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Canon EOS 50D

Review Date: Nov 1, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Speed, improved ergonomics, self cleaning sensor, wonderful LCD, more accurate focusing.
Big file size

My first foray into the digital SLR world was purchasing a used Canon 20D about 3 years ago. I put over 40k frames on that camera, shooting everything from American Le Mans races to weddings. The camera performed wonderfully, always providing good images (when I didn't screw something up) and never failing to perform when asked.

As is typical with technology, the shortcomings of previous generations become spotlighted as new models hit the market. The Canon xxD bodies are no exception. I began to lust over self cleaning sensors, large LCD screens, and newer Digic technology. My contimplation of replacing my old friend was given a boost when my brother asked about buying my 20D. He wanted to explore photography more and was feeling limited by his P&S.

I did consider the 5d mkII, but I could not justify to myself spending that much on a camera body. Maybe if my hobby was generating some cashflow it would be different. Besides, once the decision was made, I wanted the new shiny NOW, not in a couple of weeks. I also thought about getting a used 5d mkI. In the end, the 5d didn't seem like a good fit for me. Although producing wonderful images, it's not as flexible as the 50d and it does not enjoy the latest technology. Also, I can keep using my 10-22 EF-S lens, which I really enjoy shooting with.

So, armed with a 10% off coupon, off to Best Buy I went. They didn't sell the body only, just the kit with a 28-135. A quick phone call to my brother, who agreed to purchase the included lens along with my old 20D, and we had a deal.

When I first pulled the 50D out of the box, I immediately noticed how much better it felt in my hand. The most significant difference is the notch in the grip under the shutter release. It has a much more natural feel vs. the 20D. The LCD screen is huge, bright, and clear.

Here's my initial thoughts:

*Speed: This camera is quick. It starts up fast, focuses fast, and the high speed burst is excellent. I can rip off a string of RAW shots and don't have to wait for the camera to write them to start shooting again. When you've got a 3 year old who can only sit still for < 0.25 seconds at any given time, this is an enormously important feature. I'm using SanDisk Extreme III 4GB cards from Costco.

*Focusing: Quick and accurate. One huge benefit to this body is the micro-adjustments. I found that two of my lenses were front focusing slightly and compensated. The difference was immediately noticeable in the images. Low light focusing is also much improved. My 50 f/1.8 used to hunt a fair amount on the 20D, not anymore. The Ai Focus setting seems more sensitive to movement as well. I rarley used that setting on my 20D because I felt it never delivered as promised. It's now my primary setting.

*Image Quality: Very happy with the results. I've been mostly shooting at ISO 1000 and below with no complaints. I have some higher ISO shots, but I haven't processed them yet. After's critique of the auto noise reduction softening the images at 1600 and above, I changed the built in noise reduction to low. Since I mostly shoot RAW and run images through Noise Ninja, I might end up turning it off completely. I'm eager to get my first large prints ordered.

*Interface/Feel: The menu system is easier to use. The extra buttons on the back are a welcome addition and I've aleady adjusted them in the Custom Function settings to match my shooting style. I love the custom menu that puts frequently used items on one page. With my BGE2 grip and 70-200 f/2.8, the camera feels very balanced. I'm used to Canon ergonomics, so it didn't take me very long adapt to the new additions to the 50D like the "AF on" button or the buttons being placed under the LCD, instead of to the left.

*Live View: I thought this would be a "gimmicky" feature, but I've discovered it to be enormously useful. Most recently, I was shooting in a museum using a tripod. Live View allowed me to shoot angles I wouldn't normally be able to shoot at, and allowed for much more accurate manual focusing.

Overall, I'm very happy with the upgrade. I haven't encountered any problems that seem to be plauging some users. Even if I do, my experience with Canon warranty repair is very positive and I know I won't be without the camera for very long. I didn't have to change my shooting style or "switchology" when upgrading. I shoot the same way I did before, just quicker. Maybe some of you are saying, "Your pictures suck. You need to change your shooting style." You can kiss my butt. Wink

The 50D seems to eat batteries much quicker than the 20D. I'm going to have to keep a closer eye on that.

2X the resolution means 1/2 the number of pics per card. This hasn't been a problem yet, and shouldn't be considering the affordability of CF cards. I have plenty of drive space at home, but I might run into issues when on long trips and using my laptop.

If you have a 20D, 30D, or Rebel series digital SLR, this is a recommended upgrade. If you have a 40D, I'm less enthusiastic. This is not untypical of Canon though. From generation to generation of xxD bodies, the changes seem to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary...almost encouraging the buyers to upgrade every other generation.

If you're considering Canon vs. Nikon vs. Sony vs. whatever else is out there, make sure you do your homework. I don't know enough about the other manufacturer's lines to make an educated recommendation.