This is a compact in the very loosest sense of the word. Indeed, it isn't that much smaller than an entry-level dSLR, so its 'compact' designation is down -- purely and simply -- to the fact that the lens can't be removed.
But what a lens it is. As the name suggests, the PowerShot SX50 HS has a massive 50x zoom, equivalent to 24-1,200mm on a regular 35mm camera. An interchangeable lens touching the furthest end of that range would cost several thousand pounds on a dSLR.
The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is available now for around £450.
Specs and build
At the longest zoom, the aperture remains a respectable f/6.5, but at wide angle it's a slightly less notable f/3.4. It benefits from some pretty serious image stabilisation to keep things steady when you're fully zoomed in, but even with this active there's an awful lot of lens to catch the wind when you're shooting at 1200mm, and I found it difficult to hand-hold a steady frame in a stiff breeze.
The native resolution is a conservative 12 megapixels (4,000x3,000 pixels), but don't kid yourself that you ought to be looking for something closer to the 16 megapixels that's becoming increasingly common in compacts.
Higher resolutions are best used for cropping into details and recomposing your shot in post-production, rather than trying to capture sharper detail (which has more to do with the resolving power of the lens). With such a powerful lens in front of this sensor, the likelihood you'll want to crop your results when you get them back home is greatly reduced.
It moves through the full length of the zoom in just over a second and naturally the length of time it takes to fix the focus depends largely on the difference between your current and previous zoom level. If they're broadly similar it's almost instantaneous, but if you've just zoomed in a long way it can take a second or two, so plan ahead.
Obviously when you're zoomed right in you can only see a tiny central portion of the view in front of you, which is where the framing assist button comes into play. Like the one on the 30x zoom, this remembers your current zoom level, but pulls right back so you can see the complete scene with a rectangle that represents the selected zoom position laid on top.
Line up the rectangle with what you want to shoot, release the button and it zooms back to your original position, with your selected area filling the frame.
Sensitivity runs from ISO 80 to ISO 6,400 with compensation of +/-3EV in 0.3 stop increments, while the fastest shutter speed is 1/2,000 seconds, and the longest extends to 15 seconds, which should be fine for shooting sunsets, twilight scenes and cityscapes with streaking headlights.
The physical design is very well thought out, with a fold-out 2.8-inch screen on the back and complete manual control over both shutter and aperture courtesy of dedicated positions on the mode selector and a thumbwheel beside the display. There's a neat level guide on the screen that shows you when you're holding it straight.
The screen is supplemented by an electronic viewfinder, which is sharp, smooth and has dioptre control to cater for different eyes.
I tested the PowerShot SX50 HS in generally good conditions with a light cloud cover. It was set to write JPEG files at their largest possible size, and I used a mixture of full auto, scene modes and aperture priority so the camera could always adjust its shutter speed to compensate. Sensitivity was set to automatic.
The SX50 had an extremely light touch when compressing the JPEG files and there was no evidence of undue digital degradation in the results.
There was some fine colour fringing on sharp contrasts, however, such as the areas where the darker walls of a castle met the sky. This effect -- known as chromatic aberration -- manifested itself as a purple halo tracing the line of the wall.
Fortunately it was sufficiently narrow that when the image was not zoomed in to 100 per cent it difficult to make out, although it did give the impression of a slightly harsh contrast, particularly when compared to the better-lit castle wall opposite that didn't exhibit the aberration, thanks to the less extreme contrast in the level of luminance.
Beyond this though, the lens was sharp and did an excellent job of rendering fine detail, while the sensor and DIGIC 5 processor made short work of balancing light and shadow.