Canon EOS 50D review: Canon EOS 50D

Other features remain pretty much unchanged from the 40D and earlier. These include three nine-point autofocus modes: Single-shot, AI Servo tracking autofocus, and AI Focus, which switches between Single and AI Servo if it detects that the subject has moved. Unfortunately, the AI Focus can't tell the difference between subject movement and the photographer doing a focus-and-recompose, so you're usually better off picking Single or Servo and sticking with it. Four metering modes--evaluative, partial metering (approximately 9 percent of the viewfinder), a large 3.8 percent spot (here's why that's bad, from my 40D review), and center-weighted average metering--provide reasonable flexibility. It's got a full slate of white-balance settings, including bracketing and custom corrections along the blue, amber, magenta, and green axes; color temperature; and manual. A few scene program modes--portrait, landscape, macro, sports, and night portrait--augment the semimanual program, aperture- and shutter-priority, automatic depth-of-field AE, and manual exposure modes. Relevant maximums include a top shutter speed of 1/8,000 second and top flash sync speed of 1/250 second. Its same viewfinder system supports user-interchangeable focusing screens.

As the 40D was over the 30D, the 50D is roughly 30 percent faster overall than its predecessor thanks to upgrade to a Digic 4 processor, and finally overtakes Nikon's D200 and D300. From a cold start to first shot takes only 0.2 second, and with optimal conditions it can focus and shoot in only 0.4 second. Canon seems to have improved the low-light focusing capability of the AF system, as its 0.9-second shot lag in dim light now brings it into parity with the rest of its competitors. However, Olympus' E-3 still leads this class in most of the important performance metrics.

A healthy buffer and fast card writes allows the 50D to maintain a 0.3 second pace from shot to shot for both JPEG and raw. Flash recycle time adds 0.3 second to that. The 50D's high-speed burst mode tested out at 6 frames per second, slightly slower than Canon's 6.3fps rating (likely because we test beyond the point at which buffer slowdown occurs, in this case more than 100 shots). Unlike the 40D, the 50D supports UDMA CF cards, and using one can extend your buffer runs from 60 to 90 JPEG frames; in casual testing, with a SanDisk Extreme IV it began to slow at about 30 frames versus 60 frames for a SanDisk Ducati card. Raw is fixed at about 16 frames.

However, it's one thing to shoot fast continuously, and it's another to focus fast continuously, and I think the D90's AF system does a bit better at that than the 50D's; the 50D's seems too easily fooled, attracted to brighter areas in the frame. This is where I think more AF points would have helped. I was able to obtain a handful of decent burst shots only by cranking the sharpness up to its maximum and using a really good lens, the 70-200mm. (Keep in mind that I test at a dog run, which is incredibly difficult for both the camera and the photographer, since the subjects move very fast and unpredictably through variable and high-contrast lighting.)

Canon rates the battery, the same 1,390mAH BP-511A used by several generations of Canon dSLRs, at a maximum of 800 shots without flash. That's a significant drop from the 40D's 1,100-shot life. Canon also still lags behind many of the other manufacturers for providing intelligent power display and estimates of power remaining. The 3-inch, bright LCD, the same used by virtually all the midrange dSLRs, is easy to view, but not in direct sunlight.

Photo samples from the Canon EOS 50D

The 50's photo quality definitely matches that of the 40D, and it delivers better results at ISOs 1,600 and 3,200 because the higher resolution delivers extra sharpness without showing significantly more noise. At ISO 6,400 (H1) you see the typical degradation. Just pretend ISO 12,800 (H2) isn't even an option. It shouldn't be. (Click through the slide show for details and photo samples.)

Photos show excellent dynamic range, with no visible clipping in the highlights or shadows (of correct exposures). Like the 40D, though, they definitely fall within an acceptable range, automatic white balance under artificial lights tends to be a bit pink, and even manual white-balance shots measure a tad green-heavy. Automatically balanced sunlit shots render a bit cool. All of the metering schemes delivered excellent, balanced exposures. With high-quality--expensive--L-series lenses such as the 15-25mm and the 24-70mm, photos are pretty sharp, but you may find it necessary to jack up the in-camera sharpness setting a couple notches with the cheaper kit lenses.

If you're satisfied with the low-light focus performance of your 40D and don't need the 15-megapixel resolution or extra stop of sensitivity, there's no reason to put it up on eBay and replace it with a 50D. Similarly, if you're in the market for a new Canon dSLR and don't need those capabilities, you may want to buy the cheaper 40D and spend the extra cash on a really nice lens. However, if you find those aspects of the Canon EOS 50D important, then you'll find it a very nice camera and solid follow-up to its popular older sibling.

Shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Olympus E-3
1.3 
0.5 
0.8 
0.3 
Canon EOS 50D
0.2 
0.3 
0.9 
0.4 
Nikon D300
0.1 
0.5 
0.9 
0.5 
Nikon D200
0.2 
0.5 
1 
0.5 
Canon EOS 40D
0.3 
0.4 
1.2 
0.5 

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon EOS 50D
6 
Nikon D300
5.8 

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Oct. 1, 2008
  • Digital camera type SLR
  • Optical Zoom 4.8 x
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 15.1 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical
  • Optical Sensor Size 14.9 x 22.3mm
About The Author

Lori Grunin is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering cameras, camcorders, and related accessories. She's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 1988.