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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!

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Page 1:Intro and Highlights

Review First Posted: 02/27/2003

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


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.


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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

  • 5.0-megapixel CCD delivering up to 2,592 x 1,944-pixel resolution images.
  • 1.8-inch, color LCD monitor.
  • 3x optical zoom lens, 7.1-21.3mm (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera) with auto and manual focus, adjustable focus area, and focus bracketing.
  • Up to 4.1x digital telephoto.
  • Full automatic, program AE, shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual exposure modes, as well as five preset exposure modes and a Custom mode.
  • Manually adjustable aperture settings from f/2.8 to f/8.0, depending on zoom setting.
  • Manually adjustable shutter speed settings from 1/1,500 to 15 seconds.
  • ISO sensitivity equivalents: Auto, 50, 100, 200, and 400.
  • Three metering modes: Evaluative, center-weighted average, and spot metering
  • White balance setting with eight adjustment modes, including a manual setting.
  • Built-in flash with five operating modes.
  • RemoteCapture utilities for controlling the camera from a computer.
  • JPEG and RAW still image file formats, movies saved as AVI / Motion JPEG and WAVE formats.
  • Images saved to CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, 16MB card included.
  • Movie mode with sound.
  • Interval shooting mode, plus two Continuous Shooting modes.
  • Stitch-Assist mode for creating panoramic pictures.
  • Record up to 60 seconds of sound with individual images.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for high-speed connection to a computer.
  • Canon Digital Camera 12.0 utility application, plus ArcSoft PhotoStudio and VideoImpression software.
  • Powered by Canon NB-2L rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, with optional AC adapter.

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:

  • Faster processing, thanks to DiGiC processor - The S50 uses the same main processing chip we saw in the G3 and S230. This faster, lower-power chip improves autofocus speed and cycle times, while slightly reducing power consumption. (By roughly 15 percent, depending on the camera's operating mode.)

  • 12 bits per channel digitizing and processing. - Another improvement deriving from the "Digic" chip. The greater bit depth helps preserve detail in highlight regions.

  • Modified/Enhanced user interface - Canon's recent cameras have an improved/expanded "Func" button, which presents essentially all primary camera settings under a single menu system, rapidly accessible from the back panel. The change is subtle, but greatly improves ease of use and operating speed relative to Canon's previous menu structure.
  • "Photo Effects" changes - "Photo Effects" options of Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia, B&W, Custom appear under the FUNC button, and are now available in all exposure modes.
  • New "Custom" exposure mode - The S50 sports a new "C" Mode-dial setting that lets you quickly recall a wide variety of shooting settings you previously saved in P, Tv, Av, or M shooting modes. Settings that can be recalled via the Custom mode include all shooting menu settings, the lens zoom position, and the manual focus setting.

  • Nine-point AiAF / Flexible AF point option - More G3-level technology. In AiAF mode, the camera utilizes a matrix of nine AF zones, choosing the most appropriate ones for each subject. You can also manually move an AF-area window freely around the frame, to a more or less continuous range of positions within the central 60 percent or so of the image area.
  • Focus bracketing - This feature is a carryover from the G3. With focus bracketing enabled, the camera will shoot three exposures in rapid succession, in front of, at, and behind the current subject/focusing distance. (Note that focus bracketing is only available when the flash is disabled.)

  • Improved exposure algorithms - In yet another carryover from the G3, the S50 uses Canon's Intelligent Scene Analysis based on Photographic Space (iSAPS). The camera uses a variety of factors including multi-segment scene brightness and focusing distance to determine exposure, cross-referencing them against a table of known scene types. The overall result is that the camera is less likely to be "fooled" by scenes with unusual brightness distribution.

  • Two manual white balance presets - You can now save two different Custom white balance settings, and switch quickly back and forth between them without having to re-shoot a white card each time. I really appreciate this feature, as it's very handy when you have to switch back and forth between two different lighting conditions. (For instance, indoors and outdoors at a party or gathering.)
  • Orientation sensor - Cleverly tags images as vertical or horizontal format, depending on the orientation of the camera when the shot was taken..
  • Expanded controls - New settings options let you enable or disable Manual Focus zoom (magnification of central portion of image during MF operations), distance units used in MF display, AF assist light, Auto Rotate, File Number Reset, and change USB mode.
  • Manual flash control - Manually set flash output of 1/3, 2/3 or FULL. Available in Manual exposure mode, or optionally in either Aperture or Shutter Priority. Manual flash control is designed to facilitate use of the S50 with conventional slave triggers for studio strobes. In Manual flash mode, the S50's built-in flash emits only a single pulse of light (there's no pre-flash for metering), so ordinary slave triggers will synchronize properly with the opening of the S50's shutter.
  • Long-exposure flash sync control - Choose between "1st-curtain" and "2nd-curtain" sync.
  • Intervalometer - An option for time-lapse shooting, with interframe intervals of one to 60 minutes, and from two to 100 total shots.
  • Movie clip length - The S50 can now record movie clips nonstop for up to three minutes.

  • Playback zoom - The S50 can magnify images up to 10x on the LCD screen during playback, vs. the 5x maximum of the S40.

  • Expanded direct printing capabilities - The S50 will print directly (no computer required) to Canon's CP-10, CP-100 dye-sub printer, as well as the S830D and S530D Bubble Jet printers. The S40 only printed to the CP-10.
  • EXIF 2.2 - The S50's JPEG file headers now include full EXIF 2.2 data, supporting the open ExifPrint standard for improved color and tonal rendition by EXIF 2.2-compliant printers.

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