Product Review: Page (1) of 2 - 11/14/08
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Canon 50D DSLR camera

The new Canon 50D offers a good step up in performance and features from the camera it replaces

By Robert Jensen

I just finished testing the new Canon prosumer DSLR, 50D and its one nice camera. It offers many improvements over the previous model, the 40D. Its easier to use than the 40D, is the same size, actually weighs less yet outperforms it in almost every category. For the price ($1,399- just $100 more than the list price of the 40D when it was introduced last year) the 50D offers a a whole lot more bang for your buck.

50% more pixels - A big jump in pixel count, from the 40D's 10.1 MP to the 50D's 15.1 MP combined with several improvements in the design of Canon's CMOS sensor package helps give the 50D a leap forward in image size. However, the user must be aware that such a large jump in megapixels on a similarly sized sensor means in increase in noise (graininess). To counteract that Canon has made changes in the CMOS design that lower noise to such an extent that the 50D's noise levels are very close to the 40D despite the increase in megapixel count.  There are two major advances Canon made with their sensor design.


Improvement #1 - The photo diode (the bucket that gathers the light) is larger relative to the pixel area, which means less noise, especially at higher ISOs.

Photosites

Improvement #2 - Gapless microlenses. In the new design the microlenses positioned above the photodiodes have no gap between them, thereby gathering more light. Notice how the light is now focused to optimally cover the photodiode.

Because of the above two improvements the 50D can give the photographer usable results at higher ISOs. The 50D's ISO setting now go as high as 6,400 (H1) and 12,800 (H2), enabling the photographer to capture images in extremely low light conditions.

DIGIC 4 Image Processor

The new DIGIC 4 Image Processor also offers several improvements and new features such as:

  • Improved write times with newer UDMA Compact Flash memory cards
  • Improved shooting speed - 6.3 fps up to 90 JPGS or 16 RAW files with UDMA CF cards
  • New Auto Lighting Optimizer for keeping details in scenes with high dynamic range (3 levels or disabled)
  • Improved Noise Reduction for higher ISOs (3 levels or disabled)
  • New Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction which automatically corrects for light fall off at the edges of many of Canon's EF lenses or can be controlled manually using Canon's EOS Utility software to work with any lens.
  • New Face Detection Live Mode, offers a third Live Mode setting, the others being standard Live Mode and Quick Mode. In the new mode the camera will automatically search and find up to 35 individual faces in the scene to give optimum focus and exposure.

A bit of memory card info. The newest and fastest memory cards now use UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) technology to move data faster. This is a much needed improvement for use with modern high megapixel count cameras. 

Shooting Speed 
Because of the camera's built-in memory buffer you can get those 16 RAW (90 JPEG) files with any CF card you have (that has the space). I was getting slightly better than expected bursts of 18-19 RAW images before the camera started to slow down. Notice I said slow. With a new 4GB Sandisk Ducati Edition CF card after the 16 or so RAW shots I could still shoot but at a slower pace, around 2-3 frames a second. Where the speed of your CF card comes into play is how long you have to wait to shoot again after you've filled the camera's buffer.

With the Sandisk Ducati card the wait was between 5 and 6 seconds to completely empty the buffer. With a newer Sandisk Extreme III card I had to wait between 8-9 seconds for the buffer to empty to the card. With an older 2GB Sandisk Ultra II I had to wait an agonizing 38 seconds until the camera's buffer wrote the last image files to the CF card. Obviously, if you're shooting long action sequences you'll want to invest in a card like the Sandisk Ducati Edition. If you're shooting at a slower pace, portraits, landscapes or average snapshot, you can get by with a slower card. In any case I would invest in cards of at least 2GB.  Nowadays you can pick up a 4GB card pretty cheaply and it can hold approximately 692 JPEGs or 180 RAW images. 

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