The 50D was released almost a exactly a year after its predecessor the 40D, however Canon were quick to claim it was not intended to be the 40D’s replacement. The two cameras co-existed for several months before the 40D was finally phased out.
The 50D continued where the 40D left off, and contains some seemingly minor but important updates. The main one has to be the new 15.1Mp CMOS sensor, quite a leap from the 40D’s 10.1Mp. This new sensor is a complete new design and measures in 22.3 x 14.9 mm making it a standard Canon APS-C size with approximately 1.6 crop compared to a 35mm full frame sensor. Despite the rise in resolution, this sensor seems to control noise better than the 40D at higher ISO’s. Its a tough call for Canon to make, but they seem intent on rising mega pixels with each new release, where as Nikon are concentrating on getting the best performance out of the lower megapixel sensors they currently have. This could be a clever marketing ploy, as most consumers instantly think more megapixels are better, but this simply is not the case. More mega pixels on a small sensor often mean more noise in your image, as the sheer amount of information the sensor has to gather in such as tiny space becomes overwhelming. Luckily for Canon, the increase in the 50D’s resolution appears not to have had any untoward side effects. The sensor unit also contains Canons self cleaning system, helping to keep your sensor clean and dust free.
Other differences include a new 3 inch high resolution VGA screen, a massive step up from the 40D and an all new Digic 4 processor, which adds much faster performance in the menus and image processing.
The 50D also now conatins 3 live view modes, Quick mode which uses Phase detect, Live view mode, which uses contrast detect and Face detect mode which again uses contrast detect.
The body of the 50D is pretty much identical to the 40D, with only a few minor cosmetic differences. The button layout is identical, however some have changed function, and have added or reduced functionality.
Strangely the 50D actually weighs ever so slightly less than the 40D at 822g with the battery. However it still has the same robust magnesium alloy body.
Handling the 50D, you realize what a solidly built thing it is. The camera feels good quality, although compared to an equivalent Nikon model, I feel the plastic parts of the body are a bit scratchy and cheap feeling, however the camera fits nicely in the hand with its big grip, allowing your fingers to wrap tightly around it. The shutter button is perfectly placed and the body has a smart shaped part that your finger naturally falls into. I would say this is actually more comfortable in that respect than the vastly more pricey Nikon D700. There are no front buttons on the right hand side of the 50D, instead all of the buttons to change settings are found infront of the large top LCD. These buttons are quite small and rounded, and can sometimes be quite fiddly to press, especially in cold weather when you have gloves on. These buttons along with a small rubberised wheel behind the shutter release button and a large scroll wheel on the back of the body, allow you to change most of the basic settings of the camera like shutter speed, ISO, White Balance and more. A smaller joystick type button also allows navigation of the menus, or to change the focus point. Further buttons on the back of the camera allow you to change the focus point, AF-ON, AE-Lock and zoom for when you are reviewing pictures.
Along the bottom of the LCD are further buttons to perform operations, mainly when in the menu and reviewing your pictures. The 50D has a large mode dial on the top left hand side, plated in some sort of silver material. Canon’s reason for this was for better visibility, however I think it looks a bit cheap. The dial has a positive, if not slight stiff action, but this is needed as there is no lock button, so its quite easy to knock the camera into a different mode by accident. The dial contains the usual M,Av,Tv, and P settings but also has a number of auto modes, such as sport, portrait, landscape and fully auto. This means whatever the situation, you will find a mode that suits you. I personally only tend to use fully manual (M) and aperture priority mode (Av).
The viewfinder, as expected on a APS-C camera is quite small, but its bright and has a 95% coverage of the frame, meaning their will be 5% of the finished image you don’t see in the viewfinder. When viewing through it, there is a bright display with al the essential information abut the set up of the camera, like the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. There is also an exposure meter in selected modes.
The focus points are permanently displayed in the viewfinder, with the active ones lighting up when selected. Unlike the Nikon range, you cannot display a grid in the viewfinder without purchasing a new focus screen and fitting it inside the camera.
The camera takes one Compact flash memory card which is inserted into the camera from the side. It is located behind a sprung door. This door has no lock, so there is a small possibility of the door being accidently opened and broken. The battery fits into the camera from the bottom, and the battery door is opened with a small recessed tab you pull back. The battery clips into place, so there is no danger of it falling out.
The camera’s image quality is very good indeed. Images are crisp and clear when using a good lens, and the colours are bright and vivid. Canon have always seemed to have a creamy appearance to their images, which is quite pleasing and very much suited to portraits. The ISO range is from 100-12800. Up to ISO 1600 noise is pretty well controlled, although after ISO 400 there is certainly noise visible. I feel comfortable shooting up to ISO 1600, as long as I can do some noise reduction in post processing. After ISO 1600, you start to loose a lot of detail and the images don’t look very pleasant. I’d only use ISO 3200 and above in a real emergency.
Because of the new Digic 4 processor, the extra resolution of the camera doesn’t slow down the continuous burst very much at all. The camera can still shoot at 6.3 FPS in 16 bit RAW mode, which is not bad considering the 10 MP 40D could only achieve 6.5 FPS. In the real world, this is not noticeable, so the 50D seems very quick indeed. Obviously a fast and large CF card will aid you in shooting long continuos bursts. The autofocus uses 9 points, which in most circumstances are fine, however fast moving action may be a problem and in bad light the camera can struggle to find focus. For slower, more relaxed stuff though, the autofocus is fine. One huge plus for this camera is the addition of AF microadjust. If you have a lens that seems to be back or front focusing, you no longer have to send the camera and the lens in for calibration. You can now do it yourself. The camera also “remembers” the lens and so once you have calibrated it, each time you attach the lens, the camera automatically adjusts the AF to what you set it as. This alone was the reason a lot of people upgraded to the 50D from lower models.
In day to day use, the 50D is a solid performer, with excellent image quality and a pretty good High ISO range. For me, the only thing that lets it down is the ergonomics and the button layout. This is purely a personal thing, as I know many people love the layout, and I’m pretty sure its because I am a long time Nikon user. Some of the buttons are fiddly, and I didn’t like the big scroll wheel for selecting things on the move. I found the power button to be in completely the wrong place, meaning I had to keep the camera switched on at all times, incase I missed a shot fumbling around trying to turn the camera on.
The 50D is now a few years old, and although it hasn’t been officially discontinued yet, the 60D seems to have taken its place. The 60D however has no where near the build quality of the 50D, and some say, it shouldn’t even be a XX range camera. Its getting hard to find brand new stock of the 50D, but when you can the body alone is usually priced around Â£550-650. This keeps it slap bang in the middle of the lesser spec 550D and the higher spec 7D. Exactly were canon wanted it. There are a lot of used 50D’s coming onto the market now and can be found for as little as Â£450, which makes it an excellent upgrade from an older body, or for someone wanting to expand their gear with a more heavy duty and robust camera.
There are a few foibles I personally don’t like about the 50D, but overall its a fantastically specced camera for a pretty reasonable price. You really cant argue with that!