Shooting extreme close-ups of subjects requires a good super-zoom lens, especially when it comes to wildlife and architecture. A DSLR with a super telephoto lens (the ones you see in sports photography during matches) would be any photographer’s dream. However, only the lens would cost as much as a mid-size car! A cheaper alternative would be an enthusiast-class super-zoom digital camera, which would cost as much as an entry-level DSLR.
One such option is Canon’s latest flagship super-zoom camera, the PowerShot SX50 HS, which is the first to feature a 50x zoom lens. Let’s find out what it has in store for shutterbugs.
A versatile super-zoom with a 50x zoom lens
Design and features
The SX50 HS is the successor to the SX40 HS—this time Canon has gone all out with upgrading the feature set. The most significant change is the 50x zoom lens, up from 35x featured on the SX40. The lens of both the SX40 HS and SX50 HS start from 24 mm; however, the latter goes way up to 1200 mm (35 mm equivalent). Thus, you have a good focal range to play with—be it macro, wide landscapes, portraits or capturing the minute details in distant objects, one lens does it all.
24 mm - fully wide
220 mm - almost 1/4th way to full zoom
1200 mm - full zoom, handheld!
Now, you may think it would be difficult to capture blur-free shots at 1200 mm with the camera handheld. Canon has been thoughtful about this and has provided two buttons on the side of the lens. The topmost Seek button when pressed and held zooms out so that it’s easy to locate subjects, or relocate the subject zoomed into and lost track of. When released, the lens resumes the set focal length. The Lock button does exactly what it says—when kept pressed, the IS mechanism kicks in and helps maintain a steady frame and keep the focus locked on the subject. Obviously, 50x optical zoom is most comfortable to use with the camera mounted on the tripod, but the Seek and Lock button go a long way in helping to locate subjects and getting crisp hand-held shots at full zoom.
Seek and lock buttons on the side
The 12 MP CMOS sensor that the SX50 HS features, is borrowed from its predecessor. The largest image size is 4000 x 3000 pixels, which translates to an aspect ratio of 4:3. The ratio can be set to 1:1, 5:4, 3:2 and 16:9 from the settings, but the resultant cropping will lead to lower resolution photos. Those who are meticulous about getting pristine results will like the support for RAW format added to the SX50 HS. It’s the first time that Canon has added this feature to its flagship super-zoom model. Hot-shoe for external flash is also a new addition. It allows using Canon Speedlite EX flash strobes to enhance low-light capabilities.
Swiveling display makes shooting easy
Like the SX40 HS, the latest model also features a 2.8-inch LCD display that tilts and swivels, but the resolution has been doubled from 230K to 461K. This was badly needed and it’s a big relief from the low-resolution display with chunky pixels. Another big improvement is the larger range of ISO speed. The SX40 HS had a range of ISO 100 to 3200 and the increments were in full steps (100, 200, 400 and so on). The ISO speed in SX50 HS can be set anywhere between 80 to 6400 in 1/3-step increments (100, 125, 160, 200 and so on).
12 shooting modes, hot-shoe for flash and EVF
The mode dial has 12 shooting modes, which include two custom modes, PASM, Auto, Scene, Effect filters and Video. The Scene and Effect filter modes don’t have a raft of presets, which at times can be confusing to choose. Instead, Canon has chosen to include only the ones that would be most useful. There are 10 preset scene modes including Portrait, Smooth skin, Handheld Night Scene, Snow, Fireworks, Sports and Stitch Assist. The Panorama mode, which automatically stitches 180 and 360 degree panoramic shots on-the-fly, is seen in many mainstream and super-zoom cameras. This would have been a nice addition instead of the Stitch Assist mode that only helps you align the panned shots; the stitching has to be done on the PC. The selection of effect filters is excellent and this is one of the features that makes the SX50 HS fun to use. You can choose from 10 filters including HDR, Fish-eye, Miniature, Toy Camera and Color Accent (selective colour). While some cameras allow shooting videos with the filter effects enabled, this one doesn’t. However, you can set the white balance and use colour settings to enhance the colours in recorded videos. You can either choose to go sepia or black-and-white, darken or lighten skin tone or enhance saturation of selected colours for more vibrant results. The SX50 HS can record videos at up to full HD resolution with the option to use the entire focal range while shooting. Since the lens features an ultrasonic motor for zooming in and out, there’s no question of the mic picking the distracting sound of the lens motor.
Build quality and ergonomics
The SX50 HS is a good-looker, but you’ll be disappointed with the build quality. The all-black shell sports a matte finish, but the entire body feels plasticky instead of giving a rugged feel. It seems like Canon has compromised on the build quality to bring down the cost of the camera. Also, there’s no rubber grip for fingers and thumb. Although the camera feels quite secure and sturdy when held, rubber grip would have inspired even more confidence. Thankfully, the buttons and dials are placed in a way to make them accessible with the thumb and index finger. This makes it easy to operate the SX50 HS singlehandedly. The control panel to the right of the LCD display comprises a dedicated button for video recording, playback button, 5-way D-pad with jog dial, Display Information button and Menu button. The D-pad offers one-touch access to EV, self-timer, ISO and Macro. The user interface is very intuitive and typical of Canon PowerShot cameras. You press the Func. Set button in the centre of the D-pad to bring up the stack of parameters on the left and then use the D-pad or the directional buttons to apply the selected value/setting. Other less used options such as IS mode, AF type, flash options and so on, are present in the main menu. If you’re well-versed with digital cameras, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to get comfortable with the functions and the controls.
The stellar performance of the SX50 HS makes up for its flaws. What we liked best was shooting at full zoom. Keep the lock button pressed and you can actually feel the IS mechanism kicking in and trying to stabilise the frame. This makes it very easy to take handheld shots. Another notable aspect is the excellent noise handling. Even at ISO 800, the noise is minimal and that too in the form of luminance type, which can be easily reduced to a large extent in photo editing applications. The colour deviation was negligible because there was hardly any colour noise. The amount of grains increase a lot after ISO 1600, but such high values should be resorted to only in very low light conditions.
Super macros can easily be shot from as close as 1 cm from the subject and the reproduction of details and colours is top notch. Shots taken using effect filters also looked great. The quality of video recording is also very good, but not the best in class. The picture quality was excellent, but you have to pan gently in order to avoid stutter.
Moon shot at 1200 mm handheld - 1/50 sec shutter, ISO 80, spot metering
Verdict and price in India
At Rs 29,995, the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS is priced significantly higher than many other super-zoom digital cameras and it’s also more expensive than entry-level DSLR cameras. Agreed that the 50x lens is awesome and so is the overall performance, but the feature set should have been better—the camera lacks GPS, eye-sensor for the EVF and other useful modes such as automatic panorama stitching. Also, the overall build quality is sub-par, not to mention the absence of rubberised grips. The SX50 HS would have been much better value for money had Canon taken care of these niggles, or priced it somewhere around Rs 25,000. Price aside, if you’re looking out for a super-zoom camera with the highest zoom ratio and stellar performance, the SX50 HS is certainly worth considering.
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