Canon PowerShot SX50 HS review: Long lens is fun, but use can be frustrating

Design and features
Despite the longer lens, Canon managed to actually make the camera slightly smaller and lighter than the SX40 HS. At the front of the large, comfortable grip is a shutter release with a lever for operating the extreme 50x zoom lens, followed back by a shooting-mode dial and power button. The motor moves the lens smoothly and fairly swiftly considering the distance it travels and it doesn't have the lens rattle found with some competing models. A Zoom Frame Assist button on the lens barrel helps you relocate a subject that has moved out of frame by pulling the lens back and sending it forward again when released. Joining it is an IS lock button that lets you focus the image stabilization on your subject.

On back is a control dial that sits on top of a four-way directional pad. The dial is used for navigation as well as changing settings. This includes changes to shutter speed and aperture; notably absent is a thumb dial for doing these things. The dial is set a bit too low, which can make it difficult to move. The directional pad is used for setting focus type (macro, normal, manual), exposure compensation, ISO, and the self-timer. However, I found the position of the pad made it far too easy to accidentally activate the self-timer.

The Func/Set button at the center of the dial selects options and brings up shooting-mode-specific settings. A separate Menu button below the dial brings up the rest of the camera options. It's joined by a Display button.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
Price (MSRP) $449.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.8x3.4x4.2 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 21 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.8-inch variangle LCD, 461K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 50x, f3.4-6.5, 24-1200mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 24fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 315 shots (335, EVF only)
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC, Eye-Fi SD/SDHC cards

The Display button is what's used to move back and forth from the 2.8-inch rotating LCD to the small and somewhat dim electronic viewfinder (EVF) for framing shots. That would be fine if you didn't have to cycle through different display settings to switch from one to the other: low-info LCD, detailed LCD, low-info EVF, detailed EVF. What's worse is that there are some modes that use the Display button to access secondary functions, so if you're in one of those and want to switch from the LCD or EVF, you have to leave the shooting mode you're in first.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Or, you can flip out the LCD, which automatically turns on the LCD if you're using the EVF. Similarly, flipping the LCD to face into its cavity turns on the EVF. It's ultimately a very frustrating design choice and Canon should have used an LCD/EVF button placed next to the EVF like every other manufacturer. There are buttons on either side of the EVF, though. On the left is a programmable shortcut button, and on the right is the playback button. There are also one-touch movie record and AF setting buttons.

In the end, the controls are fairly easy to use, but definitely take some practice if you're not familiar with Canon's menus and controls. Even seasoned Canon users will want to examine the full manual, included on the software disc bundled with the camera.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're looking for AA-size batteries for power, you'll have to look elsewhere; the SX50 uses a large lithium ion rechargeable pack that's rated for up to 315 shots. That's less than the SX40 HS offered, and if you do a lot of burst shooting or video, crank up the LCD brightness, or frequently use the zoom, that life will be even shorter.

The battery is located in a compartment in the base of the grip, which is where you'll also find the memory card slot. The tripod mount is directly next to the door, so if you'd like to keep a quick-connect plate for a tripod or just want to keep it on a tripod or other support, you're going to have to remove it to charge the battery or remove the SD card.

Rounding out the rest of the design features are a hot shoe for adding an external flash as well as a lift-up flash; a wired remote jack, Mini-HDMI, and Mini-USB/AV ports under a door on the right side; and threads on the front of the lens that let you attach 67mm filters with an additional adapter.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500, 3200, 4000, 5000, 6400
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Custom 1 and 2
Recording modes Auto, Program, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority, Manual, Creative Filters, Sports, Scene, Movie, Movie Digest, Custom 1 and 2
Focus modes Face AF, Center AF, User-selectable AF (FlexiZone), Macro, Normal, Infinity, Manual
Macro 0 inches to 1.6 feet (Wide)
Metering modes Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin, Darker Skin, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color (adjustment of contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue and skin tone are available)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 10 shots

Though shooting options still lag behind what you'll get from Sony, Fujifilm, and Panasonic, there's no shortage of modes and settings to experiment with on the SX50 HS. You'll find full manual and semimanual shooting modes. Available apertures at the wide end are f3.4, f4.0, f4.5, f5.0, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0; available in telephoto are f6.5, f7.1, f8.0. Shutter speeds go from 15 seconds down to 1/2,000 second (any shutter speed slower than 1 second locks sensitivity to ISO 80). If you come up with a set of values you'd like to use regularly, there are two Custom spots on the mode dial. For those times when you want the camera to do the thinking there is a very reliable full-auto mode, and there are stock scene modes like Portrait, Landscape, and Fireworks.

Canon's Miniature Effect -- for photos and movies -- is still one of the best I've seen, with more control over results than others. Joshua Goldman/CNET

In addition to the company's standard creative-shooting options -- Color Accent and Color Swap -- it has other creative options: Toy Camera, Monochrome, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Fish-eye Effect, a Super Vivid mode that intensifies colors, and a Poster Effect that "posterizes" photos. These modes aren't necessarily must-haves, but they can be fun to play with, if only to add some interest to what would be an otherwise boring shot. A few of them, such as Monochrome and Miniature Effect are available when shooting movies, too.

You'll also find a new HDR (high dynamic range) mode that captures three shots at different exposures and combines them to balance out high-contrast shots. It doesn't do this particularly quickly, so the camera and the subject have to remain still for good results. If it's just shadow details that you're looking to recover, you're better off using Canon's i-Contrast editing option available in playback.

Still missing is an easy panorama mode, an option found on most CMOS-sensor-based point-and-shoots and smartphones, which makes it all the more ridiculous that Canon doesn't have it yet.

Conclusion:
If having a supertelephoto lens in a camera that's a fraction of the size, weight, and price of a dSLR with equivalent lenses is what mainly attracts you to the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, it is certainly worth buying. It's not without limitations, though, and despite having a shorter zoom range and a higher price, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 is a better choice, especially if you really need to shoot fast-moving subjects indoors or out.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type Full body
  • Optical Zoom 50 x
  • Optical Sensor Type BSI-CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 12.1 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical
  • Optical Sensor Size 1/2.3"
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