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Canon PowerShot A50

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

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PowerShot A50 Test Images

Review First Posted: 7/10/1999

Outdoor portrait: (340k) Persistent afternoon cloudiness and thunderstorms forced us to shoot this image in late morning, rather than early afternoon, doubtless resulting in somewhat different color balance than is normal. Nonetheless, the A50 produced an exceptional shot with its default exposure setting (340k), a very unusual result. (Most digicams seem to require a moderate exposure-compensation boost to get the lighting right on this one. The default exposure here produced a pretty well-balanced photo though, with excellent color and very good skin tones, although it was ever so slightly on the dark side overall. Boosting exposure by a half-stop though, produced this image (352k), which loses highlight detail, even though the maximum data values in the highlights top-out at around 249, a few units down from the 255 maximum of the file format. (Overall, the A50 tends to produce fairly contrasty pictures, with a lot of "snap", but this also leads to a tendency to lose highlight detail. You generally want to treat exposure in digicams the same as you would for slide film, favoring underexposure rather than overexposure. This is particularly the case with cameras like the A50 that naturally produce bright, contrasty images.) The difficult blues of the model's pants and the blue flowers are handled very well (many digicams put too much red in these, pushing them toward purple), and skin tones are excellent as well. Some readers have pointed out how difficult the highly-saturated red color of the roses is for many cameras to handle without pixellation or fuzziness. The A50 shows a little of this tendency, but less than most cameras we've tested.
 

Closer portrait: (300k) Boy, digicams keep getting better and better: As for the A50's performance on this shot, it really doesn't get much better, regardless of how much money you want to spend. Color balance, exposure, and the difficult skin tones are all excellent on this image. Resolution is very good too, clearly at the top of the 1.3 megapixel field. Again, this shot was taken with the default exposure setting: The A50's exposure system seems unsually accurate in its handling of high-key subjects like this. Our only criticism is the loss of highlight detail in the model's shirt, due to the rather high contrast. Overall, an exceptional shot though!  

Indoor portrait, flash: (320k) This is a very tricky shot for most digital cameras to handle well, thanks to the very different color balance of flash and household tungsten illumination. The relatively bright ambient lighting in this test tends to produce some odd colors in the final results. The A50 somewhat fell prey to this syndrome, retaining much of the warm cast of the incandescent ambient lighting in the image. The good news though, is that there are no funny color-balance problems evident between the flash and ambient illumination. Thus, the images should "clean up" fairly easily. Even without cleanup, the A50 did quite well on this tough subject. Our main shot (320k) here was taken with the white balance set to "incandescent", which helped a fair bit with the warm cast. (Unusual, to set white balance to incandescent in conjunction with a flash shot, but this underscores the value of experimenting with various settings on your digicam.) A flash shot taken with automatic white balance (316k) shows a more pronouned warm cast.  

Indoor portrait, no flash: (320k) This subject is a very tough test of a camera's white-balance capabilities, given the strong yellow cast of the household incandescent lighting it's shot under. The A50 did fairly well on this test, but did leave a lot of the yellow from the incandescent lighting in the image. This was particularly true when using automatic white balance (320k), although there was still a fair bit of yellow left in the shot taken with incandescent white balance (320k) set. The image did clean up fairly well in Photoshop though, and we suspect that the recently-reviewed PhotoGenetics package would be able to correct such shots quickly and reliably, given the very consistent behavior of the camera. Both of these photos were taken with the exposure-compensation dialed-up by a full f-stop. Here are samples taken with the default exposure, using auto white balance (320k) and incandescent white balance (324k).  

House shot: (628k) Our standard House poster is a strong test of camera resolution, and the A50 does very well with it, clearly in the running with any other 1.3 megapixel digicam on the market today (June, 1999). Besides the good resolution, there are effectively no JPEG artifacts visible in the main shot (628k) here, taken using the large/fine resolution/compression mode. Our only criticism of this shot is that the colors are a little "hot" overall, with the color saturation somewhat higher than the original. The main shot was taken using the automatic white balance setting. Here's a small/fine version showing the somewhat warmer cast of the "daylight" setting (196k).

As is our custom, the tables below contains samples captured with all image size/quality combinations, and with both automatic and daylight white-balance settings:

Auto White Balance

Large/Fine
(628k)

Large/Normal
(372k)

Small/Fine
(196k)

Small/Normal
(120k)


Daylight White Balance

Large/Fine
(620k)

Large/Normal
(372k)

Small/Fine
(196k)

Small/Normal
(120k)

 
 

Far-Field shot: (528k) This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles, and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.

Despite the seasonal variability, this shot is the strongest test of camera resolution of any we do, and the PowerShot A50 did very well with it. Given the changes in the subject from test to test, it's hard to make exact comparisons with it, but it certainly appears that the A50 runs neck & neck with the best of the breed of 1.3 megapixel digicams. The contrastiness and high color saturation of the A50 also shows in this shot, with the result that the green of the grass is a bit brighter than real life, but the effect is probably less than with a high-saturation color film such as Fuji Velvia. Overall, another great performance.

The table below contains links to a series of shots taken with all image resolution/quality settings. All shots were taken with the "daylight" white-balance setting. (We apologize for the slight misalignment of the house, which we'll try to correct soon, weather permitting.)


Daylight White Balance

Large/Fine
(528k)

Large/Normal
(304k)

Small/Fine
(168k)

Small/Normal
(100k)

 

"Musicians" poster: (456k) Another excellent performance: Color and resolution are both very good, with good saturation in strong colors, and natural skin tones. The high contrast of the A50 does result in some loss of detail in the highlights of the birds' wings on the oriental model's robe, but overall image quality is excellent. Our main shot (456k) here was taken with the daylight white-balance setting, but the automatic setting produced almost identical results, as shown in this small/fine shot (148k). (The daylight setting produced a very slightly warmer tone overall that we felt helped the skin tones somewhat, but the two are very closely equivalent.)

As is our custom, the tables below contains samples captured with all image size/quality combinations, and with both automatic and daylight white-balance settings:

Auto White Balance

Large/Fine
(452k)

Large/Normal
(252k)

Small/Fine
(148k)

Small/Normal
(88k)


Daylight White Balance

Large/Fine
(456k)

Large/Normal
(256k)

Small/Fine
(148k)

Small/Normal
(88k)

 

Macro shot: (496k) - The A50 does fairly well in the macro category, although some recent (June, 1999) cameras have pushed the "macro" standard into the microscopic arena. The A50 isn't in that class, but its macro abilities should suffice for most small-object photography most users will be interested in. The minimum capture area is 3.5 x 2.6 inches (88 x 66mm). (For reference, the brooch in the picture is about an inch across.) The A50's flash did a very good job of throttling down for macro shooting, although in this shot (476k), it had problems with the strong reflection from the silver dollar, which caused it to cut back a bit too much on the exposure, and also appears to have shifted the color balance somewhat as well.

 

 

"Davebox" test target: (304k) We use this shot to evaluate color balance, and found that the A50 does very well indeed in this department. The high color saturation we noted in other tests is apparent here also, but serves the camera well in this test: Normally, digicams seem to have a very hard time reproducing the intense color of the yellow square on the MacBeth(tm) chart, but the A50 does an excellent, accurate job here. At the same time, the delicate pastels of the Kodak Q60 target are preserved, and not over-saturated, and the tough red/magenta separation is handled very well also. The camera's previously-noted tendency toward high contrast is less apparent in this shot, as only the only places where the color channels reach saturation is in some of the primary colors of the small color test strip in the middle of the picture: Everywhere else, exposure is exactly right! At the shadow end of the tonal scale, the A50 does very well here also: The steps of the large grayscale wedge are resolved down to step 18, the next-to-the-last step. Shadow detail in the charcoal bricks is also very, very good. Overall, a really exceptional performance on this test target! Our main shot here (304k) was taken using the automatic white balance setting: The daylight setting produced a slight yellowish cast.

As before, we offer a full set of image resolution/quality samples below, for both automatic and daylight white-balance settings:

Auto White Balance

Large/Fine
(304k)

Large/Normal
(152k)

Small/Fine
(100k)

Small/Normal
(60k)


Daylight White Balance

Large/Fine
(304k)

Large/Normal
(156k)

Small/Fine
(104k)

Small/Normal
(60k)

 
 

Low-Light Tests
After a number of requests for some more quantitative measures of cameras' low-light capabilities, we've instituted an official low-light test, using the Davebox target, a single flood, neutral-density gels, and an accurate light meter to test camera performance under a range of dim lighting. (If it sounds like a pain in the neck, that's because it is!)

Sorry! We haven't had a chance to test the A50 in this respect yet! - A time crunch caused by vacation schedules prevented us from getting to this important test, given the large chunk of time it consumes. We're eager to perform it though, as there are several encouraging signs that the A50's low-light capabilities will be very good: It offers slow-shutter speeds down to 2 seconds, and will shoot at an equivalent ISO of 400 in low-resolution mode to boot. Stay tuned, we hope to have these posted by early July...

 

ISO 12233 ("WG-18") resolution target: (316k) (Technoids only) Visual resolution approaches 650 lines per picture height horizontally and 600-650 vertically is clearly the equal of any other 1.3 megapixel digicam on the market (June, 1999)(!) The lenses of most digicams we've tested tend to be sharper at the wide-angle end than the telephoto, and this is also somewhat true of the PowerShot A50, but the difference between performance at the two extremes is very slight.

In response to reader input, we've recently begun measuring and reporting on various lens distortions and aberrations: If you don't see comments along these lines in other camera reviews, it doesn't necessarily meant that they don't exhibit these distortions, only that we weren't routinely reporting on them when they were reviewed...

The A50 appears to have a very high-quality lens: There's almost no chromatic aberration at any focal length, and what is there shows up as only the slightest hint of a color fringe around objects at the edges of the field of view: Clearly one of the better digicam lenses we've seen, in this respect at least. Geometric distortion is also fairly low, with slight-to-moderate barrel distortion of 1.1 percent at the wide-angle end of the lens' range, and no measurable distortion at all (either barrel or pincushion) at the telephoto end.


Telephoto

Large/Fine
(312k)

Large/Normal
(168k)

Small/Fine
(112k)

Small/Normal
(72k)


Wide-Angle

Large/Fine
(312k)

Large/Normal
(168k)

Small/Fine
(112k)

Small/Normal
(72k)

 

 

Viewfinder accuracy/flash uniformity target: 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. Flash uniformity is somewhat lacking at the wide angle end of the focal length range, but very good at the telephoto end

 

Large

Tele/Optical

(124k)

Tele/LCD

(136k)

Wide/Optical

(132k)

Wide/LCD

(140k)

 

 

Reader Comments! --> Visit our discussion forum for the Canon PowerShot A50!



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