that the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS contains the same processor and 12.1 million pixel sensor, we were hopeful that image quality would match up.
Happily, we're pleased to report that images from this camera are also very pleasing. There's bags of detail, especially for a sensor this small, making it a great option for a wide variety of different subjects.
It's also relatively easy to achieve attractive shallow depth of field effects with the camera, though it would have been nice to see a wider maximum aperture, such as the f/2.8 constant aperture found on the Panasonic FZ200.
Colours are represented well in images straight from the camera. There's plenty of vibrancy and brightness, without it being over the top.
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The addition of a Digic 5 processor was big news for this camera's predecessor, and here it continues to deliver reduced noise levels.
Images remain usable throughout the range to ISO 1600, only beginning to drop off in quality at ISO 3200, but we even found these looked acceptable.
There are some examples of image smoothing when zooming into the images at 100%, but certainly nothing which would be noticeable at normal printing or web sizes.
Digic 5 also helps to facilitate a high shooting rate, with the option to shoot at up to 10.3fps for up to eight frames at a time (when shooting JPEG only). This is a real boon when you're photographing fast moving subjects, such as children or animals, and is great to see in a bridge camera.
Autofocus does a good all-round job of locking onto subjects quickly and accurately, even when the lens is at the furthest reach of the zoom length.
Of course perhaps the biggest draw of this camera is its 50x optical zoom, making it the longest reach currently available on the market.
Generally speaking, image stabilisation does a very good job of preventing image blur, but at the furthest reach of the optical telephoto end of the lens, you will need a steady hand.
If you can steady it, either with a dedicated tripod or just via a nearby wall, table or other surface, then it's a fantastic bonus to have while travelling or taking nature shots.
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Because even the slightest of movements can dramatically alter the composition when holding the camera at 100x or 200x its reach, it's only really possible to use when the camera is secured in position.
The digital zoom on the camera boasts its reach up to 100x, or 200x when engaging the very furthest reach. At 100x, the images remain surprisingly good, and while they're not on par with what an optical zoom could deliver, it's useful to have if you need it. As is to be expected, image quality drops at 200x quite significantly.
This means that the resulting images should only really be used at the smallest web sizes. Again though, it's a nice to have feature, rather than a necessity, and one that probably won't be used all too frequently.
As with the Canon SX40, there are a few art filters to experiment with on the Canon SX50. Unfortunately you can't shoot these while using raw format, so if you decide you don't like the filter later in post-production, you won't be able to remove it.
Some of the filters are better than others, as you might expect, but it's nice to have a few different options to try out, while some of them are customisable, meaning you can achieve different effects.
You can choose to compose your images on the articulating LCD screen, or the electronic viewfinder. The LCD screen is bright and clear, and isn't marred by glare or reflections, except in perhaps the brightest sunlight. Having the ability to articulate is also very handy when you want to shoot from a difficult angle.
There have been some fantastic advancements in electronic viewfinder technology, with many cameras now boasting fantastic devices that are very useable.
Unfortunately, the Canon SX50 is not one of those cameras. Composing an image using the EVF is made difficult by the small size of the screen.
Although the small scroll dial at the side of the EVF can be used to adjust the sharpness of the screen, it's still tricky to use, especially in brighter conditions.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 80 the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 80, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
JPEG images from the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS are most similar in their signal to noise ratio scores to those from the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, although the newer camera is slightly stronger overall. Both of these cameras produce better results than the Panasonic FZ200 and Nikon Coolpix L810, at every sensitivity setting.
Raw signal to noise ratio
Of the cameras tested, only the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS and Panasonic FZ200 are able to shoot in raw file format. Here, the Canon beats the Panasonic again for signal to noise ratio, with the Panasonic dropping off dramatically at higher ISO settings.
JPEG dynamic range
For dynamic range, JPEG images from the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS again sit at the top of the chart, beating the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, Panasonic FZ200 and Nikon Coolpix L810 at every ISO setting, with the Nikon performing worst and the other two sitting closest together on the scale.
Raw dynamic range
Again, in the raw image files the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS shows a greater dynamic range than the Panasonic FZ200, at all sensitivities, although this time the difference between them is slightly less pronounced.
Macro focusing is quick and accurate, and enables you to get really close to the subject.
Macro focusing even works well when the light source is low, or the subject is prone to movement.
Despite its small size, the Canon SX50's sensor is still able to resolve bags of detail, even at the telephoto end of the 50x optic.
The Canon SX50 is a great option for a wide variety of subjects, including wildlife. DSLR owners can usually only dream of such a huge zoom range.
At the widest end of the optic, the Canon SX50 offers an equivalent of 24mm, making it a fantastic choice for getting a large proportion of the scene in the frame.
Even at 100x digital zoom, image quality is still fairly high, giving great flexibility for capturing far away action.
It's fair to say that image quality does drop quite dramatically at 200x digital zoom, but it's nice to have this flexibility if you really need to use it.
Colours are represented well by the SX50 straight from the camera, they're punchy without being overly vibrant.
Noise is controlled well at high sensitivity settings, though there is some examples of image smoothing when examining the images at 100%. Normal printing and web sizes are good, though.
Even in artificial lighting conditions, auto white balance does a good job of producing accurate colours.
There's a fairly decent range of art filters available on the SX50, giving you the opportunity to get really creative with your shooting style. See below for some of those filters in action.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
The bridge camera section of the market is continuing to perform well in a time when the general compact camera market is on a downturn.
What bridge cameras such as the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS offer is fantastic flexibility in a smaller, lighter and cheaper package than a DSLR. The trade-off is a smaller sensor and the impossibility of changing lenses.
They're fantastic for travelling photographers, or those looking to get a bit more from their photography without the added complications that an interchangeable lens system brings.
One of the biggest disadvantages of the Canon SX40 was that it didn't have the capability of shooting in raw format. Happily, Canon has addressed that issue, making the Canon SX50 a much more attractive proposition.
With many great features onboard the Canon SX50, picking one feature is difficult. But, what probably stands out the most is that incredible 50x optical zoom lens, giving this camera huge appeal to travel, wildlife and family photographers.
It's a shame that at the widest end of the optic, the camera couldn't boast a wider aperture, because that would have really been the icing on the cake for this great bridge camera.
What we've got here is good image quality, lots of features, an attractive body and plenty to appeal to a wide variety of photographers.
While it's true that the Panasonic FZ200 offers a better maximum aperture value, of f/2.8 throughout its entire range, this camera boasts a whopping 50x optical zoom - something you won't get anywhere else.
For anybody looking to purchase a bridge camera this year, the Canon SX50 is easily one of the best options currently available on the market. An articulating screen, raw format shooting and of course that giant zoom all add to a fantastic package in a neat little body. It's just a shame about the EVF, though.