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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:

User Interface & Controls
As noted earlier, the PowerShot A50 is operated by a combination of external controls and a fairly extensive LCD menu system. Major camera operating modes are selected via a "Mode Dial", an increasingly common user-interface design that we like for the simplification it brings to the menu structures. (By separating major camera modes, the Mode Dial allows the menus for each mode to be less complex.) In addition to the Mode Dial, there are three buttons on the top of the camera (flash/-, self-timer/+, and the shutter button), and a rocker toggle and four buttons on the camera's back. The rocker toggle controls the zoom lens, and the four back-panel buttons are respectively labeled Set, Menu, Macro/Jump, and LCD/Video. The top-panel Flash and Self Timer/Continuous Buttons also double as + / - buttons that you can use to scroll through menu options on the camera's LCD Panel.

The operational buttons are well-placed and easily accessible, and actuate cleanly with a positive "breakaway" action. (A minor point, but the pushbutton operation, spacing, and "feel" is about as good as we've seen anywhere: Other digicam makers would do well to study the design!) The top of the camera includes the Display Panel, a small icon-oriented LCD readout providing information on camera status and control settings. Information displayed there includes battery level, number of images remaining on the CompactFlash (CF) card, and different icons that represent camera settings, such as picture quality and flash modes.

The back of the camera contains a through-the-lens (TTL) optical viewfinder and a 2-inch LCD Panel. You turn the LCD Panel on and off using the LCD/Video button just next to the viewfinder. There's also an LCD menu option-one of the setup options-that lets you adjust the LCD brightness to suit your needs. (Boosting the brightness definitely helps readability in bright light, but will also run your batteries down about 10% faster.) To Canon's credit the "brightness" control actually does control the brightness of the backlight, as opposed to merely tweaking the LCD contrast setting.
The left side of the camera contains a Digital port for connecting to a PC, and a Video port for connecting to a television for viewing images. The right side of the camera houses the slot for insertion of the camera's CF card. Readers familiar with other digicam designs will doubtless ask at this point where the external-power socket is: There isn't one! The optional power adapter instead uses a dummy battery with an attached power cord that inserts into the camera's battery compartment! - See our subsequent discussion of Power for more on this unusual arrangement.
Depending on which mode you select with the Mode Dial, pressing the Menu button on the rear of the camera displays a sequence of menu options specific to that mode. Pressing the Set button confirms any menu selections you make. The operating mode also affects the operation of several of the control buttons on the camera. On the top panel, the Flash button is only active when in Program Mode (auto flash operation is set by default for Auto capture mode), and the Self Timer/Continuous button only accesses the Continuous mode when in Program capture mode. Likewise, on the camera's back, the Macro/Jump button selects the Macro option for close-up shootinng when in either capture mode (Auto or Program), and jumps through images in the camera memory in groups of 9, when either playback mode (Play or Multi).
One general quibble we initially had with the user interface of the PowerShot A50 was that it seemed awkward to erase images from the memory card once captured. From record mode, it takes a rotation of the mode dial and seven separate button-presses to erase the image you've just captured(!). This proved to be another case where reading the manual was useful though: You can delete the current image in Play mode simply by holding down the Set button while simultaneously pressing the "-" button.
Control Enumeration
In this section, we'll review the functions of each of the PowerShot A50's buttons, controls, and menu options.
Mode Dial
Sets the mode in which you want to operate the camera. The Mode Dial has seven positions, including Lock (Off). The seven operating positions are:

  • Auto: Allows normal image capture with all camera settings automatically determined
  • Program: Allows normal image capture with the ability to manually set the image size and select the Continuous Shooting mode
  • Stitch Assist: Provides a special exposure mode and on-screen alignment guides for capturing multiple images to be merged in the computer into a single panoramic image
  • Play: Allows viewing images one at a time on the LCD Panel or television
  • Multi: Allows viewing images in groups of nine on the LCD Panel or television
  • PC: Enables the camera's serial port for viewing and processing images on your computer
  • Lock: Lock or "off" - turns the camera off, racking-in the lens shutting the lens cover

Shutter Button
A two-stage shutter button is positioned directly on top of the camera. Pressing the shutter button halfway sets the focus, exposure and white balance settings for the current capture conditions. Fully depressing it captures the image and stores it to the CF Card. (As with most digicams, half-pressing the shutter button before the actual exposure drastically reduces the shutter lag time for action shots.)
Flash/ - Button

  • In Program or Stitch-Assist mode, this button is used to select one of four different flash options (in Auto capture mode, the flash always fires automatically, whenever the exposure system deems it necessary):
  • Auto Mode: Fires automatically as needed depending on the light level the camera detects
  • Red-Eye Reduction: Emits a pre-flash just before the shutter fires to minimize the red-eye effect in the subject's eyes
  • Flash On: Fires with each shot regardless of the lighting conditions
  • Flash Off: Disables the flash even in dark conditions
  • In Play mode or Multi mode, this button selects the stored image prior to the one currently being displayed
  • With a menu displayed on the LCD, this button moves to the previous option in a list of available options


Continuous/Self-Timer/ + Button

  • In Auto mode, enables the self-timer, providing a 10 second delay between when you press the Shutter button and when the camera fires
  • In Program mode, this button switches between the following picture-taking modes:
    • Single-frame mode (the default): Captures a single frame when the shutter fires
    • Continuous mode: Captures up to 15 frames continuously until the camera runs out of internal memory
    • Self-Timer mode: Provides a 10 second delay between when you press the Shutter button and the when the camera fires
  • In Play mode or Multi mode, this button displays the next stored image
  • With a menu displayed on the LCD, this button moves to the next option in a list of available options


(The following controls are all arranged across the top/rear of the camera, as seen in the figure below:)

Zoom Toggle
Allow you to zoom in and out on the subject/area being captured. Pressing the "single-tree" side of the button zooms in on the subject, and pressing the "three-tree" side of the button zooms out.
LCD/Video Button

  • In Auto mode or Program mode, turns the LCD Panel on and off. The LCD Panel turns on automatically in Program and Stitch-Assist mode
  • In Play mode and Multi mode, turns the video output from the camera on and off (for viewing images when the camera is connected to a television set) As noted below, the video-out signal isn't available for use as a viewfinder, in either recording mode.


Macro/Jump Button

  • In Auto, Program, or Stitch-Assist mode, this button turns Macro mode on and off. Macro mode allows you to capture a subject within a range of 6.7 inches to 20 inches.
  • In Play or Multi mode, this button turns Jump mode on and off. With Jump mode on:
    • In Play mode, pressing the + / - buttons moves either 9 images ahead (+), or 9 images back (-), and displays the image on the LCD Panel
    • In Play mode, pressing the + / - buttons while at the same time holding the Set button displays the last stored image (+), or the first stored image (-)
    • In Multi mode, pressing the + / - buttons displays either the next set of 9 images (+), or the previous set of 9 images (-) on the LCD Panel
    • In Multi mode, pressing the + / - buttons while at the same time holding the Set button displays the first set of 9 images (+), or the last set of 9 images (-) on the LCD Panel


Menu Button

  • Displays available Menu options on the LCD Panel. The menu options vary depending on the mode you have the camera set to:
    • In Auto, Program, and Stitch-Assist modes, displays the Record (REC) menu (see below)
    • In Play and Multi modes, displays the Play menu (see below)


Set Button
Selects the menu option currently displayed on the LCD Panel. Used in conjunction with other buttons to access options without resorting to the menu system:

  • Set and "-" together in Program-Record Mode: Enable exposure adjustment
  • Set and "-" together in Play Mode: Erases the currently-displayed photo

Camera Modes & Menus
Following is a description of the major camera modes, and the LCD menu options associated with them. (These were mentioned briefly above, while discussing the operation of the Mode Dial.)
Lock Mode
Closes the lens cover and turns off the power to the camera.
Auto Mode
Used for taking pictures under average conditions. In Auto mode, the camera determines whether or not flash is needed, and the focus, exposure, and white balance are set automatically depending on the conditions under which you capture the image. In Auto mode, the image quality setting is automatically set to the Large/Fine setting (1280 x 960, minimum JPEG compression).
Pressing the Menu button in Auto Mode displays the REC menu (shown at right), which offers the following options:

  • Quality: Choose the quality at which you want to capture the image:
    • Large/Fine: JPEG High Quality at 1280 x 960 pixels
    • Large/Normal: JPEG Normal Quality at 1280 x 960 pixels
  • Setup: Takes you to a sub-menu (shown below):
  • (Setup Menu Items)
    • LCD: Switches the brightness of the LCD between normal and bright settings. The Bright setting makes the display more visible outdoors or in bright light, but does increase battery drain, albeit only about 10%.
    • Beep: Turns on or off the beep you hear when focusing, pressing the shutter button, selecting a menu option, etc.
    • Power Save: Enables or disables the Power Save function, which turns the camera off automatically to conserve power when inactive for several minutes
    • Date and Time: Adjusts the camera's date and time settings
    • Review: With Review turned on, the camera displays the each image on the LCD Panel for a few seconds after it is captured, even if the LCD Panel is turned off
    • File No. Reset: Lets you choose the method by which the camera assigns file numbers to the captured images:
      • Off: Ensures that image filenames are not duplicated, even when using more than one memory card. With this setting, images are stored beginning with the highest file number from the last card used.
      • On: With this setting, images are stored on each memory card beginning with 0001, or with the next available number if there are images already stored to the card..


Program Mode
In this mode you can change the flash setting and the picture-taking mode (Continuous or Single) manually. Like Auto mode, the focus and exposure settings are chosen automatically by the camera, but here, you can fine tune the exposure setting through an LCD menu option.
Pressing the Menu button in Program mode also displays the REC menu, but with more options available for selection (as shown at right):

  • Quality: Choose the quality at which you want to capture the image:
    • Large/Fine: JPEG High Quality at 1280 x 960 pixels
    • Large/Normal: JPEG Normal Quality at 1280 x 960 pixels
    • Small/Fine: JPEG High Quality at 640 x 480 pixels
    • Small/Normal: JPEG Normal Quality at 640 x 480 pixels
    • CCDRAW: No compression, 1280 x 960 pixels image size (proprietary format).
      When capturing images in continuous mode, the images are captured at the Small quality setting and you can choose only between Small/Fine and Small/Normal.
  • Exposure Compensation: Lets you adjust the camera-determined exposure by +2 EV to -2 EV (in 1/3 EV increments), while viewing the image and monitoring changes on the LCD Panel. (This function can also be accessed by pressing the Set and "-" buttons simultaneously, a very handy shortcut.)
  • White Balance: Select from one of five white balance settings depending on the environment in which you are capturing images:
    • Auto: Automatically adjusts the white balance setting for "normal" picture taking.
    • Daylight: Adjusts the white balance for outdoor (sunny) lighting conditions.
    • Cloudy: Adjusts the white balance when shooting subjects outdoors under cloudy conditions.
    • Tungsten: Adjusts the white balance for images captured under tungsten lighting to remove the reddish-orange tint that would normally occur.
    • Fluorescent: Adjusts the white balance for images captured under fluorescent lighting to remove the greenish tint that sometimes occurs.
  • Slow Shutter: Lets you shoot night scenes or other low-light subjects:
    • On: Intentionally sets a slow shutter speed when capturing images in low-light
    • Off: The camera automatically chooses the shutter speed
    • Night Scene: Sets a slow shutter speed for capturing outdoor, night-time images
      (Frankly, we're a little puzzled as to the difference might be between "On" and "Night Scene" modes)
  • Setup: Takes you to the same camera set-up menu described in the Auto Mode section above.


Stitch-Assist Mode
Stitch-Assist mode provides special support for capturing separate images that will later be merged into a single panoramic image using the PhotoStitch software included with the PowerShot A50. When capturing images in this mode, the LCD displays the previously captured image so that you can match the next image with the previously captured one. You can choose from three different types of sequence matching depending on the image that you want to compose: Horizontal, Vertical, or 2 x 2 matrices. You select the sequence matching pattern when you first place the camera in Stitch-Assist mode.
Pressing the Menu button in Stitch-Assist mode displays the same Rec menu options outlined above in the Program mode section. The only difference is in the size/quality settings: You cannot capture an image using the CCD RAW image-quality setting.
Play Mode
In Play mode you can review the images one at a time on the LCD Panel after you capture them. When this mode is selected via the Mode Dial, the LCD Panel activates and displays the images currently stored on the CF Card. Besides viewing images on the camera's LCD Panel, you can also view them on a video monitor using the video cable included with the camera.

Pressing the Menu button while in Play mode displays the Play Menu (shown at right), which contains the following options:

  • Show/Hide Info: Displays information about the captured image such as the date it was captured, the file number assigned to the image, and whether the image is protected or not.
  • Erase: Lets you erase images from the camera's CF card. "Protected" images will not be erased until you cancel the protection for that specific image. Two options are available:
    • Single: Deletes the current image being viewed.
    • All: Deletes all captured images.
      You can also erase the current image by holding down the Set button and pressing the "-" button at the same time, another very handy shortcut!
  • Protect: Prevents an image from being accidentally erased. When you protect an image, the word "Protect" will appear over it whenever it's displayed on the LCD screen. To cancel protection, display the image, press the Menu button, and choose Protect again. It's important to note that when you format the CF memory card, all images-even protected ones-are erased.
  • Rotate: Lets you reorient images for viewing (in a TV slideshow, for example) either 90 degrees clockwise or 90 degrees counter-clockwise. (This doesn't appear to affect the underlying JPEG image file though, which retains the orientation it was shot with.)
  • Setup: Takes you to the same camera set-up menu described in Program and Auto Mode and adds the following menu options:
    • Format: Lets you format the CF card, erasing all stored images, including protected ones.
    • Language: Lets you choose the language to display on the LCD Panel. (Options on the US-market model we reviewed included English, German, French, Spanish, and Japanese.)
  • Slide Show: (This and the next option are on a second menu screen in Playback mode, shown at right.) Lets you view the captured images in a slideshow fashion. You can mark specific images to include in the slide show, and can also set the interval between successive images to 3, 5, or 10 seconds, or opt to advance between images manually.
  • Print Order: Lets you select images for printing to a desktop printer, or other digital printing systems that accept CF cards, or that permit direct output from the PowerShot A50. You can choose to print quantities of individual images, an index print (which contains smaller, thumbnail versions of your images), or both. This Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) information is stored to the CF card along with the image in a special file format.


Multi Mode
In Multi mode you can review multiple images on the LCD Panel on or a television using the video cable included with the camera. When you switch the camera to Multi mode, the LCD Panel activates and displays images currently stored on the CF Card in groups of nine. You can use the + / - button to scroll through the images and select an image on which to perform an operation. (View at full size, delete, or order prints from it, as described above.)
Pressing the Menu button in Multi mode displays the Play menu, showing the same options and choices available in Play mode. Any menu option chosen applies to the image currently selected when the option is invoked. The currently selected image is highlighted with a green border.
PC Mode
When you want to connect the camera to a PC for downloading of images, you first need to place the camera in PC mode. PC mode enables the Digital port on the side of the camera for image transfer to your PC. You can transfer images to a PC running Windows '95/'98/NT 4.0 (! - NT support is rare, kudos to Canon for including it!), or to Apple Macintosh computers. Utility software to access the images from the camera is included on the CD bundled with the camera.

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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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