As you may have noticed, the 'Megapixel Wars' have calmed down a bit in recent years. That doesn't mean that camera manufacturers haven't found something else to drive up to absurd levels. In the case of 'big zoom' cameras that thing is, of course, how powerful the lens is. Remember a few years ago, when 12X lenses were considered a lot? Since then we've gone through 18X, then 24X, and 30X. Things really started to get crazy over the past year, with Nikon releasing their Coolpix P510, which has a 42X lens. Then Canon did what I never thought I'd see: announce the PowerShot SX50 HS ($479), which has a whopping 50X, 24 - 1200 mm lens.
Full wide-angle (24 mm) Full telephoto (1200 mm)
As you can see, the SX50 lets you capture vast landscapes at wide-angle and can also fill the frame with subjects two miles away. There is a caveat that goes along with lenses this powerful, though. If you're shooting at ISO 80 (for best image quality), you're going to need hands of stone or a tripod in order to get a sharp photo. Conventional wisdom says that you need a shutter speed of 1/focal length in order to get a sharp photo, though you get a few stops back thanks to image stabilization. What I'm getting at here is that you may need to crank up the ISO sensitivity in order to get that sharp photo, unless you're using a tripod.
The PowerShot SX50 HS retains many of the features of the SX40 that came before it. They include a 12.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, DIGIC 5 processor, rotating LCD display, manual controls, a hot shoe, and the handy Zoom Framing Assist feature that I'll explain later. Some new features include RAW support, a slightly larger/sharper LCD, faster AF and continuous shooting speeds, and more available scenes in Smart Auto mode.
Compared to the SX40
Last year's PowerShot SX40 alongside the new SX50 (images courtesy of Canon)
One thing's for sure, the PowerShot SX50 is a much better-looking camera than the whale-shaped SX40 that came before it. The sleek, inward leaning lines make it look a lot more modern. Aside from the cosmetic differences, the only other real change here is the lens. The back views of the camera are quite similar, with the SX50 having a slightly larger LCD and a relocated movie recording button. It also loses the hot shoe cover that didn't serve much of a purpose on the SX40.
PowerShot SX40 HS PowerShot SX50 HS
Sensor resolution (type) 12.1 Megapixel (1/2.3" CMOS)
Focal range (zoom power) 24 - 840 mm (35X) 24 - 1200 mm (50X)
Maximum aperture range F2.7 - F5.8 F3.4 - F6.5
LCD size / resolution 2.7" / 230,000 px 2.8" / 461,000 px
Burst rate (full res) 10.3 frames/sec * 13.0 frames/sec *
ISO range 100 - 3200 80 - 6400
Flash working range (Auto ISO) 0.5 - 7.0 m (W)
1.4 - 3.0 m (T) 0.5 - 5.5 m (W)
1.4 - 3.0 m (T)
RAW support No Yes
Scenes in Smart Auto mode 32 58
HDR mode No Yes
Face recognition No Yes
Zoom Framing Assist Lock No Yes
Wired remote control available No Yes
Battery used NB-10L
(using LCD, CIPA standard) 380 shots 315 shots
Dimensions 4.8 x 3.6 x 4.2 in. 4.8 x 3.4 x 4.2 in.
Weight (empty) 557 g 551 g
* In High Speed Burst HQ mode, which has limitations. Will be slower in regular burst mode.
While the PowerShot SX50 improves upon its predecessor in many respects, there are a few trade offs. First, the lens is slower, which will affect its performance in low light. In addition, rated battery life has dropped by nearly 20%.
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SX50's bundle is certainly nothing to write home about. Canon has really managed to strip things down to a bare minimum, not even including a USB cable anymore. Here's what you will find in the box:
The 12.1 effective Megapixel PowerShot SX50 HS digital camera
NB-10L lithium-ion rechargeable battery
Lens cap w/retaining strap
CD-ROM featuring Digital Camera Solution and camera/software manuals
Quick Start leaflet + full manual on CD-ROM
Canon has one of the nicest software bundles out there. You'll first encounter CameraWindow, which will transfer photos from the camera onto your Mac or PC. The main photo organizing suite is called ImageBrowser EX, which replaces the old ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser twins that came on earlier models. I'm not sure what Canon used to build this software (it feels like Adobe Air), but it definitely doesn't feel like a native application anymore, at least on the Mac side. That said, it'll let you edit your photos in a number of ways, including auto-correct, redeye removal, tone curve and level adjustment, and more. It also allows you to edit your videos, including adding transitions and special effects, and save the results as a new movie. Both stills and movies can be shared via e-mail, Facebook. YouTube, or Canon's own Image Gateway service.
For editing RAW images you'll need to use Digital Photography Professional, which is a very capable product. Here you can adjust exposure, highlight and shadow detail, the tone curve, noise reduction, and white balance. There are also tools for reducing lens distortion, vignetting, and purple fringing. If you want to use Photoshop to edit RAW files, you'll need or newer of the Camera Raw plug-in.
Also included with the PowerShot SX50 is PhotoStitch. This product can take photos that you've lined up (manually in the case of the SX50), and combine them into a single panoramic image.
Remember the days when you used to get a full manual in the box with your new camera? Those days have passed, with manufacturers now putting the whole thing on a PDF file on an included CD-ROM. To make matters worse, the printed "Getting Started" leaflet that is included is so bare-bones that you'll be reaching for that CD-ROM disc in no time. And users shouldn't have to do that, in this reviewer's opinion. Instructions for using the bundled software will be installed onto your Mac or PC.
Unlike nearly all camera manufacturers, Canon does not build internal memory into their cameras. Therefore, you'll need to buy a memory card right away, unless you have one sitting around already. The PowerShot SX50 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend picking up a 4GB card if you'll be mostly taking stills, and 8GB or 16GB if recording Full HD video is a priority. A high speed card -- Class 6 or higher -- is recommended for maximum performance