3:44 PM

Canon EOS Body Only



This review is close to 10 pages long because it was written for people who are not proficient with the terms and concepts used in the DSLR world. If you are a proficient DSLR user then I would recommend that you check one of the much shorter reviews here or dpreview. For example, you already know what vignetting is and therefore understand the importance of the new lens peripheral illumination correction feature. However, a new DSLR buyer does not know what this means and this is why I therefore explain what each feature really is so these people can then decide if the feature is really important to them.

It has been just over a year now since I purchased my Canon 40D. At the time, I was just beginning to take my photography really serious. Since then, a lot has changed. I have now become a semi-pro. I still have my full-time job as an IT Manager here in Miami. However, I do a lot of photography work, especially events, on the weekends.

I really love my 40D but as I started doing more and more professional work I realized three things:

1. I needed a second camera body
2. I needed a camera with a more professional focusing system.
3. I needed a camera with even higher ISO performance

It was rumored back then that the replacement for the Canon 5D would be out in the first quarter of 2008. I decided to wait for it. However, when the time came there was no news from Canon about the 5D replacement. This was back in March 2008. The Nikon D300 had now been out for a while by then. I thought about buying it but I decided to wait until it was fully reviewed by dpreview as I wanted to see if Nikon had really finally addressed the high ISO performance issues. I ordered it one day after it was reviewed by Phil Askey on dpreview.

Since then, I have been using both the Canon 40D and the Nikon D300. I know it is a bit of a strange combo. People are always surprised when they see that I am using a Canon and a Nikon together.

I took all three cameras - Canon 40D, Canon 50D and Nikon D300 - over the weekend to the Miami Seaquarium to see how the new Canon 50D compared with both of them.

A. High-resolution LCD Screen
The LCD screen is still 3 inches. However, Canon has now increased the resolution from 230,000 dots to 920,000 dots which is the same as that found on the Nikon D300. Of course, this makes it a lot easier to check images on playback to see if they are sharp and in focus. More important, however, is the fact that Canon added a two layer anti-reflective coating which makes it way easier now to review images in bright sunlight. It is a lot easier to review images on the Nikon D300 than the Canon 40D. However, the Canon 50D definitely surpasses the Nikon D300 when reviewing images in bright sunlight.

B. 15.1 Megapixel CMOS Sensor
I think the MP increase is the biggest surprise to me since Canon has always been conservative when it comes to this. However, this increase now seems to be the trend as the new Canon EOS 5D Mark II has gone from 12 MP to a whopping 21 MP. I was always puzzled by the fact that the baby Canon Rebel had more MP than its big brother.

I can clearly see the difference in the resolution of the images produced by the 15.1 MP Canon 50D and those from the 10 MP Canon 40D. For a casual shooter this is not a big deal. However, for professionals shooting events this is really useful. Whenever I shoot an event I try not to turn it into a photo shoot. People are there to have fun. That is the first priority. I need to be able to get my shots fast. Many times this means getting the shot and then doing some cropping to make it perfect. Having 15 MP to play with can be a life savior here. Of course, if I only did portraits where I have time to pose my subjects this would be less important to me.

There is a small difference in the resolution of the images from the 15.1 MP Canon 50D and the 12.1MP Nikon D300.

C. High ISO Performance
The ISO setting control how sensitive the image sensor is to light. As the light gets lower you can increase the ISO to avoid using the flash. This is really important when you want to shoot in available natural light such as at dusk or at dawn when the light is really beautiful. Another example is when you want to photograph a bride and groom during the first dance without using the flash so you capture all the romance. The downside to increasing the ISO is that the resulting photos will tend to get grainier as the ISO increase.

The Canon 40D allowed me to go to ISO 1600 and then expand it to ISO 3200. When I just started out doing casual shots this was okay. However, I find that I often needed to go higher than 1600 and of course I was forced to use ISO 3200. On the Nikon D300 I could go all the way up to ISO 3200 standard so if I needed to use anything higher than ISO 1600 I would use the Nikon D300. That way if I only needed ISO 2000 I could use that setting rather than use ISO 3200. I must let you know that Nikon did fix the high ISO performance issues that plagued its DSLRs prior to the Nikon D300.

The Canon 50D now comes with a standard range of ISO 100 to 3200 just like the Nikon D300. However, the concern that I had was that with the big increase in MP count there would be much more noise (grain) at the higher ISOs. The more MP you have the more noise you tend to get at higher ISOs. I would have much preferred a smaller MP count and better high ISO performance. However, the engineers at Canon have really outdone themselves this time. The high ISO performance of the Canon 50D is just as good as the Nikon D300 even though it has 3MP more. Much of this is due to the fact that Canon is now using gapless micro lenses on the image sensor. This seemed to have really increased the light gathering capabilities of the pixels.

The Canon 50D ISO can be expanded to 6400 (H1) and 12800 (H2). The Nikon D300 can only be expanded up to 6400. However, on the Nikon D300 you can go from 3200 to H0.3 and then to H0.7 before you get to H1.0 which is 6400. This is more flexible than having to go straight to 6400 since you should generally try to use lower ISO speeds.

You might be thinking that it is absurd that anyone should want to use ISO 6400 and worse ISO 12800. However, there are times when getting the shot is more important than the quality of the shot itself. A good example here is when shooting sports. If the light becomes very bad for whatever reason you will need to increase your ISO as much as possible to get high enough shutter speeds to freeze the action.

D. Auto ISO Range (100 to 1600)
I have been to Butterfly World on several occasions to get photos of butterflies, birds and the tropical plants there. It is normally very sunny so to save time I shoot in Aperture priority mode. This allows me to simply set the aperture and then let the camera automatically set the shutter speed based on the current ISO and aperture settings. One thing about South Florida is that one minute it can be very sunny and then in just a few minutes it can become real cloudy. The problem this pose is that when it becomes real cloudy the shutter speed selected by the camera can be so low that it would result in camera shake which in turn results in blurry images. When I just started out my photography this actually happened to me as I would simply forget to check the shutter speed that was selected by the camera.

The auto ISO feature lets the camera automatically change the ISO to suit the shooting mode. For example, when in aperture priority mode if the camera detects that the shutter speed selected would result in camera shake it automatically increases the ISO. This feature is available on the Canon 40D. However, the maximum ISO it would automatically set is 800. The Canon 50D will now set ISO up to 1600 which is a lot more flexible.

The Nikon D300 actually takes the auto ISO concept further by allowing you to set the maximum ISO you want the camera to set and the minimum shutter speed you are willing to work with before the camera start to automatically set the ISO. This gives ultimate control to the photographer.

E. Burst Buffer
Another concern I had with the big increase in MP count was the impact it would have on the burst rate. With the MP count going from 10 to 15 this would normally result in a much slower burst rate. However, the new DIGIC IV image processor is a lot faster than the previous DIGIC III processor so the burst rate is pretty much the same at 6.3 frames per second from 6.5 frames per second. If you use a UDMA card with the Canon 50D you can buffer up to close to 90 large/fine JPEGs versus the 75 on the Canon 40D. The Nikon D300 can store up to 100 large/normal JPEGs at a burst rate of 6 frames per second. With the optional MB-D10 batter pack you can get 8 frames per second.

F. Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction
It is just a fact of life that the light entering a lens tends to fall off around the edges. This tends to be more pronounced when the lens is wide open. The resulting photo will appear dark around the edges. You will see it sometimes referred to as Vignetting. It is more common on cheaper lenses. However, even the most venerable and expensive lenses are not immune to this problem. I have sometimes seen it on my professional grade lenses such as the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS lens and even the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 G lens.

If you have Photoshop CS3 you can quickly correct this problem. However, that is still one more thing that you have to worry about which increases your workflow. The Canon 50D has a database of 26 lenses that it will automatically correct Vignetting for. In addition you can enter another 14 models. This feature can be a really big time saver when you have many photos that were shot with the lens wide open. An example of this would be a photo shoot in natural low light where you have to shoot with the lens wide open most of the times. I remember one such shoot that I did with both the Canon 40D and Nikon D300. When I returned home I had to sit there and review each photo in Photoshop CS3 for Vignetting and fix the ones that I found. This is despite the fact that I had used two professional grade lenses for the photo shoot.

This correction works with JPEG as well as RAW images.

Note that this feature is turned off by default. The reason is that Canon has no idea whether the lens that you are using will work with this feature. Even when you activate it you have to check to make certain that you see "Correction Data Available" which confirms that it does work with your lens. If not you can add your lens to one of the available 14.

The Nikon D300 does not offer Vignetting correction but it does offer chromatic aberration (CA) correction which is not on the Canon 50D. CA is the colored fringes that you sometimes see in photos. The colored fringe normally happens along some edge in the photo where there is strong contrast. A good example is a photo of a white house with green trees in the background. The edge where the green trees meet the white house in the image is a good candidate for some kind of color fringing. Once again, this is something that can be corrected in Photoshop CS3 but anything that can be done by the camera will save a lot of time in post processing.

G. Live View Functionality
If there was one feature that I really missed from back when I had my Canon S5 IS point-and-shoot camera it was face detection. It's a feature that people always asked me about since the Canon 40D and Nikon D300 both had live view but no face detection. When I use live view on the Canon 40D and Nikon D300 I normally focus manually so I can zoom in on the face and then tweak the focus to make sure that it is as sharp as possible. With the 50D I can now save some time by using the new Face Detect live view mode. I also tried it with groups of people and it is pretty good at detecting the faces there as well.

The refresh rate for live view on the Canon 40D/50D is 30 frames per second which is twice that on the Nikon D300 and even the Nikon D3. This makes the Canons better if you want to pan in live view.

One of the biggest advantages of shooting digital is the ability to review a shot immediately to make certain it is good. Because the LCD monitor is just 3 inches, most photographers doing professional work also zoom in to check the focus and sharpness of the photo. You cannot simply look at the brightness of the image on the LCD monitor and assume that the exposure was good. For example, if you are in a dark room and take a photo, when you view it on the LCD monitor it will look very bright but that is because you are in a dark room. The exposure might not be really good and it is possible that the photo is actually underexposed.

When you are doing critical work the best way to review a photo is to view the associated histogram. This is nothing more than a grayscale graph of the tonal values in the photo. An ideal histogram is shaped like a dumb-bell or like a wave that goes up and then down. It goes from black (shadows) on the left and gradually to white (highlights) on the right. A quick check is to see if any of these are clipped (cutoff). If the highlights are clipped it means that something in the photo was overexposed. If the shadows are clipped it means that something was underexposed. If most of the values are to the left (shadows) it generally means that the photo is underexposed. If most of the values are to the right (highlights) it generally means that the photo is overexposed. The Canon 50D has a live view histogram. This is something that is somehow missing from the Nikon D300.

WARNING: If you are coming from a point-and-shoot (P & S) background it is important to understand that live view on a DSLR is different from what you are accustomed to.

(1) The first thing you need to be aware of is that live view is really suitable for still subjects that do not move. A good example of this is if you want to a portrait of your kids where you can get them to stay still. On the other hand, it is not suitable for taking action shots such as your kids playing or of their dance performances. For these action shots you should start out using the sports automatic mode which is for action photography when you don't know how to set your own shooting parameters.

(2) Live View is only available in the creative modes. If you want to use it and you are a beginner you will have to put the camera in Program (P) mode. This is one of the creative modes but the camera set everything for you so you don't have to worry about setting anything. The only thing you will have to remember is to lift up the flash when it is needed.

(3) To use auto focus you will have to press the AF-ON button. You can focus manually the usual way.

H. Quick Control Screen
One feature that I really have enjoyed using on the Canon 40D is to use the LCD screen to set my shooting parameters such as ISO and drive mode. However, I had to push the info button twice for the screen to appear and I still had to use the buttons on the top of the camera. The Canon 50D has improved on this concept. Now all I have to do is push the multi-controller straight down to get into what is now called the Quick Control Screen where the shooting parameters are displayed on the LCD screen. Also, I can now use the multi-controller to simply select any shooting function and the use the quick-control dial to change its settings. Of course, this is a lot easier than having to make selections by pushing different buttons on the top of the camera.

The Nikon D300 has the same kind of functionality here as the Canon 40D. However, the user interface is a lot friendlier on the Canon as the names of all the icons are also displayed as well. Remember that the Nikon D300 is targeted at more advanced shooters so it does not bother with showing the names of icons. It does not even come with any automatic modes like the Canons.

I. Creative Auto Mode
When you use the Full Auto mode the camera controls just about everything. You cannot even decide whether you want to use the flash or use continuous shooting. The Canon 50D no longer has a C3 mode dial. It has a new Creative Auto (CA) mode dial. When you use this mode dial the Creative Auto screen comes up on the LCD monitor. The settings start out just as if you were shooting in full auto mode. However, you can use the multi-controller to select and make changes to any of the following: flash firing, picture brightness, picture style, image-recording quality. You can also decide whether you want to use single, continuous or self-timer shooting.

There is one special change that you can make here that needs special mention. You have probably seen some beautiful portraits where the background is beautifully blurred. This not only makes the subject stands out but also gives the portrait an overall artistic look. The only problem is that you have to be able to set your own aperture to achieve this effect. The Canon 50D has now changed all that. When you are in CA mode, you now have a graphic slider on the Creative Auto screen that you can drag one way to blur the background more and drag it the other way to make the background sharper. There is absolutely no need for you to have any idea about aperture and depth-of-field. You can now produce portraits with beautiful backgrounds (bokeh) simply by dragging a slider!

Since the Nikon D300 is targeted at advanced shooters you won't find something like this on it. It is assumed that if you are buying a camera like that, that you already know how to set your own aperture and shutter speed etc.

J. High ISO Noise Reduction
Earlier on I told you that as you start using really high ISOs you will start noticing more and more grains (noise) in the photos. Cameras like the Canon 40D, Canon 50D and Nikon D300 all offer a custom setting which allows you to specify whether you want the camera to reduce high ISO noise. You might be wondering why the camera does not simply always try to reduce high ISO noise. Well, there is a trade-off involved here. As you try to reduce the noise you will lose some of the details. If you are taking a photograph and you need to preserve details even at the expense of some noise you can simply chose to turn off high ISO noise reduction. If it is more important to get a clean photograph even though you might lose some of the details then you should turn high ISO noise reduction on. One major drawback of using high ISO noise reduction is that it greatly reduces the burst rate. This is another reason why it is turned off by default.

The Canon 40D offers just 2 settings here - on and off. The Canon 50D allows 4 settings - standard, low, strong and disable. This gives you much more flexibility as you can chose to use a low setting rather than just an on setting which is the equivalent of strong.

The Nikon D300 also has 4 settings which are pretty much the same as those on the Canon 50D even though they are named slightly different.

K. Micro AF Adjustment of Lenses
Starting with the Canon 40D, Canon started trickling down some of features from the professional 1D Mark III DSLR. One feature that did not make it down to the Canon 40D is the ability to fine-tune the AF on your lenses. This advance feature is now on the Canon 50D. You can chose to adjust all lenses by the same amount or you can actually adjust up to 20 lenses individually.

This feature is also on the Nikon D300.

L. HDMI Output
One of the biggest advantages of shooting digital is that you can review your shots right away as well as show them to your clients or friends right there if you have a display unit that you can hook your camera up to. Of course the craze these days is HD. Everything just seems to look better in HD. There was no HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) output on the Canon 40D so you could not do a slideshow on a HDTV. With the 50D you can now do that. You can now take some really cool photos of your kids and view them right there on your HD television which makes a huge difference from viewing them on a non-HD display.

The Nikon D300 has this feature.

M. Auto Lighting Optimizer
When you photograph a scene that is evenly lit your camera does a very good job of setting a proper exposure to ensure that your main subject comes out bright enough. However, if the scene contains high contrast areas of brightness and darkness it can trick the camera and cause your main subject to come looking really dark. For example, if you try to photograph your friend with the sun behind him you will most likely find that your friend comes out looking really dark. This is because the bright light from the sun in the background tricks the camera into believing that there is more light on your main subject than there really is.

The auto lighting optimizer feature enables the camera to better handle these kinds of scenarios by lightening the dark areas in a scene such as your friend while still keeping the details in the bright areas such as the sun in the background. This feature was not on the Canon 40D but it was added to the Canon Rebel XSi which came after it. With the Canon 50D you now get this feature but with 4 settings rather than just the enable and disable settings found on the Canon Rebel XSi. You can choose from standard, low, strong or disable.

This feature is on the Nikon D300 with similar 4 settings.

N. New sRAW
There is a new extra small raw file format. With the 50D you now have the option of shooting RAW files at 3.8MP, 7.1MP and of course the whopping 15.1MP.

O. That Darn Print Button
I don't know what is it about that darn print button that Canon just refuses to get rid of it. Yes, it is still there on the Canon 50D. However, this time you can use it as a shortcut to live view. This is a welcome change over the Canon 40D. On that camera I had to store a short cut to live view in the My Menu tab. Now with the Canon 50D I can turn live view on and off by simply pressing the print button.

P. New Function Button
The jump button is still there but its functionality has changed. It is now a function button that you can decide which of the following menu items you want it to activate: LCD Brightness, Image Quality, Exposure Compensation/AEB Setting, Image Jump and Live View Settings. Based on your current shooting scenario you can decide which one of these you want to appear when you press the Function button. For example, at Miami Seaquarium I assigned the LCD Brightness menu to it. This is because the lighting varies greatly from one place to another so I had to keep adjusting the LCD Brightness constantly to review the photos. Instead of having to go through the menu each time it was really convenient to simply press the function button and have the LCD Brightness menu appear - great time saver.

SECTION 4: Is this the right camera for you?
Your buying decision should be based on your requirements, budget and personal preferences.

It is very tempting when comparing the 50D to the 40D to get carried away with the 5MP difference. However, you really need to consider the type of work that you will be doing and the maximum print size that you expect to do. Here is a summary of the maximum print sizes for different megapixels (resolution):
6 megapixels 8" * 10"
8 megapixels 11" * 14"
10 megapixels 13" * 19"

As you can see if your maximum print size is 8" * 10" then you are covered with even a 6 megapixels camera. You should really have a very good reason for needing more than the 10MP found on the Canon 40D.

Here is what you should do. Check off the new/changed features that you think you will need based on where you would like your photography to start and be in a couple of years. If these new/changed features are not really important to you then go with the Canon 40D. You will save yourself some money that you can then use towards buying a good lens. For example, assume that you have $2,000 to spend on both the camera and lens and you are just interested in getting great shots of your children playing soccer and of their dance performances. In that case I would recommend that you get the Canon 40D body ($955) plus the Canon EF 24-105mm L IS lens ($1,040). It is really important to get a good lens. It is better to have a good L lens on a Canon 40D rather than a mediocre lens on the Canon 50D. On the other hand, if you know you want to do strong professional work and you definitely want a Canon then I can highly recommend the Canon 50D with its new/changed more advanced features. You will not be disappointed with this camera. So far I have found it to live up to everything that it promises. I am really blown away by the fact that Canon could really pack so many MP into that sensor and still give great high ISO performance on par with that of the Canon 40D and Nikon D300.

The decision between the Canon 50D and the Nikon D300 is a little bit trickier. Last year when I purchased the Canon 40D, the body was going for $1,299. This means that Canon has only added $100 to make the price $1,399 for the Canon 50D. When the Nikon D300 launched last year, the body was going for $1,799. This difference in price plus the fact that there are still many features on the Nikon D300 that are not on the Canon 50D, tell me that Canon is still not trying to compete directly with the Nikon D300. This is reinforced by the fact that Canon has now even added a Creative Auto mode which is for beginners. In my opinion Canon is trying to provide a DSLR that can be used by both beginners and even professionals depending on the type of work that they do. This is all done at a very reasonable price. The problem that I see right now is that the price of the Nikon D300 is now at $1,550 which means that for just $150 more you can get a much more advanced camera. Two of those key features are the whopping 51-AF focus points versus the 9 on the Canon 50D as well as 100% coverage in the viewfinder versus 95%. You have to decide if the higher resolution, higher ISO performance and a better live view on the Canon 50D are more important to you. If so, then you should go with it. If not, you should go with the Nikon D300. However, be prepared to spend a lot of time learning because there are no automatic modes on that camera. Another important point to consider is the availability and prices of the lenses you will need. Canon lenses are readily available and are also cheaper than their Nikon equivalent. Shortly after I purchased my Canon 40D I simply went on Amazon and bought a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lens. After I purchased my Nikon D300 I had to wait several months before I could get my hands on the Nikon equivalent of that lens. It is constantly back-ordered. When I finally got it I had to pay $300 more than the regular price. I own 5 Canon L lenses and I had no problem getting them - they were all ordered right here on Amazon.

SECTION 5: Conclusion
Your camera should make you feel invincible when out in the field. The Canon 50D is a robust and capable camera that produces stunning images even at very high ISOs. However, it is really up to you to decide whether this is the camera that is best for you based on your personal requirements, budget and preferences. Whether you decide to go with this camera or the Canon 40D or the Nikon D300 I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.

You can check out photos from the Canon 40D and Nikon D300 on my website at tajdigistudios. As I do shoots with the Canon 50D you will see photos from it as well. Be sure to check under the Portfolio menu item. If you are new to DSLRs you might want to check out my free course at tajdslrcourse. If you are considering the Canon 40D you should also check out my review of it right here on Amazon.

10/25/2008: I have uploaded three (3) photos of butterflies to the Customer Image Gallery here. The image quality is simply amazing. I really love this camera!!!!!

11/2/2008: The dpreview of the Canon 50D came out a few days ago. I have added a comment to discuss my thoughts on this. If you have found this review helpful, I recommend that you take a look at my comment to consider some of the negatives from that review. I ran out of space here.

11/23/2008: Softness Issue
In my original review I mentioned that you need a good lens with this camera. I want to stress it again because I have seen reports of softness which is as a result of the high resolution showing up the flaws of the lens being used. Several reviews have made this clear but it seems that people have not paid much attention to it so I am adding the references to this important requirement for getting the best results from the Canon 50D.

Dpreview actually pointed it out but not in a very clear way when the reviewer said: "At a pixel density of 4.5 MP/cm2 ... the lens becomes the limiting factor".

Digital Camera Review makes it much clearer what the issue is: "If anything, the extreme resolution of the new image sensor makes the lenses a potential weak link in terms of overall image quality." They continue: "Even stopped down, many budget lenses may produce soft images that lacks punch and crisp details, making it all the more important to pay attention to the glass you're using.". And finally: "Bottom line, there's not much to criticize about the image sensor in terms of image quality, so the right glass will make the biggest difference."

Camera Labs puts it like this: "Perhaps the biggest issue facing the EOS 50D though is its high resolution. Canon's use of gapless micro-lenses may have kept noise levels under control, but the high pixel density places greater demands on optics than ever before. We found the new EF-S 18-200mm IS lens, while highly flexible in terms of composition, just wasn't able to exploit the maximum resolution from the EOS 50D. If you want to make the most of the 50D's resolving power, you'll really need to couple it with decent lenses - in terms of a general purpose option, the EF 24-105mm f4.0L would be more appropriate."

Finally, from imaging-resource here is one of the cons: "Soft images with the 28-135mm kit lens; demands very good optics"


I have seen some comments here by others that the Canon 50D is lacking IQ and could be Canon's Vista. They claim that this view is supported by dpreview and imaging-resource. I am a bit surprised by this since both dpreview and imaging-resource both highly recommend this camera.

Here is what imaging-resource had to say: "So while the 40D is great, and will remain in the market, the Canon 50D incorporates plenty of enhancements worth the couple-hundred extra bucks. The Canon 50D is an excellent digital SLR." Here is the final verdict from imaging-resource: "Excellent low-light performance, impressive printed output, very fast shutter lag times, solid build, superb customization, and excellent image quality all add up to make the Canon EOS 50D a great choice for all types of photographers, and a sure Dave's Pick."

At least both imaging-resource and cnet agrees that the Canon 50D delivers better results than the 40D at ISO 1600 and 3200. Their findings show that the higher resolution delivers extra sharpness without showing significantly more noise.



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