SX50 Mini-Review Take Four - Different Paths to Up Close and Personal

Started Dec 13, 2012 | Discussions thread
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VisionLight
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SX50 Mini-Review Take Four - Different Paths to Up Close and Personal
Dec 13, 2012

I had planned this article to be only about Macrophotography with the SX50. But another feature of the camera, the digital extending zoom, kept presenting questions that needed to be addressed. We'll talk about that in a little while. Those who have read many of my threads and replies to others' know that I often illustrate my posts with macro images, many of which are of Mother Nature's tiny living creatures. Because they usually get a bit jittery and disappear if you get too close, taking macros of them requres a bit of distance and respect. While the SX50's 1200mm zoom is great for capturing larger creatues from 400 feet, it is just as capable in getting the little critters from 4.2 feet. We'll call it a "telemacro". And there's no air turbulence to degrade the image. While I have not had the SX50 long enough to put together a collection of live macro subjects, here are some telemacro examples from the last year from its very capable older sibling, the SX40:





Example of the "telemacro" feature of the SX40's long zoom from 4 1/2 feet. This 1 inch long grasshopper did not like being photographed and kept walking away to try to hide from me.



The SX40 "telemacro" caught this very tiny spider with its evening's prey.



This Orb Wever scooted away when I came too close but actually posed for me when I came back later and remained four feet away with the "telemacro".



I photographed the same Orb Weaver in the setting sun with the "telemacro" feature.



Now before we get underway with the SX50, let's talk a little about the word "macro" in photography. Traditionally, macro lenses have been designed to capture a flat field subject at a 1:1 ratio relative to the size of the film or sensor. For example, a 35mm film negative or a full frame sensor is 36mm (1½ inch) across. A macro lens therefore would have to be able to focus on and fill the frame with an object or scene also only 36mm across. My Canon EF 100mm Macro lens does exactly that. For our P&S cameras with tiny 1/2.5 sensors, the sensor width is only 5.76mm (¼") across. In order to be truly "macro", that is how small a focused frame filling object or scene should be. Yet the optical lens of the SX50 at best can only focus and fill the frame with a 43mm (1¾") scene at 24mm focal length from 0.0" and a 67mm (2¾") scene at both 160mm from 11.8 inchs or 1200mm from 4.2 feet. What we have in effect is a "close-up" lens, not a "macro", even though the term "macro" is generally accepted in the P&S world. Now the question becomes how close can we get to true "macro" with the SX50, and more so, can we exceed it. So let's explore the different paths to "macro" with this camera.

Since it's flu season and that bug caught me this week, our subject today is not alive. No, I wasn't trying to photograph that bug, but that's an idea.    Like in the prior article's indoor low light tests, this subject was chosen for its textures and details and even the eye is an important component. The flat lighting is an integral part of the test, to eliminate the visual effect high contrast has on the perception of acuity. The actual details are what you see. Here is today's subject:



We will be getting up close and personal with this 5" high by 3 1/2" wide very textured and detailed figurine.

Getting Close on the Short Side of the Zoom

At 24mm in macro mode, the SX50 will focus on an object at 0.0 inch from the lens. In non-macro, it's 1.9 inchs. At 25mm, macro mode also jumps to 1.9 inchs. Out to 160mm, macro mode focuses at various minimum to maximum ranges and will not go to infinity. The maximum macro mode distance range is 11.8-19.6 inchs from 105mm to 160mm. After that, macro mode has no effect. After 0.0 at 24mm, the SX40 had a single macro range of 11.8-19.6 inchs from 25mm to 140mm. Using the ranges displayed on the LCD, it appears the minimum/maximum focus distances at the longer end shift to the sensor, not the lens. Measuring from the focused subject back to the camera puts the sensor under the "PowerShot SX50" badge just behind the pop-up flash.

Now 0.0 inchs at 24mm may sound exciting for macro work, but it has its challenges besides properly cleaning the lens afterwards. First, the 84° diagonal view means that the smallest scene that can be captured is only 43mm (1¾") across. Not too bad, but the very wide angle distorts the image as wide angles usually do. And lighting an object or scene touching the glass is near impossible. And if the subject is alive, better hope it doesn't bite. Here's an example shot ¼" from the glass:



SX50 in Macro Mode at 24mm from only 1/4 inch from the lens. Unless stated, all images of the test subject are straight out of camera (SOOC). Even as a macro shot, I do not find this image pleasing.

Now shooting right at the glass may have some use for some subjects, but none come to my mind. Even a transparent flat subject will still be distorted. The subject's eye in this example may have some interest for some people, but we'll explore other options for that kind of detail in a while. I am not very excited about using this feature of the camera. A better idea to get about the same horizontal field of view at 0.0 inch at 24mm is to back up to six inchs from the sensor and zoom out to 100mm. The result will be an image with better lighting and texture and a more natural perspective:



The same image shot at about 100mm from six inchs away in macro mode gives as much overall detail but with a better perspective of about the same field of view.

Getting Close on the Long Side of the Zoom

If our subject was alive, photographing at only 11.8 inchs to 19.6 inchs from the sensor at 160mm would probably scare it off and we would lose the shot. Here is where the close focus distance of 4.2 feet at 1200mm really comes in handy for "macro" work. It may not be as close as the macro mode at 160mm, but is more comfortable for the world of tiny living things. 1200mm is the setting for our first long zoom example giving a horizontal field of view of 2¾ inchs:



The SX50 at 1200mm optical zoom from 4.2 feet gives a horizontal field of view of 2 3/4 inchs.

But suppose we want to get closer to the 160mm's field of view and stay four feet away. The SX50 has the answer, like the SX40 before it, by turning on the internal 1.5 teleconverter (TC). The result is a 1¾" field of view. OK, it's a digital TC, not optical, and even optical TCs have compromises. So what are we giving up. The images used in these articles are, unless noted, straight out of camera (SOOC) and posted at original size. In this way you can explore comparisons for yourself. While many of the images I post on this forum have hidden copyrights which are also noted in the EXIFs, I have no problem with anyone downloading comparative tests for their own use. Feel free. But let's look at them together right now. Here is the SX50's 1800mm 1.5TC SOOC image taken from the closest focus distance of 4.2 feet:



The SX50 at 1800mm with Digital 1.5 Teleconverter from 4.2 feet gives a horizontal field of view of 1 3/4 inchs.

Looking at it full screen on an HD computer or TV produces a very detailed image with a perspective a bit flatter than the 160mm image, but not detrimental. Depth of field is also a bit narrower, even at the smaller f-stop, but again not detrimental. A very good image so far. Until one looks closer. At 100%, the difference in fine detail becomes apparent, giving overall lesser sharpness and contrast to the TC image. But when photographing the subject instead of scaring it away counts (and doesn't it always), TC from 4.2 feet is a great tool for telemacros. The Superfine images from the SX50 are also very workable in post, so the SOOC details can be further enhanced for a better presentation. Following is the image from above post processed with light noise reduction (which should always be the first step in post when necessary), a boost to both fine and medium details, and a levels reduction to 3-253.



The above image is post processed here with light noise reduction, boost to both fine and medium details, and a minor levels reduction.

Another choice to get to a 1¾" field of view is to crop the 1200mm image. After testing, my observations on taking this course of action are that it depends more on one's post processing skills then on the SX50. All of the comparative images for this article were taken three or four times and the "best" image chosen from each set. It was usually a difficult choice as the SX50 operated very consistantly. In cropping the "best" 1200mm image and comparing it to the "best" 1800mm TC image, I found little consistant noticable differences at 400%. One element of one image may have been sharper than in the other image, but the reverse would be true for a different element. At this magnification, using the 1.5 TC or cropping 1200mm is user's choice. Here is the cropped SOOC image, followed by the same image post processed as above:



This is a crop of the 1200mm optical image to show the same field of view as when using the 1.5 TC at 1800mm. In the crop, horizontal total pixels are maintained at 4000 as in the original and ppi is maintained at 180.



The same post processing was applied here to the crop image as was applied to the 1.5 TC image above.

Of course, if we want to get an even higher magnification from 4.2 feet, we can increase the TC to 2.0 for a 1 3/8" field of view at 2400mm. Once again, we can also crop the 1200mm image to this level. The difference this time is that at 400%, I saw more consistant clarity across the field in the 2400mm 2.0 TC image. Not a great deal of difference from the cropped image, but enough to make the 2.0 TC my preference at this level. Here are the images for your own review, first at 2400mm 2.0 TC SOOC followed by the 1200mm crop to 2400mm with no additional post:



The SX50 at 2400mm with Digital 2.0 TC from 4.2 feet gives a horizontal field of view of 1 3/8 inchs.



This is a crop of the 1200mm optical image to show the same field of view as when using the 2.0 TC at 2400mm. Again in the crop, horizontal total pixels are maintained at 4000 as in th eoriginal and ppi is maintained at 180. I find more consistant clarity and detail in the 2.0 TC image above over this cropped image.

In camera, the SX50 can go even closer to true macro performance from 4.2 feet by using the Digital Zoom. It can go to an equivalent of 4800mm and a horizontal field of view of 11/16". This is now down to about a 1:3 macro ratio on the 1/2.5 sensor, quite a feat for a P&S. Here is the SOOC image at 4800mm Digital Zoom. Yes it is soft, but when need be, added post can make it rather usuable. There is no crop shown from the 1200mm optical image  to 4800mm. With my best post processing efforts, anything I could come up with was only just short of mush.



The SX50 at 4800mm with full Digital Zoom from 4.2 feet gives a horizontal field of view of 11/16 inch. A crop of the 1200mm image to this level is not shown because it gives a rather mushy presentation.

FURTHER EXPLORATION OF DIGITAL ZOOM

At the beginning of this article, I raised a topic related to the digital zoom needing to be addressed. With the SX40, I used the Digital TCs often and placed access to them on the "S" button. I did likewise with my SX50. And I never used the Digital Zoom. I had this idea that the digital TCs had some "special sauce" that made them work better in all circumstances compared to the digital zoom. Now according to Canon, additional stabilization is employed when using the TCs, so this may be the "special sauce" when handheld. Digital zoom makes no mention of this additional stabilization. But what about when used on a tripod. I decided to test for any difference. For every set of images taken above with the 1.5 and 2.0 TC, without moving the camera I immediately followed with the exact same set of images with the digital zoom set to the same magnifications. I also took out my SX40 and performed the same test, three pictures in each set at each magnification. Both cameras were tripod mounted for this article. What followed was a surprise. For both cameras at both 1.5 and 2.0, choosing the "best" image from each set, I could not tell which image was from the TC and which was the Digital Zoom. In all cases, they were equal. So when tripod mounted, I will be changing my camera settings to include Digital Zoom more often now to refine my in-camera compositions beyond 1200mm. I'll of course have to do further tests for hand held situations. But a new world has opened up on the tripod. A year later and I'm still learning new things about these versatile little cameras.

CAN WE BREAK THE 1:1 MACRO BARRIER?

Easily, but not without help from an auxillary lens. In my recent fun thread "SX50 Captures Other Worldly Creatures Trying to Escape the Event Horizon of a Black Hole", I posted the following three images. As you may have now figured out, they are from the eye of today's macro subject figurine. The light was at just the right angle to reflect back an image of the eye in each of the air bubbles.



"SX50 Captures Other Worldly Creatures Trying to Escape the Event Horizon of a Black Hole" uncropped but with some help at 1200mm.



"SX50 Captures Other Worldly Creatures Trying to Escape the Event Horizon of a Black Hole" uncropped but with some help at 1800mm 1.5TC.



"SX50 Captures Other Worldly Creatures Trying to Escape the Event Horizon of a Black Hole" uncropped but with some help at 2400mm 2.0 TC.

So how was this possible? The secret is that I attached my newly acquired Raynox250 macro lens to the front of the SX50. The images were my first tests of the lens and taken at 1200mm, 1800mm TC and 2400mm TC. I had not perfected its use yet and the 2400mm 2.0 TC image only gave a 4 millimeter field of view. But I was having fun (I know, especially with the thread title), and had broken the 1:1 true macro barrier by going to 1.4:1.

But now I've had some practice with the Raynox lens and found out that the best results not only come at the highest zoom on the SX50, but also at the (manual) infinity focus setting. My new subject is the millimeter markings on the ruler I've used for my tests here (the fractional inch settings were shown in the first article of this series). At a distance of 4¼" from the lens, I was able to take the following images at 1200mm optical, 2400mm TC and 4800mm Digital Zoom. The resultant horizontal fields of view are 3.76mm, 1.87mm and .94mm. The macro factor on the last image is 6:1 on the 1/2.5 sensor. While the acuity from the 4800mm image is lacking, there is enough to be able to calculate that the horizontal scratch pattern on the stainless steel ruler has an average width of 9 microns from ridge to ridge. We are near leaving the world of macro photography and entering photography. With a P&S camera no less.



This uncropped image shows the millimeter markings on a stainless steel ruler, giving a total horizontal field of view of 3.76mm. The SX50 at 1200mm optical is coupled with the RAYNOX250 macro lens.



Increasing the SX50 focal length to 2400mm with the 2.0 TC and the RAYNOX250 give a field of view of 1.87mm.



Closer still at 4800mm with the SX50's full Digital Zoom and the RAYNOX250, the horizontal field of view is now only .94 millimeter for a macro ratio of 6:1

Without remotely coupling my SX50 to a laptop to view and photograph tiny little creatures without scaring them away from 4¼", this will be a challenge with the SX50/RAYNOX combination. Not that I won't try to figure something out. But maybe I will be able to challenge my spidermite image taken with my 5D which I adapted to an old FL bellows:



This uncropped image from my 5D adapted to an old Canon FL Bellows shows a field of view of 9mm by 6mm of spidermites racing along there web. Their speed is so fast that precise shutter delay affects the image. But trying to recreate it with the SX50/RAYNOX could be a worthy challenge.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

I hope you have enjoyed our search for paths to up close and personal with the SX50 (or SX40) camera and found useful information to assist in your own macro photography. This is the last article I planned in this series. Now it's time to go out and create new, fun and hopefully artistic images with my SX50 and possibly find other new features  to explore. Maybe something to write about in the future.

So, what's the bottom line on the SX50, especially compared to its older sibling, the SX40. Both cameras are very versatile with a tremendous array of features. They can be set up to aim, zoom, shoot and let the processors react to what you are photographing with very good results for many people. But, if you're like me, they can also be set up so the photographer can control any part or every part of the entire process. As a tech person, I worked in the early days of developing and writing AI software. And yet it still amazes me what current technology in these cameras is capable of. But before being a tech, I was a photographer. In doing this I learned about the nuances of light and composition and how slight changes in camera technique can mean the difference between an image with vision or just a nice snapshot. Since photography for me is now mostly for fun and for teaching, more and more I use the automated features of these cameras and they can work very well (though I still haven't broken down and used full AUTO mode on any camera - I'll get there). But when I need to catch just that right light at just the right moment, I appreciate having all the controls right at my fingertips. All are easy to get to, most times without even having to take my eye away from the EVF.

Now the sensors on these cameras are small. Currently there's no getting around that in a package this size with a long zoom. And some people will be fine with that and some will not. I am constantly asked by people what camera to get and the first thing I always ask is what do they intend to use it for. I do not yet talk about what size camera or brand, just how they intend to use the final output. And of course what size is their budget. If they talk about viewing output on computer or TV screens or for web use, and maybe some 4x6 to even 11x14 prints, I have no problem recommending these small sensor cameras. I also let them know that the larger the print, the better they will have to be with learning camera technique. But if they start talking about larger prints with wide range and minute detail, the conversation certainly goes a different way. But most people these days are in the first group, so in the vast majority of cases the small sensors give highly usefull results. If someone is in the second group, he or she will not be happy with any of these small sensors too high a percentage of the time. Now the differences in results between Canon's small sensor technology and other brands' can be discussed and opinions will be many. But for all the variances both in favor or against one vendor or the other, those variances become less and less apparent in the end results for the people described above who would be happy with these cameras. Ease of use, portability and features tend to carry much more importance. And with practice and using good technique, a lot can also be pulled from these little sensors.

Now to the SX50 versus the SX40. I will pull some text from my reply in another recent thread. If you're looking for great big changes that shout "take the SX50" and leave the SX40 behind, then no, you will be disappointed. But the SX50 is a true evolution of the camera in which everything is changed just enough to make it interesting. Yes it has the same sensor and same processor, but the software that runs them has been very much refined. Focus speed has been improved and exposure controls have been expanded. A little new feature here and a little improvment there. And of course there's that 1200mm zoom. And raw files if you're a fan.

I can understand that some people have returned their SX50 because they felt it was no better than the SX40 they already had. For some that's valid, but others I feel just didn't take the time to figure out how those changes make the camera a little easier and quicker to use. Are the final pictures better because of these changes. Under some conditions, actually yes; in others, no. But they may be better because the new features helped to capture them in the first place. The SX40 is in no way an inferior camera to its new sibling. I still love it and use it along side the SX50. If you don't already have the SX40, then I'd call the SX50 a no brainer when choosing between the two. If you're thinking of upgrading, that's a harder choice. That's one of the reasons I've written these mini-review articles comparing the two cameras. I've been looking for all those differences, laying them out and telling it like I see it. The rest is up to you to decide which one may suit your needs the best. They're both wonderful, versatile and fun P&S cameras.

For anyone who missed the prior articles in this series or just wants to refer back to them, the links are listed here:

TAKE ONE - Initial Observations, SX50 vs SX40, and Images

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50265557

TAKE TWO - SX50 vs SX40 Head to Head from 24mm to 100mm

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50301207

TAKE "2A" - Continued Discussion of DRC

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50318386

TAKE THREE - SX50 (and SX40) When the Light Goes Down

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50408587

Thanks for looking and thanks for all your comments and contributions to the discussions of the prior articles. Of course, comments and contributions are welcome here as well.

Happy shooting. Go out and create memories or art or anything that makes yourself or others smile or think or wonder.

Vision

 VisionLight's gear list:VisionLight's gear list
Canon PowerShot S100 Canon PowerShot SX40 HS Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Canon EOS 5D Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM +4 more
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