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Canon PowerShot S50

A sleek design, a hot custom processing chip, new-look user interface, direct support for a Canon inkjet printer, and *five* megapixels of resolution!

Review First Posted: 02/27/2003




MSRP $599 US

 

*
5.0-Megapixel CCD delivers 2,592 x 1,944 pixel images
*
3x optical zoom lens covers 35-105mm equivalent range
*
Nice mix of high-end features, easy usability
*
Beautiful, rugged, compact design

 

Note
If you've read my review of the four-megapixel PowerShot S45 digicam, you can save yourself some reading on this one, and just skip directly to the Test Results and Conclusion section. - The S50 is virtually a carbon copy of the S45, the only differences being the sleek black exterior and five-megapixel CCD (vs the four-megapixel one on the S45. Performance is nearly identical, so all my conclusions about the S45 hold for the S50 as well - This is an excellent camera! Read on for the details if you aren't already familiar with the S45, or jump to the Test Results and Conclusion section if you just want the bottom-line results.

 

Introduction
Canon U.S.A. has long been a strong contender in both film and digital camera markets, well-known for its high-quality optics, technical innovations, and aggressive product development. Since early 2001, Canon has released a full complement of new digital cameras, all designed and engineered to live up to Canon's competitive standards. The 5.0-megapixel PowerShot S50 updates this extensive line by boosting the resolution of an already excellent model, the PowerShot S45. The S50 is an advanced point-and-shoot style digital camera that incorporates many features from the high-end PowerShot G3 model, but in a more compact, portable format. With the exception of the rotating LCD monitor and external hot shoe, the S50 has almost all of the advanced features of the G3, including an impressive range of automatic and manual exposure controls, a 3x optical zoom lens, JPEG and RAW file formats, and in-camera adjustment of image contrast, sharpness, and color saturation. In addition to these features, relative to last year's highly popular S40, the S50 also offers an updated user interface, more customizable features, a nine-point AiAF focus mode. Like other Canon digicams, the S50 has a direct-to-inkjet printer connection, enabling the user to make prints not only to the Canon CP-10 and CP-100 Photo Card Printers, but also to several of the company's newest inkjet ("bubble-jet" in Canon's terminology) printers. With a list price at introduction of only $599, the PowerShot S50 is an excellent bargain, sure to be a popular choice among business users, prosumer photographers, advanced amateurs, and even beginning photographers who want a high-quality digital camera that delivers large, sharp, colorful picture files.


High Points


Changes from the Canon PowerShot S40

Last year's clamshell-style PowerShot line topped out with the 4-megapixel S40 model. This year, Canon's replaced it with the four megapixel S45 (click here for my review of that model), and the five megapixel S50 that's the subject of this review. Just as the preceding PowerShot S40 was based on Canon's G2, the new 45 and S50 are based on Canon's G3 model. ("A G3 in sheep's clothing" might be an apt description, except the S50 has a higher resolution sensor.) Thus, the S50 shares many of the same advancements over the S40 that the G3 has relative to the G2. I address all of these in the text of the review, but also assembled the list below for more convenient, concise reference:

Executive Overview
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.


Design
Similar in shape and style to a high-quality point-and-shoot 35mm film camera (and nearly identical to the immediately preceding PowerShot S45), the PowerShot S50 measures 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.7 inches (112 x 58 x 42 millimeters) and weighs approximately 11.1 ounces (315.6 grams) with the battery and storage card installed. It has a sturdy, black polycarbonate body, covered by strong brushed and anodized aluminum body panels. The overall result is a very solid-feeling camera that exudes an air of quality and refinement. The sliding clamshell cover adds an attractive accent to a very sleek, streamlined design. While the S50 is a bit too long and heavy for a shirt pocket, it should fit easily into a large coat pocket or purse, and the quarter-inch wrist strap makes toting it around very convenient.

The front of the camera includes a telescoping 3x zoom lens, optical viewfinder window, and a light emitter that serves multiple purposes, including autofocus assist, red-eye reduction, and the self-timer countdown. All of these items are covered by the sliding lens cover when it's closed. The built-in flash is positioned in the upper right corner of the front panel (as viewed from the front), and the lens cover doubles as finger grip when opened, its slight ridge providing a grip for your fingers.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the back) is a single metal eyelet for attaching the nylon wrist strap. A small indentation at the very bottom of the camera on this side marks a sliding hatch that provides access for the AC power adapter cable.

The opposite side of the camera has a soft rubber terminal cover that lifts up in two steps. The top pulls back to reveal the A/V Out and Digital jacks, and the bottom pulls out further so the cover can swing out of the way to make connections.

The S50's top panel features a Mode dial on the right, with 13 Shooting positions divided into three basic categories: Auto Exposure, Image Zone, and Creative Zone. The Shutter button is located to the right of the Mode dial, with a Zoom button just in front of it. On the left side of the top panel is a microphone for recording audio with movies and a speaker that plays back the recorded sound.

The majority of the exposure controls are located on the camera's back panel, along with the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder features two LED lamps that report camera status. To the left of the viewfinder are the Macro / Jump and Flash / Index buttons. To the right is a sliding Replay button that can be used to review captured images at any time, whether the camera is powered off with its lens cover closed, or when it's turned on in one of the 13 Shooting modes. Next to the Review button is a cylindrical, five-way Multicontroller that operates similarly to the round arrow pads found on other digital cameras. Pressing down on either end actuates the left and right arrow buttons, while the up and down buttons operate by rotating the cylinder up and down. Pushing down on the center actuates the Set button.

Other camera controls on the back panel include the Menu and Display buttons on the right of the LCD monitor, with the FUNC button, Manual Focus / Delete button, and Light Metering / Audio button located on the left. The FUNC control calls up a menu display with Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Drive, ISO, Effect, Bracket, Flash Exposure Compensation, and Image Resolution and Quality settings. The Light Metering / Audio button lets you choose between Evaluative Light Metering, Center-Weighted Averaging, and Spot (AE) Point metering modes. Pressing the Light Metering/ Audio button in replay mode lets you record up to 60 seconds of sound with individual images.

The S50's bottom panel is reasonably flat, with a sliding door to access the combined CompactFlash and battery compartment, and a threaded metal tripod mount on its left. The tripod mount is positioned slightly off-center, directly below the lens, making it easier to properly frame shots for panoramic series, although it's a little back from the lens' optical center. Because the battery door and tripod mount are so close to one another, it would be difficult to make quick battery changes while working with a tripod, something I'm probably more sensitive to than most users, given the amount of on-tripod shooting I do. On the other hand, Canon's AC adapter uses a "dummy battery" design, with the cord exiting from a small opening on the camera's right hand side, providing a convenient way to get power to the camera while on a tripod.


Viewfinder
The S50 features both an eye-level optical viewfinder and a 1.8-inch LCD monitor on the back panel for image composition. The real-image optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens (except in Digital Telephoto mode, which requires the LCD monitor), and displays a set of brackets in the center of its screen. While there's no dioptric adjustment to adapt the viewfinder optics to your vision, the eyepiece does have an unusually high "eyepoint," making it well-suited to eyeglass wearers. Two LED lights next to the viewfinder report the camera's status during certain operations. For example, when you depress the Shutter button halfway, a steady green light (on top) indicates that the camera is ready to record and / or the battery charge is complete; a flashing green light indicates that an image is either being written to, read from, or erased from the CompactFlash card; a steady orange light (on top) indicates that the camera is ready to record and / or the battery is adequately charged for use with flash; and a flashing orange light indicates a camera-shake warning (i.e. the shutter speed is too slow to handhold), or the battery is charging. The lower LED light glows yellow when the camera is set in Macro or Manual focus modes.

Measuring 1.8 inches diagonally, Canon's low-temperature, polycrystalline silicon, TFT, color LCD monitor automatically displays camera settings when the camera is powered on. LCD brightness can be adjusted to either of two levels via the setup menu, and the screen seemed to have better than average visibility in sunlight. The Display button controls the image and information display. One press shows the image without settings, and two presses show the image with settings. Depending on the Shooting mode, the LCD 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 power is low. A third press of the Display button cancels both displays.

In Replay mode, the LCD monitor provides a full-frame display of captured images, which you can view individually by scrolling left or right with the arrow buttons on the Multicontroller. Depressing the Flash / Index button brings up a thumbnail index display of nine images at a time, which you can also scroll through with the arrow buttons. The Zoom lever doubles as a Digital Enlargement button (marked by magnifying glasses), which allows you to enlarge an image up to 10x its normal size on the screen. This degree of enlargement is very handy, as it's sufficient to check focus accuracy and depth of field, something that's difficult to do on cameras with lower LCD magnification. The arrow keys permit you to move around the enlarged image and check fine details.

By default, the LCD screen displays basic information about the captured images, including the file name, date, and time it was recorded, compression, resolution, and what number it is in the sequence of images stored on the memory card. Depressing the Display button once brings up a thumbnail view of the image with more detailed information such as the shooting mode, aperture, f/stop, exposure compensation, and metering mode. In addition, the screen shows a histogram next to the image to indicate the distribution of tonal values. Besides the histogram display (and actually much more useful), any blown-out highlights in the image will blink from white to black and back again, letting you see exactly where detail has been lost. (I particularly like this form of display, applaud Canon for including it, and hope to see even more manufacturers adopt it in the future.)

In my tests, the S50's optical viewfinder was a little tight, showing about 84% of the frame area. That said, most digicams I've tested seem to come in with a viewfinder accuracy of about 85% of the final frame area. - I'd really like to see more accurate optical viewfinders on digicams, but it wouldn't be fair to single out Canon as having a problem in this area since most cameras come in at about this level. Happily, the S50's LCD viewfinder provides almost exactly 100% frame coverage, to the limits of my test accuracy.


Optics

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The S50 features a built-in, 3x, 7.1-21.3mm telescoping zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera). When the lens cover is opened, the camera powers on and the lens telescopes out from the camera body into its operating position, projecting about 18mm (11/16 inch) from the camera body. It retracts again when the camera is shut off. Focus can be automatically or manually controlled, with a range of 1.64 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode. Macro mode features a focus range of 3.9 inches to 1.64 feet (10 to 50 centimeters) in wide-angle mode and 11.8 inches to 1.64 feet (30 to 50 centimeters) in telephoto mode. The greatest magnification in macro mode occurs with the lens at the wide angle end of its range, with a minimum capture area of 3.81 x 2.86 inches (97 x 73 millimeters). This is about an average performance among the digicams I've tested. The lens aperture adjusts automatically or manually, with an f/2.8 to f/8.0 range, depending on the zoom setting. (The f/2.8 aperture is only available when the lens is at its wide angle setting. In telephoto mode, the maximum aperture is a rather miserly f/4.9.)

In the manual exposure modes (that is, all modes but Auto), the S50 offers a manual focus option. Manual focus is activated by depressing the Manual Focus (MF) button on the left side of the rear panel. A distance indicator appears on the LCD monitor, providing a reference scale for focusing. While the MF button is held down, the up and down arrows of the Multicontroller can be used to adjust the focus (the top of the scale represents infinity). Whatever focus was selected remains in effect when the MF button is released. Autofocus operation can be restored by pressing the MF button a second time. The LCD scale displayed during manual focusing is marked numerically, and a Setup menu option changes the units to meters or feet. This numeric feedback is very handy for times when there's not enough light to see the image on the LCD screen, forcing you to guesstimate the distance. For those times when there is enough light, a small window appears in the center of the viewfinder, showing a 2x-enlarged view of the center of the frame. This helps greatly in determining when you've reached optimum focus, but it would be nice to have an option for even greater magnification, perhaps set via the setup menu.

The S50 offers nine active autofocus (AF) areas, arrayed around the center of the frame. In Auto mode, the camera chooses which of the nine to use for focusing, based on which has a subject closest to the camera that it can get a good focus lock on. Alternatively, you can tell it to only pay attention to the central frame, by pressing the Set button of the Multicontroller, which highlights the central AF frame in green. With the frame highlighted, pressing the right or left arrow buttons on the Multicontroller scrolls it more or less continuously around roughly the central 60 percent of the image area, letting you place it wherever you'd like. Pressing the Set button again locks-in the chosen AF area position and restores the frame to its normal white color. When the camera is focusing, a green highlight around the edge of the frame indicates that the image is focused, while a yellow highlight indicates that the camera is having trouble focusing. If dim subject lighting requires it, a very bright white LED autofocus assist light on the front of the camera automatically illuminates whenever autofocus is active. (The AF-assist light can be turned off via a menu option.)

The S50's autofocus bracketing option captures three successive images with focus set for the current position, behind, and in front of the subject. The Focus Bracketing function is accessed via the Drive option of the Function menu, and requires that Manual focus be enabled and set. You can adjust the amount of the bracketing via the user interface, but the variation is in arbitrary units. (That is, you can change the relative amount, but there's no indication of just how much the focus is actually being varied. Probably reasonable, given that the variation in focus distance will vary quite a bit as a function of the manually-seleted focusing point.)

The S50's 4.1x Digital Zoom must be enabled through the Record menu, as it is disabled by default. Once enabled, it is activated whenever you zoom past the maximum optical telephoto range with the Zoom lever. Once the Digital Zoom function is activated, press the Zoom lever to the right and hold it until it stops at maximum telephoto, then release the lever and press it toward the right again. I always warn readers that digital zoom only enlarges the center portion of the CCD image, and compromises the image quality by reducing resolution and enlarging noise patterns. Note that Digital Zoom is not available in the RAW file format.


Exposure

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The PowerShot S50 offers excellent exposure control, with Automatic, Program AE (P), Shutter Speed Priority AE (TV), Aperture Priority AE (Av), Manual (M) exposure modes, and a handful of special settings for specific shooting situations. Under the Automatic exposure mode, the camera controls both shutter speed and aperture settings, but lets the user control the Flash, Macro, Digital Zoom, Drive Mode, Compression, and Resolution settings. The Program AE mode also controls shutter speed and aperture settings, but also provides access to other exposure controls not offered in Auto mode, including Exposure Compensation, Flash Exposure Compensation, Spot Metering, ISO adjustment, AE lock, Auto Exposure Bracketing, White Balance, Contrast, Sharpness, and Color Saturation.

Shutter Priority mode puts you in control of the shutter speed setting (from 1/1,500 to 15 seconds), while the camera chooses a corresponding lens aperture. As with the Program AE mode, you maintain control over all other exposure options. Aperture Priority works along similar lines, except that you control the aperture (f/2.8 to f/8.0) and the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. Both the shutter speed and aperture values are displayed on the LCD monitor. If the camera can't find an aperture or shutter speed to produce the correct exposure with the shutter speed or aperture you've selected, the LCD indicators will turn red, letting you know that you need to change the setting you selected. New on the S50 is a Custom (C) mode, which lets you save a (wide) variety of exposure settings previously saved in any of the P, Tv, Av, or M exposure modes, including menu settings, zoom position, and manual focus. Once saved, the exposure settings automatically come up when you enter Custom mode.

Note that in all exposure modes, shutter times faster than 1/1,000 are only available at apertures of f/4.0 and smaller. I suspect that this was also the case with the S40, but I didn't explicitly check for it when I reviewed that product. For the record, it's fairly common to see top shutter speeds limited to smaller lens openings, as the shutter speed limit becomes a function of how long it takes for the shutter aperture to transit the light cone of the lens, which is itself governed by the size of the lens' aperture.

A number of preset "scene" exposure modes are also available for shooting under special conditions. These modes preset a variety of camera options, letting complete novices capture decent pictures in challenging situations without having to know all the ins and outs of the camera. Portrait mode uses a large aperture setting to reduce depth of field, resulting in blurred backgrounds and strong focal emphasis on the primary subject. Landscape mode uses a small aperture to keep both the foreground and background in sharp focus. A slow shutter speed is also common in Landscape mode, so it's recommended that you use a tripod.

Night Scene mode uses a slow shutter speed to capture the color and detail of evening settings, along with a flash exposure to illuminate the primary subject in the foreground. By using slow shutter speed and the flash together, the overall scene is more evenly exposed. This mode can also be combined with the redeye reduction flash for portraits, or the flash can be turned off. Portrait subjects should be warned though, to stay still after the flash, until the shutter is closed.

Fast Shutter is provided for fast-moving subjects such as sporting events, while Slow Shutter is available for creating a sense of motion in fast-moving subjects. Fast shutter speeds stop action to maintain sharp focus on moving subjects, while slow shutter speeds tend to blur the subject because the shutter stays open longer to record the image. This last effect is particularly striking when used with swiftly moving water such as that found in water falls or streams.

The S50's Effects options have been moved from the Mode dial position to an option under the Function menu (displayed by pressing the FUNC button). The Effects setting provides a choice of six color and image options, including Vivid color, Neutral color, Low Sharpening, Sepia tone, Black-and-White, and Custom. The Custom option accesses Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation adjustments. Effects are shown on the monitor so you can view the image before taking the exposure.

A quick-review mode lets you quickly confirm the most recently recorded image. To access the Review mode, you simply push the Replay button under the Mode dial to the right to switch to image playback. If you like, you can immediately erase the displayed image by pressing the Manual Focus / Delete button, which calls up a small erase menu on the bottom of the monitor. To return to Shooting mode, press the Replay button to the right a second time, or simply touch the Shutter button.

Exposure compensation can be adjusted from –2 to +2 exposure values (EV), in one-third-step increments. The camera's metering system offers three operating modes, which include Evaluative Light Metering, Center-Weighted Averaging, and Spot AE Point. Metering mode is selected by pressing the Metering / Microphone button on the left side of the LCD monitor. Evaluative metering divides the image into several zones and determines the exposure based on the position of the subject, image brightness, ambient light, direct light, and backlighting. Center-weighted averaging is based on an averaged light reading of the overall scene, but places more emphasis on the center of the viewfinder or LCD monitor. Spot metering reads only a specific point in the viewfinder. Through the Record menu, you can choose to base the spot reading on the center of the frame or the adjustable autofocus frame, which you can position anywhere within the central ~60 percent of the image area.

Another high-end feature brought over from Canon's G2 and G3 digicams is independent exposure lock. With most digicams, you can lock both focus and exposure by half-pressing and holding the Shutter button prior to the shot itself. This can be very handy for off-center subjects. Sometimes though, you want to lock the focus on one part of the subject, but set the exposure based on a different part. On the S50, this is accomplished by half-pressing the Shutter button (which will set both focus and exposure), and then subsequently pressing the Metering/Audio button at bottom left, to reset the exposure. Of particular note, this option works for flash exposures as well, whenever the flash is enabled. Very slick.

The S50 offers eight White Balance modes, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H (daylight), Flash, and Custom. The Custom mode allows you to manually set the white balance by holding a white card in front of the camera and pressing the Metering / Audio button to set the value. You can now save two separate Custom white balances, so that you can quickly switch back and forth without having to reshoot a white card. This is extremely useful for a party situation, where you may be moving in and out of different light sources.

ISO film speed equivalents on the S50 are set in the Function menu, with choices of Auto, 50, 100, 200, and 400. The higher the ISO setting, the more you can extend the camera's exposure range in low-light situations. Just keep in mind that higher ISO values have progressively lower quality levels, with increased image noise.


Flash
The S50's built-in flash operates in one of five modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction (Auto), Red-Eye Reduction (Flash On), Flash On, and Flash Off. The Auto mode tells the camera to determine when flash is necessary, based on existing exposure conditions. Flash On means that the flash fires with every exposure, regardless of lighting conditions, and Flash Off completely disables the flash. The two redeye reduction modes fire a small pre-flash before the full flash, to reduce the redeye effect in portraits. The difference between the two redeye modes is that the auto mode lets the camera decide when to use the flash, while the Flash On mode fires the flash with every exposure. All flash modes are accessed by pressing the Flash / Index button located to the left of the optical viewfinder. A Slow-Synchro mode is available through the Record menu, which combines the flash with a slower shutter speed. The slower shutter speed lets more of the ambient light fall on the camera's sensor, brightening background objects. You can also decide to synchronize the flash with the first or second curtain of the shutter, to control whether motion-blur trails precede or follow moving subjects. (Most of the time, you'll want to use second-curtain sync, so any motion blur will follow behind the subjects, for a more natural look.)

The flash exposure can be adjusted from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments through the Function menu, and flash and ambient light exposure can be controlled separately in slow-sync flash mode. Additionally, you can adjust the flash output to 1/3, 2/3, or Full, through the same Function menu option (in Manual mode or when the Flash Adjust option of the Record menu is set to Manual). This manual flash power control is useful for balancing the light of the internal flash with that from external "slave" strobe units. As mentioned earlier, you can also lock the Flash Exposure (FE) setting for a specific area of your subject, just as you would with a normal exposure. Begin by framing your subject as you would normally, and half-press the Shutter button to lock focus on your main subject. Then, reframe the scene to place the portion of the subject you want to expose for in the middle of the frame. While still holding the Shutter button down, press the Metering / Audio button to lock the flash exposure (an asterisk will appear at the bottom of the screen). The flash will fire a pre-flash to lock the exposure reading, after which you can recompose your image and press the Shutter button all the way down to make the exposure with the FE lock in place. (Note: Pressing any other button after the Metering / Audio button will cancel the flash exposure lock.) Playing with it a bit in the office, I found that the flash exposure lock gave me a tremendous amount of control over flash exposures. This is definitely a feature that will be worth playing with a bit if you end up owning an S50.

Canon rates the S50's flash as effective from 1.1 to 15.7 feet (35 centimeters to 4.8 meters) at maximum wide-angle and 1.15 to 9.8 feet (35 centimeters to 3 meters) at maximum telephoto. This seemed to agree well with my own testing, in which the flash illuminated the test target with only minimal decrease in brightness all the way out to 14 feet.

Auto Exposure Bracketing
The Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) mode is accessed through the Drive option of the Function menu. It automatically captures a series of three images, each at a different exposure setting. You can manually set the exposure variables in one-third-step increments, from -2 to +2 EV. The camera makes all three exposures with just one press of the Shutter button. Unfortunately, this function cannot be used with flash photography. If the flash fires, only one image will be recorded. (The likely reason for this is that the onboard flash recharges too slowly to be usable in a multiple-exposure application like this.)

Continuous Shooting
The S50 has two Continuous Shooting modes, which are accessed through the Drive option of the Function menu. 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 and the size/quality of the images being acquired. The S50 has a very roomy "buffer" memory though, since as many as 21 large/super quality mode images can be captured in high-speed continuous mode. (This is an unusually large number of images that can be snapped sequentially, as most cameras only manage three to five at a time.)

Movie Mode
The S50 also offers a Movie mode, which is accessed by turning the Mode dial on top of the camera to the miniature movie camera symbol (a camera will appear in the upper left corner of the LCD display). The AVI / Motion JPEG files are recorded at 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels, at approximately 15 frames per second. Recording time is a maximum of three minutes at either resolution, provided that sufficient space is available on the CompactFlash card. To begin recording, you simply press the Shutter button all the way down and hold it there until the red circle in the upper right corner of the LCD appears. Once the red circle appears, you can release the Shutter button and the camera will continue recording. To end the recording, press the Shutter button again. The flashing green LED light next to the eye-level viewfinder indicates that the camera is storing the movie. When finished, you can view the recording by pushing the Replay button to the right and depressing the Set button. The camera will play back both moving images and sound. Note that the recording options are largely preset in Movie mode: Image resolution, Self-Timer, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, and Macro and Manual focus are the only adjustable functions. While the lens can be zoomed before and after movie recording, it cannot be activated during the recording process itself, and the camera's exposure is also set and fixed at the beginning of the recording interval.

Stitch-Assist Mode
The Stitch-Assist mode records a series of overlapping images to create horizontal or vertical panoramas, and 2x2-frame rectangular composites. A framing guideline for each format appears in the LCD monitor to help line up successive shots. For the panoramas, you can take as many images in a series as you want, enabling you to record a full 360-degree circle of the surrounding scenery if you so desire. The 2x2 mode uses a series of only four images, starting from the top left corner and moving in a clockwise direction, to create a complete composite. Once captured, you can use Canon's included PhotoStitch program to seamlessly combine the images in your computer. A particularly nice feature of the S50's panorama option is the way a "ghosted" version of the previously captured frame is retained on the screen as an aid to aligning the camera for the next capture. This makes it much easier to line up each shot with the ones that went before it.

Self-Timer Mode
The Self-Timer is set through the Drive sub-menu in the Function menu. When set to Self-Timer, the camera displays the standard self-timer icon (a clock counting down) in the LCD display, and depressing the Shutter button activates a two- or 10-second countdown (depending on the Drive mode selected), during which a bright blue lamp on the camera's front panel blinks, gaining speed in the last two seconds. If the camera's Beep function is turned on in the Setup menu, you will also hear the beep counting down. The two-second option is very handy when you're shooting long exposures with the camera on a tripod, and want to avoid jiggling the camera and blurring the shot when you press the Shutter button with your finger. The two-second countdown is enough time for any vibrations to die down before the shutter opens, but not so long as to seriously slow your shooting.

Intervalometer
Set through the Record menu, the S50's Intervalometer mode lets you record images at set intervals, achieving the effect of time-lapse photography. Shooting intervals range from one to 60 minutes, with a maximum of 100 images in the series (depending of course, on the amount of space available on the memory and the image size and quality settings you've selected). Once you've set the parameters, pressing the Shutter button starts the series. Once the set number of shots has been captured, the camera shuts itself off.


Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a digital camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms to do their work and can amount to a significant delay in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported by manufacturers or reviewers, and can significantly affect the picture-taking experience, I now measures shutter lag and cycle times using an electronic test setup I designed and constructed for the purpose. (Crystal-controlled, accurate to 0.001 second.)

NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras, rather than my purely qualitative comments.

PowerShot S50 Timings
Operation
Time
(secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
4.69 
Time for lens to extend and take the first shot.
Shutdown 2.13 Time for lens to retract. About average.
Play to Record, first shot 1.96 Time from playback mode to first shot captured.
Record to play 1.05/2.31
Longer time is for max res JPEG, immediate switch to quick review. Middle time is for quick review, with camera already done saving image to card.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
 1.07/1.10
First time is for lens at wide angle zoom position, second time is for lens at telephoto. On the slow side of average.
Shutter lag, manual focus 0.56 A bit slower than average.
Shutter lag, prefocus 0.13 Quite a bit faster than average.
Cycle time, large/fine files ~1.70 Quite fast, especially for a five megapixel camera. Buffer holds ~five frames at maximum JPEG quality before you have to wait for the memory card, and then the shot to shot time is about four seconds. Very impressive.
Cycle time, small/basic files 1.71 Not a lot of difference with small/basic quality images, but I found no limit due to buffer capacity. (At least no limit up to ~150 shots which was the number I snapped without pausing before I gave up with a tired finger. ;-)
Cycle time, RAW files 2.51 Very fast cycle time for RAW format files. Camera can capture up to two frames this quickly, then slows to between six and seven seconds between shots. (Which is still very fast for five-megapixel RAW files.)
Continuous mode
(Large/Fine file size)
1.25
(0.80 fps)
In this mode, the camera briefly flashes a "review" glimpse of the just-captured image onthe viewfinder after each shot. The camera can capture ~9 frames in large/fine mode before pausing. When the buffer fills in large/fine mode, you have to wait for about 17.4 seconds for it to clear before you can resume shooting. As I've observed with many cameras in continuous mode, the interval between the first two shots (1.52 seconds) is longer than that between subsequent ones.
Continuous mode
(Small/Basic file size)
0.97
(1.03 fps)
Frame rates are slightly higher for small/basic file sizes, but the run length is very long - I got tired of holding down the shutter button after 120 frames, after which it took about 28 seconds to clear the buffer. First-shot cycle time is 1.2 seconds, then drops to 0.97 for subsequent ones.
Continuous mode, "H" mode
(Large/Fine file size)
0.51
(1.95 fps)
In this mode, there's no "review" display after each picture, letting the camera cycle more quickly. The camera could capture five frames at large/fine size before taking 18.6 seconds to fully clear the buffer. First-shot cycle time is 0.59 seconds, then drops to 0.51 for subsequent ones.
Continuous mode, "H" mode
(Small/Basic file size)
0.46
(2.13 fps)
In "H" continuous mode, shooting at small/basic size results in slightly higher frame rates. The camera can capture ~100+ frames before having to pause for the buffer to empty, taking 32.5 seconds before it's ready to grab another long sequence of shots again. First-shot cycle time is 0.59 seconds, then drops to 0.46 for subsequent ones.

 

Overall, the S50 is a surprisingly fast camera, particularly so considering its five-megapixel resolution. It has a generous buffer capacity, letting you snap five full-resolution/quality pictures in rapid succession before having to wait for the memory card to catch up. Shutter lag times are a bit on the slow side of average in both full autofocus and manual focus modes, but the prefocus shutter release is very fast. Continuous-mode cycle times are quite fast at nearly 2fps in "Hi" mode.


Operation and User Interface
The PowerShot S50's user interface is straightforward and should present a relatively short learning curve if you read over the Camera User Guide. (Although there are a lot of features here, so I'd imagine that novice users could easily spend a couple of hours learning them all. Experienced digicam users should be able to come up to speed in under an hour though.) I generally prefer to see external access to as many exposure controls as possible, and the S50 provides a fair amount of control without resorting to the LCD menu. In fact, one major improvement over the previous S40 model is the new Function menu, accessed via the FUNC button (though it still relies on the LCD monitor). Instead of successively cycling through a series of Function and Effects menus, the new Function menu displays all of its options at once, meaning you only have to scroll down to the desired option. (Previously, you had to keep pressing the EV/Function button until the option appeared on-screen.) Also, the Function menu offers image resolution and quality settings, making them slightly faster to access than fishing through the main Record menu as on earlier models. The S50's control buttons are somewhat spread out, so you'll likely have to operate the camera with two hands when adjusting settings or using the Manual Focus, although the Zoom and Multicontroller buttons are directly adjacent to the Shutter button, so you can easily shoot one-handed in most situations.


Shutter Button: Located on the right side of the camera's top panel, when the Shutter button is halfway depressed, it sets focus and exposure, and when fully depressed, it trips the shutter release. In Self-Timer mode, fully depressing the Shutter button triggers a two- or 10-second countdown before the shutter is released.


Mode Dial: To the left of the Shutter button, this notched dial is used to select the camera's shooting modes. Canon divides these functions into three categories: Auto, Image Zone, and Creative Zone. The options are as follows:


Auto: The camera controls everything about the exposure, except for Flash and Macro modes, and image size and quality settings.

"Creative Zone"

"Image Zone"


Zoom Lever: Located in front of the Shutter button, the Zoom lever extends the lens to maximum telephoto range when pushed to the right, and returns the lens to maximum wide-angle when pushed to the left. When Digital Zoom is engaged, pushing the Zoom Lever past maximum telephoto activates the Digital Zoom function. In Replay mode, the Zoom lever magnifies the on-screen image when pushed to the right and returns it to normal magnification when pushed to the left.


Replay Button: Beneath the Mode dial, the Replay button automatically puts the camera in Replay mode from any Shooting position. When the lens cover is closed, pushing the Replay button to the right turns on the camera in Replay mode. Pushing the button a second time turns off the Replay function.


Multicontroller: Located in the top right corner of the back panel, the Multicontroller operates similarly to the round arrow pads found on many digital cameras. The left and right arrows press down on either end in a conventional manner, while the up and down buttons operate by rotating the cylindrical-shaped control up and down. Pushing down on the center serves as the camera's Set button to confirm menu choices. The arrow keys navigate through menu options, while the Set button confirms menu selections.

Pressing the Set button without an on-screen menu active lets you adjust the AF area, using the arrow keys to move the AF target frame freely around an area covering roughly 60 percent of the frame.


Menu Button: The top button on the right of the LCD monitor is the Menu button, which calls up the Record, Setup, My Camera, and Replay menus on the LCD display in all camera modes. A second press of the Menu button cancels the menu display.


Display Button: Just beneath the Menu button, the Display button controls the LCD monitor's display mode. In Record mode, this button turns on the image display with the first press, activates the information display with the second press, and cancels both with the third press. In Replay mode, the button cycles through the captured image information displays.


Macro / Jump Button: Left of the optical viewfinder is the Macro / Jump button, which accesses the Macro function when the camera is in Record mode. In Replay mode, it calls up the "jump bar." When the jump bar is displayed, the right and left arrow buttons jump nine images forward or backward at a time, letting you quickly scan through the images on the memory card.


Flash / Index Display Button: Positioned in the very top left corner of the back panel, this button cycles through the Red-Eye Reduction (Auto), Auto, Red-Eye Reduction (Flash On), Flash On, and Flash Off flash modes. In playback mode, this button displays up to nine images at a time, in a thumbnail index format, on the LCD screen.


Exposure Compensation (EV)/White Balance (WB) / FUNC. Button: The top button on the left of the LCD menu, this button activates the on-screen Function menu. You can scroll between the menu items by pressing the up or down arrows on the Multicontroller, and select options for each with the left and right arrow buttons. Here's the list of options that can be controlled from here:


Manual Focus / Delete Button: Located beneath the FUNC. button, the Manual Focus / Delete button activates the Manual Focus if held down in Record mode, while the up or down arrow on the Multicontroller is actuated. In Replay mode, this button brings up the Delete menu on the LCD monitor.


Metering / Audio Button: Just below the Manual Focus / Delete Button button, this control places the camera in Evaluative Light Metering, Center-Weighted Averaging, and Spot AE Point metering modes when the camera is in Record mode. The Metering button also accesses secondary menu options in the Function menu, when indicated on the LCD display. Pressing this button in Replay mode allows you to record up to 60 seconds of sound with individual images.

 

Camera Modes & Menus

Record Menu: With the exception of the Auto exposure mode, and most of the Image Zone exposure functions, the Record menu provides virtually the same options for all exposure modes. These menus are accessed by depressing the Menu button once while in Shooting mode. Following are the available settings, with notes as to which are not available in Auto mode:

Play Menu: This menu is only available in the Replay mode. It lets you scroll through captured images; erase, protect, and rotate them; or set them up in a slide show or for printing on a DPOF compatible device. The Play menu offers the following selections:

Setup Menu: The Setup menu provides universal camera control options that remain the same in both Shooting and Replay modes, with the exception of shutter and speaker volume (see below). This menu is accessed by depressing the Menu button once and scrolling to the right with the Omni selector arrow pad. Following are the available settings:

My Camera Menu: This menu lets you customize certain camera functions, including the startup image, and startup, shutter, button, and self-timer sounds.


Image Storage and Interface
The Canon S50 uses CompactFlash memory cards for image storage, accommodating both Type I and II card sizes. This means that the camera should also be able to store images to an IBM MicroDrive for increased storage capacity (though the User's Manual cautions that MicroDrives are more susceptible to vibrations and shocks). A 32MB CompactFlash Type I memory card is supplied with the camera. Entire CompactFlash cards cannot be write-protected, however, the S50's Play menu allows you to write-protect individual image files, protecting them from accidental erasure, unless the card is formatted.

Still images can be saved at one of four resolutions (2,592 x 1,944; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; 640 x 480 pixels), while movie images are recorded at 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels. Still images also have three JPEG compression levels available: Superfine, Fine, and Normal, plus a RAW setting that records the image straight from the CCD, with no further processing. RAW images require the Canon ZoomBrowser or ImageBrowser software for processing on a computer. The benefit of the RAW data file format is that it compresses the image file without any loss of image quality.

A full complement of interface software comes with the S50, as does a USB cable for speedy connection to a PC or Macintosh computer. I clocked the S50's transfer speed at 528 kilobytes/second on my Sony VAIO Windows XP computer (2.4 GHz P4). This pretty fast, close to the highest I've seen from a digicam.

Following are the approximate resolution / quality and compression ratios for a 32MB card (compression numbers are based on my own computations):

 

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
32MB Memory Card
RAW
Fine
Normal
Basic
Full Resolution 2,592x1,944 Images
(Avg size)
6
4.9 MB
12
2,535 KB
22
1,414 KB
45
707 KB
Approx.
Compression
3.1:1
(Lossless)
6:1
11:1
21:1
UXGA Resolution 1,600x1,200 Images
(Avg size)
-
31
1,020 KB
56
570 KB
110
289 KB
Approx.
Compression
-
6:1
10:1
20:1
XGA Resolution 1024x768
Images
(Avg size)
-
54
583 KB
97
329 KB
177
181 KB
Approx.
Compression
-
4:1
7:1
13:1
VGA Resolution 640x480
Images
(Avg size)
-
122
261 KB
199
161 KB
346
92 KB
Approx.
Compression
-
4:1
6:1
10:1

 

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Video Out
The S50 has a video-out port that supports both PAL and NTSC timing formats. The video output can be used for reviewing previously recorded images or running slide shows from the camera. It also shows all three LCD menu screens, as well as the preview display from the LCD viewfinder.

The output cable is a true AV cable, as it fans out into two RCA jacks, one for video, and one for audio. Plugged into any video monitor (or TV with direct video and audio inputs), the audio capabilities of the S50 make it a potentially effective portable presentation device.


Power
The S50 is powered by an internal Canon NB-2L rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. The camera ships with one battery pack and charger. An AC Adapter Kit ACK700 is sold separately, with a power adapter, DC coupler, and power cord. A built-in rechargeable battery maintains the date, time, and other settings, drawing power from the main battery to recharge.

The camera has a Power Mode Indicator lamp directly to the left of the Replay button, which stays on as long as the camera is powered on. An orange light indicates Shooting mode, a green light indicates Replay or printer connection modes, and yellow indicates computer connection mode.

Because the S50 relies on its LCD display for viewing and selecting some of its settings, it can be somewhat of a drain on the power supply. Fortunately, the camera has an automatic shutdown mode to help conserve battery power, and you can save power by relying on the optical viewfinder whenever possible.

The proprietary battery connection prevented me from performing my usual power measurements on the S50, but I did run the camera continuously for about 100 minutes in its highest power-drain configuration, in capture mode with the LCD enabled. This is a very good run time, better than average for mid-sized cameras. As always though (almost regardless of any given camera's battery life), I strongly advise purchasing a second battery along with the S50 and keeping it charged so you'll always have a spare on hand. Murphy's law dictates that your camera's battery will always run out of juice at the worst possible moment.


Included Software
The Canon PowerShot S50 comes with an very nice complement of software on the included CDs. Compatible with Windows (98, ME, 2000, and XP) and Macintosh operating systems, Canon Digital Camera 12.0 allows you to download images from the camera, process RAW data files, stitch together images shot in Stitch-Assist mode, set up images for printing, and even operate the camera remotely from the computer. Bundled software packages include: ArcSoft PhotoStudio and VideoImpression for editing images and movies, Apple QuickTime 5.0, Canon 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 a unique application that allows you to operate the camera remotely through your computer (RemoteCapture 2.7).

This last function is the most interesting of Canon's software offerings. The RemoteCapture software interface displays a preview window with the same image as that seen on the camera's LCD monitor, along with thumbnail views of already captured images, the number of shots available, a histogram of the preview window, a listing of exposure settings, and a set of control buttons that enable you to release the shutter, rotate the image, view the image, and delete the capture. There's also a "Comments" feature that allows you to add short notations to the image file. Unfortunately, you can't change the exposure settings through the software interface, but you do have access to the self-timer and an interval shooting mode through the File menu. The Interval shooting mode is only available through the RemoteCapture software (not on the camera), and sets the camera to record a series of images at set intervals, creating the effect of time-lapse photography.


Test Results
The test results will posted soon. In the meantime, please check the Test Images section of the review.

Conclusion

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The PowerShot S45 had already "wowed" me, so when the S50 arrived, it fell into a category something akin to icing on the cake. The PowerShot S50 has a first-rate feature set, stopping just short of some of the high-end "enthusiast" capabilities of the PowerShot G3, but leaving very little lacking, and bringing an extra megapixel of resolution and excellent "pocketability" in the bargain. As with the S45, I'd like to see a more accurate optical viewfinder, better macro capabilities, and a power switch that couldn't turn on when the camera is shoved into a pocket, but the picture quality the S50 delivers is really exceptional. Color is accurate and well saturated, and the camera's white balance system does an excellent job under a wide variety of lighting conditions. Plus, the addition of custom controls, better exposure metering, more flexible focus control, and the wide variety of other interface and operational updates make the S50 even more capable of handling most any shooting situation. Overall, an excellent camera for high-end consumers looking for a full-featured digicam with great image quality. It's easy enough to operate in auto mode that most anyone could be comfortable with it, yet it sports enough advanced features (save only an external flash connection) to satisfy most enthusiasts. Highly recommended.

 

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