Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Review

October 10, 2012 | Mark Goldstein |


The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is a brand new super-zoom camera sporting a 50x zoom lens which is equivalent to a focal length of 24-1200mm. Replacing the previous SX40 HS model, the SX50 HS features a 12 megapixel back-illuminated sensor, DIGIC 5 image processor, 4.5-stop optical Image Stabilizer with Intelligent IS technology, full manual controls, ISO 80-6400, 12-bit RAW format support, full 1080p HD movie recording with stereo sound and a HDMI port, 10fps burst shooting, a 2.8 inch vari-angle LCD screen, a range of Creative Filters, external flash hotshoe and an electronic viewfinder. The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is available in black priced at £449 / $479.99.

Ease of Use

Like most big zoom bridge cameras, the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is a chunky beast that's not much smaller than the entry level digital SLR that it takes its styling cue from. However it is, after all, the whopper of a 50x optical lens that is the main selling point, boasting a comprehensively and creatively broad focal range stretching from 24mm to 1200mm that would be otherwise hideously unaffordable or impractical for the average DSLR user. What is lost in quality compared with a DSLR is made up for in terms of versatility - with the photographer being able to rapidly switch from wide angle framing to candid close ups from afar - and, all things considered, fair value, though the SX50 HS is not an inexpensive purchase.

Indeed, with a £449 suggested UK price tag, there's the obvious 'ouch' factor to get over when considering the SX50 HS. Considering, that is, the fact that for a similar outlay you could purchase an entry level digital SLR, albeit one admittedly with a standard 18-55mm lens (3x zoom), rather than 50x. Still, if compared with the similar Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 at a suggested £439.99, which in fairness has a lens with a constant aperture of f/2.8 throughout its 24x zoom range, the Canon seems comparably reasonable on paper at least.

Considering the zoom range on offer here, a bulky body and some added weight courtesy of the chunky 315-shot rechargeable lithium-ion battery in the handgrip (a total weight of 600g when the SX50 HS is 'loaded') makes perfect sense if we're going to be able to achieve anything approaching critical sharpness when shooting handheld towards the maximum telephoto setting. Image stabilization is of the lens shift type, offering a claimed 4.5 stop advantage. Like its predecessor the SX50 HS again offers an Ultrasonic Motor along with a Voice Coil Motor to deliver not only relatively swift but also smooth and silent zooming - crucial when capturing video in particular, for which a dedicated thumb-operated record button is provided. Maximum aperture of the lens is f/3.4 at 24mm, slowing to f/6.5 at the full 1200mm, a little slow to start with but not bad considering the massive focal range on offer.

From the front, apart from the change of model number the SX50 HS (for 'High Speed') looks more angular and DSLR-like than the SX40 IS, with a bigger hand-grip, and further protruding pop-up flash. There's a large AF illuminator/self timer porthole to the right of the gargantuan lens, the pop up flash hiding just above, and a deep sculpted plastic grip to the left. Offering a slightly roughened surface that is practical in preventing slippage but not all that comfortable, we managed to squeeze three fingers around said grip without scraping any knuckles on the adjacent barrel.

Canon PowerShotSX50 HS Canon PowerShotSX50 HS
Front Rear

On the side of the lens barrel are two new buttons to help make using the 50x zoom easier. The uppermost Seek button quickly zooms back out of the scene, useful when you want to reloacte the subject that you had zoomed in on, and then automatically zooms back to your chosen focal length when the button is released. The lower Lock button locks onto and automatically track your subject, keeping them in the center of the frame until you take the shot. New to the SX-range is an external hotshoe on top of the camera, which accepts an external Canon Speedlite EX flashgun, greatly expanding the capabilities of the SX50 HS in low-light situations.

The SX50 HS features the company's high speed Digic 5 image processor which offers a host of quick fire continuous capture of up to 13 frames per second for up to ten shots and 120fps or 240fps slow motion video replay options at 640x480 or 320x240 pixels respectively, along with the now expected regular Full HD 1920x1080 pixels video recording capability at 24fps. If you want 30fps this means a resolution drop to 1280x720 pixels.

The lens shift image stabilization, again also a feature of the SX40 HS forebear, offers the equivalent of 4.5 stops, with the camera detecting and choosing the 'correct' type of stabilization depending on the shooting conditions and the subject. The SX50 HS has purportedly seven options to select from: Normal IS, Dynamic IS, Powered IS (utilising camcorder technology to ensure the ability to record footage at a long zoom range), Panning IS (deployed in one direction and useful for recording racetrack action), Macro IS, Tripod Mode (image stabilizer automatically deactivated) or Dynamic macro IS.

The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS has 12.1 effective megapixels courtesy of a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor that is back illuminated to enhance its light gathering properties; enhanced as wires don't get in the way of the sensor and so the light's path. The Digic 5 processor offers noise reduction performance claimed to be a whopping 75% better than the old Digic 4. Less noise also gives the opportunity to avoid using the flash at various focal lengths - which incidentally has to be manually raised rather than automatically popping up - and bump up the ISO instead whilst shooting handheld. Here ISO runs from ISO 80 to ISO 6400.

Canon PowerShotSX50 HS Canon PowerShotSX50 HS
Top Side

Multi area white balance maintains a natural colour balance for faces and backgrounds at the same time when the flash is used under tungsten lighting. The camera detects that there are two different light sources and so takes area specific readings. However, though there is face detection and AF tracking on board, the number of AF points is notably less than on even an entry level DSLR: we get just one-point AF.

This is a camera that is far easier to pick up and start shooting with than most DSLRs. Buttons and controls are well placed (and spaced) on the SX50 HS, with a shooting mode dial the size of a ten pen piece and a dime-sized shutter release button encircled by a lever for operating the zoom located at the top of the handgrip where it automatically falls under the forefinger of the right hand. This is a power zoom for those with larger hands who normally bemoan the small, precise buttons on most digicams, with the only the scroll wheel surrounding the control pad at the back being occasionally fiddly to operate with the thumb. Like most of its ilk, we found it easy to slip back and forth between settings when using it. Though most super-zooms offer the chance to merely toggle back and forth through the focal range using a lever, we missed being able to manually twist the lens barrel to quickly get the framing we wanted.

The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS' shooting mode dial offers 12 settings, ranging from scene and subject recognising smart auto mode through the usual program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual settings through to movie digest, sports mode, scene mode, more unusually a digital effects mode where the likes of miniature mode and HDR are discovered, plus there's a dedicated video setting from where the aforementioned slow motion movie capture options can be implemented; useful if you're shooting sports.

Stills capture is now JPEG and/or RAW, a welcome development which brings the SX-range into line with key competitors, and makes perfect sense on a camera that aims to replace a DSLR. There are two customizable settings on the shooting mode dial for those who do like getting more hands on. Despite there being a dedicated video control on the shooting dial, you don't actually have to set it at this position to begin recording (it's a means instead of adjusting the aforementioned video settings from regular speed to slow mo via a press of the 'function set' button). Simply hit the dedicated record button no matter which alternative stills mode you're in and the a second or so later the screen display will narrow from the regular 4:3 to 16:9 to ape how the video will look when replayed on your flat panel TV. There is, as we'd expect, a mini HDMI connection provided under a rubber flap at the side for this purpose, though unsurprisingly no lead comes bundled with the camera. The new 2.8-inch screen now offers an improved resolution of 460k pixels, again matching the SX50's rivals.

Canon PowerShotSX50 HS Canon PowerShotSX50 HS
Pop-up Flash Top

Press the obvious on/off switch next to the shooting mode dial and the camera powers up in just under two seconds, which is respectably swift. The lens barrel visibly extends to the maximum wide-angle 24mm setting as the rear LCD bursts into life. We know the setting as it's marked atop the lens barrel, as usefully are the incremental settings all the way up to 1200mm, which gradually reveal themselves as the lens extends outwards from the body.

Since this is a bridge camera as well as a power zoom, at the back we have both vari-angle LCD monitor and a fixed electronic viewfinder just above. This automatically comes into play if you've twisted the LCD screen to face inwards to the camera body. There's no eye sensor beneath or above, nor is there a dedicated button for swapping between the larger screen and smaller EVF, so it would be very easy for most users to regularly bypass this facility completely. As it is, EVF resolution is a so-so 202k dots, and being able to twist and rotate the rear screen means that even if light reflections do render visibility momentarily tricky, a quick tilt and it's rectified.

Give the zoom lever a toggle with your forefinger and the lens slides from maximum wide-angle to extreme telephoto in all of four seconds, the minimum and maximum (infinity) focus ranges provided via small text top of screen and rapidly changing as the lens moves forward or back. There is a noticeable mechanical buzz as the lens makes its adjustments, but it's not distracting. Switch to recording video however and the zoom action slows so that the transitions are even smoother, with the lens taking 10 seconds to move through its focal range. In this setting the mechanics of the lens are less noticeable, which is exactly as we'd want.

At the back of the camera the LCD screen dominates, sitting squarely central below the EVF, which feature a hard rubber surround to the eyepiece and dioptre wheel for adjustment of visibility alongside. Above left and right of the EVF are a direct-print button, this being a Canon model, plus a Playback button.

The rest of the controls are ranged to the right of the screen, the uppermost allowing users to immediately start recording a video. The next one down allows the single AF point to be expanded/contracted or moved with the aid of the multi directional control pad underneath - as long as you're in one of the creative shooting modes that is. Otherwise in smart auto mode, subsequent presses will turn face detection on or off, while in playback mode this multi-use control usefully doubles up as a Delete button. It requires a degree of playing around to discover this as unhelpfully once again the full manual is provided on CD only, with only a cursory quick start booklet in the box which doesn't cover any more than the already self explanatory basics.

Canon PowerShotSX50 HS Canon PowerShotSX50 HS
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The four way control pad at points north, east, south and west variously offers a means of adjusting exposure compensation (+/- 2EV), self timer (off, two seconds, ten seconds or a 10 second option that fires three consecutive shots), selecting from the ISO options (ISO100-3200), and finally adjusting focus, with switchable settings between normal, macro and manual options offered if required. The latter allows use of the scroll wheel to dial in distance settings from 0cm to infinity, with an enlarged central square on screen giving a rough idea of whether the picture is properly sharp enough.

A press of the Function / Set button in the middle of the scroll wheel/control pad brings up the regular L-shaped menu that will be immediately familiar to any Canon compact camera user and presents essential functions at a glance. In program mode for example, from the top of this toolbar we get the ability to adjust dynamic range correction, white balance, select from the various 'My Color' options which include our favourite vivid saturation boosting option alongside the ability to specify darker or lighter skin tones or shoot in sepia or black and white in camera. Next down the list is a bracketing option, with either three shots automatically taken at three different exposures or three different focal distances, plus the option to switch from single to continuous capture, again adjust exposure compensation to +/- 2 EV, or swap metering between evaluative, centre weighted and spot. Image aspect ratio can be swapped from the factory default of 4:3 to 16:9, 3:2 or more unusually even 1:1 and 4:5. It's via this L-shaped toolbar that PowerShot users can also specify large, medium or small files and even adjust video resolution on the fly, from 1920x1080 through 1280x720 and down to 640x480 pixels. Alternatively if the camera has been set to its smart auto mode then only image aspect ratio, file size and video resolution can be adjusted. The other options do not appear at all.

The final two buttons on the camera back are for the self-explanatory display and menu. Subsequent presses of display will call up a nine zone compositional grid, or turn off the LCD entirely at which point the EVF above automatically illuminates and comes into play. A press of 'menu' meanwhile brings up three easy to follow folders on screen; a capture folder, set up folder and my menu folder for quicker access to your more frequently used settings, should you choose to pre-set them. Interestingly among the usual suspects in the capture folder the microphone level can be adjusted, as can a wind filter be turned on or off. These menu options can be tabbed with via a thumb press of the four-way control pad or of course scrolled through faster using the surrounding wheel.

If still viewing the camera from the back, further points of interest on the SX50 HS include the covered HDMI, AV and remote control ports on the right flank, and a single speaker located on the left, which also features the hinge about which the variable angle LCD screen pivots. The bottom of the camera features a metal off-centre screw thread for a tripod next to which is a sliding plastic door that protects the battery compartment and adjacent slot for the SD memory card. So, incidentally, if you place this PowerShot on a tripod you'll have to unscrew it first to remove the memory card.