Conclusion - Pros
- Detailed and clean image output (but not as detailed as we would have expected from a 15 megapixels sensor)
- Chroma and luminance noise well controlled at higher sensitivities
- Wide range of image parameter adjustment (-4 to +4 for most)
- Effective Highlight tone priority option delivers smooth highlight roll-off
- Four levels of high ISO noise reduction (including Off)
- Effective vignetting control feature
- No noticeable hot pixels with long exposures and NR off
- Nine point auto focus system accurate, even in low light
- Large, clear and bright high-res screen
- Well-built magnesium body, weather-sealed
- Good viewfinder, optional focusing screens
- Excellent ergonomics and refined user-interface
- Quick control menu allows direct access to many important settings
- Attractive refreshed menu design
- Fully customizable MyMenu
- Programmable FUNC button
- Two user memories via 'C1/C2' on mode dial
- 10x magnification in live view allows reliable manual focusing
- Instant power on, camera feels snappy and responsive at all times
- Fast continuous shooting (6.3 fps)
- Excellent data throughput and processing speeds (with fast CF cards)
- Very fast PTP transfer speed
- Comprehensive Software package
- Very quiet mirror mechanism (plus 2 silent shooting options in live view)
- Any combination between RAW and JPEG image sizes possible
- Dust reduction from Canon's 'Integrated Cleaning'
- Good battery life
- Optional WFT-E3 wireless transmitter (802.11 b/g) / vertical grip
- HDMI output
Conclusion - Cons
- High ISO performance worse than 40D
- Reduced dynamic range in the shadow areas compared to EOS 40D
- Per-pixel detail not as good as on good 10 or 12 megapixel cameras
- High-end lenses required to get the most out of the camera
- Poor white balance performance under artificial light
- Flash must be up for AF assist lamp (although AF is good even in low light)
- Live view not as accurate as on 40D (framing very slightly off-center, in contrast detect AF mode not possible to magnify right out to the extreme corners)
It's exactly eight years ago this month that Phil posted his review of the Canon D30. The camera was Canon's first 'developed in house' DSLR and therefore a milestone in digital photography. But it was also the first model in the popular line of cameras of which the EOS 50D is the latest descendant. Technology has moved on at the speed of light since the year 2000 but each generation of x0D cameras left its mark in the marketplace and the photographic community alike and there is no reason to believe to 50D would be any different. Or is there?
Like its predecessors the 50D sports a well built magnesium body that now features improved environmental sealing. Canon has also had more than eight years to optimize the camera's handling and it's done a good job. The ergonomics feel well sorted, all the controls are in the right place and even the formerly rather pointless Direct Print button now serves a purpose: Press it and you'll enter live view mode. Another useful addition is the Quick Control screen. Press the SET button to enter this newly designed menu which gives you access to the most frequently used settings. Even users who are new to the EOS system will find their way around the 50D in no time. The Quick Control screen and the revamped menus also look great on the new bright and clean 3.0 inch VGA screen.
The camera's performance doesn't leave anything to complain about either. Power on is as good as instant, the camera is always ready when you need it and it is quite impressive at what speed the huge 15 megapixel files are being written, processed and transferred through the imaging pipeline. Canon's new DIGIC IV processor certainly pulls its weight.
Let's have a look at the really important stuff then: Image quality. Below ISO 1600 image output is clean with well balanced contrast and colors and as you would expect from a DSLR with a 15 megapixel sensor the 50D delivers a fair amount of detail. Having said that, in terms of per-pixel sharpness the 50D cannot quite keep up with the better 10 or 12 megapixel APS-C DSLRs in the market. At higher sensitivities the smaller photosites are clearly producing more noise (as shown from our RAW comparisons) and so Canon is having to apply more noise reduction to keep to acceptable noise levels, this of course means a loss of detail from ISO 1600 upwards.
It appears that Canon has reached the limit of what is sensible, in terms of megapixels on an APS-C sensor. At a pixel density of 4.5 MP/cm² (40D: 3.1 MP/cm², 1Ds MkIII: 2.4 MP/cm²) the lens becomes the limiting factor. Even the sharpest primes at optimal apertures cannot (at least away from the center of the frame) satisfy the 15.1 megapixel sensors hunger for resolution. Considering the disadvantages that come with higher pixel densities such as diffraction issues, increased sensitivity towards camera shake, reduced dynamic range, reduced high ISO performance and the need to store, move and process larger amounts of data, one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that at this point the megapixel race should probably stop. One consequence of this is that the 50% increase in pixel count over the 40D results in only a marginal amount of extra detail.
We're by no means saying the 50Ds image quality is bad but it's simply not significantly better than the ten megapixel 40D. In some areas such as dynamic range and high ISO performance it's actually worse and that simply makes you wonder if the EOS 50D could have been an (even) better camera if its sensor had a slightly more moderate resolution.
The EOS 50D has to stand its ground in a highly competitive bracket of the DSLR market. It is currently almost $500 more expensive than the 40D, almost $500 more expensive than the Nikon D90 and for an extra $100 you can bag yourself a Nikon D300. Looking at the specification differences between the EOS 40D and our test candidate it appears you pay quite a premium for the 50D's extra megapixels and as we've found out during this review you don't get an awful lot of extra image quality for your money. The Canon EOS 50D still earns itself our highest reward but considering its price point and our slight concerns about its pixel-packed sensor, it only does so by a whisker.
Rating (out of 10)
|Ergonomics & handling||8.5|
Highly Recommended (just)
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