SX50 Mini-Review Take Three - SX50 (and SX40) When the Light Goes Down

Started Dec 4, 2012 | Discussions thread
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VisionLight Veteran Member • Posts: 5,737
SX50 Mini-Review Take Three - SX50 (and SX40) When the Light Goes Down

This is the fourth article in this series over the last three weeks. The first article, Take One, included initial observations about the SX50 vs the SX40. The second article, Take Two, did a head to head comparison of the two cameras at the lower end of the zoom range, including looking at Dynamic Range Control (DRC). The third article, Take "2A", furthered the discussion of DRC. For those interested, links to these articles will be included at the bottom of this page. Keep in mind that the discussions in the threads are an important part in learning about these cameras.


Everyone who has one knows that when properly handled, the SX50 can produce excellent results for a P&S camera when photographing in very bright to medium light. But what about its results when that light goes down? Since starting to write these articles, this is the question most asked of me both in the discussions on this forum, in PMs, and from non-members who lurk in the shadows around here. Apparently my images posted over the last year here give me away in my teaching and photographic life.    So the subject of Take Three is to take a look at two tests of the SX50, one handheld of an outdoor scene at night, and one tripod mounted indoors under controlled very dim light. As a bonus, I also shot the SX40 right along side for comparison images.

But before we get to the tests, I want to expand on my first statement above by saying that, also when properly handled, the SX50 can give excellent results in dim light as well. The following images are presented as one example of what I find consistant in my work with this camera. The first is a landscape which portrays the dark moody atmosphere in shooting by Swan Lake one day. As can be seen, it felt more like evening than the middle of the afternoon:

With the gathering heavy cloud cover and sun traveling very low in the southern sky, this afternoon SX50 image of Swan Lake felt more like early evening with its dark shadows and impending gloom.

Now I point your attention to the very dark shaded area just in front of the snowy hill on the middle right. The following image was taken there twenty minutes later in even dimmer light. While the coloring of the male Buffelhead can be credited somewhat in helping the camera, the definition and texture captured more than offset the rather well controlled noise. The Bufflehead is a very small duck. Moving quickly when hunting and diving, it can be diffucult to capture well in bright light. While this image may not stand the test of a large gallery print, the SX50 captured both grace and detail in poor light in a way that should easily satisfy or exceed the needs expected from a P&S camera.

This male Bufflehead was captured by the SX50 in very dark shadows while I was testing the Sports mode.

And as a slight diversion, this duck did see something to eat and jumped into a dive. Sports mode on the SX50 was there to capture it as it broke the water. There's not very good IQ of course, but that just requires practice by this particular photographer, and is in the range of the camera.

This was the first image of a three shot burst in the SX50's Sports mode. In this mode, the photographer's reaction time appears to be the most critical component. The second and third images of the burst were nothing but bubbles on the water.

Now to the tests.

SCENE ONE - Outdoors at Night

The scene is the lit up Jacob Burns Film Center and ambient lit surrounding area in Pleasantville, NY at night. The village clock gave me some protection from the surrounding traffic as I stood in the dark. Initial test shots were to determine at what shutter speed I could get sharp handheld images with no camera shake in the chill 35° night air. That turned out to be 1/3 second at ISO 320 on the SX50 and ISO 400 on the SX40. Turns out the SX50 also choose 1/3 second at ISO 400, so the comparison starts there. Both cameras were set to Av mode at 24mm at their widest aperatures (f3.4 and f2.7). All settings were at defaults with SAFETYs turned OFF. One exception was that the SX50 was Superfine and the 40 was Fine as in the prior articles. (Note: while reviewing the images back home, I noticed the SX50 was at -1/3 EC. This I don't believe has any large bearing for comparative purposes.) Focus coupled with Evaluative metering were taken at the entrance doors of the theater and the image recomposed each time. Both cameras were AWB. One note is that I love the electronic level of the SX50 and it shows in the final compositions.

As far as handling the two cameras side by side, except for changing the ISO (ARRGGGH!!!, why did Canon switch its position), moving back and forth between cameras was seamless. Many people have asked this, so I'll get it out of the way. One camera at f3.4 and the other at f2.7 made no difference in the ability to get the shots. I just didn't notice. At ISO 200, neither camera was hand holdable in the dark, so the wider f2.7 gave no help. At higher ISOs, the f2.7 lens gave only marginally faster shutters (see captions in the comparison images below) but the f3.4 was already within the ability to to be handheld at the same ISO. In addition, the SX50's 1/3 stop ISO increments can give an advantage by allowing a fast enough exposure at a lower ISO than at the SX40's full stop ISO increments. Whether one prefers one result over the other in the final images may be worth discussion, but not the ability to take the picture in the dark.

The following are the outdoor night shots, first the SX50 then the SX40, at ISO 400, 800, 1600 and 3200. My remarks are based on side by side comparisons at 600% on my production 30 bit workstation.

SX50 handheld at ISO 400 at 1/3 second.

SX40 handheld at ISO 400 at 1/3 second.

At ISO 400 with both cameras choosing 1/3 second, the SX50 presents a more pleasing image with more contrast inducing visual sharpness, and better controlled halos adding to dynamic range shooting to the right. Ignoring contrast, pixel sharpness appears to be equal on both images at 600%. Loss of acuity from almost non-existant camera shake is limited to a level of only one pixel on either camera. The Superfine mode of the SX50 also retains more details in all facets of the image, especialy the stone work of the theater. Unfortunately, the higher contrast appears to magnify the detail robbing effects of noise on the SX50, but in areas of equal luminance, that noise appears equal on both images. At ISO 400, the SX50 gives a clear, sharp well rounded night scene, overshadowing its older sibling. With proper noise reduction techniques and fine detail recovery and boost in post, results can stand well against lower ISO images shot in daylight.

SX50 handheld at ISO 800 at 1/6 second.

SX40 handheld at ISO 800 at 1/8 second.

At ISO 800, although the SX50 is now faster at 1/6 second as is the SX40 at 1/8 second, visual acuity lost to camera shake fell by 2 pixels for each camera. My bad, but at least not so bad. However, the SX50 continues to show higher contrast, control of halos and more details than the SX40, but less so than its own output at ISO 400. The SX40, also slightly diminished from its ISO 400 output, is starting to catch up and even shows better range in the shadows. But overall, I still prefer the clarity of the SX50.

SX50 handheld at ISO 1600 at 1/13 second.

SX40 handheld at ISO 1600 at 1/15 second.

At ISO 1600, camera shake is not existant anymore and the differences between cameras is fading fast. The SX50 is still slightly higher in contrast with better halos, but the open shadows of the SX40 are adding to its visual presentation. What's most surprising is that the noise differential between ISO 1600 and ISO 800 is not easily discernable on either camera. Both give very usable results at ISO 1600 and my preference is a toss-up.

SX50 handheld at ISO 3200 at 1/25 second.

SX40 handheld at ISO 3200 at 1/25 second.

At ISO 3200 with both cameras at 1/25 second and no camera shake, I'm back to prefering the SX50 again. Not only does it maintain its slight edges in contrast, halos and details, but also shows an openness in the shadows that equals the SX40. That being said, noise patterns on both cameras are becoming more apparent in destroying fine detail. My judgement is that both cameras drop from very usable results at ISO 1600 to usable results for handheld night work at ISO 3200.

SCENE TWO - Indoors Under Very Dim Lighting

The second set of images were designed to show how both cameras hold fine detail at rising ISOs in very dim natural light. Both cameras were set to around 300mm and mounted side by side on a tripod from ten feet. The cameras were at identical settings with SAFETYs turned ON. Again the SX50 was Superfine. The focus rectangles were precisely matched on the head of the middle figurine. The textures of the granite, oak and painted wall were intended elements. The lighting was dimmed until both cameras' evaluative metering showed a one second exposure at ISO 400 with the lenses wide open. This was done to avoid defaulting to the ISO80/100limitation with a longer exposure. Since the side of one camera covered the accessory door of the other preventing attaching a cable, the ten second timer was used for each shot.

To begin, the first image is in full light with the SX50 to provide  baseline clarity for the test.

This SX50 image in full light (non-flash) at ISO 80 was taken to provide a baseline for clarity compared to the very dim light images below at higher ISOs.

The following are the indoor dim light shots, again first the SX50 and then the SX40 at ISO 400, SX50 then SX40 at ISO 800, etc. My remarks again are based on side by side comparisons at 600% on my production 30 bit workstation. What is readily noticable is that at ISO 400, both cameras in coming up with the one second shutter underexposed the scene. Even though the SAFETYs were turned ON, neither camera moved to a longer shutter and risk hitting the timing limitation for higher ISOs.

SX50 at ISO 400. Under exposure is caused by the camera not exceeding the shutter limitations at high ISOs.

SX40 at ISO 400. Under exposure is caused by the camera not exceeding the shutter limitations at high ISOs.

SX50 at ISO 800.

SX40 at ISO 800.

SX50 at ISO 1600.

SX40 at ISO 1600.

SX50 at ISO 3200.

SX40 at ISO 3200.

When viewing each pair of ISO images from the two cameras side by side at 600%, I have to say that I could not discern any noticable variances. While it was easy to tell each camera in the outdoor night scenes, not even the Superfine of the SX50 appeared to make any difference in these images. As the ISOs progressed higher and higher, both cameras suffered loss of detail and increase in noise at a comparable rate. Very interesting results based on a single overall very low luminance level in this test versus the combination of bright, ambient, and dark levels in the first scene. When the cameras' DIGIC Vs don't have to work as hard, they produce comparable results. When the lighting gets more difficult, however, the SX50 appears to show some definite software improvements over its older sibling.

Now since this is a low light review, I'll add one more image from this series for your review, the SX50 at ISO 6400:

At ISO 6400, detail and clarity begin to get too mushy for normal artistic intent. However it is available on the SX50 for reportage images, or special artistic intent, when needed.


And now, there's one more feature of the low light arsenal, presented here not for comparison, but just as information for those learning about these cameras. In low light, this feature takes three quick images with one press of the shutter and processes them in-camera for a single stacked image. Best results are attained by holding the camera very steady (or propped on something) during the exposures.

Last week after the snow, the temperature was rising slightly overnight and a light fog was rising to a heavy overcast sky backlit by the moon. It was about 2:30 AM when I arrived home, but I still went inside to grab my SX50 just to try to capture the eerie scene. Just as I set this feature to the camera, the moon broke through an opening in the clouds and I fired the shutter. Best viewed in a darkened room, and although a month late, this resulting image just screams "Halloween Night" at me. I'm waiting for the headless horseman to come riding through my trees.

Handheld Nightscene mode on the SX50 captures the fog, heavy cloud cover and moon of this eerie 2:30 AM scenic.


For the most part in my retirement, I have been an outdoor nature photographer shooting in bright to medium bright light. Although I have attained some good results in darker conditions with these cameras before, I have never given them a real chance to see what they can do. These tests have allowed me a new perspective and I think I'll be out in the dark more often in the future. Yes both cameras, properly handled, take wonderful images in bright light. But as seen above, they are both quite capable, again properly handled, when the light goes down. My preference does go to the upgraded software of the newer SX50 model, but the SX40 is not that far behind.

I would like to hear your thoughts and opinions and see your examples. And yes, we know that larger sensor cameras will probably give better results. So, unless you really want to show us your great non-small-sensor-P&S night scenes, please limit your discussion and examples to the camera class at hand.

Once again, I hope these articles help people better understand their cameras in the pursuit of fine images, or just help them decide which camera they may want to buy. For those who missed them or are just interested again, here are the links to the first three articale:




Again, thanks for looking, and your comments are certainly welcome,


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