Canon SX50 Review Part 2: 24mm to 100mm and Part 2A: DRC

April 16, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Prologue: This is the second in a series of articles I wrote on in November and December 2012 reviewing the Canon SX50 camera and comparing it to its older sibling, the SX40. Part 1 is in a separate Blog entry below. While the original articles remain on, the links to most of the example images were lost. By request of the readers on that website, I am republishing the articles here in my Blog with all the original example images intact.

Note that clicking on a Review image will open it in a Picture Gallery where some may be downloaded. Only test images are downloadable while pictorial images, which are copyrighted, are not. The caption of each image in the Picture Gallery will include a link back to this Article.

The original articles were divided into Part 2 and Part 2A. Those Parts will be combined below:

SX50 vs SX40 - Head to Head in the 24mm to 100mm Zoom Range - SCENE ONE:

When I first bought my SX40, I was thrilled by the long zoom and the ability to catch all sorts of subjects far in the distance. It was a while before I realized that the 24mm to 100mm range performed much better than I would have expected as well. In Part 1 of these reviews, we looked at the comparison of the SX50 and SX40 at 500mm and 840mm (or around that for the SX50). This time we'll look at the shorter side of the range where a lot of everyday shooting will occur, including scenic landscapes. Sure I'll throw in a few long zooms, mainly because I can't resist, but comparisons will mostly be at the short end.

Instead of setting up both cameras as closely alike as possible, this time I tried something different. That is, setting up each camera with what I think are its best settings. Here, the SX40 matches its settings in the first review, but since the SX50 has what I think are two very worthwhile improvements, they were both dialed in for the shoot. It makes sense since one of the reasons one buys an upgraded camera is for its new features. So the "advantage" the SX50 may have in this head to head, besides superfine mode, is turning on Dynamic Range Control for both auto highlights and for auto shadows. As stated in Part 1, this tends to give a flatter, brighter initial image, but with more details at either end of the luminance range from a perceived increase in dynamic range. It may be a digital increase and not an upgrade to the sensor, but it appears to work. And the flat, bright effect is easily corrected in post. At the end of the first scene of comparative images, I will post a corrected image for your review.

For the test, the cameras were tripod mounted, both set to their lowest ISO and both set to evaluative metering and Av mode. Sharpening, contrast, etc. are all at default. The test was during the mid-day hour in bright southern sky sunshine with some clouds and a light breeze shaking the leaves on the trees. The SX50 went first, progressively set for 24mm, 40mm, 55mm, and 90mm for the first scene; and 24mm, 35mm, 55mm and 90mm for the second. Except for the 24mm images, the SX40 sequence for each scene was composed in its EVF to match the same angle of view as seen on the SX50 EVF without regard to focal length, as close as the motorized zoom would allow. I had to be in Tarrytown, NY on business that day, so at lunchtime I took the cameras to the River Walk on the Hudson, just south of the 3 mile long Tappan Zee Bridge.

The first scene is pointing into the hidden sun, with the New York City skyline about 23 miles south on the mid left side. I chose this scene not only for its broad range of shadows, mid tones and highlights, but also to see what havoc the railroad ties fading into the distance in bright contrasty sun would play on the two cameras. And I just liked the 24mm composition. So here are the first set head to head, SX50 @ 24mm first, SX40 @ 24mm second, SX50 @ 40mm, etc., etc.

11 121114_0166_SX50 SOOC 24mm11 121114_0166_SX50 SOOC 24mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
SX50 at 24mm. Superfine with auto highlight and auto shadow DRC turned on.

12 121114_1338_SX40 SOOC 24mm12 121114_1338_SX40 SOOC 24mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
SX40 at 24mm. Fine

The combination of Superfine and Dynamic Range control (DRC) on the SX50 is doing its jobs. At 400%, more details are available in the brightened shadows with no noticeable increase in noise. And the sky shows higher definition and separation of the clouds. The details of the clothing of the track workers are also more easily discernible, as is the license plate on the maintenance truck. The sun flare on the truck is also more tightly controlled.

Focus for both images is on the cross members of the power line tower in the middle trees, and that focus at 400% is about dead even between both cameras. Highlights on the line shakles on the top two cross members, however, are better controlled and sharper on the SX50.

Going around the edges of the images is an interesting comparison. The SX50 gives the impression of having more details because the DRC lightens the shadows and better controls the flare in the highlights. But the SX40, with the non-flattened higher contrast sometimes appears sharper. The answer here may very well be up to the post processing decision of the user, but I tend to like having the extra details of the SX50.

Purple Fringing (PF) is mostly seen only around the edges of both images, but it is more pronounced on the SX50, especially in the back-lit upper left trees. But the SX40 has some along the right bottom tracks that does not show up in the SX50.

And now, those tracks. I followed them at 400%, side by side and inch by inch from the bottom right all the way up and over. And once again it's a toss-up between a little more but slightly lighter detail in the SX50 vs an apparent sharpness derived from higher contrast on the SX40. But what I didn't expect was that the power line towers in the distance on the SX50 are much sharper with greater contrast than on the SX40. So are the NY City skyline on the left and the power lines on the upper middle right. So, overall, at 24mm I would score this one for the SX50.

40mm - 42mm PICTURES: 

13 121114_0167_SX50 SOOC 40mm13 121114_0167_SX50 SOOC 40mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

14 121114_1339_SX40 SOOC 42mm14 121114_1339_SX40 SOOC 42mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

The results at 40mm are basically the same as at 24mm. For the SX50, PF is now a little better controlled and catching up to the SX40. For the SX40, the far power line towers are now catching up in sharpness and contrast to the SX50.

55mm - 70mm PICTURES:

15 121114_0168_SX50 SOOC 55mm15 121114_0168_SX50 SOOC 55mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

16 121114_1340_SX40 SOOC 70mm16 121114_1340_SX40 SOOC 70mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

The SX40 still continues to win for PF in the trees, but again also shows PF in the tracks where the SX50 doesn't. An interesting observation is that the SX40 is starting to catch up to the SX50 in shadow detail. But the SX50 still controls highlights better.

90mm - 100mm PICTURES:

17 121114_0169_SX50 SOOC 90mm17 121114_0169_SX50 SOOC 90mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

18 121114_1341_SX40 SOOC 104mm18 121114_1341_SX40 SOOC 104mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

It's starting to become rather difficult to tell the two cameras apart, even at 400%. Could we now be in the heart of the zoom range? Maybe the second set of comparison images will tell.

But before we do that, here are a couple of extra images from the SX50. The first shows the results of just a little post processing to bring up the tone levels of the DRC image. It now begins to match the higher contrast of the SX40 while also maintaining a little more detail.

121114_0173_SX50 Hudson River from Tarrytown to NYC121114_0173_SX50 Hudson River from Tarrytown to NYCTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
Using both auto shadow and auto highlight in Dynamic Range Correction on the SX50 can produce flat results but with slightly more detail and dynamic range. As shown in this image, it is easily corrected in post with a little tone and levels adjustment while maintaining the details and range.

And I couldn't resist, so here's the distant NY City skyline and George Washington Bridge with the full optical power of the SX50's 1200mm. Not too shabby for over 20 miles away.

121114_0175_SX50 Midtown Manhattan from the Tarrytown River Walk121114_0175_SX50 Midtown Manhattan from the Tarrytown River WalkTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
The New York City Skyline and George Washington Bridge in the haze from more than 20 miles up river with the 1200mm optical zoom of the SX50. This is an uncropped image with the bridge adjusted slightly darker in post.


SX50 vs SX40 - Head to Head in the 24mm to 100mm Zoom Range - SCENE TWO:

The second scene was chosen for its more neutral even lighting, a good example of a landscape image not as hard on the cameras.


21 121114_0180_SX50 SOOC 24mm21 121114_0180_SX50 SOOC 24mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
SX50 at 24mm. Superfine.

22 121114_1343_SX40 SOOC 24mm22 121114_1343_SX40 SOOC 24mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
SX40 at 24mm. Fine.

Results between the two cameras are relatively even. The SX50 still has slightly more PF in the trees against the sky, but still has slightly more details in the shadows. What's surprising, however, is that the bridge at 400% shows more contrast, and thus perception of sharpness. Once again, I'll score this focal length for the SX50.


23 121114_0181_SX50 SOOC 35mm23 121114_0181_SX50 SOOC 35mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

24 121114_1344_SX40 SOOC 35mm24 121114_1344_SX40 SOOC 35mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

For 35mm, the observations are the same as for 24mm.


25 121114_0182_SX50 SOOC 55mm25 121114_0182_SX50 SOOC 55mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

26 121114_1345_SX40 SOOC 55mm26 121114_1345_SX40 SOOC 55mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

The SX40 is now catching up to the SX50 and its higher contrast here is making for a very pleasing image straight out of the camera. Score this focal length for the SX40.


27 121114_0183_SX50 SOOC 90mm27 121114_0183_SX50 SOOC 90mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

28 121114_1346_SX40 SOOC 90mm28 121114_1346_SX40 SOOC 90mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link

Once again it is hard to tell which image is from which camera. Though we haven't comparison tested the cameras from above 100mm to below 500mm (500-840mm was tested in the first mini-review), 100mm may be the beginning of the sweet spot for these lenses. These images are definitely a toss-up.

Now once again, I couldn't resist showing the long reach of the two cameras.

First at optical:

30 121114_1347_SX40 SOOC 840mm30 121114_1347_SX40 SOOC 840mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
Here the SX40 is at its full 840mm optical zoom. More area is included than in the longer SX50 below.

29 121114_0184_SX50 SOOC 1200mm29 121114_0184_SX50 SOOC 1200mmTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
The SX50 at 1200mm optical zoom gives closer details of the reconstruction work area under the roadbed.

And next with the Digital 2.0 TC engaged:

32 121114_1348_SX40 SOOC 1680mm with TC32 121114_1348_SX40 SOOC 1680mm with TCTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
Again the SX40 is first at 1680mm Digital TC 2.0 zoom.

31 121114_0185_SX50 SOOC 2400mm with TC31 121114_0185_SX50 SOOC 2400mm with TCTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
The SX50 however gives a closer inspection of the workers stopping for lunch with its 2400mm Digital TC 2.0 zoom. This image shows the lower left corner of the one above it.

These images are a good comparison of the range of these cameras. But I suggest that a more practical comparison be done a little differently. Everyone usually compares the 2°-3° longest telephoto view against the 84° angle at 24mm. We as humans can perceive this 84° angle in the periphery of our vision, but we usually only pay attention to about 46°. This is about the angle of view of a 50mm lens. So when doing your comparison, start with the 55mm images above and compare those to the 24mm images to see how wide the lenses are, and then 55mm to the longest focal length to see their reach.

The Bottom Line (Once Again, So Far):

I hope this review segment has been helpful to those deciding to upgrade, or just choosing between the two cameras. It may even help you choose another camera instead. That's quite fine, happy to help. But what I think it does show is that either camera is a versatile instrument. And either, with practice, can take wonderful pictures. I'm still leaning to the increased features of the SX50, but I'm glad I still have both.

Addendum to SX50 Review Part 2 from comments (with edits) in its discussion:

James wrote: Very nice work. The graphs and charts used by review sites are all well and good, but I prefer your presentation. Most of us can relate to real life photos, such as yours . . .

Thanks James. I've certainly done my time pouring over charts and graphs for equipment before I've bought it. That has mostly been for big ticket items when having to decide which very expensive lens will work better and give me what I need with which expensive body. For my next dSLR and glass purchase, I'll probably do the same. For these P&S little marvels, matching equipment has already been done for us. And honestly, we already expect compromises. So to me, the most important question is "How do we like the pictures it takes?" Sure, for example, one camera may have a little more PF which for practical purposes is usually not that visible. Or another camera may handle a little faster or easier than the other. But those are questions one should ask only after seeing if one likes the look of the pictures first. I wouldn't want to take visually inferior looking pictures with a different camera just because it is faster or easier, or, technically at least, “more perfect”. So I do appreciate when people realize why I take this approach.

Part 2A - Continued Discussion of DRC

All of the SX50 images used as examples in Part 2 of my mini-review series had both auto highlight and auto shadow turned on in Dynamic Range Control (DRC). The features worked very well in the examples taken in higher contrast sunlight shining towards the lens. They also gave more detail to the images in which over the shoulder light was not at all harsh. In the discussion, Dale pointed out that even though these effects can help many pictures, one shouldn't use it all the time.  Many times you just want higher contrast and less detail that segregates the subject and adds a feeling of sharpness. That is very true. In addition, others have been telling me about their confusion on when to use these features. So I’ve added two more images today as examples of DRC's use.

The first image I call "Walking Giants Out For A Stroll." As I was driving my car, I saw this image that I thought had possibilities, so I pulled over to the side of the road. I was intrigued by the graphic qualities of the silhouetted towers and wires sitting atop a rock based grassy hill. all against a partly cloudy bright noon sky. Turns out the rock base bordered a flood plain, so my shoes and pants got a little wet. But what we do for our art.

In order to get the composition I liked, the camera had to go right down on  the wet grass, LCD extended and turned up. Even those of us who prefer the EVF know when to shut up and use the right tool. But the sun was so bright coming into the lens that the towers were being blown away, the wires invisible, and the grass and rocks black. If this was how the LCD reacted, I could imagine the sensor not being that happy either. So it was time to set DRC to both auto highlight and auto shadow. Here's the result:

121119_0202_SX50 Walking Giants Out For A Stroll121119_0202_SX50 Walking Giants Out For A StrollTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
"Walking Giants Out For A Stroll"  -  SX50 at 24mm directly into the mid-day sun with DRC.

This image would have been just one black and white silhouette (and some may have liked it that way) without DRC. Note that it is best viewed in a room with subdued light to see the texture in the lower section. There was a little post to bring up the highlights on the stone wall and then rebalance the levels a bit, but the camera did most of the work. So this is a case when DRC especially comes in handy.

The second example is called "Fall Fading Into Winter" and was taken when I got home. Here the dying blooms against the still colorful fall palette provided their own contrast on nature. And it raised a question of whether to use DRC or not. Looking through the viewfinder, the dying flowers showed very little detail with burned out highlights. Decreasing the exposure a bit helped but started darkening everything else too much to be pleasing. It appeared to me that the best case was to turn on auto highlight control. At the same time, the faded brown leaves along the bottom and right hand corner had already started to go black. I originally was going to keep it this way, but on second thought felt it may be too harsh in the overall subtle palette. So I turned on auto shadow control to preserve the brown hues and detail. Here's the result:

121119_0205_SX50 Fall Fading into Winter121119_0205_SX50 Fall Fading into WinterTo return to the SX50 Review - Part 2, click the link
"Fall Fading Into Winter"  -  SX50 at about 200mm with DRC

I like the color palette and the way the luminance levels separate the fore and backgrounds. Others may have chosen not to use shadow control for higher contrast from darker leaves and stems, thus giving more separation. Even others may have not used highlight control taking the dying blooms farther to the right, adding even more contrast and separation.

Although I think the first example shows a clear indication of how useful DRC can be, the second example may be a toss-up for some and worth further discussion. Either way people may now have a better idea of when to use it, or when to stay away, choosing based on needs dictated by the light or just for artistic expression.

For Galleries of images on this website taken with the cameras reviewed in this article, use these links to open them in a separate Tab on your Browser:

Canon Powershot SX50:

Canon Powershot SX40:

Stay tuned as Part 3 of this review, SX50 and SX40 When the Light Goes Down, will be published soon.


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