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Canon PowerShot A50

Canon's "Digital ELPHs" goes megapixel plus - great picture quality, superb portability!

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 7/10/1999

Test Results

As always, in Imaging Resource reviews, we encourage you to examine the Sample Pictures for the PowerShot A50, and form your own conclusions about its suitability to your needs! Our comments here are a condensed version of those on the Pictures Page itself.

The previous A5 digicam from Canon was a great little camera, and it produced excellent images relative to other cameras on the market at the time of its introduction. We were surprised then, by how much better photos from the A50 looked! The PowerShot A50 produced some of the best-looking images we've seen from any 1.3 megapixel camera to date! Colors are bright and saturated, yet difficult "memory" colors like Caucasian skin tones are natural and not over-saturated. Resolution is excellent, and the camera's low-light capability is excellent as well.
The only criticisms we could find on the PowerShot's images is that they tend to be a bit contrasty, losing highlight detail a bit faster than some of the competition, and the camera really likes greens. - This last characteristic shows somewhat in the "House" and "Far" shots, in which the grass adopts an unnaturally bright hue. Other than the greens however, color from the PowerShot A50 was exceptionally accurate, with excellent saturation in strong primaries, but superb handling of delicate pastels as well.

Our "Far" shot, saved with the in-camera JPEG compression.

The identical shot, captured in the camera as an uncompressed "CRW" file, later opened with the TWAIN driver, and saved as a high-quality JPEG image.

 

We were very interested to find though, that the TWAIN driver (and presumably the Photoshop acquire module as well) handles color from the CCD Raw files rather differently. Here's a couple of samples of the "Far" shot, both direct from the camera's own JPEG, and as filtered through the TWAIN driver, from the "CRW" uncompressed raw CCD data file. (You can click on either thumbnail to view a full-resolution image.) The differences are quite striking, with the CRW version having color that we'd judge as being closer to the original. Interestingly, the TWAIN/CRW file also appears to do a better job of holding highlight detail, as seen in the fine detail of the pine-tree branches against the sky. Overall, the TWAIN/CRW handling of color and tone appears very similar to that of Canon's higher-end Pro70 digicam. This is a very interesting behavior, in that one camera can be used to produce two very different color/tonal responses. We'd say that the camera's "native" color is well-suited to most non-professional uses, in that it results in very bright, snappy images, with well-saturated colors and great visual appeal. On the other hand, the TWAIN/CRW route produces images that are likely to be more pleasing to professionals, looking for more "accurate" color, and lower contrast overall. We've been waiting to see one of the digicam manufacturers produce a camera with options for multiple "looks" in its pictures (sort of like the differences between major film emulsions): Perhaps the PowerShot A50 is a first move in that direction by a major manufacturer. Regardless of whether the provision for two entirely different color/tone balances in the same camera was accidental or deliberate, we applaud Canon for providing it! We look forward to the day when users can select from a range of "film types" in their digital cameras, matching color- and tonal handling to their specific tastes and picture-taking needs
Turning to more conventional aspects of image quality, the PowerShot A50 performed very well in the resolution department, with visual resolution approaching 650 lines per picture height horizontally and 600-650 vertically: Clearly the equal of any other 1.3 megapixel digicam on the market (June, 1999)(!) We also found the A50's lens to be of unusually high quality, producing almost no chromatic aberration regardless of focal length, and with only moderate barrel distortion (1.1%) at the wide-angle end of the lens' range, dropping fairly rapidly to zero as the lens was zoomed toward the telephoto end.
As noted earlier, the optical viewfinder on the A50 is a bit "looser" than most, showing only 80% of the final image area at the wide-antle end, and 78% in telephoto. The LCD viewfinder also crops the image area slightly, showing about 95% of the final image in both telephoto and wide-angle modes. The overall view of the optical finder is biased upward slightly across the focal length range, while that of the LCD is well-centered. You'll thus need to shoot a few frames to develop a sense of what's actually being recorded, particularly when using the optical finder. Flash uniformity is somewhat lacking at the wide angle end of the focal length range, but very good at the telephoto end.
Macro performance is about in the middle of the pack, with a minimum capture area of 3.5 x 2.6 inches (88 x 66mm) - some recent digicams have extended macro performance into the "micro" arena, but the A50's capabilities are likely to be sufficient for all but the most zealous of macro shooters.
The PowerShot A50 did very well in our low-light tests, producing very good pictures down to a light level of EV7 (that's pretty dark), and "usable" images as far down as EV 5. (These latter ones required substantial adjustment in Photoshop after the fact, however.) The ISO 400 rating of the A50's low-resolution mode seemed to produce shorter exposure times, but not any decrease in the ultimate low-light limit.

Conclusions

Overall, the PowerShot A50 is an excellent 1.3 megapixel digicam, it's usefulness further enhanced by its diminutive size, all-metal case, and built-in lens shutter. Picture quality is really the equal of any other 1.3 megapixel digicam out there, and its physical design will help insure that it gets packed along to capture every photographic moment. We'd like to see the optional battery/adapter/charger kit included in the basic package, but even purchased separately, the complete package is still a very good value relative to competing products. The A50's excellent picture quality and rugged design make it a nearly ideal "family" camera, encouraging active use, rather than being consigned to a safe resting place in a drawer at home. A big thumbs-up!

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