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Canon PowerShot A50
Canon's "Digital ELPHs" goes megapixel plus - great picture quality, superb portability!

(First Look review posted 6/15/99)
(Our full review is now on-line, but we're leaving this "First Look" up as a quick overview of our first reactions to the A50)


1280x960 resolution

Compact, rugged case

2.5x Optical Zoom Lens

Great low-light ability (up to ISO400)

Panorama support, including 2x2 matrix!

Canon PowerShot A50 Review Index:

First Look
Shortly before Dave left for vacation, we received an evaluation unit of Canon's latest compact-format digicam, their PowerShot A50. We had only a very limited amount of time to get a review put together on it, but wanted to present our readers with at least a brief glimpse of this new camera. Thus, we're providing this "First Look", which will be just that. (a "look") We did manage to shoot a complete set of test images though, minus only the low-light tests, which appear in the Pictures Page for the A50, as well as in the Comparometer(tm).

The Canon PowerShot A50 is a logical extension of their earlier A5 and A5 Zoom models, updating the sensor resolution to a full 1.3 megapixels, while maintaining the same compact, "go anywhere" all-aluminum body. The enhancements go far beyond just an increase in sensor resolution though, as the images are in every respect superior to the earlier A5 models, and indeed are very much at the top of the 1.3 megapixel class: Colors are bright, saturated, and accurate, shadow detail is excellent, and the exposure range is unusually broad. Couple this with a compact body reflecting the design of Canon's tremendously popular ELPH film cameras, and an aggressive price point, and you have what we believe is a sure winner. The shots below show the front and back of the camera in greater detail.

One of the features we look for and report on in digital cameras for consumers is a compact form factor: A camera that takes great pictures, but spends its days in a drawer at home does little good! The PowerShot A50 should never suffer that fate though: At only 4.1 x 2.7 x 1.5 inches (103 x 68 x 37.3 mm), it's one of the smallest cameras we've tested. Weighing only 9.2 ounces (260 g) without batteries, or 11.5 ounces (290g) with, it's also light enough to carry in a pocket without feeling lopsided. Despite its small size, we found the A50 comfortable to grip, and easy to shoot with one-handed. (Although operating the zoom controls while holding it with one hand felt a bit precarious.)
One aspect of the A50's design we appreciated was its built-in lens cover, which slides over the lens when the camera is shut off. This not only protects the lens from harm, but also neatly avoids the perpetual problem of the lost lens cap. Like the rest of the camera's body, it's made of tough aluminum. The automatic lens cover and aluminum body contribute greatly to the "take it anywhere" character of the PowerShot A50! (The shot at right shows the camera front with the lens cover in place.

Another nice touch on the A50 is its rugged metal tripod socket, shown below in a shot of the bottom of the camera. We've never had any problems with plastic tripod threads, although did catch ourselves once on the verge of cross-threading a set of tripod threads as we hastily switched cameras during a shooting session. Just a tiny bit more haste, and the threads would have gotten well & truly chewed! We're more consciously deliberate now, but can easily imagine a user damaging plastic threads in a moment of excitement. The metal tripod threads on the PowerShot A50 contribute to its overall feeling of ruggedness.

One tricky thing to note that tripped us up momentarily in testing the earlier PowerShot A5, and did again (shame on us) with the A50 is that the lock for the battery cover (visible in the shot of the camera bottom above) is also a camera-power interlock! If you don't "lock" the battery compartment cover ,the camera won't turn on! (This is clearly mentioned in the manual, but we suspect many users will have our same tendency to unpack & fiddle first, read the manual later.)



Besides the rugged metal tripod threads, another feature that makes the PowerShot A50 well-suited to tripod work is its end-oriented CompactFlash card-slot cover: It's easy to get at the memory card without removing the camera from the tripod.

You will have to dismount the camera to get at the battery pack though, as the compartment cover is on the bottom of the camera, as noted above. The PowerShot A50 uses either a custom NiMH battery pack, or a standard 2CR5 lithium battery. The lithium battery option provides an excellent backup in case your battery runs out of juice, but we wouldn't recommend it for normal use, given the expense of these cells. Their big advantage as a backup power source though, is that they have a shelf-life of 5 years or more: No worries about having your "backup" battery turn up dead just when you need it the most. Canon sells the camera and battery pack/charger separately. At the time of this writing, the camera itself was list-priced at $499, and the battery pack/charger kit for $100. Even at $599 for the set, it's still an excellent price for a 1.3 megapixel camera with full zoom.
The A50 uses a "Mode Dial" to select major camera operating modes. We generally like this approach in digicams, as it tends to simplify the user interface and reduce the complexity of the menu system. Despite the mode dial though, we found some of the menu structures a trifle awkward. - Awkward that is, until we read the manual, and discovered that you can access the exposure-compensation function by pressing the rear-panel "set" and top-panel "flash" buttons simultaneously. This brings up the LCD display shown below, in which you can adjust the exposure while viewing the (simulated) effect on the image in the LCD. Pressing "set" again turns off this display, and locks-in the value you've chosen.

One of the A50's distinguishing characteristics is its very sharp, bright LCD screen. The spec sheet doesn't say how many pixels it has, but it's clearly sharper than those of most digicams. While it still has problems in bright sunlight, we feel it's better in this respect than many we've tested. The screen shot at right really doesn't do it justice, as it's nearly impossible to achieve the same sense of sharpness our eyes originally perceived when converting an LCD image to digital form, but it will give you some idea of Canon's colorful user interface.

Test Results
We won't go into our usual full analysis here, but rather refer readers to all the verbiage on the pictures page for the A50. Overall though, we found the A50 to be an excellent performer, producing very sharp pictures with exceptional color. Exposure was very accurate (more so than most cameras we've tested), and resolution was about as high as we've found in a 1.3 megapixel unit. Images tend to have a lot of "snap" and contrast, so you'll want to watch the exposure on highlights to preserve detail there. Color is very saturated, but only goes "over the top" a bit on greens. (The lawn of the "house" and "far" shots really isn't that green.) Overall, the color reminds us a bit of Fuji Velvia film, which we've used a lot for landscape and nature photography. The A50 doesn't have Velvia's problems with flesh tones though.
We haven't yet had the chance to test the A50 in low-light conditions, but its specs sound like it would be well-suited for that. There's a slow-shutter mode that allows the shutter speed to go a low as 2 seconds. Also, when shooting in 640x480 mode, the CCD uses "binning" to boost sensitivity from the normal ISO 100 to a full ISO 400 rating.
Full details will have to await our return, but for now, check the test images listed on the Pictures Page, compare the results with other cameras in the Comparometer(tm), or check the data sheet for specifications.
Bottom Line
The Canon PowerShot A50 brings a new level of functionality to the ultra-compact digicam market: With excellent image quality, 1.3 megapixel resolution (as sharp as any we've tested), and a true optical zoom lens, it's a full-function digital camera in a very compact package, and with an aggressive price to boot. The rugged all-metal body, complete with automatic metal lens cover, makes for a camera you can confidently toss in any pocket or purse and bring along. Highly recommended!

Reader Comments!
See what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about the PowerShot A50, or add comments of your own. (Do you have an A50? Share your experience!) (Post questions in the general forum though, so others can easily see and answer them.) Check what's here - add your own!
Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a PowerShot A50 camera? If you'll post an album of your samples (it's easy to do, and free) on our photo-sharing service and email us at [email protected], we'll list the album here for others to see!


For More Info:
View the data sheet for the PowerShot A50

View the test images from the PowerShot A50

Visit the Canon web page for the PowerShot A50


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