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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:

The PowerShot A50 exposure system covers an unusually broad range of illumination for a digicam in its price range, although we're a little puzzled by Canon's specifications in this area. Canon claims a "metering" range for the camera of EV2 to EV16.5. This is both a narrower range and one skewed toward lower values than our own calculations would indicate. Although Canon doesn't specify an aperture range for the A50 (and indeed no aperture value is recorded in its JPEG file headers), even the maximum aperture of F/4.0 at the telephoto end of the lens' range, combined with the ISO 100 light sensitivity and minimum exposure time of 1/750 second translates to an EV value of roughly 18.5. At the low end of the range, an exposure time of 2 seconds at ISO 400 (in low resolution mode) and the f/2.6 maximum wide-angle aperture translates to an exposure level of about EV5. (In our own tests, the A50 appeared to work well down to a minimum exposure level of about EV 7, with usable results as far down as EV5. ("Usable" here means that we could extract fairly good-looking, albeit somewhat noisy images from the camera's pictures, using Photoshop or some other image editing program to adjust the brightness and contrast.) While we don't have a formal test for measuring maximum EV levels, some playing around with a bare 60-watt light bulb seemed to indicate that the A50 works fine up to at least EV21.5.
As noted earlier, the camera normally operates at an ISO value of 100. In low-resolution mode, it can combine groups of 4 adjacent CCD pixels into a single, virtual, "super pixel," with four times the light sensitivity. This results in an ISO rating of 400 for this operating mode. Interestingly though, it appears that the camera's manual exposure-adjustment feature works by boosting or cutting the amplification in the camera's electronics. Thus, when you increase or decrease the exposure with the manual exposure compensation adjustment, the shutter speed (and presumably the lens aperture) remain the same, despite the evident increase or decrease in the brightness of the captured image. Thus, it seems the A50 can actually behave as though it has an ISO sensitivity of 400, even in high-resolution mode, albeit at some cost in increased image noise. Another oddity is that the ISO 400 of the low-resolution mode doesn't seem to translate into a lower absolute light capability, but rather to shorter exposure times at the same minimum light level. We found that the maximum exposure time for low-resolution (ISO 400) shots appeared to be one second, and the low-resolution mode didn't appear to extend the ultimate minimum light level any lower than that of the high-resolution mode. On the other hand, at higher light levels, the exposure times were definitely shorter, making hand-held shots more practical.
We've mentioned the A50's manual exposure-compensation adjustment several times now, and this is one area where we initially had a minor quibble with the unit's creators, in the realm of user-interface design: We find ourselves using exposure compensation fairly frequently with digicams, and so like to have the controls for it quickly accessible. On the A50, this function appeared to be consigned to the LCD menu system, requiring several button-presses to access it. We were thus very pleased when we read the manual and discovered that you can access the exposure compensation immediately, just by pressing the "Set" and "-" buttons simultaneously. This is a great shortcut, and very practical in actual use. (The A50 has several shortcuts like this: We highly recommend you take the time to read the manual!) However you choose to activate the exposure-compensation function, the display is very functional, showing both a "live" view of your subject with the current compensation applied to it, and a scale from -2 to +2 in 1/3-unit increments showing the currently-selected compensation level. The process of making these adjustments is a little slow though, as the camera pauses for a second or so after each incremental adjustment, before allowing you to move the control further.
Continuous (Burst) Mode
To capture fast-changing action, the A50 provides a "continuous" shooting mode, in which the image size is automatically set to small, and the camera continuously captures images at roughly 1.2 frames per second until it runs out of buffer memory - 10 frames or so for the higher-quality compression setting, 15 frames for the lower-quality one.
White Balance
Like most digicams these days, the PowerShot A50 provides several preset white balance options, in addition to the default automatic mode. Available settings include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Tungsten. White balance settings tend a bit more toward art than science with digicams, in that you often want the camera to NOT remove all the color cast of the original lighting, to preserve more of the "feeling" of the scene. Thus, there's a range of acceptable behavior for camera white-balance controls, ranging from more to less aggressive in their removal of color casts. Overall, the white balance of the A50 tends more toward the less-aggressive end of the scale, leaving more of the scene coloration in the final image than we'd prefer in most cases. We liked its handling of scenes with relatively little color cast, but would have preferred a more neutrally-colored final result in our indoor portrait shot. To its credit though, even under strongly-colored lighting, the camera produces image files with plenty of data in all three color channels, making it fairly easy to clean up the images in an image-editing program after the fact.
The PowerShot A50's built-in flash is fairly typical in its capabilities, providing auto, always-on, always-off, and red-eye reduction modes. It has a range of 8 feet (2.5 meters) with the lens at the wide-angle end of its range and 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) at the telephoto end. It also throttles-down very well for shooting in macro mode, with Canon rating it for use all the way in to 6.7 inches (17cm). This agreed with our own experience. We did find in our own experimenting with it that it's worthwhile to play with the white-balance settings when using flash in conjunction with strong artificial ambient lighting -- Often, using a manual white-balance setting along with the flash will produce more pleasing results than the auto option.
Like most digicam internal flash units, the strobe on the PowerShot A50 fires twice for each shot: A pre-flash to determine exposure and white-balance settings, and then a second time for the actual exposure itself. Thus, you'll need a special slave-sync (such as the unit from SR Electronics) that triggers on the SECOND flash, to synchronize external strobe units with it.
Shutter Lag Time/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture-taking experience, we now routinely measure it. (Using a hand-tweaked animated GIF image providing an on-screen count-down in tenths of a second.)
The A50 had a bit longer shutter lag than most digicams we've tested, depending somewhat on the camera/subject distance. At greater distances (where the lens mechanism had less distance to travel to achieve proper focus), shutter lag was about a second, very much on a par with other cameras we've tested. On the other hand, when the subject was much closer (a couple of feet, for instance), the shutter lag increased to about 1.6 seconds. When the camera was pre-focused by half-pressing the shutter button prior to the exposure itself though, the shutter delay dropped to only 0.2 seconds for all cases, a pretty typical performance.
The other important time interval in digital photography is the cycle time, the minimum time interval between successive exposures. The A50 performed quite well in this respect: It appears to have a fairly sizeable RAM buffer to help it process images quickly. We measured the minimum cycle time at roughly 4 seconds for large/fine pictures, decreasing to about 2 seconds for small/coarse pictures. These are very respectable times for a 1.3 megapixel digicam!
Overall, the PowerShot A50 is about as responsive to the shutter control as other digicams, except at rather short camera/subject distances. Picture-to-picture cycle times are better than most other competing cameras.


Other times: Startup - ~5.8 seconds. Switch to play mode, high-res picture ~11 seconds. Shutdown ~ 4 seconds.


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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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