SX50 Mini-Reviews Christmas Special - Did you find your new camera under the tree?
With all the people buying this camera or receiving it as a gift this holiday season, I've been asked if I would consolidate my SX50 mini-reviews in a single publication. First of all, I appreciate all your support for my project as well as your contributions to the discussions. Together we learned much about this versatile little camera. I now have mine set up to do just about everything I ask of it. Here's hoping this compilation will be helpful to new owners, and possibly generate new discussions of capabilities we may not have even tried yet. Here are the original articles (sometimes slightly edited per replies in the discussions):
SX50 Mini-Review Take One - Initial Observations, SX50 vs SX40, and Images
With Superstorm Sandy and no power or communications for a week, followed by a Nor'easter and a half a foot of snow, I have not had a lot of time to play with my new SX50. But after two weeks of owning it, I have now taken about 100 images and can start my mini-review. (Note: all data and images are based on using mostly Tv mode, some Av mode and some P mode for flash. I have not tried AUTO. BUT, I may be expanding my horizons and (gulp) trying AUTO mode in the future. Even us old dogs can learn new tricks, so stay tuned for a possible thread on my observations.)
I'm going to have to get used to the new button placements. With the SX40 I've learned to hit all buttons without taking my eye from the EVF. What I do like on the SX50 is that the picture review button is placed away from the right back edge of the camera. Many times while placing the camera in its bag, I've accidently hit that button and turned the camera on. The switch between the ISO and selftimer buttons is going to take a while since I use both often. The switch of the zoom assist button will also take a while, moving from my right thumb to my left thumb. I actually liked that button's placement on the SX40. But I'm also going to have to relearn how to hold the camera since my left thumb now naturally falls across the two zoom assist buttons. I have already hit them a couple of times by mistake. Now one thing I do not like is the new larger raised dots on the right thumb rest (15 higher larger dots on the SX50 vs 18 smaller dots on the SX40). I find the new layout uncomfortable and actually distracting. Otherwise, the new camera handles just like its older sister and is very familiar in my hands. I've even set the EC at a default of -1/3, just like the SX40.
SX50 vs SX40 telephoto images side by side:
In my SX40 mini-review 11 months ago, I displayed comparison pictures of a cupola on my friends property. Although she moved south and no longer owns the property, the new owner is also neighborly. So it's back to the cupola, which you'll see has been somewhat damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The comparative images were tripod mounted with IS left on for both cameras. Both are set at evaluative metering and all settings equalized between the cameras as close as possible, except that the SX50 is Superfine. Both compositions were also matched as closely as possible at 840mm and around 500mm. For most practical purposes, the images from both cameras are nearly the same. I'll get more into the Superfine in a moment, but some of you may see the slight difference here.
SX50 Superfine vs Fine:
Here are two comparisons for your judgement, one at 2400mm using 2.0TC and one at 1200mm. For general viewing, again they look pretty much the same. But in this case, doing a little pixel peeping, superfine does in deed carry the day. In the bright light of these examples I do not really see the increased noise (at least in the blue channel) that I've heard about. This of course bears further testing, especially in the green channel where noise may be more apparent. But so far, I do like Superfine and since its memory footprint doesn't bother me, I've set it as the default on my SX50.
One of the first things I wanted to know about the SX50 was how its telemacro "feature" compared to the SX40. In my mini-review of the SX40 I posted images showing that the SX40 could focus on an object 1¾ inchs wide from 4½ feet away with its full optical zoom and 2.0TC (effective 1680mm lens in full frame equiv.). Here is a 1200mm image with additional 2.0TC with the SX50:
So, a horizontal field of view of 1 3/8 inchs can be captured at the minimum focus distance of 4½ feet with the SX50. Since many of the uncropped images I've posted here over the last 10 months have been of flora and fauna only an inch or two in size, I guess I'm going to get even closer to nature in the coming year. I'm looking forward to it.
In addition,here is another close-up showing nice clarity of a back-lit fabric leave taken from about 10 feet at full optical zoom:
Focus Speed and Zoom Assist:
Like most others have reported about the SX50, I also find that in medium to bright light that the focus speed and shot to shot handling has improved greatly from the SX40. Well done. HOWEVER, in side by side tests with the SX40 in dim to dark conditions, the SX40 has won every single time. In fact, sometimes I found the SX50 to be down right slow after the SX40 already obtained focus. Maybe it's just my unit, but I ask others who have both cameras to give it a try. Interesting results.
The speed of the zoom assist coupled with the faster focusing in bright to medium light really impresses me. The second zoom assist button also cme in very handy to stabilize the 240mm zoom. With the SX40 I was not very good in tracking birds in flight. But the other day three hawks were circling my home hunting for a final meal in the setting sun. Although I knew I would only get silhouettes in the fading light, I grabbed my SX50 and set the 2.0TC. Using the Zoom Assist set to medium, I was excited as it was finally easy to zoom in and focus on the gliding birds who were flying high enough to half fill the frame at 2400mm. Four shots and four in focus hits . Also took a fifth shot as one came gliding down through the treetops. Although I erased the first four as just silhouettes and tests, I liked the composition of the last one and it showed that the camera responded right on time to capture the hawk as it hit the opening.
Dynamic Range Correction and Landscapes:
As I reported in a reply to another thread, I like highlight control on the S100 and did not like shadow control on either the S100 or the SX40. In either case I felt the shadow control produced too blotchy and noisy a result for my taste and I would rather handle it in post. Since the SX50 now has both like the S100, I immediately set and liked the highlight control for brightly lit scenes. To reply to the other thread, I then tested shadow control in auto one more time. And I was surprised with what looked like better results than the other cameras. Now I did not yet push it to deeper shadows, but gave it easier targets to start. And it handled them quite well. The downside is that when both highlight and shadow is set, resulting images are very flat and need level or curve adjustment in post. But the added detail and dynamic range, at least so far, is worth it. Here are some landscape examples. See the captions for more data on each:
It took some testing, but I finally was able to set the C1 mode of my SX50 with usable flash settings for 2 foot to 12 foot subject distances. First thing that I noticed is that setting white balance to AWB works better than setting it to Flash. Also that an FEC of -1/3 to -2/3 coupled with an EC of -1/3 also tended to give better results. With the SX40 I usually attached a Canon Speedlight for best results, but I wanted the convenience of not having to do so with the SX50. I'll still do that comparison, internal vs speedlight, but at a later time with the SX50. Here are some flash examples, first at close distance and then a wider field. The vine tomato was from about 2½ feet and results are pleasing to me. The kitchen utility area image shows the effects of different lightings in the room which was not corrected by the DIGIC5 processor (see the green on the near cabinets from the flourescent lights in the family area of the room and the red highlights from the overhead halogens). I've read that the DIGIC5 will automatically correct these differences in AWB under some circumstances, but apparently not when using Flash. By the way, the kitchen was a gift to my wife when I retired. I've been a photographer, worked in high finance and technology and various other fields, but I have always been first and foremost a carpenter. My shop may now be closed to the public, but I still custom designed and personally hand built the entire kitchen for her, using handpicked red oak timbers and age old techniques and joinery. I proudly tell people that, except for the wall studs and attaching my crown mouldings, there is not a single nail used in the entire kitchen (you're only seeing about a quarter of it). I do love photography, but designing and building cabinetry and furniture is where my head is really at. But I digress. Back to the pictures:
The Bottom Line (so far):
Except for the cupola pictures above, I haven't posted anything here showing the huge strength of the SX50's massive zoom with its tremendous wide range. That's basically a done deal and many have already celebrated it here. So will I in future threads. But I did want to give some initial observations of some of the other facets of this very versatile camera. And after two weeks of (limited) use, the bottom line is that it is definitely a keeper. It has enough new features to differentiate it from its older sister and yet still feels comfortably similar. Image quality appears to have improved, slight as it may be, with the superfine setting, and dynamic range can be helped with the combined highlight/shadow settings (again, with help in post). And I can't wait to start aiming its 2400mm (2.0TC) lens at nature's tinier offerings from 4½ feet.
SX50 Mini-Review Take Two - SX50 vs SX40 Head to Head from 24mm to 100mm
Addendum to SX50 Mini-Review Take One:
Dale Buhanan brought up a number of items. People basically agree that the SX50 handles and focuses much faster than the SX40 in bright light, but Dale and I both did tests on their focus speed comparison in very low light. There were interesting results. For white or gray objects, focus spped was slow but about even. But objects with colors had different results with the SX50 faster or SX40 faster dependent on those colors. Dale noticed that the focus assist light colors of the two cameras are different, possibly leading to these results. While doing these tests, Dale also noticed that the EVF on the SX50 appears noticably larger with the text easier to read on the newer camera. It appeared to me that eye relief was also a bit longer, as the bezel does not smudge my glasses like the SX40's does.
I hadn't paid attention to the new grip until Dale mentioned it. It's actually much surer in your hand with less chance of accidently having the camera slip from your grasp. Plus there's an added bonus of making the camera much steadier in preventing vertical shake when hand holding the long zoom.
Mario started a discussion about the Focus Assist Lock. After a number of tests, I believe people are starting to agree that while a pretty neat tool for stabilizing the viewfinder, there is probably little or no effect on the actual image for still photography. We did not discuss video. And this gives me one more chance to rant a little about its placement. When I grab the camera, my left thumb naturally hits the FAL. I worry that not noticing and hitting another button (e.g.ON/OFF) at the same time may have unwanted effects. Maybe it's just me. Let me know what you think.
CaptainEJR noticed the purple fringing in the comparison photos. It does appear that it can be pronounced on the SX50 for high contrast edges in very bright light, but gets much better when luminance levels go down a little.
And in answer to a post from Beach Bum, a new member, we once again discussed the reduced light path in the big lens and it's f-stop transitions. A chart showing at what focal lengths the minimum f-stop steps down for the SX50 is included in the first thread. The SX50 at 840mm is actually slightly faster than the SX40 and only goes to f6.5 somewhere between 975mm and 1025mm.
So thanks to all for some great observations and contributions. Now to the main subject of this second in a series of SX50 mini-reviews:
SX50 vs SX40 - Head to Head in the 24mm to 100mm Zoom Range - SCENE ONE:
When I first bought my SX40, I was thrilled by the long zoom and the ability to catch all sorts of subjects far in the distance. It was a while before I realized that it also had a 24mm to 100mm range that performed much better than I would have expected. In the first edition of these mini-reviews, we looked at the comparison of the SX50 and SX40 at 500mm and 840mm (or around that for the SX50). This time we'll look at the shorter side of the range where a lot of everyday shooting will occur, including scenics. Sure I'll throw in a few long zooms, mainly because I can't resist, but comparisons will mostly be at the short end.
Instead of setting up both cameras as closely alike as possible, this time I tried something different. That is, seting up each camera with what I think are its best settings. The SX40 matched its settings in the first review, but since the SX50 has what I think are two very worthwhile improvments, they were both dialed in for the shoot. It makes sense since one of the reasons one buys an upgraded camera is for its new features. So the "advantage" the SX50 may have in this head to head, besides superfine mode, is turning on Dynamic Range Control for both auto highlights and for auto shadows. As stated in the first review, this tends to give a flatter, brighter initial image, but with more details at either end of the luminance range from a perceived increase in dynamic range. It may be a digital increase and not an upgrade to the sensor, but it appears to work. And the flat, bright effect is easily corrected in post. At the end of the first scene of comparative images, I will post a corrected image for your review.
For the test, the cameras were tripod mounted, both set to their lowest ISO and both set to evaluative metering and Av mode. Sharpening, contrast, etc. are all at default. The test was during the mid-day hour in bright southern sky sunshine with some clouds and a light breeze shaking the leaves on the trees. The SX50 went first, progressively set for 24mm, 40mm, 55mm, and 90mm for the first scene; and 24mm, 35mm, 55mm and 90mm for the second. Except for the 24mm images, the SX40 sequence for each scene was composed in its EVF to match the same angle of view as seen on the SX50 EVF without regard to focal length, as close as the motorized zoom would allow. I had to be in Tarrytown, NY on business that day, so at lunchtime I took the cameras to the River Walk on the Hudson, just south of the 3 mile long Tappan Zee Bridge.
The first scene is pointing into the hidden sun, with the New York City skyline about 23 miles south on the mid left side. I chose this scene not only for its broad range of shadows, midtones and highlights, but also to see what havoc the railroad ties fading into the distance in bright contrasty sun would play on the two cameras. And I just liked the 24mm composition. So here are the first set head to head, SX50 @ 24mm first, SX40 @ 24mm second, SX50 @ 40mm, etc., etc.
The combination of Superfine and Dynamic Range control (DRC) on the SX50 is doing their jobs. At 400%, more details are available in the brightened shadows with no noticable increase in noise. And the sky shows higher definition and separation of the clouds. The details of the clothing of the track workers are also more easily discernable, as is the license plate on the maintenance truck. The sun flare on the truck is also more tightly controlled.
Focus for both images is on the cross members of the power stantion in the middle trees, and that focus at 400% is about dead even between both cameras. Highlights on the line shakles on the top two cross members, however, are better controlled and sharper on the SX50.
Going around the edges of the images is an interesting comparison. The SX50 gives the impression of having more details because the DRC lightens the shadows and better controls the flare in the highlights. But the SX40, with the non-flattened higher contrast sometimes appears sharper. The answer here may very well be up to the post processing decision of the user, but I tend to like having the extra details of the SX50.
Purple Fringing (PF) is mostly seen only around the edges of both images, but it is more pronounced on the SX50, especially in the back-lit upper left trees. But the SX40 has some along the right bottom tracks that does not show up in the SX50.
And now, those tracks. I followed them at 400%, side by side and inch by inch from the bottom right all the way up and over. And once again it's a toss-up between a little more but slightly lighter detail in the SX50 vs an apparent sharpness derived from higher contrast on the SX40. But what I didn't expect was that the power stantions in the distance on the SX50 are much sharper with greater contrast than on the SX40. So are the NY City skyline on the left and the power lines on the upper middle right. So, overall, at 24mm I would score this one for the SX50.
The results at 40mm are basically the same as at 24mm. For the SX50, PF is now a little better controlled and catching up to the SX40. For the SX40, the far power stantions are now catching up in sharpness and contrast to the SX50.
The SX40 still continues to win for PF in the trees, but again also shows PF in the tracks where the SX50 doesn't. An interesting observation is that the SX40 is starting to catch up to the SX50 in shadow detail. But the SX50 still controls highlights better.
It's starting to become rather difficult to tell the two cameras apart, even at 400%. Could we now be in the heart of the zoom range? Maybe the second set of comparison images will tell.
But before we do that, here are a couple of extra images from the SX50. The first shows the results of just a little post processing to bring up the tone levels of the DRC image. It now begins to match the higher contrast of the SX40 while also maintaining a little more detail.
And I couldn't resist, so here's the distant NY City skyline and George Washington Bridge with the full optical power of the SX50's 1200mm. Not too shabby for over 20 miles away.
SX50 vs SX40 - Head to Head in the 24mm to 100mm Zoom Range - SCENE TWO:
The second scene was chosen for its more neutral even lighting, a good example of a landscape image not as hard on the cameras.
Results between the two cameras are relatively even. The SX50 still has slightly more PF in the trees against the sky, but still has slightly more details in the shadows. What's surprising, however, is that the bridge at 400% shows more contrast, and thus perception of sharpness. Once again, I'll score this focal length for the SX50.
For 35mm, the observationsare the same as for 24mm.
The SX40 is now catching up to the SX50 and its higher contrast here is making for a very pleasing image straight out of the camera. Score this one for the SX40.
Once again it is hard to tell which image is from which camera. Though we haven't comparison tested the cameras from above 100mm to below 500mm (500-840mm was tested in the first mini-review), 100mm may be the beginning of the sweet spot for these lenses. These images are definitely a toss-up.
Now once again, I couldn't resist, showing the long reach of the two cameras.
First at optical:
And next with the Digital 2.0 TC engaged:
These are a good comparison of the range of these cameras, but I suggest here that the comparison be done a little differently. Everyone usually compares the 2°-3° longest telephoto view against the 84° angle at 24mm. While we as humans can perceive this 84° angle in the periphery of our vision, we usually only pay attention to about 46° degrees, or about the angle of view of a 50mm lens. So when you're doing your comparison, start with the 55mm images above and then compare those to the 24mm images to see how wide the lens is, and then 55mm to the long end to see its reach.
THE BOTTOM LINE (ONCE AGAIN, SO FAR):
I hope this mini-review segment has been helpful to those deciding to upgrade, or just choosing between the two cameras. Maybe it may also help you choose another camera instead. That's quite fine, happy to help. But what I think it does show is that either camera is a versatile instrument, and either, with practice, can take wonderful pictures. I'm still leaning to the increased features of the SX50, but I'm glad I stil have both (or at least my wife now has the SX40, but I can use it - I hope).
SX50 Mini-Review Take "2A" - Continued Discussion of DRC
All of the SX50 images used as examples in Take 2 of my mini-review series had both auto highlight and auto shadow turned on in Dynamic Range Control (DRC). The features worked very well in the examples taken with contrasty sunlight shining towards the lens. They also gave more detail to the images in which the over shoulder light was not at all harsh. In the discussion, Dale pointed out that even though these effects can help many pictures, one shouldn't use it all the time. Many times you just want higher contrast and less detail that segregates the subject and adds a feeling of sharpness. Very true. In addition, others have been telling me about their confusion on when to use these features.
So with my remaining quota for this months image downloads (though I think I can fit one more), I took two more images today as examples of DRC's use.
The first one I call "Walking Giants Out For A Stroll." As I was driving my car, I saw this image that I thought had possibilities, so I pulled over to the side of the road. I was intrigued by the graphic qualities of the silhouetted stantions and wires, sitting atop a rock based grassy hill against the partly cloudy bright noon sky. Turns out the rock base bordered a flood plain, so my shoes and pants got a little wet. But what we do for our art.
In order to get the composition I liked, the camera had to go right down to the wet grass, LCD extended and turned up. Even those of us who prefer the EVF know when to shut up and use the right tool. But the sun was so bright coming into the lens that the stantions were being blown away, the wires invisible, and the grass and rocks black. If this was how the LCD reacted, I could imagine the sensor not being that happy either. So it was time to set DRC to both auto highlight and auto shadow control. Here's the result:
This image would have been just one black and white silhouette (and some may have liked it that way) without DRC. Note that it is best viewed in a room with subdued light to see the texture in the lower section. There was a little post to bring up the highlights on the stone wall and then rebalance the levels a bit, but the camera did most of the work. So this is a case when DRC especially comes in handy.
The second example is called "Fall Fading Into Winter" and was taken when I got home. Here the dying blooms against the still colorful fall palette provided their own contrast on nature. And it raised a question of whether to use DRC or not. Looking through the viewfinder, the dying flowers showed very little detail with burned out highlights. Decreasing the exposure a bit helped, but started darkening everything else too much to be pleasing. Appeared to me that the best case was to turn on auto highlight control. But at the same time, the faded brown leaves along the bottom and right hand corner had already started to go black. I was going to keep it this way, but on second thought felt it may be too harsh in the overall subtle palette. So I turned on auto shadow control to preserve the brown hues and detail. Here's the result:
I like the color palette and the way the luminance levels separate the fore and backgrounds. Others may have chosen not to use shadow control for higher contrast from darker leaves and stems, thus giving more separation. Even others may have not used highlight control taking the dying blooms farther to the right, adding even more contrast and separation.
Although I think the first example shows a clear indication of the usefullnes of DRC, the second example may be a toss-up for some and worth some discussion here. Either way, people will get a better idea of when to use it, and also when to stay away, either based on needs dictated by the lighting, or just for artistic license.
SX50 Mini-Review Take Three - SX50 (and SX40) When the Light Goes Down
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
THE BOTTOM LINE (ONCE AGAIN, SO FAR):
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.
SX50 Mini-Review Take Four - Different Paths to Up Close and Personal
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:
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 1/2.3 sensors, the sensor width is only 6.17mm (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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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 1:2.7 macro ratio on the 1/2.3 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.
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.
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 1.5:1.
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 1/2.3 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 microphotography. With a P&S camera no less.
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:
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 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. 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.
SX50 NOT A Mini-Review - Time to take some pictures
My mini-reviews were over and it was time to see what I have learned while doing them, both from the tests and from your discussions that followed. It was time to take out the camera and try to capture some images for their own sake. I did not want to be thinking about the camera anymore, just attempting to capture light and texture and details and hopefully together something worthwhile. My main focus lately, other then wildlife, has been landscapes, both near and far, both miniature and grand. There are many moods that nature shows and it becomes a challenge to try to understand them and try to present them to others. In winter many people put down their cameras, but I think it's more of a time for imagination to try to meet that challenge. So my SX50 and I went down the ridge to the lake to give it a try. First will be the scenics, but then some wildlife. All images were taken handheld and, except for the last one, are uncropped straight form the camera. All have had some post to attempt to bring out the vision I saw in my mind's eye at the time of exposure.
So first, here are the landscapes:
And now some wildlife:
So it was a cool but sunny afternoon and a perfect time for photography. Hope you enjoyed these images from my excursion. It was good to be creating images for their own sake, and just for fun.
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.
The discussions in the original mini-review articles in this series have many additional helpful observations and hints and I encourage others to give the replys a read, so the links are listed here:
TAKE ONE - Initial Observations, SX50 vs SX40, and Images
TAKE TWO - SX50 vs SX40 Head to Head from 24mm to 100mm
TAKE "2A" - Continued Discussion of DRC
TAKE THREE - SX50 (and SX40) When the Light Goes Down
TAKE FOUR - Different Paths to Up Close and Personal
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