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

The SX50 HS packs one of the longest zoom lenses currently available and has some very good photo quality to back it up.

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
10 min read

For the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, the lens basically tells its whole story: a 50x zoom that goes from 24mm to 1,200mm.


Canon PowerShot SX50 HS

The Good

The <b>Canon PowerShot SX50 HS</b> has an extraordinary zoom range with excellent image stabilization and fine photo quality for a megazoom; plenty of shooting modes, from full auto to full manual; raw image capture; and a hot shoe for adding an external flash.

The Bad

Its lens and high-ISO picture quality make it less desirable for shooting indoors or in low light, especially without a tripod. A couple of things about the design of the controls might make shooting frustrating for some users. Outside of its long lens, its features and performance are slightly behind competing models.

The Bottom Line

If you simply must have the longest zoom in the room, the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS satisfies.

That's an extraordinary range that is quite capable of pulling into frame something miles away and snapping a shot. Or capturing wildlife from afar. Or helping your neighbors find their car keys inside their house from inside your house. OK, that last one's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. And while you'll want to use a tripod for the sharpest results, Canon's optical image stabilization is excellent, allowing you to use the zoom with the camera held only in your hands.

Outside of the lens, though, its features and performance are just a little better than its predecessor, the SX40 HS, and slightly behind competing models. The extra zoom doesn't immediately make it a better camera, just one that gives you more focal-length choices. Plus, the lens' somewhat small maximum apertures and higher ISO photo quality don't make it a great choice for hand-held indoor or low-light pictures, especially of fast-moving kids and pets or sports.

Also, for those who like a lot of direct control over settings and like to change those settings frequently, the SX50's control design isn't the best; it's closer to a point-and-shoot than a digital SLR despite appearances.

Depending on how and for what you plan to use the camera, however, the above might seem like nitpicking and for many won't override the fact that the SX50 HS is a very good camera with an extremely long lens.

Picture quality
Photo quality from the SX50 HS is generally the same as it was from the SX40 HS, which is to say very-good-to-excellent for its class. Of course, a lot has to do with expectations. This is still a small-sensor camera, so you will not get digital-SLR-quality photos and noise and artifacts will probably stop you from using photos at 100 percent size even at its lowest ISO settings (macro photos being an exception). Overall, considering the reach of this camera's lens, most will be pretty pleased with its results up to ISO 400 at larger sizes onscreen and in prints.

Canon PowerShot SX50 HS sample pictures

See all photos

Images do get softer and noisier at ISO 400 and more so at ISO 800, but are still usable at small sizes with minimal cropping or enlarging. Also, since Canon included raw image capture on this model, you can process the images yourself if you want and rescue some detail if you don't mind a little extra noise. (The SX50 HS is supported by Adobe Camera Raw.) Another bonus: there are one-third increments for ISO sensitivities, ISO 250, ISO 320, ISO 400, and so on, giving you a bit more control over things.

Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished; ISO 6400 is sort of pointless. Basically, the SX50 HS is best suited for outdoor use in full daylight, but if you plan to use this camera for shooting indoors or in low light, you'll want to be wary of using sensitivities above ISO 800.

Color accuracy is excellent, producing bright and vivid results, though, again, they desaturate at higher ISOs. Exposure is generally very good, but highlights tend to blow out. To help with that, Canon added a Dynamic Range Correction option that tones down highlights by about 200 or 400 percent. The penalty for using the feature is a slightly more limiting ISO range: ISO 160-1600 for 200 percent and ISO 320-1600 for 400 percent. But it works well and can definitely rescue some detail that would otherwise be blown out. (You can read more about the camera's photo quality and features in this slideshow.)

Video quality is generally very good, passable for use on a large HDTV, but best suited for small screen sizes and Web sharing. The 1080p video records at 24 frames per second, and though panning the camera will create judder and there is visible trailing on moving subjects, the video is watchable. (For the best video performance consider the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V or Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200, especially the latter if you want to use an external mic and manual controls.) The low-light video is predictably grainy, but it's at least as good as this camera's high-ISO photo performance. The zoom lens does work while recording; it moves slowly, though, likely to prevent the movement from being picked up by the stereo mics on top. It can only really be heard in very quiet scenes.

Shooting performance
Editors' note: We recently updated our testing methodology to provide slightly more real-world performance information, so the results aren't necessarily comparable with previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures, we will not be posting comparative performance charts.

When Canon announced the SX50 HS, it promised faster autofocus performance than the SX40 HS had, and the SX50 HS delivers that. But that basically just brings it up to speed with most of the rest of the cameras in this category. Shutter lag -- how long it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is very good at 0.3 second in bright lighting and 0.5 in dimmer conditions. From shot to shot, you're waiting an average of 1.6 seconds; with flash that time goes up to 2.4 seconds.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Its continuous shooting is pretty good, too, though it can't touch the capabilities of the Panasonic FZ200. Canon includes a full-resolution, 10-shot-burst scene mode that is capable of up to 13fps. This sets focus and exposure with the first shot, but that's common with these modes. There is also a continuous shooting setting that hits about 2.1fps (again, with focus and exposure set with the first shot) and a continuous with autofocus that is slower at 0.9fps, but at least it's an option.

Keep in mind, though, that while these times are overall very good, these are lab tests with the lens at its widest position; using the zoom lens does increase the AF time, especially at the 1,200mm mark.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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.


Canon PowerShot SX50 HS

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7Image quality 8