The external control layout is also identical to the EOS 40D, with one small exception. The live view mode now gets its own button, although it has to share with the direct print function. Canon has stuck with the same control system for its high-end DSLRs since 2004 and the EOS 20D. It has an input dial above the shutter button, a large rotating control dial on the back, and a small joystick-like menu navigation control, with a small but clear and back-lit LCD data display on the top panel. Parameters such as white balance, ISO setting, drive mode, metering mode, exposure compensation and picture quality can be changed either by pressing the appropriate button and turning either the front or rear dials while watching the data display, or by pressing the Info button and the joystick, which brings up a graphic menu on the monitor. Exposure settings in the various manual exposure modes can be adjusted in the same way, which is useful if you’ve got the camera on a tripod positioned so that the data display is out of sight. It’s an enormously versatile system, but it is also pretty complicated. This isn’t a camera for beginners.
The 40D’s live view mode struck me as something that had been slapped on at the last moment because everyone else was doing it, but for the 50D the feature is much improved, not least because it now includes usable autofocus. In fact it has two autofocus options; a simple single-zone contrast-detection system complete with face detection, and a second mode that uses the main nine-point phase-detection array. The mirror has to flip up to take the AF measurement, but it does it so quickly and smoothly that it’s really no inconvenience. The phase-detection AF system is the same as the EOS 40D, with nine cross-type sensors arranged in a broad diamond pattern.
The monitor itself is also much improved. It’s still a nice big three-inch screen, but its resolution is now 920,000 dots, the same as the Nikon D300 and Sony A700. It has adjustable brightness and exceptionally good anti-glare properties. I had no trouble seeing it clearly in what little bright daylight we’ve had lately.
One new external feature is an HDMI socket, concealed under one of the rubber flaps on the left of the camera body. This can be connected to an appropriately-equipped HD TV, so that images from the camera can be displayed on the big screen. It also has a conventional composite video out socket, as well as USB 2.0, a threaded flash sync socket and a three-pin connector for the optional remote cable control.