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Customer Review

1,024 of 1,088 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For the monster-zoom, it works very well. For the rest, well... that depends., October 5, 2012
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This review is from: Canon PowerShot SX50 HS 12MP Digital Camera with 2.8-Inch LCD (Black) (Electronics)
Length:: 1:09 Mins

I ordered the SX50 through Amazon, I tried it out, I liked it well enough and I intend to keep it. For what it does best, it works very well. For the rest, well... that depends.

This is a video I shot of a fishing boat in Monterey Bay. I used my new SX50 with a 50X optical zoom and a 4X digital zoom for a total of 200X (sort of.) I know it's pixillated, but still just look carefully and you can see the fisherman casting his fishing pole at the stern of the boat and then sitting down. Pretty amazing video technology they have developed for this camera. So that is where this review starts - with the monster-zoom telephoto lens.

What this camera does best is pretty obvious - it has a monster-zoom telephoto lens. I enjoy doing some telephoto work, and for that purpose it works amazingly well. At a 1200mm - 50X - zoom you simply cannot buy a Canon DSLR lens with that kind of magnification for any amount of money.*1 The largest [standard production] DSLR telephoto lens that Canon makes is an 800mm and that lens costs over $13,000. So there you have it. For around $500 you can run circles around that magnification, get some fantastic shots and have a lot of fun with it. It will most definitely amaze your friends when you show them with what you can do with the monster-zoom feature alone.

*1 Technically, "any amount of money" is not completely true here. Another poster has pointed out that on special order Canon will make a 1200MM lens for a DSLR. It weighs about 40 lbs. The MSRP is $100,000. Only a few dozen have ever been produced. My bad.

It also has a wide ISO range (film speed) combined with some very fast shutter speeds for fast-action shots. And the recovery and repeat shot time is very fast too. There is also built-in HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature that will be fun to use for creating vibrant-colored, surreal landscapes. (Don't try it with portraits though, since HDR is notoriously bad at distorting human skin tones.) For the more advanced shooters it also offer RAW files as well as RAW plus JPEG, so that you can fine-tune your photos with post-processing in a Photoshop-type program.

All around this should turn out to be a good recreational and family-fun camera that will work very well for daytime things like social events and sporting events, particularly at getting candid shots of people all the way across the other side of the auditorium or the sports arena. And it has an excellent HD video feature that - with a good secure tripod - can produce some very respectable quality videos. Unfortunately, the "hot shoe" for the camera only works with an external flash, not a high-quality external microphone. So no, it won't take one, so you don't even need to ask. Yes, of course with a high quality HD video feature you would only expect that Canon would allow you to attach a high-quality external microphone to the hot shoe, but no they don't. You can take that up with Canon - again - just the way people did last year, and see how far you get with it. Otherwise you will simply have to enjoy it the way it is, or else use a tape recorder and sync the sound with it in a movie-making program afterwards.

But if you want to take any long-exposure, nighttime shots with it, then this camera probably will not work for you at all. It COULD take them easily, but for marketing reasons Canon put an arbitrary ISO limit on it last year that will no longer let it take them. (Earlier models of this same camera could easily take them before Canon imposed the arbitrary ISO limit on it.)

If you have ever owned any of the previous cameras of this series, (the SX1, SX10, SX20 and SX30,) then you probably know that it has a rather small 1/2.3 sized sensor, but (now) it processes the images with a very good DIGIC 5 processor. If you have also owned an SX40, then you also may be aware of a rather recent limitation on this line of cameras that the previous models did not have. Beginning with the model SX40 Canon put an arbitrary ISO (film speed) limit on the camera which severely restricts one type of photography in particular - long-exposure, low-light, nighttime photographs. They are now almost impossible to take with this line of camera, because the user can no longer select any ISO greater than 100 at any of the slower shutter speeds, not even in full manual mode.

ISO 100 is a film speed (nowadays called "sensor sensitivity", but the numbers are identical) that has been traditionally used only in bright daytime photo shooting. Low light and nighttime exposures have always required faster film speeds like ISO 400, ISO 800, ISO 1000 or even more. Photos of that type which had always been easy to take with earlier models of this camera suddenly became almost impossible to take beginning with the SX40. Suddenly any attempt to set the shutter speed to slower than 1.3 seconds automatically reduced the camera setting to ISO 100. There was no way for the user to bypass this limit, (without resorting to a special Hacker program available on the internet called "CHDK." Watch a YouTube video on that before you decide to try it. )

There were a lot of complaints about the ISO limit on the SX40 from a lot of users (me included - see the YouTube video on "Canon SX40 ISO limits,") going on for a year now, and finally Canon has introduced the new model SX50. So here's the bad news... Canon did not take the ISO limit off this line of cameras. In fact, the ISO limit on the new SX50 is even worse. Now any attempt to drop the shutter speed under 1 second automatically drops the ISO setting to ISO 80. The user cannot change this limit, even in full manual mode.

Adding to that problem, the SX50 has also reduced the widest aperture opening from f/2.7 to f/3.4. The aperture is the size of the opening that allows light to enter the camera through the lens. It is variable, and the smaller the number the larger the opening. So on the new SX50 the largest size to which you can open up the aperture to let light in has been reduced from f/2.7 to f/3.4. The result is that now it is even harder to take low-light, long-exposure, nighttime photographs with it. The current Canon SX160 with the same-sized sensor (though a CCD and not a CMOS sensor) does NOT have this arbitrary limit on it, and does very well at taking long-exposure, nighttime photographs, so I bought it too - for less than half the price of the SX50 - and I gave that one a very strong 5-star rating. Since my primary use of my cameras, however, is expressly for taking long-exposure nighttime photographs, and since there is NO TECHNICAL REASON for putting this arbitrary ISO limit on the SX50 camera (it has already been established during the previous year that it was a marketing decision) - then I'm giving this camera a 4-star rating instead of a 5-star rating. Not for what it CAN'T do, but simply for what Canon will no longer LET it do.

If you want to use the camera for a similar purpose - nighttime long exposures, moonlit night scenes, deer in the garden at night, wide-angle star shots or anything similar to those themes, then this camera will not work well for you at all. I understand that the audience for that usage may well be only a small percentage of all users. Still, some users will be effected by it and they need to know. During the last year quite of few of them were pretty upset by that ISO 100 limit on the SX40, so those same users will probably like the the more restrictive ISO 80 limit on the new SX50 even less. In case there is any doubt about it, the online .pdf file for the User Manual at Canon's website clearly states on pages 150 and 152 - "With shutter speeds of 1.3 seconds or slower, ISO speed is [symbol "ISO80"] and cannot be changed."

If that effects you, then now you know about it. If it doesn't effect you, then you can simply ignore this part of the review and then you may well have a lot of fun with this camera. With it's many other features I'm sure it will be a lot of fun, and that is one of the reasons I am keeping it myself - for those other features. But for $500 for a digital camera you should at least know very clearly what you will be getting for your money, ... and what you will not.

Best wishes either way you decide, John
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Showing 1-10 of 118 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 5, 2012, 8:11:50 PM PDT
iza425 says:
Can you post some night time shots? Low light capability is important to me but I don't see anyone talking about it like you did. Does your review mean this camera is totally useless in low light? What about sunset shots? I owned the SX10 and it took awesome sunset shots and good low light shots. Now I'm sorry I sold it. I also wondered why Canon eliminated the sunset and foliage settings. What replaced those settings in the SX50?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2012, 9:12:48 PM PDT

Very good questions. I will write to you some more about it, but right now it's getting late. Meanwhile, please go to YouTube and type in "SX40 ISO" in the Search Engine and look for a very graphic presentation I made of it about a year ago showing exactly how bad this ISO limit effects long exposures in low light. I'm there under the screen name of SLOphoto1.

Best wishes, John

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2012, 11:55:46 PM PDT
iGio says:
Thanks for your detailed review about low light performance.
I completely agree with you and that's why i am not going to sell my SX40 and buy SX50. Low light shots are more important for me then 50x telephoto shots.
35x also does well enough for far subjects.

Posted on Oct 6, 2012, 9:28:09 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 6, 2012, 9:28:47 AM PDT
Lin Evans says:
Hi John,
Just a minor correction. Canon indeed does make a 1200mm F5.6 lens. They make them on special order and have only made a few dozen. The MSRP was around $100,000 and the weight was about 40 pounds. Of course the tripod and head had to be very substantial and added a great deal more to the overall weight. Certainly they are out of the reach of most and only generally used by sports network photographers.

Posted on Oct 6, 2012, 9:39:32 AM PDT
T.C.O says:
The sx 40 and the new sx 50 will be able to take night and long exposures at any ISO. My sx40 does a great job of night time exposures, all you have to do is download CHDK and the limitation is gone. It is just that simple !!!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 6, 2012, 9:46:03 AM PDT
T.C.O says:
The new sx50 will take foliage and sunset pictures better than the sx10. Try smart auto first and then if you want the best sunset pictures go to manual and adjust to your own liking.

Posted on Oct 6, 2012, 10:25:27 AM PDT
Bill B. says:
Why on earth did Canon limit this function as a marketing decision? Was it to encourage people to step up to DSLR's? Are there problems with the CHDK download?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 6, 2012, 10:30:48 AM PDT

Thank you for the update. I appreciate now that my colloquial abuse of the phrase "any amount of money" was apparently not entirely accurate. It is interesting to see what "any amount of money" can actually buy nowadays. My original reference was based on my own viewing of the Canon website, and the 800mm lens was the largest standard production telephoto lens I could find there, so I posted my information based on that accordingly. Technically, it appears I was mistaken, and I have so noted and corrected my own misstatement that I first made in my initial review. Thank you again for helping me to keep my posted information accurate. I do appreciate it whenever someone does take time to note an error I have made, rather than simply to let the error stand. Thank you again.

Best wishes, John

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 6, 2012, 12:11:22 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 6, 2012, 12:57:45 PM PDT
About the ISO LIMITATION on the SX40 and SX50 Canon cameras:

The ISO limitation is now a long story. I was one of the first people to discover it myself, the same day I bought the SX40 camera in October 2011. I posted a cautionary statement about it in my Amazon review of the SX40 (if interested, please see Amazon listing of Canon SX40, 2-star reviews), and a year later and over 350 comments later the issue has now been thoroughly reviewed, criticized, supported, opposed, loved, hated, admired, cursed, ignored and discussed and discussed and discussed in great detail. There are now almost 40 pages of Amazon comments about it following my initial review in posting the information. You can read through it if you like.

For the sake of brevity I will not be repeating another 40 pages of the same discussion here. Instead, this time I have chosen to answer all of the questions posed to me about the ISO limit in one, long, single list - right here in this comment space. That way people can refer more easily to one list for the answers instead of having to read through long numbers of pages to try to find them. I will add to the list from time to time.

Here is the bottom line about the ISO limit.

1) The ISO limit has a seriously adverse impact on the ability of the camera to take long-exposure, nighttime photos.
1A) Please see my YouTube video for a graphic comparative example ( you can search for "Canon SX40 ISO" .)

2) The ISO limit is not there to protect the sensor or the camera. DSLR cameras have the same type of sensor (though larger) and none of them have this sort of ISO limit on them.
3) Earlier models of this same camera (SX10, SX20 & SX30) did not have the ISO limit and they worked just fine.
4) Even smaller cameras like the Canon SX130, SX150 and now the SX160 do not have this ISO limit on them and they work just fine.
5)  The ISO limit is not an error or an oversight. Canon put the ISO limit in place intentionally.
6)  Canon does not see the ISO limit as a problem, and they apparently have no intention of correcting it.

7) It was hoped that a year's worth of complaints would encourage Canon to take the ISO limit off the new SX50. Instead Canon doubled-down and made the ISO limit even more restrictive. It now happens automatically with any shutter speed longer than 1 second, it drops it to ISO 80, the user cannot work around the limit, not even in full manual mode. (You can watch a YouTube video to see about using CHDK to try to get around this limit if you like. More on CHDK later.)
8) The minimum aperture has been increased from f/2.7 on the SX40 to f/3.4 on the SX50, so now even less light can be let into the camera, making the long-exposure nighttime photo problem even worse.
9) People who have emailed or called Canon about the ISO limit have been given a wide variety of "explanations" for why it is there, none of them plausible for any technically-justifiable reasons.
10) The latest Canon "explanation" for the ISO limit that I am aware of is this, "You have to buy a DSLR in order to get that feature." (No you don't.) You can avoid the ISO limit by buying the Canon SX130, SX150 or SX160, with the same sized sensor - 1/2.3 though a CCD not a CMOS sensor - at LESS THAN HALF the price of an SX50, and NONE of those cameras have the ISO limit on them. You can figure it out for yourself as well as anyone else can. There is no good - technically justifiable - explanation for it. It was a marketing decision.

ALTERNATIVES: My own personal alternative to the ISO limit is simply to use a different camera for my long-exposure, nighttime photo shooting. I prefer any of the three following cameras - Canon SX130, SX150, or SX160. They are all virtually the same for the purpose of nighttime shooting. They have no ISO limit on them. They have the same-sized sensor as the SX40 and SX50 (though CCD and not CMOS sensors, but that distinction is minimal.) They cost less than half the price of an SX50.

You can also use an older SX1, SX10, SX20 or SX30 model if you like the extra zoom, and none of them have the ISO limit on them, either. Of these, the SX20 was also the last one to have the access to the memory card slot on the outside grip of the handle, not inside the battery compartment, so you don't have to dismount the camera from the tripod just to check the images on the memory card. It was also the last one to run on 4-AA batteries. For these last two reasons, the SX20 is also one of the cameras I prefer to use, but that is just my own preference.

For a larger sensor Canon camera without the ISO limit, you can try any of the PowerShot "G" series with a 1/1.7 sensor.

My own personal favorite is the older model Canon PowerShot A650 (also with a 1/1.7 sensor,) released in Sept. 2007, with a fully articulated screen (flips around), minimal 6X zoom, threaded portion at the base of the lens tube for interchangeable filters AND for adding extra wide-angle and telephoto lenses to it. Access to the memory card is, unfortunately, inside the battery compartment, but it is also the last one of its kind to run on 4-AA batteries, and that is one of the reasons I prefer to use it. ... Again, that is just my own personal preference, so it need not concern anyone else who prefers to use lithium ion batteries instead.

Best wishes, John

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 6, 2012, 1:29:26 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 6, 2012, 1:34:22 PM PDT
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