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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, full review 7/10/99)


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:


Like most digicams these days, the PowerShot A50 includes both optical and LCD viewfinders. The optical viewfinder is a bit "looser" than most, showing only 80% of the final picture area at the wide-angle end of the zoom's range, and 78% at the telephoto end. The LCD viewfinder also crops slightly, showing about 95% of the final image at all times. We also found the optical viewfinder to have a slightly low eyepoint and no dioptric correction, making it a bit awkward for eyeglass wearers. (Only a bit though: We had no real problems using the optical viewfinder with eyeglasses, but would have felt a little more comfortable if we hadn't had to actually touch our eyeglasses to the viewfinder bezel.) The image at right shows the approximate areas of coverage provided by the optical (red lines) and LCD (green lines) viewfinders, relative to the final image area.
The LCD brightness can be adjusted via a menu option, but we're happy to report that the A50 has one of the brighter and higher-resolution LCD screens that we've tested. (Actually, the issue is less one of brightness than contrast: The A50's screen seems to wash out less in bright light, not so much because the white areas are brighter than those on other cameras' screens, but because there's less glare reflected from the dark areas.) As noted earlier, Canon doesn't give a specification for the number of pixels displayed by the A50's LCD, but it's clearly (no pun intended) one of the sharper units we've seen. Besides its brightness and sharpness, the A50's LCD also has one of the highest refresh rates we've observed: Even fairly fast-moving objects stay sharp and in-focus, making the camera idea for pictures where there's a lot of action going on. (The ideal camera for the "soccer mom?")
The PowerShot A50's lens is a true optical zoom, with a focal length range equivalent to that of a 28-70mm lens on a 35mm film camera. This is a bit wider than the lenses on most digicams, meaning that it won't get you quite as close to your subjects as some other cameras, but will do a better job of fitting everything into the frame in tight quarters. (Combined with an excellent low-light capability, this suggests that the A50 would be an ideal choice if a lot of your shooting is done indoors.) As part of its excellent low-light performance, the lens is a fairly "fast" one, having a maximum aperture of f/2.6 at wide-angle, and f/4.0 in telephoto mode. The lens is an autofocus design, with a normal focusing range of 20 inches (51 cm) to infinity, and a range in the separate macro mode of 6.7 to 20 inches (17 to 51 cm). The zoom position is controlled by a rocker control in the upper left-hand corner of the camera's rear panel.
The PowerShot A50's zoom control achieves a good balance between speed and "settability", apparently allowing the focal length to be set continuously anywhere within the lens' range. We haven't been tracking this, but some cameras afford less-smooth control over lens focal length, seeming to prefer a relative small number of discrete steps, rather than a continuous range. The A50's lens seems to allow a continuous range of settings, but does have a slight "backlash" at the wide and telephoto ends, depending on the direction you're zooming in: If you're moving from telephoto toward wide-angle focal lengths, the lens will "back up" a tiny amount after you've released the zoom control, while the lens is in the telephoto half of its range. (Once you get into wide-angle territory, this behavior disappears.) Likewise, as you move from wide to telephoto focal lengths, there's a similar "backlash" while you're in the wide-angle range. Overall, this effect is much less severe than we've seen in some cameras, but it does make (very) precise framing with the zoom a bit more difficult. We don't see this as a huge problem though, particularly when adjusting your shooting position by as little as a foot or so will compensate for any hesitation in the zoom mechanism.
In keeping with Canon's long experience and reputation for optical quality in the film camera world, the lens on the A50 appears to be of very high quality. Chromatic aberration (seen as a color "fringing" on high-contrast objects near the edges of the field of view) is virtually non-existent. Geometric distortion is also fairly low, ranging from 1.1% barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the lens' range to no measurable distortion (either barrel or pincushion) at the telephoto end. (While we only measure geometric distortion at the end of the lenses' range, an informal test seemed to show that the barrel distortion vanished fairly rapidly as we moved away from the widest-angle setting of the lens.)
Autofocus-Assist Light
We gave this feature it's own heading, because low-light focusing has become such an issue with digicams lately. Cameras with through-the-lens contrast-detect autofocus systems (which generally produce the most accurate results with good lighting) have a hard time finding the optimum focus when the scene lighting is low. A very few cameras (the PowerShot A50 being one) provide a focus-assist light when there's not enough ambient light available to focus with. In the case of the A50, this light is provided by a small incandescent bulb internal to the camera, which casts a pattern of light and dark vertical bars onto the subject when the light level is less than ~EV 10 or 11. This lets the camera focus accurately in complete darkness, a very nice feature. (The one possible downside is that it would prevent truly candid shots under low light. For our part though, we'll take well-focused non-candids any day!) This autofocus-assist worked very well, as even shots taken in the very darkest of settings were perfectly focused.


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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!

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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