The EOS 50D’s overall performance is certainly impressive . It starts up almost instantly and although it performs its automatic sensor cleaning on start up, this is subject to shooting priority so if you need to take a picture straight away, pressing the shutter button aborts the sensor cleaning and takes a picture.
In viewfinder mode the autofocus system is also incredibly fast. I wish I had a Nikon D300 and a Sony A700 on hand to see which is actually faster, because I don’t think there’s much in it, but I suspect that the Canon might win that race. The AF system also works extremely well in low light, and was not noticeably slower in a room lit by dim candlelit than it was in bright daytime window light. For even darker situations the flash can operate as a strobe to provide illumination for focusing, something which most DSLRs can do, but with the 50D the strobe flash is very brief.
One of the 50D’s party tricks is its incredibly fast 6.3fps high-speed continuous shooting mode. Personally I’ve never had a lot of use for very fast drive speeds, but it says a lot for the power of the DIGIC 4 processor that it can do this in Raw + JPEG mode at the highest quality setting, which means that the chip is chucking out about 160MB of data a second. In Raw mode the buffer fills up after about 16 shots (depending on the speed of the memory card) and it slows down a bit, but it still keeps shooting at 2fps, which is faster than some cameras can manage with an empty buffer. In JPEG-only mode the buffer is big enough for approximately 90 shots.
With all that impressive technology, I was expecting great things from the EOS 50D in terms of image quality. I was all set to be give it glowing praise, because there’s no doubt the image quality is extremely good, but then I compared the images directly with those from the EOS 40D, and was somewhat surprised to notice that in fact there really isn’t any real improvement. Comparing shots at 1600 ISO the 50D actually seems to produce slightly more noise, and dynamic range also seems to be slightly lower, with less recoverable shadow detail especially at higher ISO settings. The new sensor also doesn’t seem to offer any real advantage in terms of overall sharpness and level of fine detail either, when compared to the output of cameras such as the Nikon D300, Sony A700, Pentax K20D or indeed the EOS 40D. I’ve seen it suggested elsewhere that the high pixel density of a 15MP APS-C sized sensor may be moving beyond the resolving power of even Canon’s high quality lens, and I have to concur that this may well be the case. While there’s no question that the EOS 50D does produce excellent picture quality, it’s not really any better than cameras that cost several hundred pounds less.
The latest version of Canon’s popular semi-pro DSLR, the EOS 50D cannot fail to impress with its solid build quality, versatile control system and blisteringly fast performance. The new sensor and image processor provide great picture quality and good high-ISO noise control, but it doesn’t offer any decisive advantage over cameras that cost quite a lot less, nor is it really any better than its own predecessor. Its relatively high price in a very competitive market could restrict its popularity with newcomers, and it offers EOS 40D owners no compelling reason to upgrade.