This is going to be the final nail in the coffin of the Canon EOS 50D. This is my third post in this series, and you can find the first one here, and the second one here. Read them before you continue, including the comments, to get up to date.
Since my first and second posts, some time has gone by, and now there are more reviews available of the Canon EOS 50D. Needless to say, these reviews all show exactly what I have been saying ever since my first post about this camera.
But Canon’s bold claims of matching the noise levels of the earlier EOS 40D were confirmed in our High ISO tests. From 100 to 1600 ISO, the EOS 50D’s output really is very similar to that from the EOS 40D when viewed at 100% on a pixel level. At 3200 ISO, the 50D applies greater noise reduction, but tone it down a notch and again it looks similar to the 40D. Admittedly the 50D’s 6400 and 12800 ISO modes are a step too far,
The addition of contrast-based autofocus in Live View was inevitable, but it’s relatively slow and best-used for static subjects and a tripod-based camera. This effectively renders the new face detection mode redundant, as while subjects are recognised instantly, it’s several seconds before the camera locks focus on them – by which time they’ll inevitably have moved.
Some early adopters have also reported a higher than average occurrence of Error-99 lens communication issues with the 50D. We tested our 50D with a variety of lenses and only experienced the Error-99 with a well-worn press sample of the EF-S 17-85mm IS, and then only at certain focal lengths. When we switched to a newer private sample of this lens, we had no issues. This is something we will monitor though and report back with any updates.
So the EOS 50D essentially takes the 40D body and adds 5 extra Megapixels, a VGA screen, HDMI output, four times the sensitivity and a number of processing and interface enhancements. If you value these improvements, then it’s worth spending the extra or for existing owners to upgrade, but remember the body, viewfinder and AF are the same, so if you want a tough and quick semi-pro DSLR at a bargain price, the 40D remains a superb choice.
By sharing a number of core specs with the 40D though, the 50D remains behind certain key aspects of the D300. Nikon’s body boasts a viewfinder with 100% coverage to the 50D’s 95% and an AF system with a whopping 51-points to the 50D’s nine; Canon also continues to look old fashioned by forcing you to buy and fit an optional focusing screen to see a grid in the viewfinder, while Nikon offers on-demand LCD markings which can simply be switched on and off. The D300 additionally offers more professional features like 9-frame bracketing, a built-in intervalometer and a shutter block rated for 50% more shots (150k compared to 100k on the 50D).
Like I said from the very beginning, the image quality of the 50D is comparable and often worse compared to that of the 40D. Canon’s claims that the 50D offered a stop to a stop and a half better noise performance compared to the 40D were quite frankly very misleading. In addition, the 9 point autofocus is prehistoric by today’s standards and is absolutely worthless in AI Servo mode. Just like Camera Labs says, a lot of technology in these Canon cameras are very old fashioned, and one has to wonder when Canon is finally going to update them. In the same way, they also released a 5D Mark II camera, which contains the exact same old AF system as the 3 year old 5D camera. In 3 years, how can it be that Canon was unable to include a much better AF system in the 5D Mark II, when Nikon has a camera on the market for a year now at a much lower price level containing a 51-point AF system?
But let’s get on with another 50D review, namely the one from DPreview. When you read that review, you’re going to see that the 50D offers more noise, less detail (despite the resolution increase to 15MP!!), and less dynamic range compared to the 40D. If you look at the noise in RAW images from the 50D and 40D, you can clearly see the 50D images have a lot more noise and look worse compared to the 40D:
Despite the fact that the 50D is the newer camera it shows visibly more chroma and luminance noise than the 40D. Considering the 50D’s much more tightly packed sensor (4.5 MP/cm² vs 3.1 MP/cm² on the 40D) this comes hardly as a surprise. It would have been unreasonable to expect Canon’s engineers to overcome the laws of physics.
At Hi1 and Hi2 (ISO 6400 and 12800 respectively) the 50D produces significant amounts of noise. Both settings should be striclty reserved for emergency use. If you compare these crops to the ‘NR OFF JPG’ crops from above it also becomes clear how much noise reduction the 50D’s JPG engine still applies even with noise reduction set to ‘Off’.
So much for ISO 6400 and 12800 on the 50D. Canon could have left these ISO modes out of the camera. As it is now, they are only included for marketing reasons and to fool people. These modes are unusable. And pay special attention to the comments about noise reduction. The EOS 50D applies a lot of noise reduction to JPEG images, also removing detail in the process. This no doubt causes the 50D images to look less detailed compared to images from the 40D.
If you look at the RAW image quality comparison, you can clearly see that the 40D images have more detail compared to the 50D:
Switching to our benchmark RAW converter, Adobe Camera RAW equalizes image processing between the two cameras and allows us to get a much better idea of the level of detail actually captured. As you can see both cameras images look crisper and exhibit better detail but the 40D stills beats the newer model in terms of per pixel detail. Despite of a 22% increase in vertical and horizontal resolution the extra detail captured by the 50D is marginal. Unsurprisingly color and contrast are near identical though.
And from here, when comparing the 50D to the Nikon D300:
Both cameras gain from the use of ACR with images looking considerably sharper and better detailed than their JPEG equivalents but the improvement is more significant on the Nikon which now has a pretty obvious per pixel detail advantage over the 50D. Having said that color response is very similar indeed and you would need to be outputting at a very large size for the differences to be noticeable.
And from DPReview’s conclusion:
We’re by no means saying the 50Ds image quality is bad but it’s simply not significantly better than the ten megapixel 40D. In some areas such as dynamic range and high ISO performance it’s actually worse and that simply makes you wonder if the EOS 50D could have been an (even) better camera if its sensor had a slightly more moderate resolution.
The EOS 50D has to stand its ground in a highly competitive bracket of the DSLR market. It is currently almost $500 more expensive than the 40D, almost $500 more expensive than the Nikon D90 and for an extra $100 you can bag yourself a Nikon D300. Looking at the specification differences between the EOS 40D and our test candidate it appears you pay quite a premium for the 50D’s extra megapixels and as we’ve found out during this review you don’t get an awful lot of extra image quality for your money. The Canon EOS 50D still earns itself our highest reward but considering its price point and our slight concerns about its pixel-packed sensor, it only does so by a whisker.
The 50D offers worse noise performance, worse dynamic range and less detailed images compared to the EOS 40D and compared to the Nikon D300. I said before since my first post about the 50D, that the Nikon D300 was a much better alternative, and as you can see, this is really the case. The Nikon D300 even offers a lot more advanced features and right now is only $100 more expensive compared to the 50D.
Live View on the 50D also is a complete joke. A little more useful compared to the 40D, but contrast detect AF is painfully slow and you can’t even focus where you want on the screen. The Sony DSC-R1 released in 2005, had much faster contrast detect AF and had the option of moving the focus point on the screen to wherever you want and focus at that location. Today, Canon wants to sell us a slow and limited Live View feature that looks prehistoric compared to 3 year old cameras that are now discontinued. What a shame.
The EOS 40D currently gives you the best value for your money. Expect the price of the 50D to fall like a brick in the next few months. I hope Canon will do much better with the 60D next year.