Design & Usability
The SX50 HS has an updated external design that looks more professional than the smooth, rounded curves of the SX40 HS and SX30 IS. The body is also slightly bigger, though this improves handling only minimally. We like the new ergonomic lip at the top of the right hand grip, but the thickness and weight of the SX50 could be a problem for small hands or weak arms. All DigitalCameraInfo reviewers are strong and masculine though, so we can't really be sure.
Beyond its shape, the SX50 HS's usability is very much like what we saw from the SX40, and that's a good thing. We think Canon's menu systems are the best, generally speaking, and this camera features both a tab-based main menu and crossbar-type quick menu, both of which are painlessly operated via a combination of the zoom lever around the shutter release and the rotating dial / directional pad on the rear panel. The shortcut key on the upper left of the rear panel is still too far out of reach though.
As with previous Canon ultrazooms, the electronic viewfinder is comfortable, if inaccurate with regard to color and contrast. The swing-out LCD is quite convenient, and a gorgeous display to boot.
But to take advantage of the LCD or viewfinder, you're going to need to keep your subjects in frame, which is not the easiest task at 50x magnification. For that, Canon has introduced a new feature called Zoom Framing Assist Seek. By pushing a button on the left of the lens barrel, the lens will retract all the way out—even from 50x if necessary—and let you re-find your target with the help of a rudimentary onscreen guide. Simply let go of the button, and the lens will zoom back in to where you were before. It's a good idea, but the controls are a bit unintuitive and will definitely take some getting used to.
Another handy new feature is Zoom Framing Assist Lock, also located on the left side of the barrel. By pressing this button, the camera will lock onto a certain subject and use the image stabilizer to try to keep that subject in the exact center of the screen, regardless of your hand movement. Based on Canon's initial materials for this feature, you'd think the function was as effective as chicken head stabilization (seriously, click that link). But the disappointing reality is that this button simply beefs up image stabilization temporarily, which is still useful in its own right.
As they have with the launch of both the G15 and the S110, Canon has also drawn attention to the SX50 HS's updated autofocus system. Sadly, unlike the other two, the SX50 didn't display much improvement in this regard; it focused similarly to what we remember from the SX40—that is, not great. Admittedly we didn't spend hours with the camera, but we saw issues with excessive hunting and even a few false locks after only a few minutes.
Oh, and this camera shoots RAW now. It's the first SX camera to do so. Why you should choose to shoot RAW with a tiny point-and-shoot sensor we have no idea. But hey, we all want to feel like pros sometimes, so go for it if you can't resist.
All that being said, it's not like the ultrazoom category has gone through earth-shattering changes since the last Canon iteration... the zooms have just gotten longer and longer, like always. Unfortunately, the one element (aside from its record-breaking zoom) that could set this model apart is the one we can't accurately assess at trade events: image quality. If history is any indication, the SX50 HS could be one of the best ultrazooms of the year. Or it could fall completely flat in the end, impossible to say without more thorough testing.
We've observed maximum optical zoom often has an inverse relationship with image quality, so we can't wait to take this camera into the labs and see how Canon did. For now, we like the new features, especially Zoom Framing Assist Lock, and regard the SX50 as a likely improvement over an already-strong model.
50x?! Seriously camera industry? How did we come to this?
The ultrazoom category passed "overkill" a long time ago, yet most manufacturers seem content to draw out the focal length war as long as possible. One exception is Panasonic, they've opted to keep zoom ratios modest but improve image quality instead. But Canon has been scoring close behind them in our tests since last year, and now they will be the first company to break the 50x barrier in a digital camera.
Yet the SX50 HS offers more than just extra (let's face it: excessive) zoom. Such extreme magnification has also led to the development of some new features that we were excited to try out. So we set off for Canon's swanky release party on the banks of the Rhine to test them out.