Canon PowerShot S50A sleek design, a hot custom processing chip, new-look user interface, direct support for a Canon inkjet printer, and *five* megapixels of resolution!
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Page 2:Executive OverviewReview First Posted: 02/27/2003
Like Canon's other "clamshell-style" PowerShots, the S50 immediately convinces you that you're handling a well-built, high-quality digital camera. The size and style are reminiscent of a point-and-shoot model, though it offers five megapixels of resolution and a wide range of shooting options -- from fully manual operation to programmed, automatic, and several preset exposures. The telescoping 3x zoom lens is made of Canon's high-quality optical glass, protected by a clamshell sliding lens cover that blends well into the camera's front panel. As with the majority of Canon's high-end digicams, primary functions are accessed via external controls, providing quick and easy adjustments to flash, exposure compensation, white balance settings, manual focus, and light metering modes. This combination of compact design, sturdy construction, and flexible exposure options makes this camera a real pleasure to work with, and an excellent value for the $599 list price.
The S50's streamlined user interface includes an expanded Function menu with direct access to all base-level camera settings (such as resolution, exposure compensation, white balance, etc.) Other improvements (relative to the S40) include the improved exposure algorithms for more accurate exposures, more custom options (including a Custom exposure mode), better focus control, an Interval shooting mode, longer movie recording times, and expanded print capabilities, among others. The S50 has a 5.0-megapixel CCD, which delivers high resolution images for making sharp prints, as well as lower resolutions more suited for email and other electronic uses.
The S50's sleek, black body is made of high-impact polycarbonate, entirely surrounded with brushed and anodized aluminum body panels. Measuring only 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.7 inches (112 x 58 x 42 millimeters) with the lens retracted, and weighing just 11.1 ounces (315.6 grams) with the battery and storage card installed, the S50 actually isn't all that much longer and heavier than the"ultra-compact" S330 Digital Elph. Sliding open the protective lens cover powers on the camera, automatically extending the lens and placing the camera in Shooting mode. When slid closed, the cover stops just short of the lens barrel, giving it time to retract and shut down before you can close the cover completely (preventing the much-to-be-avoided "bumped lens" syndrome). Rather than incorporating the Playback mode on the camera's main Mode dial, the S50 has a Replay switch that doubles as a Quick-Review button. At any time you can switch to Playback mode and scroll through captured images, and then quickly return to the Shooting mode without having to change the Mode dial. (You can also use this switch to access the Replay mode without opening the lens cover.) While the S50 has too many external controls to cluster them all on the right side of the camera, you'll find it suitable for one-handed operation in most situations. The S50 is small enough to fit into a coat pocket or purse, and comes with a 0.25-inch braided nylon wrist strap for added convenience.
The camera features an eye-level "real image" optical viewfinder that zooms along with the 3x lens and features a central autofocus / exposure target for composing images. Two LEDs on the left side of the viewfinder report the camera's status. When the camera is powered on in most Shooting modes, the 1.8-inch LCD monitor automatically illuminates. Pressing the Display button cycles through three display modes: screen on with image only, screen on with image and settings readout, and screen off. Depending on the Shooting mode, the LCD settings readout reports the flash setting, drive mode, metering mode, image size and quality, and the number of frames remaining. Additional functions are shown as they are enabled and battery status is only displayed when the remaining power is low.
The 7.1-21.3mm zoom lens (equivalent to 35-105mm on a 35mm camera) offers both manual and automatic focus control. Manual focus mode is accessed by holding down the MF button on the left side of the monitor and toggling the up and down arrows on the Multicontroller pad in the upper right corner of the camera's back panel. A vertical scale on the LCD monitor shows the focus distance when manual focus is active. In normal AF mode, the S50 will select from among nine different AF frames automatically, depending on the location of the subject closest to the camera. Alternatively, you can use the Multicontroller to manually position the AF frame wherever you like, within an area covering approximately the central 60 percent of the image area. Focus ranges from 1.64 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode, and from 3.9 inches to 1.64 feet (10 to 50 centimeters) in Macro mode. The 4.1x Digital Zoom can be turned on in the Record menu, then activated by zooming past the maximum optical telephoto range with the camera's Zoom lever. (Remember that because digital zoom only enlarges the center portion of the CCD image, it compromises the image quality by reducing resolution.)
The S50 provides as much or as little exposure control as you want. All exposure modes are accessed by rotating the Mode dial on top of the camera. Canon divided the dial into three exposure types: Auto, Creative Zone, and Image Zone. Shooting in Auto mode puts the camera in charge of everything except the Flash and Macro modes. Exposure modes in the Creative Zone include: Program AE (P), Shutter Speed-Priority AE (Tv), Aperture-Priority AE (Av), Manual Exposure (M), and Custom (C). Program AE lets the camera choose the aperture and shutter speed settings, but gives you control over all other exposure options. Aperture and Shutter Speed Priority modes let you set one exposure variable (aperture or shutter speed) while the camera chooses the best value of the other variable (shutter speed or aperture). Manual mode gives you full control over all exposure parameters. (The camera's aperture can be set from f/2.8 to f/8.0, and the shutter speed ranges from 1/1,500 to 15 seconds.) Finally, Custom mode lets you save a variety of specific exposure and function settings in one of the other modes, which can then be recalled instantly, simply by rotating the mode dial to the "C" position.
Exposure modes in the Image Zone include: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Fast Shutter Speed, Slow Shutter Speed, Stitch Assist, and Movie. Portrait, Night Scene, and Landscape all make automatic camera adjustments to optimize settings for specific shooting conditions. The Portrait mode uses a large aperture setting to produce shallow "depth of field," focusing on the subject while maintaining an out-of-focus background. Conversely, Landscape mode slows the shutter speed and maximizes depth of field with a small aperture setting. Night Scene mode illuminates your subject with flash, while using a slow shutter speed to increase exposure on background objects. The Stitch-Assist mode is Canon's panorama shooting solution, in which multiple, overlapping images can be captured horizontally, vertically, or in four quadrants, in clockwise sequence. Images can then be "stitched" together on a computer, using Canon's bundled PhotoStitch software. Movie mode lets you capture up to three minutes (320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels) of moving images with sound at approximately 15 frames per second.
The S50's has very extensive exposure controls, most of which are accessed through the camera's external control buttons using sub-menus and indicators displayed on the LCD screen. They include a White Balance setting with nine options: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H (daylight), Flash, and two Custom options; adjustable ISO sensitivities including Auto and manually selected values of 50, 100, 200, and 400; Exposure Compensation from -2 to +2 EV, in one-third-step increments; Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB), with a series of three exposures spanning a range of +/-0.3EV to +/- 2 EV; Auto Focus Bracketing; a choice of Evaluative Light Metering, Center-Weighted Averaging, and Spot (AE Point) metering modes; and a handful of color and tone options, including custom adjustments for sharpening, color saturation, and contrast. The S50's built-in flash offers five operating modes (Auto; Red-Eye Reduction, Auto; Red-Eye Reduction, Normal; Flash On; or Flash Off) and Flash Exposure Compensation from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. The Flash Exposure (FE) Lock function lets you lock the flash exposure setting for one specific subject in the frame.You can also manually control the flash output, and activate a Slow Synchro mode for longer exposures.
Other special shooting modes include Macro, which allows you to photograph subjects within a range of 3.9 inches to 1.64 feet (10 to 50 centimeters) at the maximum wide-angle setting, and from 11.8 inches to 1.64 feet (30 to 50 centimeters) at maximum telephoto. There are also two Continuous Shooting modes. Standard Continuous Shooting captures multiple, successive still images, at about 2.5 frames per second, providing enough time to display each image briefly after it is captured. High Speed Continuous Shooting captures images at 1.5 frames per second, as long as you hold down the shutter release. (The number of images and actual shot-to-shot speed depend on several factors, including the amount of memory remaining on the flash card.) An Interval shooting mode mimics time-lapse photography, capturing as many as 100 total images at set intervals from one to 60 minutes between frames.
In Replay mode, the LCD monitor provides a full-frame display of captured images, which you can view individually or as an index of nine thumbnail images simultaneously. The optical Zoom lever doubles as a Digital Enlargement button, which lets you enlarge previously-captured images as much as 10x for closer inspection, with the arrow keys providing navigation control for you to move around the enlarged images to pinpoint important details. Also in Replay mode, you can record up to 60 seconds of sound with individual images by pressing the Light Metering / Audio button.
Depressing the Display button one time in Replay mode brings up information about the captured image, including the file name, date and time it was recorded, compression, resolution, and what number it is in the sequence of captured images. Another press of the Display button brings up a thumbnail view of the image with detailed information such as the shooting mode, aperture, f/stop, exposure compensation, and metering mode. In this mode, the screen shows a histogram next to the image to show the distribution of tonal values. Any overexposed values will flash in the thumbnail image display.
Images are stored on CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, with possible image resolutions of 2,592 x 1,944; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels. Three JPEG compression levels are available, as well as a RAW data file format, which uses lossless image compression to preserve all the original data from the CCD in a relatively compact format. (Canon software is required to process RAW images.) A USB cable is provided for speedy connection to PC or Macintosh computers, and two software CDs offer an impressive selection of utilities. Canon's own Digital Camera software package includes ZoomBrowser EX (Win) and ImageBrowser (Mac) for downloading and organizing images, and processing RAW files; PhotoRecord (Win) and ImageBrowser for printing images; PhotoStitch for merging panoramic images captured in Stitch-Assist mode, and the unique "RemoteCapture" 2.7 application that lets you operate the camera remotely through your computer. RemoteCapture not only controls the shutter, but also provides a histogram of the subject's brightness levels so that you can check the exposure. ArcSoft PhotoStudio and VideoImpression are provided for editing images and movies.
An A/V cable connects the camera to a television, with NTSC and PAL timing options available via the Setup menu. Power is supplied by a rechargeable NB-2L lithium battery, and a charger ships with the camera as well. An optional AC power adapter is available as a separate accessory.
Overall, I liked the PowerShot S50 a lot, and found it another excellent update to the S40, with the extra megapixel of resolution above the S45, and the sleek black body that is so stylish. It offers the extensive exposure control I'm accustomed to seeing in much larger digicams, packed into a reasonably slim, portable camera body. Its varying levels of exposure control are great for novices who want to learn camera functions incrementally, while also providing the level of precise control needed to satisfy advanced photographers. The updated interface, expanded custom features, and overall increased flexibility of the camera combine to make this a really exceptional camera in every respect.
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