This page combines several of my Journal posts into a comprehensive review of the Canon EOS 50D digital SLR camera. All the photographs shown are taken with the 50mm f/1.4 unless otherwise specified. I update this review periodically, as I buy new equipment or change the camera settings.

Written: Wed Jan 21 10:29:07 2009

Updated: Sat Feb 13 10:48:32 2010



The 50D alongside the S60. Photo taken with a Canon S30.

The Canon 50D was purchased to replace a 3-year-old Canon S60 with a loose IR filter which became dislodged after a drop. This is my first SLR camera so I have no baseline for comparisons. My photography is limited to indoor (low-light) portraits of children and people, indoor macro product photography, outdoor macro photography of plants and flowers, and outdoor cityscapes. I chose the mid-priced 50mm f/1.4 lens as my general purpose lens. Four months later, I purchased the 24-105/4 L lens as my general purpose lens (see below).

Canon 50D First Impressions

Thu Oct 16 22:02:13 2008

The second (virtually first) photograph. In full auto, it accurately photographed the lighting conditions in the room without flash.

I bought the EOS 50D today.

The first thing you notice when you pick up the camera, is the weight— it's a comparably heavy camera which gets even heavier when you add a lens (so the camera strap is important in avoiding fatigue when carrying it). The second thing you notice is the rear view-screen— it is HUGE and VIVID with a purplish tint that prevents image distortion when the oil from one's face rubs-off on the screen and allows photos to be reviewed in direct sunlight. The camera also has a backlit monochrome LCD on the top-right of the body, with buttons and a scroll wheel for quickly changing various settings. If the button functions are memorized, the settings can be changed without looking away from the viewfinder, which displays the settings on a status bar along the bottom.

One of the first adjustments I had to make when using this camera, was becoming accustomed to the weight— my right hand and wrist began to hurt after shooting for a few minutes. I only noticed this after I moved my hand away from the shutter button. Having become accustomed to continuously holding my lightweight S60 pocket camera in my right hand with my index finger extended over the shutter button, I instinctively began doing the same with the 50D. Unfortunately, the 50D weighs more than a 2 lbs. and has a taller body, so it puts quite a strain on the wrist and hand. I had to keep reminding myself to hold the camera, with my left hand cradling the lens, relax my right hand and index finger and only use it when I need to compose and shoot. After a couple of months, I became used to this technique.

Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens

Jan 30 2009; updated Mar 26, 2009

Child's portrait at f/1.4; the reason for buying the camera and lens.

The accompanying photographs to Gary Voth's article, The Forgotten Lens, convinced me to choose a 50mm prime lens over the multi-function lens that Canon ships when the camera is purchased as a kit. They are exactly the kinds of photographs I would be taking.

The lens focuses fast enough to capture kids moving around (but not fast enough if they're running around). The AI Servo mode accurately tracks focus of an initially stationary object, which subsequently begins moving within the frame. The lens also takes fantastic head and shoulders daytime indoor portraits with no flash (aperture set to an f-stop less than 2 at ISO 100). Evenings require the ISO bumped up past 1000.

It should be noted that I did sometimes get out-of-focus shots in broad daylight, even though the camera reported focus lock. I don't know if it's my shooting, the camera or the lens. It's easy for a novice to blame the equipment, so I shall refrain from doing so.

In terms of sharpness, the following (taken from the Digital Picture review) should be noted:

Although it is soft wide open, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens is sharp at f/2 and very sharp when stopped down to f/2.8 or narrower. Corners are soft until f/2 for 1.6x FOVCF bodies and f/2.8 on full frame bodies...[I have also found that in bright daylight, the lens exposes 1/3 stop higher than I feel necessary].

It is precisely the softness of this lens, wide open, that makes this lens ideal for indoor portraits of children. At f/1.4 this lens also takes great macro shots with beautiful bokeh. It can be used at the minimum focal distance of about 1 foot to photograph plants, flowers and products.

I found the 50mm lens with the 50D body rather limiting for landscape photography and large (5+ people) group shots, requiring me to stand quite further back than I am used to with my Canon S60. This is due to the 1.6x sensor/lens crop-factor which makes my 50mm lens look like a 80mm (50mm x 1.6) lens. My next purchase will likely be a wide-angle lens.

I use this lens and am happy with the results if I need to photograph people or objects less than ten feet away.

Update: I purchased a 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (see below), as Canon's wide-angle lens offerings did not appeal to me as they lacked USM and full-time manual focusing.

Update March 2010: After nearly a year and a half, I noticed that manually focused photographs (using LiveView and 10x magnification) were consistently sharper than the auto-focused ones. So I decided to perform a focus test and concluded that the lens was badly out of focus, requiring a -20 focus micro-adjustment.

Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens

Feb 16 2009; updated Apr 10, 2009

I bought the Canon 24-105mm online from Vistek on Feb. 10, the order was processed on the 11th and it was delivered on the 12th. I began photographing with it on the Friday, the 13th.

I would definitely recommend this lens as an general outdoor walk-about lens, which gives an equivalent 38-168mm lens on the 50D body. I have only photographed with this lens in an urban setting so I can recommend it for street photography and for urban landscapes. Because of the crop-factor, whatever field-of-view you lose on the wide end (38mm), you gain in the zoom end (168mm).

It is also a good lens for indoor photography near windows and wherever there is plenty of light. It focuses fast and accurately. I have yet to take a blurry, out-of-focus photograph with this lens (unlike the 50/1.4).

I had the opportunity to use this lens in less-than-ideal lighting conditions (lighting ranged from "poor" to "terrible") to photograph head and shoulders portraits and it gave impressive results at 1600 ISO. The image stabilization was a great help.

A more detailed review will appear later.

EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM

Sun Apr 25 17:46:36 2010

On April 20th, 2010, I ordered the 24mm f/1.4L II lens. It required a -8 focus micro-adjustment.

Camera Bag

Updated Feb 20, 2009

My camera bag (photographed with a Canon S30).

I would strongly recommend purchasing a camera bag for this camera. It's handy for carrying all the accessories, cables and extra lenses. My Canon branded Tamrac bag, which came bundled with the camera, included an extra battery and a battery grip, as a sales promotion. The bag has lots of pockets and compartments and is well padded.

I had a difficult time configuring the inside of the camera bag, that I received with the camera, using the velcro partitions. The bag should have come with some diagrams showing suggested configurations— for example, I wanted to know if the camera could be safely stowed lens-down, rather than horizontally.

After a discussion on IRC, I found that the camera could be safely carried lens-down in the bag. This was fortunate because after I bought the 24-105mm lens, I wasn't able to configure the bag with the camera stowed horizontally and also have the 50mm not roll around when the camera was out of the bag. Once I configured the camera to stow vertically, it was much better.

Update Sun Nov 29 22:57:23 2009: I have begun carrying the camera in my canvas messenger bag when I feel like travelling light. The bag as a piece of foam padding folded into an U-shape, which provides adequate bump protection for the camera and lens. With the 24-105 attached, I carry it lens-down, with the 50mm attached I carry it with the lens facing the side.

Setting Customizations

Shutter priority 1/640s, f/1.4, stabilized on railing.

Here is a list of settings I have customized (from the factory defaults):

  • Disable the beep (the camera would beep after achieving focus; I prefer to watch for the AF point to hilight)
  • Reduce LCD brightness -1 level from the default, to 4 (I would probably need to increase this for outdoor viewing, but indoors, 5 is a bit bright)
  • Enable Hilight Alert (blink over-exposed regions when reviewing)
  • Disable the flash firing (the camera strobes the flash to meter the scene in low light; this is not affected when flash is supressed neither is flash firing using preset-modes )
  • [wrench2 menu]: enabled live view exposure simulation (in Live View mode, pressing this button simulates what the exposure will look like)
  • [wrench2 menu]: enabled grid display (in Live View mode, a grid is overlayed on the LCD (helps in aligning verticals and horizontals; I found that my photos tend to lean down towards the left)
  • Enabled Safety Shift (C.FnI-6) which allows the camera to override the shutter speed so the photo is exposed correctly for the given aperture (no more blinking shutter speeds in the view-finder)
  • Focus exclusively using the center AF point.

Interface Usability

Updated Mar 14, 2009

In general, I would say this camera has a poor user interface— in situations where a single button would have sufficed, it always requires an additional button press.

This is a (growing) list of things about the camera's interface that I expected to work in certain way, or things that make me wonder why they are a certain way (perhaps later, as I learn the camera, I will understand why) and things that generally bother me when I interact with the 50D:

  • Live View mode lacks proper auto-focus (pressing the shutter button half-way); there is a separate AF-ON button for focusing in Live View. (Sat Nov 01 10:57:52 2008)
  • Blinking numbers or symbols (the shutter speed blinks, the aperture value blinks, a circle blinks when corresponding limits are reached. This is the 21st century: I want a message in English telling me what's wrong and I want it projected in the eye-piece and I want errors coloured red) (Sat Nov 01 10:57:52 2008)
  • The 9 auto-focus points (especially the center one) in the view-finder are difficult to see when shooting in low light or shooting against a dark background (Sat Nov 01 10:57:52 2008)
  • The CA mode settings reset after photos are reviewed or if the camera is switched to another mode (Tue Nov 04 23:26:17 2008)
  • The camera should be in Review mode when Hold Image is selected. The camera can be configured to hold the image on the viewscreen for an indefinite period after each shot; I typically zoom-in to the picture to check the focus. I always have to remember to first press Review to enter review mode before proceeding to zoom in. (Sat Nov 15 14:25:53 2008)
  • With the rear LCD on, when you switch to a different exposure mode; e.g. from Shutter Priority to Aperture Priority, the LCD shuts off. In the dark, it's difficult to read the top dial, so the LCD is handy to see what exposure mode you're shooting in. But you have to keep turning the LCD on every time you switch to a different modes. (Sun Dec 21 12:53:27 2008)
  • This is more of a wish— backlit buttons so I could see what I'm pressing in the dark given how much pressing Canon engineers expect me to do. A backlit exposure-setting top-dial would be nice too. (Wed Dec 31 22:23:10 2008)
  • After a month of using the camera, I have to retract my statement about the top-side LCD being "old school". I have found the top-side LCD handy when needing to quickly change the AF modes between One Shot, AI Focus and AI Servo. The alternate way to change the focus mode, is to use the rear LCD via the QuickControl menu (after pressing the joystick). (Thu Nov 27 16:59:11 2008)
  • I want more than 6 items in My Menu (with scrollbar) and when a setting is modified from factory defaults, it should be added to My Menu (perhaps in a different category) so I can quickly find what I changed. (Sat Mar 14 19:38:30 2009)

Live View

Live View allows the rear LCD to be used as a viewfinder; the camera achieves this by moving the mirror up (Mirror Lock-Up) and exposing the CCD sensor to the scene continuously. A Rule-of-Thirds grid can be overlaid on the screen to help composition, as can a histogram light-meter which is updated in real-time.

When you press the shutter button and expect the camera to auto-focus, nothing happens. You have to use the dedicated auto-focus button and one of a possible three focus methods. The first one, which is fastest, is a cheat, the mirror drops blanking the LiveView and the camera performs the auto-focus as if you were using the view-finder, and then displays the image again when focussing is complete— this is annoying to say the least. The second method, uses phase-change to detect focus, while keeping the image live but it takes a long time as the camera incrementally adjusts the focus. The third method uses face detection technology and is quite fast but is only useful when photographing people.

I find it useful and faster to use AF through the viewfinder, then switch to Live View and manually adjust the lens at 10x magnification before shooting. I avoid Live View if at all possible; it's one of the few dissappointments of this camera. Since it wasn't a requirement when purchasing the camera, it can be safely ignored without affecting the final score of the camera.


Wed Jan 21 13:02:56 2009, Updated Feb 9

I love this camera and 50mm lens combination for the amazing indoor daylight portraits it takes at f/1.4 with very pleasing bokeh. It takes really clean (without noticeable sensor-noise) night photographs at 400 ISO and a stabilized (against a lamp-post, or on a tripod) camera. At 1600 ISO, hand-held shots can be taken at 1/100s+ speeds at wide apertures and then downsampled to 11MP to reduce noise (if necessary).

It's easy to take great photos in good light in full auto mode with this camera; the auto white-balance (AWB) is correct most of the time (setting the white-balance to Flourescent manually when shooting compact flourescents seem gives a yellow tinge to the photo— the Tungesten setting gives a better white balance) and the auto ISO selection is reasonable most of the time. As the saying goes— it's not the camera that takes the picture, it's the photographer— so the photographer's skill in setting the correct aperture and exposure are required when photographing in less than ideal conditions— low-light or night-time photography where the camera always compensates by popping-up the flash to deliver properly exposed (viewable) photos rather than pleasingly exposed ones.

Due to the sensor crop-factor, the focal length of all lenses increase by 1.6x— so a 50mm lens acts like an 80mm lens which does not make it as good a walk-around lens as it would be on a full-frame camera like the 5D or the 1D. I would not recommend the default kit-lens which is bundled with the camera and would suggest buying the body alone and depending on your budget, either the low-end 50mm or the mid-range f/1.4, as your starter lens. (This review looks at the three Canon 50mm lenses, el-cheapo, mid-range and high-end.)

Night photography at 1600 ISO, f/2.2 at 1/125s handheld.

There are two areas where this camera can be improved. The first area is the poor design of the user interface. The most egregious example of poor design is the requirement of having to press the review button before pressing the zoom button, if one wants to zoom into a photograph to check the focus, right after taking the photograph. It is clear from this that the Canon engineers are not avid photographers. The second area that could stand improvement is the implementation of auto-focus in LiveView mode. The current methods of auto-focusing in Live View mode seem like a technological stop-gap measure rather than the future of photography. One cannot just half-press the shutter button and have the camera focus when using Live View mode; there is a dedicated Auto-Focus button and a choice of three different methods to choose from. It's usually faster to manually focus the camera (though face-detection focusing is pretty accurate and fast) and then switch to Live View in 10x mode to tweak the final focus.

In general, despite some minor disappointments, this is a superb camera when paired with a good lens.

Fri Oct 16 22:30:28 2009: After using this camera for one year, I ask myself, "Do I love this camera?"— the answer: "No". "Do I love the photos this camera takes?"— "Yes" (but that goes for all the Canon cameras I've owned). The most irritating thing about this camera is the user interface— the interface is 99% complete— it's the missing 1% that is infuriating. And it's not for lack of reading the manual, which I have re-read once a month for the past seven months.

To put things in perspective, it took me far less than a year to love my Apple Powerbook laptop; I could live happily with the 1% of the things that infuriated me, because 99% of things on the laptop were so amazingly well and thoughtfully done.

luis fernandes / / Canon EOS 50D Review