Canon is aiming this new camera at what it calls ‘advanced amateurs’, which seems to fit the bill quite nicely. It’s not a professional camera – for a start it doesn’t have the option of huge, screw-in lenses and hot-shoe attachments – but it is some way above the conventional point-and-click fare, especially when it comes to manual control of the photographic process.
This is a surprisingly hefty camera given its pocketable size, so unless Canon’s built the chassis out of lead, there’s quite a selection of electronics inside. A quick glance at the control system will confirm that it’s the latter. The sliding cover reveals a motorised mechanism containing a 7.1 – 21.3mm lens (equivalent to 35 – 105mm on a 35mm camera) with 3x optical zoom. The top dial is the sort you’d seen on Canon’s film SLRs, with pre-sets for portrait, landscape, action, night scene, ‘stitch assist’ and the option of short video clips (there’s a microphone and speaker on the top of the camera). In addition to this there’s a thumb-pad controller for navigating menus, plus eight other buttons, not counting the shutter release.
Despite this, it is reasonably easy to use the PowerShot S50 as a simple point-and-click camera. Just rotate the dial to the appropriate setting and you’re away. With a 5-megapixel CCD and Canon’s respected lens and image processing electronics, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get some decent photos on the standard settings.
Actually, ‘decent’ is doing the camera a disservice. The results are excellent, with few or no artefacts (even when saving pictures in JPEG format as opposed to raw mode), high levels of detail and ‘real’ colour balance. We noticed a very faint trace of blue/red separation around hard contrast edges, but only if we zoomed into the image, and this was less than we’ve seen in other cameras in this price range. It’s actually hard not to produce decent photos with this camera, which will flatter would-be professionals everywhere.
But that’s only part of the package, because it’s the range of manual settings that gives the PowerShot S50 its ‘advanced amateur’ appeal. You can adjust pretty much everything, from the usual flash modes and white points to colour balance, aperture size, shutter speed, focus mode and flash sync. You decide what the LCD panel tells you (if anything – you can switch it off and use the viewfinder instead) and the menu system for altering the camera’s settings includes user pre-sets so that you can quickly recall your own preferred settings. In playback mode the LCD can give you a histogram of your image, so you can see whether the colour settings are appropriate to the conditions.
A 32MB CompactFlash disk is included, so you can either use the USB connection cable to link to your PC or simply plug the CF disk into a card reader. Cables are also included for playback to a TV set and there’s a selection of software from ArcSoft and other manufacturers that should provide all you need for fairly advanced photo editing.
This is not a studio camera; there’s no hot-shoe option or other straightforward means of controlling external flashes. But for any other use, the results obtained are considerably better than you might expect given the relatively cheap price tag. There are just two problems that we can see. First, because the PowerShot S50 uses a proprietary rechargeable battery (it comes with a mains charger) there’s no point in carrying round a set of ‘emergency’ alkaline AA batteries. Instead you’ll probably want to carry around a spare rechargeable battery, which won’t be cheap. Second, the soft carrying case is an optional extra – now that is cheap.
Contact: 08705 143723