Canon EOS 50D DSLR Review- Final
June 2012, Carl Garrard
Canon EOS 50D Review- Final: Canon has quite a few good DSLRS on the market dating back to as far as 2003 as far as I'm concerned, which gives the DSLR shooter on a budget a lot of options at a much lower price than modern DSLR bodies. Canon's 50D is one such DSLR, and one in which I feel after looking back on comments (and withdrawing from memory) got a bad rap far more than it should. Comparing the 50D to today's DSLR's on specifications and you might find it has a lot more in common with them than you think a DSLR announced in August of 2008 should. This is one loaded DSLR with lots of resolution and features that, on paper at least, stands up quite well with today's newest DSLRS on the market- even against Canon's own EOS 7D (which is again about to be replaced). I've written much more detail in this final review than my initial impressions article, so read on if you'd like.
Canon EOS 50D 15.1MP DSLR Current Price Check
This is vital for an honest review of a camera. This is why readers often seek user reviews to supplement press reviews on the internet- they want to know what the average joe thinks of their purchase, without any "new camera bias" in hand. Often though many reviews are written by buyers who tend to write about first experiences, so there are few reviews on cameras out there that are written with long term experience after the honeymoon effect has long wore off.
A camera to me is about being a tool, and how well that tool works for a multitude of situations over a long period of time. Since I've been using Canon DSLRS and the 50D over a longer period of time than usual, I wholeheartedly believe in my conclusions to last. The honeymoon is over, my comments are raw and honest.
It's live view is extremely functional for still shooters and offers a lot of options, the 50D's live view is a tool chest for the still shooter. Basically looking at the specs the 50d nearly covers all the bases a still shooter needs, and has plenty of resolution for large prints at/up too 24x36 exhibition quality.
"Canon's new EOS 50D bridges the gap between the novice and the seasoned pro with a perfect combination of high-speed and quality. It features an APS-C sized 15.1-megapixel CMOS sensor for tremendous images, new DIGIC 4 Image Processor for fine detail and superior color reproduction, and improved ISO capabilities up to 12800 for uncompromised shooting even in the dimmest situations. It features a refined 3.0-inch Clear View LCD (920,000 dots) monitor, supercharged Live View Function with Face Detection Live mode, plus a number of new automatic Image Correction settings and HDMI output for viewing images on an HDTV. Pick up the EOS 50D and you'll experience true digital inspiration!
- New 15.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor with improved noise reduction, wide range ISO 100-3200 (H1: 6400, H2: 12800), 14-bit conversion for smooth color tones and gradations.
- Next generation DIGIC 4 Image Processor for faster processing, 6.3 fps up to 90 JPEGS using UDMA CF cards; 60 consecutive JPEGS or 16 RAW using standard CF cards.
- 3.0-inch Clear View LCD (920,000 dots/VGA) with multiple coatings for improved viewing and smudge-resistant protection.
- Enhanced Live View shooting includes Face Detection Live mode.
- 9 cross-type high-precision sensors for accurate target subject acquisition and diagonal center cross-type AF point with f/2.8 and faster lenses.
- New Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction setting to automatically even the brightness across the image.
- Updated EOS Integrated Cleaning System with a fluorine coating for better resistance to dust.
- Creative Auto goes a step beyond full auto with on screen setting display.
- HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) output for displaying full high-resolution images on a High Definition TV.
- Compatible with over 60 Canon EF/EF-S lenses and most EOS System accessories."
Like I've said, the 50D is pretty loaded, bar video and that is perfectly fine with me. It is weather sealed, and made from two kinds of metal (interior is stainless steel, exterior panels- front and rear- are magnesium). It also has a big and bright viewfinder, a fast 6.3fps maximum frame rate, extensive live view w/autofocus, an excellent and a quick 9 area Auto Focus system. The 50D is comfortable with superb handling and controls, as well it has some fun creative filters and scene modes for those who get into that.
The 50D's creative features can be viewed or used during live view in real time, meaning you can see the final shot before you make it. Adjustments to exposure sharpness, contrast, color/black and white filters, and more are all shown right when you adjust them in live view. If you don't mind being patient or putting your camera on a tripod once in a while you can dial up a very nice looking Jpeg right out of the camera at 15mp. Using Canon's software, you can translate those adjustments to the raw development process so that you aren't just stuck with a JPEG (as if you used ACR or other raw converters for raw development) right out of camera.
Canon EOS 50D DSLR Review- Comparative Analysis Canon EOS 50D vs. the Canon EOS 40D:
Here I've made a list of differences between the two cameras. When taking this list into account, it gives a clear view why I like the 50D that much more than the 40D, and why I'm really not missing the 7D I owned before. You might think some of these differences are minor, but that's purely a personal perspective and priority so any opinion you have is justified. I've just provided the facts even though I probably even missed some smaller things. The (*) denotes changes that are really felt when using the camera on a heavily/daily basis and (**) denotes even larger changes.
- 15.1mp sensor vs 10.1mp sensor*
- High frequency dust reduction system and dust identification**
- New tougher outer finish*
- More raw size recording options*
- Digic 4 vs Digic 3 processor
- Auto focusing (two ways plus face detect) possible in Live View **
- Greater ISO range**
- 4 Levels of Noise Reduction vs on/off only on 40d
- Auto Lighting Optimizer (ALO) four levels vs on/off
- Auto focus fine tuning for up to 20 lenses vs none on 40D*
- ALO icon in viewfinder now
- 920k LCD w/anti-reflective coating vs 230k and none (same size)**
- Vignetting correction for up to 40 lenses
- Creative Auto added to mode dial
- Mode dial silver on top
- Tighter body panel tolerances (feels like a higher quality product)**
- Improved Weather sealing*
- 6.3fps vs 6.5 fps for 40d
- New digic 4 menu interface
- Mini HDMI connector added
- 25 languages supported vs 18
- 25 custom functions vs 24
- 730 grams vs 740 grams
The 50D is a masculine camera, well sorted and organized with a beefy and yet somehow comfortable/stiff grip. It's one of the best DSLR grips I've ever used on any camera and just consistently begs me to pick it up. Overall, the 50D (much like the 40D it replaced) has a very masculine but sexy appeal to its shape and feel in hand with curves in the right location and straight lines in others. It's a camera I love to hold and use for any kind of photographic situation albeit macro work or telephoto work.
Walking around with, and working with the 50D even with larger lenses is a very comfortable sure handed experience as well. I've used lenses as light as the 50mm f/1.8 (el cheapo) to the 100-400mm USM, and the 50D is quite adept at handling them all very comfortably.
The rubber on the 50D strikes the perfect balance of being grippy and supple, yet somehow dry and comfortable at the exact same time. In short, the rubber on this camera is perfect.I definitely prefer the exterior design to the 7D's in hand, it's difference is subtle but I still prefer it. The back side equals the front in terms of comfort and grip, I couldn't have custom ordered a body shape any better than what Canon have done here- quite surprising.
Mind you, I'm the kind of photographer that likes a bigger camera when shooting seriously- just not too big. The 50D has to be the roomiest DSLR I've used from most of the manufacturers out there (bar the 40D and 7D), yet not so big or heavy as to cause fatigue while shooting at all. Again, broken record moment, it feels perfect.
It has some refinement in build quality too that is noticeable over the 40D (and even the 7D namely around the battery compartment area). This camera has zero creaking or rattling, even when I grip the camera tight in different hand positions. Solid as a rock, so they say.
I know Canon said they worked on that, but I honestly thought it was marketing speak/gimmickry, yet it is not. The added weatherproofing, tighter tolerances of the body panels, refines the camera in such a way that it feels like a much more expensive camera than it is (when it was first introduced and especially now) and a slight step up over the 40D I've owned in the past.
Build quality is a big pet peeve of mine. I don't like holding and using cameras that creak, wobble, sound hollow, or rattle in any way shape or form. I cameras of this level/price to feel like a carved piece of metal with comfortable rubber located in just the right places- unyielding and high quality in every way. The 50D is without a doubt one of my favorite cameras to date in this respect. Not all of Canon's cameras feel this way, especially for the price. I think the 50D is the best made camera from Canon for its initial price that has ever been thus far- at least the ones I've handled and used which is quite an extensive list.
Canon EOS 50D DSLR Review- Handling and Controls:
The 50D doesn't abandon traditional handling by putting new features in place of more commonly used controls, but instead makes them secondary to those controls without making them difficult to use either. That is excellence in design if you ask me. I don't like seeing a video button where an AF lock or dedicated AF button should primarily be. After all these are cameras first, not video cameras first and there's none of that confusion that plagues other cameras in this design.
For example; the live view button is placed next to the menu button. It's out of the way of traditional controls while I'm using the optical viewfinder, yet still being in a convenient location for the left hand to use when I go to look for it. Its like it's out of the way and doesn't clutter normal controls I appreciate for eye level still shooting. But it's also right there when I want to go into the "live view" mentality.
The whole camera seems well sorted to me this way, and this is one of the reasons I didn't like the 7D as much. I found the controls to be sort of haphazardly located or location dominated by features I won't use as often as still it's shooting controls. Not that it's awful either, its just not as ideal as the 50D is.
Controls are placed and use in such a manner that you won't unintentionally or accidentally move or change them. When I first started using Canon DSLRS I thought this was an inconvenience, but now I see the logic behind it and appreciate it the more I use them. Canon's designs tend to reflect the years and years of experience that advanced photographers have with them. I also like that the body designs and buttons/dials are shaped in such a way as to not be snagged or accidentally engaged.
Here's a thought: Put the 7D's sensor in a 50D body, add a video option to the control dial (as opposed to a dedicated button) instead of all those useless scene modes, and you'd have one near perfect and modern camera. Don't change a thing about the 50D's layout or build/design.
Canon EOS 50D DSLR Review- Live View:
Mated with such an excellent LCD screen with a very wide viewing angle, and the 50D acts as an excellent live view DSLR even by today's standards. Focusing is slow, but accurate (most of the time) in contrast detect mode, and quick in phase detect mode needing time to flip up and down the mirror to focus only. Both focusing types have merit and are appropriate for different circumstances.
Your final exposure is available for preview if you engage the Exposure SIM setting in the menu. As I've noted, all of your adjustments are shown in real time with the exception of some limitations to brightness depending on the amount of available light. Canon will only ramp up the sensor (auto gain) so far, but you'll learn to live with that limitation since even in lower light it works very well most of the time.
Worth noting too is that the depth of field preview is available in live view, which to me is vital for the live view process. Not only is DOF preview available, but focus magnification is also available up to a 10x view when you press the magnify button located on the far right/top/rear of the camera. To get out of this view, you just keep pressing this button. It would be nice if a half press of the shutter release put you back into full view. I couldn't find a way to set the 50D to do this in the menu- did I miss something?
The focus/magnification point is also adjustable anywhere on the screen with the joystick, press down on the joy stick to center the AF point at any time. Canon EOS 50D 15.1MP DSLR Current Price Check
Silent Shooting in live view has two modes, one that waits for the mirror cycle to complete after you let go of the shutter button (mode 2) and one that slows down the cycle process effectively quieting it vs. non- live view mode. I prefer mode 2 because I control when stage two of the cycle/process happens. Also in live view mode, it is effectively like using full time mirror lock up but with a preview.
The mirror is locked up, and thus, no vibration occurs from the movement of the mirror during the exposure process- unless you use the quick AF auto focus type. I prefer the contrast detect version even if it is slower- for most still shooting circumstances. You get the benefit of less vibration, a more accurate autofocus, less image blur, and quieter operation. I use this as a dedicated mirror lock up mode, excellent for tripod low light photography or anytime low shutter speeds could be affected by mirror vibration. I love it.
Quick AF in live view is rarely used, but for moving subjects its definitely the better choice but not fast enough to keep up with panning etc. For outdoor macro photography or when I'm in a hurry this mode comes in handy. It makes a lot more noise but if you don't need the volume down it's the fastest live view focusing method to use.
Overall I find live view to be well implemented for the more traditional still shooter (those that like to shoot behind the camera most of the time).
Canon EOS 50D DSLR Review- Auto Focus System:
The real guts of the AF system are how good it's AF phase detect sensor is, and how fast complex calculations are performed on moving subjects. The good news is that with a fast focusing lens, the 50D is extremely quick at acquiring focus on still or moving subjects. The "bad" news is that its not as sophisticated at tracking moving subjects (particularly predictive auto focus calculations) as say the Canon 7D is. However, I say "bad" to keep things simple. There's nothing really bad when it comes to the 50D's af news even when being extremely critical.
|The 50D acquires and keeps lock on moving subjects very well even with a 'cheapo' kit 55-250mm Zoom Lens! Check out that detail!|
The edge you'll gain in AF performance (predictive AF) with newer cameras such as the 7D may not even be anything most shooters will use, or even notice. It's such a subtle difference in speed and overall consistent accuracy, its more something that Pro's are going to notice in very critical situations and circumstances. With that said, I hope it is clear on what you lose with the 50D being an older camera- in short, very very little.
This means that the autofocus is fast and accurate overall, especially with the right lens attached that has USM. Here is were you will notice the biggest difference in performance. Lenses will indeed make a noticeable difference in both the speed and tracking ability of the 50D. Know that it is a highly capable system that can handle just about any kind of demand for the photographer- from the action shooter down to the landscape shooter.
Accuracy wise, I used 5 different lenses on the 50D and none of them exhibited back or front focusing. Had they, the 50D allows for individual focus adjustment for each lens (up to 20) or if the body is the culprit (AF sensor misalignment), you can adjust it the same for all lenses. All DSLRS should have this feature.
Focus tracking was really quick with the 28-135mm USM and 70-200mm f/4 USM. It was so quick and accurate in fact, it raised my opinion of this camera being an even better all round tool. Compared to Sony DSLRS or Pentax DSLRS, the focusing is much more advanced and accurate. Compared to the Nikon DSLRS I've used, on par with most of them, and beating some others (D700 for example). But neither lens was as fast as the 85mm f/1.8 USM that I bought for myself, that lens is a speed demon for fast action work and I just love the 135mm equivalent focal length on it.
|My 13 month old daughter learning how to play soccer- please autofocus don't fail me now! Yes she was actually running toward me, not standing still.|
Canon EOS 50D DSLR Review- Burst and Buffer Depth:
(For the following performance report, a Sandisk Extreme IV 8GB CF card was used)
Burst rate is very fast on the 50D, fast enough for most shooters with high demand. I'm not what you'd call a high demand burst user, but its nice to have when I do need it. Anyone needing burst for action sequences (or even portraiture) will likely be pleased with the 50D even when using raw. At 6.5 frames per second, the 50D should capture the moment for you. I do think there is a point where too many frames per second becomes redundant- might as well shoot high DEF video :).
Routinely the 50D was able to pull off about 16 raw shots before the buffer filled, which gives me almost 3 full seconds of shooting before the camera slowed down, that's quite good. Buffer clearing is also very quick and the 50D is ready for action almost instantaneously after a series of shots are made.
Note that of course the 50D is loudest in this mode, but compared to a lot of other DSLRS (bar the K5, A77/65), quieter. It's a great camera for wildlife in this respect because spooking them with noise is kept to a minimum. This camera keeps up with action just fine, and in a way I appreciate that its not such a speed demon to fill up the buffer in one second or shoot so many images in a burst (per second). I think 6-8 a second is almost ideal when using that kind of shooting technique.
Canon EOS 50D DSLR Review- Anti Dust System
For the first time Canon incorporated a high frequency dust removal system in front of it sensor that also includes an anti-static coating that keeps dust adhesion to the very minimum. Of all types of dust reduction systems, this is the most effective type and all but Sony use this type of dust reduction system. In my extensive use in the field with DSLRS this is, by far and away, the most effective system even if it isn't foolproof. This adds tremendous value to the 50D as a whole as far as I'm concerned and is greatly missed on my 5D. In general every day use this means you can change lenses more frequently without as much worry that dust will get into the sensor and make work for you later during post processing. In short it saves you a lot of headache and time, most of the time.
Canon EOS 50D DSLR Review-LCD Screen:
A large step up from the 40D, this is as good as screens get even comparing to the very newest DSLRS on the market today (it's June of 2012 as I write, btw). Glare is kept to a minimum. The surface seems pretty darn good at resisting scratches (although I'm not going to go out of my way to find out what will scratch it, thanks), and is easy to clean- a pet peeve of mine. It also resists oil build up better than average.
Viewing angles are great in that color and contrast retention are kept even at very wide viewing angles. I noticed no deterioration in either no matter how much of an angle I looked at the LCD screen. Over the head and below the waist shots in live view are definitely possible even in burst mode (albeit without continuous AF). This screen is so good in this respect, I don't really even desire a tilt screen for most shooting situations.
Canon EOS 50D DSLR Review- Image Quality:
Canon EOS 50D 15.1MP DSLR Current Price Check
The Canon 50D comes with a wide range of ISO settings if you enable the ISO expansion in the custom sub menu, going from ISO 100 to ISO 12,800. This is a wide enough range for most circumstances even by today's demanding standards, and what you'll see below is that the entire ISO range is usable and highly competitive by today's standards to boot. My analysis covers light ranges of all types and intensities, as well as all sensitivities of ISO.
Note: I've employed the Topaz Denoise plugin for Photoshop Elements 10 which I used to process all of the photo's in this review (unless otherwise stated) for one specific reason- to combat the 50D's only image quality wart, banding. With this plugin, you can easily remove banding from any image vertical or horizontal with no degradation to image quality. I highly recommend this plugin for anyone wanting a superior noise removal tool.
With 15 megapixels of resolution available, the 50D is a DSLR that can be used for a wide range of photographic duties, making gorgeous 24x36" prints (or larger), or, leaving plenty of room for cropping if need be. Even a 50% crop yields a near 8mp image which, can still make a nice looking 13x19" photograph.
Dynamic Range- If you develop from raw, the 50D has about 11.5 stops of dynamic range in total. One stop of which of course is hidden in the highlights that you can pull back unless you have one dominating color in the scene that is blown way out of its range. By today's standards this is a decent performance here when comparing to other cameras in its class, but when using it in real life it means that the range should cover most lighting circumstances just fine. So what I'm getting at is, it's doubtful you'd need more dynamic range and you'll pay a lot more money to eek some out on another body.
With a touch of noise reduction used properly either with Canon's software or third party software like Topaz Denoise (my favorite to date) the Canon 50D is right there with today's newest cameras in this department. The 50D was a ground breaking camera for Canon in its sensor development employing the use of gapless microlenses on the sensor for the first time. At the time, this gave the 50D a resolution-per-noise advantage over its rivals.
Shooting up to 12,800 ISO is not only recommended (with some care to post processing) but highly competitive to the newest and best DSLRS I've trialed to date, as my samples below clearly show. Keep in mind that I am very light handed on noise reduction in post, so "smoother" results are totally possible with loss of fine detail of course. Each photo is captioned with information and you can click on it to bring it up to a larger size.
|ISO 12,800 before Topaz Denoise (banding evident)|
|ISO 12,800 after Topaz Denoise at .05 strength setting w/banding removal enabled (big difference, right?)|
|ISO 6400 w/Topaz at .04 strength and banding removal, nice and clean plenty of detail|
|ISO 100 f/8 detail, great camera for landscape and large prints|
Image Quality Conclusion:
Canon EOS 50D 15.1MP DSLR Current Price Check
While the 50D certainly can be beaten by some of today's DSLRS, the point of diminishing returns that the DSLR industry in general has reached means that it won't be beaten by all that much practically speaking (at least in the scope of APS-C sensors). I've used the best APS-C sensors and the worst, and the 50D ranks up there in the top of the class with one caveat- the need/employ of a banding removing tool like Topaz Denoise.
Without banding, the 50D's raw image quality gives the very best DSLRS a photo finish- losing by just a hair. The JPEG engine is excellent allowing the user many options of processing and noise control- including "off" completely. This, to me, is an essential feature to have when using JPEGs out of camera. Compared to rivals, again, it will finish right up there with the very best horses in the race. If only Canon could have included banding removal in its processing for Jpegs via a firmware update, the 50D might have been a bit more popular.
Canon EOS 50D 15.1MP DSLR Current Price Check
Here I detail some things that I wish the 50d had. These are not con's since each user has different priorities or needs. Therefore it is a wishlist, not deal breakers or even major issues with me at all just some notes and open minded thoughts.
- Greater Range of exposure value (EV) adjustment. -2 to +2 is average, -3 to +3 would have satisfied me just fine (-5 to +5 is too much really).
- No trace of banding at the higher ISO values. Although I know the limitations of the 50D and how to avoid banding (one of my pet peeves) it just means that I find the exposure process temperamental on this camera. A bit of forgiveness with a sensor is good at times, but this does force me to be more careful about the exposure process and, in the end that is a good thing. At least, this is what I tell myself :). I wish it could be fixed in firmware, but Topaz Denoise came to the rescue anyways.
- No scene modes on the mode dial. I find it clutters the dial and looks hideous- I never use them personally but I can see why some beginners would find them useful.
- Dedicated AF assist beam. I think all DSLRS should have them despite the fact that they have an onboard flash or not. That said, the 50D's implementation with the on board flash is quite good- the pulses are quick and effective.
- Better battery life during live view. If you use Live View a lot, bring an extra battery it's an essential part of the equation. I picked up some STK batteries on Amazon which are rated at 2,200 mah for 15 bucks each on Amazon which does help to extend the use time, but even those batteries go pretty quickly if you use live view a majority of the time. Bring a spare or two if you do.
Canon EOS 50D 15.1MP DSLR Current Price Check
My first handling of the 50D was in early 2009 at a local photo shop as well as big market retailer. Each time I used the 50D briefly I was impressed by its build, quick response, fast autofocus, and generally masculine appearance and comfort in hand. it just seemed like a lot of camera, full of technology and performance. At that time I'll admit I was pretty clueless with the Canon system.
So even though the controls and icons (Canon language if you will) way back then somewhat eluded me, I still left impressed with the camera overall in my subconscious despite the fact I was heavily invested into another DSLR system (which shall remain nameless). Since then I've owned the sister to the 50D, the 40D and its bigger brother the Canon 7D, the former being more like the 50D than the latter- very much so handling wise. So in short, I'm quite familiar with the 50D in use, and handling wise.
Speaking plainly I just enjoy using the 50D on a daily basis for a wide variety of subjects in many different conditions. It's a camera that doesn't really have any real weaknesses in any particular category and is just a fun camera to shoot with and rely on. At the end of the day, isn't that what we want from a DSLR? I say we want a camera that can perform reliably enough to grab a very rare shot without a design flaw or characteristic that misses a very rare shot like this:
The Canon 50D is one such steal on the market right now that sacrifices very little of newer modern features found in DSLRS, but at almost 1/3rd the cost used than a similar camera would cost you new. Therefore the Canon EOS 50D is indeed one of the best bang for the buck deals you can get on a DSLR (as of today's date) and I highly recommend it to any shooter, especially those who are on a tighter budget as long as you don't need video. And I assume that if you are reading a Canon 50D review, you probably aren't in that camp anyways.
As always, be safe and happy shooting!
Post Script: I am a professional photographer and camera reviewer who has contributed to, or, *founded the following websites: AlphaMountWorld.com, ImagingResource.com, Photography Review.com, SLRGear.com, and of course PhotographicCentral. I have over 23 years of combined photographic and writing experience as a contract professional and freelance art photographer.