Canon’s PowerShot SX50 HS bridge camera offers a whopping 1,200mm stabilised zoom lens, but is it a bridge too far? Read the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS review...
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS at a glance:
- 50x optical zoom, 4.3-215mm (24-1,200mm equivalent) f/3.4-6.5 Canon lens
- 4.5-stop optical Image Stabilizer
- 12.1-million-pixel CMOS sensor
- Manual exposure control and raw shooting
- 2.8in articulated LCD screen
- Street price around £380
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS review – Introduction
In AP 9 June 2012, we tested eight cameras in a six-page bridge camera group test. Included was the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, which fared well against the competition but without being a class leader. The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS on test here is the SX40 HS’s replacement.
At a first glance, the new model appears to have had something of a transformation in several areas, with raw capture introduced and an increased focal range. In fact, the camera’s world-first 50x optical zoom lens offers the sort of focal lengths available to photographers only through digiscoping, or with some bulky and expensive kit combined with a teleconverter. Whether the 1,200mm range is vital is another matter, but the long reach is certainly useful for wildlife photographers. However, this lens is not all about its long reach, because the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS has a wide 24mm setting that makes it ideal for landscapes, too. Impressive as all this sounds, I am keen to see just how much of an effect the broad zoom range has on image quality.
Image: This overcast scene has been captured at ISO 200, and the difference in the crispness of detail between raw and JPEG capture is minimal
There is much to write about the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, but its headline feature is its class-leading 50x optical zoom. The maximum aperture of this lens at its wide 24mm end is f/3.5, which is reduced down to f/6.4 at the 1,200mm telephoto setting. The lens has a few tricks to ensure that the telephoto settings are usable. In Intelligent IS mode, the camera automatically selects the amount of stabilisation appropriate for the situation and settings. Canon claims the lens can be stabilised up to 4.5EV. For sharp images, it is best to use at least the equivalent shutter speed to the focal length. At 1,200mm, a speed of 1/1250sec or quicker should be used, while at f/6.4 this shutter speed would make the camera usable only in bright light. If the 4.5-stop stabilisation is effective, sharp images should, in theory, be achieved at around 1/60sec.
When using such extreme focal lengths, any kind of camera shake is amplified and it is very difficult to compose an image correctly. Of course, it is best to use a tripod, which, combined with the SX50 HS’s electronic shutter and timer drive mode with remote triggering, keeps in-camera shake to a minimum. However, the camera has tools designed to make handheld use possible, too. Enhanced Zoom Framing Assistant can lock onto a subject to keep it in the frame. Also, a seek button quickly zooms the camera out, so a subject that has left the frame can be relocated and brought back in. All in all, the camera provides what is needed to achieve sharp results in the telephoto settings. It is just the unavoidable effect of haze over long distances that can get in the way.
The SX50 HS may feature the same 12.1-million-pixel, 1/2.3in (6.17×4.55mm) CMOS sensor as its predecessor, but raw capture is now possible along with JPEG files. With manual exposure available, too, there is a high level of user control over the image-making process. Exposure compensation is easily accessed via the control wheel, and exposure bracketing can be achieved through the menu. The ISO sensitivity is ISO 80-6400, with all settings available at full resolution.
There are a good number of shooting modes available. There are nine scene modes, including the stitch-assist panorama mode, which is available in right and left direction. A high-speed-burst HQ mode offers a 13fps burst for up to ten frames, although the exposure and focus are locked off at the first frame in this mode. Full AF and exposure control are possible in the 2.2fps continuous shooting drive mode.
A further ten creative effects are accessed through the shooting mode dial, including vivid, monochrome and HDR mode. HDR is recorded over three frames and requires a tripod for the frames to be lined up properly.
On paper, the SX50 HS is impressive, but a true test of the camera is how it performs in the field.
Build and handling
The PowerShot SX50 HS is the larger of two bridge cameras from Canon. It weighs just under 600g with a memory card and battery loaded, and measures 122.5×87.3×105.5mm. This is a very similar size and weight to a body-only entry-level DSLR. However, the advantage of a bridge camera such as the SX50 HS is that its fixed lens is designed to cover all shooting situations, while a DSLR needs more than one lens to do the same job.
The camera body is made from plastic, which feels like a low-cost model, but after a few weeks of general use it proved to be rugged, resisting markings and damage. I suspect that for everyday use the camera will stand a much longer test of time.
Each button on the body is large and easily operated, even with gloved hands. Shutter response is rapid, with 15-1/2000sec shutter speeds available. The lens zoom is both quick and quiet, with focal lengths marked on the lens barrel. The zoom operates via the rocker, and with a delicate hand minor adjustments can be made. On the side of the lens barrel are the framing assist lock and seek button controls, both of which are very useful when shooting using the telephoto end of the lens. With practice, it is possible to use these controls without needing to look at them, which is vital to handling the telephoto settings effectively. I found I could use the camera handheld at any focal length and achieve sharp results down to 1/100sec.
A pop-up flash is included, and it is manually lifted to its position rather than via a button-catch release. Flash output can be manually controlled to one of three power settings. External flash units can also be used with the camera via its hotshoe.
All in all, the SX50 HS handles well, and is tough despite its rather modest build quality.
In general use, autofocus is snappy. The AF system can be linked to face detection, and single-point AF taken from any position in the frame, which is handy for off-centre subjects. Tracking AF can lag behind fast-moving subjects, but for other subjects it is spot-on. Manual focus is adjusted via the control wheel on the rear of the camera. Handily, a three-frame focus bracket is an option through the manual-focus menu.
LCD, viewfinder and video
Composing and viewing images across a number of situations is aided by the articulation of the 2.8in LCD screen. It is moved from a hinge point on the side of the camera and can be viewed from high and low angles, as well as from the front of the camera. The resolution of the screen has been upped from 230,000 dots on its predecessor to 461,000 dots, which brings the camera up to speed with some of the competition. However, a class-leading model such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V uses a screen that is both bigger and with a higher resolution.
The SX50 HS also has an EVF, which has a basic 202,000-dot resolution. Its display is not nearly as crisp, bright or responsive as the best EVFs around, but it is useful guide for composition when conditions are too bright to see the LCD screen clearly.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the lens set to 100mm and f/5.6. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.
With the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS covering such a wide focal range, there is the obvious risk of compromised image quality. We shot our resolution charts with the lens set to 100mm and f/5.6, and at ISO 100 the camera reaches the 22 marker in raw format. While sharper results can be expected in raw format, this performance still does not quite match up to its SX40 HS predecessor, which reached the 24 marker at ISO 100 in JPEG format. This difference is marginal, though, and for some photographers it will be a price worth paying for the longer reach. Unlike its predecessor, the SX50 HS has an ISO 6400 setting, where it resolves up to the 16 marker on our charts. Overall, this performance is respectable without being outstanding. I’m not surprised by the results, though, given the camera’s wide zoom range.
Detail is compromised at higher ISO settings, mostly due to luminance noise, which is present at ISO 400 when viewing images at 100%. At and below this ISO setting, though, luminance noise is acceptable, appearing more grain-like. Above this setting, at around ISO 1600, the crispness of detail is lost and noise is less uniform. Noise reduction applied to JPEG files is rather modest compared to other systems, which thankfully means detail is less mushy than I would expect. Also, changes to levels applied to JPEGs creates images with strong and pleasing contrast. Usually I would recommend shooting in raw format, but the difference between an edited raw file and a JPEG is not quite as obvious here as I have seen in other systems.
As for lens distortions, there is the expected barrel distortion at the wide 24mm focal length through to around 50mm. Edge detail at these focal lengths is stretched a little and not as crisp as the centre of the frame. In unedited raw files, chromatic aberrations are very well controlled. It is only in areas of strong contrast, such as a building edge in front of a white sky, that some fringing can be seen, but I am impressed by how well these distortions are controlled.
Image: These two pictures have been recorded at the camera’s widest and longest focal length settings, 24mm (left) and 1,200mm (right shot). Barrel distortion is obvious in the wide setting, while at the telephoto setting it has been possible to achieve a sharp result
White balance and colour
In the standard colour mode, colour rendition is realistic, so I found little need to experiment with the other modes. AWB in overcast conditions can be a little cool, and if a landscape has a lot of green the colour rendition can be on the magenta side, which is not unusual. In bright conditions, though, AWB maintains the warmth of colours well.
The dynamic range is solid without being spectacular. Shadow detail is recoverable by brightening the image up to 2EV before shadow noise is an issue. Adding fill light post-capture using software such as Adobe Lightroom works well on shadow areas.
Evaluative metering is linked to face detection and is generally spot-on. I had to brighten a few files around 0.5EV to get them print-ready, but at least the dark exposure meant that some of the top highlight detail is maintained, and as previously stated shadow noise is not an issue up to 2EV anyway.
Those photographers who are concerned about the impact the wide zoom has on image quality can rest easy, because the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS puts in a solid performance. Furthermore, Canon has wisely addressed the areas where the SX40 HS was found wanting and brought the SX50 HS up to speed, with noteworthy changes including raw capture, a wider ISO range, improved LCD screen and, of course, the class-leading 50x optical zoom. I expect the SX50 HS to be a popular camera indeed.