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Canon EOS 50D weighs in at 15.06 million image pixels, 6.3 fps
Monday, August 25, 2008 | by Rob Galbraith
Canon has announced a new digital SLR that puts a 15.06 million image pixel CMOS sensor, DIGIC 4 processor and three inch (diagonal), 920,000 dot rear LCD into the body of an EOS 40D, then mixes in a variety of image enhancement and minor functionality changes. Called the EOS 50D, the main attraction of the evolutionary model will be its new sensor, which is promised to offer noticeably better quality at upper ISO settings alongside its 50% bump in the number of pixels. The EOS 50D is to ship in early October 2008 at an expected street price of US$1399 in the U.S.

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Front and Back: Views of the Canon EOS 50D. Click either photo to enlarge (Photos courtesy Canon)

Canon EOS 50D feature summary

Features of the new camera include:

Body The 50D's body is identical in size, shape and control layout to the EOS 40D, and nearly identical in appearance: a silver bezel atop the mode dial, a "D+" icon on the top LCD and in the viewfinder (indicating when Highlight Tone Priority is enabled), a Type C HDMI video port on the side and of course an EOS 50D name badge on the front are about the only visual differences when you glance at the camera or peer through its viewfinder.

Until you light up the rear LCD, that is. More on that later.

Mega Pixels: The Canon EOS 50D sensor package. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Canon)
Sensor The mostly-unchanged body houses a new 15.06 million image pixel, 22.3mm x 14.9mm CMOS sensor designed and manufactured by Canon. The sensor has a pixel pitch of 4.7m square and has been engineered for improved light-gathering efficiency by both increasing each pixel's light sensitive area and by increasing the size of the microlens over each pixel. The microlens array is now gapless; each microlens covers a greater percentage of its pixel's surface area than any previous Canon digital SLR sensor.

This tech-speak, says Chuck Westfall, Technical Advisor at Canon USA, adds up to the 50D performing better at higher ISO settings than the 40D, despite the new camera's smaller pixels (4.7m for the 50D vs 5.7m for the 40D). Purchasers of the 50D, says Westfall, can expect noise levels to be roughly 1 to 1.5 stops better in the high ISO range. For example, this means that a photo shot at ISO 3200 on the 50D is expected to have similar noise characteristics to one shot in the ISO 1100-1600 range on the 40D.

Like other entry level and midrange Canon digital SLRs, the focal length cropping factor, relative to 35mm film, is 1.6X. File dimensions at full resolution are 4752 x 3168 pixels.

The 50D incorporates Canon's Integrated Cleaning System in front of the sensor, but with a new anti-stick fluorine coating on the frontmost filter surface that's meant to better prevent slightly moist debris from clinging on, or for it to be more readily shaken off during a cleaning cycle.

DIGIC 4 processor Canon's next-generation, 14-bit DIGIC 4 processor see its debut in the 50D, and it offers both more functionality and about 30% faster processing speed than the DIGIC III processor in the 40D.

Switched On: A printed circuit board from the Canon EOS 50D, incorporating the new DIGIC 4 processor (Photo courtesy Canon)

The new main CPU and image processor is responsible in part for enabling broader file format and image processing options in the 50D:
  • Two flavours of reduced resolution RAW, sRAW1 (7.12 million image pixels) and sRAW2 (3.76 million image pixels)

  • Three increments of High ISO Noise Reduction: Low, Standard, Strong (plus Disable)

  • Three increments of Auto Lighting Optimizer: Low, Standard, Strong (plus Disable). The 50D ships with this feature turned on, and set to Standard

  • A vignette control (Canon is calling this "Peripheral Illumination Correction") that adjusts the amount of edge and corner brightening it applies to in-camera JPEGs based on the Canon lens attached. Canon has profiled the vignette characteristics of 82 lenses past and present (of about 125 Canon EF and EF-S lenses developed to date); the camera can store up to 40 such profiles, and the camera will come already loaded with 26

    The upcoming EOS Utility 2.5 will facilitate the loading and removal of lens vignette profiles in the camera. As new lenses are introduced, lens vignette information will be added to future versions of EOS Utility, which can in turn store this new data in the camera

    If the camera is set to CR2, lens vignette correction is not applied to the RAW data, but the lens vignette info is noted in the file, enabling Canon's Digital Photo Professional software to optionally apply the correction during conversion
ISO The camera has a standard ISO range of 100-3200, in 1/3 step increments, plus ISO 6400 and 12,800.

Shutter lag, mirror blackout, startup The 50D is specified to have a shutter lag of of 59ms, mirror blackout time of 100ms and startup time of 0.1 seconds. The startup time has been measured in accordance with CIPA guidelines. As of this writing we're not sure if the shutter lag and mirror blackout are CIPA as well.

CompactFlash Fast CompactFlash card write speeds are expected, owing to the 50D's support of UDMA up to Mode 6. The camera accepts both Type I and the thicker Type II CompactFlash. Folders can both be created and selected on the card, which is a first outside of Canon's 1-series lineup.

Frame rate and burst depth A maximum frame rate of 6.3 fps (CIPA standard) for a Canon-specified 90 Large Fine JPEG (when a UDMA-capable CompactFlash card is used; 60 with a slower, non-UDMA card), 16 RAW or 10 RAW+JPEG frames (all at ISO 100). RAW (any type) + JPEG (any type) shooting is also possible.

Note that burst depth doesn't drop when High ISO Noise Reduction is enabled, except when the Strong option is selected. Also note that the CIPA standard for stating frame rate is a little tighter than the standard used by some or all camera makers previously, such that the 40D's 6.5 fps stated frame rate is actually 6.4 fps under the new CIPA guidelines. It's unlikely there will be any practical difference between the 50D's 6.3 fps and the 40D's 6.4 fps.
Autofocus The 50D's autofocus system carries over mostly unaltered from the 40D: it remains comprised of nine AF points, all of which act as cross-type with f/5.6 or faster lenses (the centre AF point operates with higher precision than the other points with f/2.8 or faster lenses).

While Canon is emphasizing this time around the AF system's ability to detect scene colour temperature and light flicker, and include that as part of the 50D's autotofocus calculation, that capability was also present in the 40D, says Canon USA's Westfall. Canon's briefing notes on the camera make no mention, says Westfall, of autofocus sensor or algorithm changes in the 50D, relative to the 40D.

Where those calculations are performed is also the same: in a dedicated microprocessor. This should mean the speed of autofocus will feel about the same as before, with one caveat: because the 50D's main CPU, DIGIC 4, is faster than DIGIC III in the 40D, certain functions of the new model may end up enjoying a slight speed boost, even if they don't directly depend on the DIGIC processor to perform their specific function. Autofocus speed could well be one such function that is improved in this way, though whether any speed jump is noticeable or leads to a higher percentage of in-focus pictures is impossible to say without actually using the camera.

The only change to autofocus that's visible to the user is found in the camera's Custom Functions: AF Microadjustment, for compensating for focus calibration error in the camera body or combination of body and attached lens, has been added to the 50D, with the same menu screen layout and options as the Mark III models.

(We recently wrote about the suitability of 40D autofocus for sports photography.)

Rear LCD Backing up the 50D is a sharp and clear three inch (diagonal), 920,000 dot rear LCD display, with seven increment brightness control. The screen's size and resolution matches the stunning rear LCD in Nikon's D3, D300 and D700, though the 50D may or may not be utilizing the identical screen component. The 50D's rear LCD features a triple-layer coating designed to combat glare and smudges while also preventing scratches.

Crispy: The three inch (diagonal), 920,000 dot rear LCD in the Canon EOS 50D (Photo courtesy Canon)

Live View The 50D's Live View continues Canon's evolution of its real-time display mode. Building on the Live View mode of the Rebel XSi/450D, with both Quick Mode autofocus (phase detection, Live View is interrupted while the mirror drops and focus is performed) and Live Mode autofocus (contrast detection, Live View is not interrupted, focus is slower than phase detection), the 50D adds face detection when Live Mode autofocus is selected, plus an additional, tighter-spaced grid overlay option (for a total of two selectable grids).

The Direct Print button can now switch on Live View as well.

Connections Connection options include USB 2.0, HDMI video out (using a Type C connector), analog audio/video out, PC sync and N3 remote.

Creative Auto For newcomers to photography, the 50D adds a Creative Auto option to the mode dial, between P and the Green Zone. This new option is meant to give more control over parameters such as white balance and Picture Styles to users who otherwise want the camera to do the work for them. It includes text explanations on the rear LCD of the options that can be adjusted in the Creative Auto mode.
From the 40D The remainder of the 50D is in most respects identical to the 40D. They both share the same:
  • 95% coverage viewfinder (including standard and optional focusing screens)
  • 35-zone metering (with Evaluative, 9% Partial, 3.8% Spot and Centre-weighted metering modes)
  • Top shutter speed of 1/8000 and top standard flash sync speed of 1/250 (the cameras contain the same shutter and mirror mechanisms)
  • Built-in flash with 17mm lens coverage
  • Compatibility with EF and EF-S lenses
  • Power options, including the 1390mAh Battery Pack BP-511A (or equivalent) and AC Adapter Kit ACK-E2
  • Accessory options, including Battery Grip BG-E2, Battery Grip BG-E2N and Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E3/E3A
The two cameras' dimensions, body style and control positions are also the same (though the 50D is fractionally lighter). In a nutshell, the 50D appears to be a 40D with a higher-resolution sensor, revamped image processing, faster CompactFlash write speeds, HDMI video out and a crisp new rear LCD.

Bundled software

The 50D will ship with new versions of Canon's various digital photography software programs for Mac and Windows. EOS Utility 2.5 adds a function for setting copyright, new controls for focus, exposure and image stabilization, a 200% zoom view plus AF point display in Remote Live View. In addition to support for the new camera's RAW files, Digital Photo Professional 3.5 adds AF point display, Auto Lighting Optimizer controls, finer control of noise reduction (the NR slider has expanded from 11 to 21 steps), greater carryover of EXIF metadata into converted files and support for 25 additional lenses in the lens aberration correction function (for a total of 82 supported lenses).

On the EOS Solution Disk CD with the 50D will be the following:
  • EOS Utility 2.5 (Mac/Windows)
  • Digital Photo Professional 3.5 (Mac/Windows)
  • ImageBrowser 6.2 (Mac) / ZoomBrowser EX 6.2 (Win)
  • Picture Style Editor 1.4 (Mac/Windows)
  • WFT Utility 3.2 (Mac/Windows)
  • PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac) / PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows)
  • Memory Card Utility 1.2 (Mac/Windows)
  • Original Data Security Tools 1.5 (Windows only)
Canon's usual practice is to follow up the delivery of a new digital SLR with a web release of software updaters for owners of older cameras, and that's likely to be the case once again. A date for the posting of updaters for the listed applications has not been set.

Note that RAW Image Task, the application that for some time has been bundled with ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser EX and has handled RAW conversion duties for these programs, is no longer being updated. It will not be able to convert CR2s shot with the 50D or, presumably, subsequent Canon digital SLRs, though it will continue to be compatible with CR2s from most Canon models prior to the 50D.

For 50D shooters, Digital Photo Professional will be the lone Canon-provided RAW conversion option. Photos can be passed from ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser EX to Digital Photo Professional for processing. There will be little reason though, in most 50D pro workflows we can think of, to use ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser EX in the future. When shooting Canon, we've used ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser EX really only to view AF point placement (a feature now slated for the next version of Digital Photo Professional) and to get to RAW Image Task.

Previously, RAW Image Task's RAW conversions were nearly an exact match for in-camera conversions to JPEG (except that RAW Image Task offers TIFF as an output file format). Assuming a low-compression in-camera JPEG setting, the colour, detail, noise, character of noise reduction and all other image quality traits were the same as they could be in JPEGs from a Canon digital SLR and a CR2 run through RAW Image Task.

Digital Photo Professional, by comparison, has offered conversions with finer detail and colour that is similar and pleasing (with the newest cameras' CR2s) or colour that is different and almost always inferior to RAW Image Task (with older cameras' CR2s).

As Canon fades away RAW Image Task, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, they've done to meld the look of RAW Image Task and Digital Photo Professional conversions together. Not to mention whether the 50D's DIGIC 4 processor performs in-camera conversions with the same level of detail as Digital Photo Professional.

New all-purpose zoom

Canon has also announced a new all-purpose zoom for its 1.6X sensor size cameras, the EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. It incorporates two aspherical and two ultra-low dispersion elements and Canon's four-stop image stabilization but lacks ultrasonic motor (USM) focusing. To limit zoom creep when carrying the lens, the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS includes a zoom lock button; the lock automatically disengages again when the zoom ring is turned.

Vacation Time: The Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (Photo courtesy Canon)

Price and ship date

The Canon EOS 50D is slated to ship in early October 2008 at an expected street price of US$1399 in the U.S. The EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is to ship at about the same time at an expected street price of US$699. The EOS 40D will continue to be sold in the U.S. through at least the end of 2008, says Westfall, at its recently-reduced price of US$1099.

In Canada, the estimated selling price for the 50D body is CDN$1449.99. It will also be available in kit form, with the EF 17-85mm f/4.5-5.6 IS for an estimated selling price of CDN$1799.99 or with the EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS for an estimated selling price of CDN$2049.99. The EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens on its own has an estimated selling price of CDN$749.99. Canon Canada is targeting an October 2008 release for the new camera and new lens.

Canon USA is working on a detailed white paper about the EOS 50D, says Westfall, but a date for its release has not been set.
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