And now it's time for another bridge camera with a record-breaking zoom. This year's record-holder is the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, which has knocked the Nikon Coolpix P510 (42x) off the top spot with its 50x zoom lens. The Canon SX50 HS has a focal range of 24-1200 mm starting at a very wide-angle setting and ending at a monster telephoto. On top of that, you get a BSI CMOS sensor, a swivel screen and Full HD video. Sounds promising!
In terms of looks, the SX50 HS still has plenty in common with the previous model—the Canon SX40 HS—but some design features have been updated. Here, for example, the flash and grip handle have changed shape and a few buttons have been moved around.
The SX50 HS is still a very plastic camera. The new deeper grip handle makes the 2012 model easier to keep hold of than the SX40 HS, but some kind of rubbery panel or finish would have further improved handling. It's also a little surprising to see that the buttons on this camera aren't all the same—the playback and video buttons are set flush to the camera body, while other buttons, like Disp and Menu, are domed and easier to press.
The screen has the same kind of issues we saw with the SX40 HS display. In other words, colour fidelity isn't up to much, the colour temperature is slightly to blue, and the excessive contrast overexposes light greys.
The camera's interface feels just like the SX40 to use. There's still no button for switching between the screen and the viewfinder—you have to press the Disp button three times to cycle through the the various options before getting to the viewfinder. That said, we didn't use the viewfinder much, as it's small, uncomfortable, low def and prone to some very visible rainbow effects.
The SX50 HS is generally more responsive than the previous model, which is actually pretty surprising given its monster zoom lens! Start-up time and photo-to-photo turnaround have both been pushed down under two seconds. The autofocus is on the better side of average in decent light and at everyday focal lengths. It doesn't perform quite as well in low light, however.
All of that had the SX50 on track for a four-star score in this part of our review. However, the SX50 lost a star due to its performance in our field tests. When shooting with the camera in real-life situations, we found that the autofocus lacked responsiveness and didn't lock onto subjects particularly well at very long focal lengths. When taking zoomed-in wildlife shots, for example, you really notice how long it takes the autofocus to work, and even a slight movement from the subject can cause front/back focusing issues.
The SX50 HS uses the same internal electronics as the SX40 HS, with a 12-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, but the 2012 model comes with a new lens, upped from a 35x zoom to a 50x zoom. The focal range isn't all that's been upped in the SX50 either, as the ISO sensitivity settings now span from 80 to 6400 ISO.
The sensor's performance hasn't changed a bit. A good level of detail is maintained up to 800 ISO and—like with the SX40 HS—strong smoothing kicks in to wipe out detail upwards of 1600 ISO. The effects of this will even show up on a 4" x 6" print (11 x 15 cm).
Both in out test scene and in real-life situations, this camera tends to shoot highly contrasted images with bright, light areas that sometimes look overexposed. A quick manual adjustment of the exposure can help here. Note too that the SX50 HS has a RAW mode, which makes images considerably easier to post-edit with software like Lightroom or Aftershot.
46 mm, 640 ISO, 1/100 s, f/5.6.
As for the lens, at wide-angle, sharpness levels are very good in the middle of the image. However, quality drops a little more quickly around the edges of the frame than was the case with the SX40. At telephoto, details are slightly less sharply defined over the whole frame.
In our SX40 HS review, we wrote a whole section (in the inset box) about just how well chromatic aberration had been corrected compared with the SX30. We were therefore only too surprised to see the return of chromatic aberration with the lens at mid-zoom settings in the SX50—it's even visible on 4 x 6" shots (11 x 15 cm). You can still spot traces of chromatic aberration on the photo above even though we've resized it to 600 pixels wide—which would make for a print of about 2" (5 cm) across!
204 mm, 500 ISO, 1/160 s, F/5.6.
All in all, the SX50 lacks a little sharpness compared with the SX40 or the Panasonic FZ200. The 50x zoom lens is certainly an attractive feature and has no real competitor on the market right now. But, to be honest, this lens didn't quite live up to expectations.
The SX50 HS video mode is lifted straight out of the SX40, filming in Full HD resolution at 24 frames per second with stereo sound. The framerate is therefore no match for the 50p video modes in the Panasonic FZ200 and Sony HX200V. The video image also inherits a rather aggressive contrast from its predecessors, which overexposes bright, light areas and blocks up darker, shadowy zones.
The stereo sound is effective. Different sounds are reproduced accurately and voices are easily recognisable. It's possible to take a photo while filming video, but you end up seeing the AF assist light and the camera focusing in your final video. Plus, black frames appear in the video at the precise time you took a picture, and the mics will pick up the artificial shutter-release noise the camera makes unless you remember to switch it off.
Beware when using the camera in your hands (especially at arm's length, when lining up shots onscreen) as at maximum zoom settings the image isn't very stable. You're better off using a tripod, otherwise your friends and family may end up feeling sea-sick when watching back your movies.