Most camcorders offer still pictures as an afterthought, a simple feature that captures a still photo and copies it to the memory card with few, if any, options. The DC50 bucks this trend with a remarkably wide range of still-photo options. Besides the standard automatic photo mode, the camcorder features multiple scene presets, shutter and aperture priority modes, multiple white balance and metering settings, 9-point autofocus, a manual focus mode, and even a histogram. Many of these features, such as aperture/shutter priority modes and manual focus, go missing in many low-end digital cameras, so seeing them on a camcorder pleasantly surprised me. The camcorder even offers a continuous-shooting mode that can snap pictures with the flash at the fairly brisk pace of about a shot per second. Unfortunately, the camera uses miniSD cards instead of regular SD cards, so you can't use any of your old camera memory cards and will likely have to use an adapter if you own a card reader.
Indeed, the DC50's still pictures look surprisingly good. Details come out quite clean for 5-megapixel stills, noise remains generally low, and colors render accurately. While the DC50's 5-megapixel stills look puny compared with many still cameras' 8- and 10-megapixel photos, they're large enough to e-mail, post to Web sites, and make small prints. You can't realistically crop them down a great deal or blow them up for large prints, but if you just want a simple way to take decent snapshots to share with your friends and family, the DC50 provides a viable alternative to a dedicated still camera.
For a single-sensor, standard-definition camcorder, the DC50 also produces very nice-looking video, in both bright and dim lighting. Fine details render sharply, even on larger screens, and colors look accurate. The image stabilizer works well under most conditions, though you should still use a tripod if you want to use the full 10x magnification. As expected, low-light video looks a bit softer than footage shot in brighter conditions, but it's not overtly noisy, and there's sufficient tonal range. The camcorder's video doesn't look significantly better than the less expensive DC230's, but that speaks more to the DC230's fine video quality than any deficiency in the DC50.
If you must buy a DVD-based camcorder, the DC50 definitely belongs on your short list, along with the Panasonic VDR-D310. With plenty of useful features and a surprisingly robust still-photo mode, the Canon DC50 presents both a very good home-movie DVD camcorder and a competent snapshot camera. Its rather hefty price tag might give you pause, though; if you don't mind carrying around multiple gadgets, you might want to instead consider pairing the much cheaper DC230 camcorder with a budget snapshot camera.