It’s hard to believe, but the Canon 50D has been my primary camera for exactly 4 years now, until finally going full frame with the 6D. The 50D has been my workhorse, and it has served me well. But it certainly wasn’t the most acclaimed camera when it was released and reviewed, on the heels of the well respected 40D. During this time, I’ve also used the 60D extensively in the studio, so this review will draw comparisons to those models too. Let’s look back on 4 years of experience with Canon’s 50D.
Body & Controls
The 50D is built like a tank. So much that when the 60D was released, everybody was complaining about the new “plastic” body. It feels strong and sturdy in your hand, and you notice the weight difference between the two cameras. I’ve dropped mine on several occasions. During one legendary night in Quanzhou, the battery door broke off, and the shutter button stopped working. I took it to Canon and they replaced the shutter mechanism, but the entire top plate. That was more than 2 years ago, and it has been mostly fine ever since. Although the flash does tend to get stuck sometimes, forcing you to pry it out with your fingernails. It has a bigger, beefier grip than the 60D, and feels like it can take a bit more abuse. It also has the full array of top plate controls that went missing in the 60D. I for one appreciate the ability to change White Balance there, as you must jump into the Quick Control menu to do the same on the 60D. Overall, build-wise, the fact that it has last this long, 4 full years, I think is pretty impressive.
People were quick to reign down hate on the 50D for its image quality. And it was noticeably worse than the 30D and 40D at high ISOs. I guess Canon wasn’t quite ready for 15 megapixels, but they went with it anyways, AND stuffed in a ridiculous ISO 12800 extension option. I generally never shoot mine above 3200. Even then it’s pretty sketchy. But at low ISOs there is not much to complain about. Good glass will take you very far. My primary lenses were the Canon 10-22 and Sigma 30 1.4, and they served me well. The 60D pretty much blew the 50D out of the water in ISO performance, while adding on 3 more megapixels. There is really no comparison between the two, it’s not even close.
The 50D improved on the 40D’s auto-ISO feature by extending it from 100-1600, instead of just 400-800. I shoot on auto-ISO most of the time, especially in daytime, when shadows can throw you off. But when you’re shooting at night or low light, I find that it keeps the shutter speed a bit too low. For example, shooting with my Sigma 30mm, I would often get 1/30s shutter speed, which is cutting it close when you really want a minimum of 1/50. So I would often adjust ISO manually to compensate. The micro-lens adjustment feature seems like a nice thing to have, but I actually never used mine. The built-in sensor cleaning mechanism was also worked well, though after 4 years, I am finally seeing spots showing up in images shot at high apertures.
Upon launch, it wasn’t exactly the most revered camera on the market. Too many megapixels and poor ISO performance were talk of the town. But in practice, the 50D has served its purpose well. I used it for most commercial shoots that didn’t involve video (where the 60D of course was my tool of choice) and clients never once blinked at my camera. I’ve taken it around the world many times, out on the town in one too many bars, banged it against one too many surfaces, exposed it to the elements at beaches, and shot in drizzling rain on more than a few occasions. And guess what? Except for that time I dropped it and busted the shutter, it has produced a steady stream of shots without a hitch (aside from the flash problem). Canon made the 50D well, and there’s reason to believe they will go back to that winning formula with the impending 70D.