Canon wises up with 50D sensor and new zoom

26 Aug

My coworker Lori Grunin already covered Canon's announcement of its $1,400 mid-range EOS 50D SLR, but as somebody who's in the market for a new SLR, I thought I'd weigh in with some thoughts of my own. I'm glad Canon is investing where perhaps it counts most: the sensor, and if the reviews look good, this is the first time I've really been tempted to upgrade from my well-used Canon Rebel XT.

Canon's EOS 50D

Canon's EOS 50D will ship in October for $1,399, not including a lens. Also shown here is the new EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens.

(Credit: Canon)

When it ships in October, the 50D will sport a 15.1 megapixel sensor, up from 10.1 megapixels in the current 40D. The increase in megapixels is nice for the poster-print and microstock-sales crowds, but what's most notable is the increase of the top ISO from 3,200 to 12,800.

That means Canon has done some serious work to cut down on the noise levels inside the sensor, which bodes well for image quality not just at the new extremes but also at more ordinary sensitivity settings. ISO 3,200, for example, is now part of the ordinary range, not the extended range that must be manually enabled before it's available. Canon hit some sweet spots in sensor design, for example with its earlier 20D and the full-frame 5D, and the 50D holds the potential of being another model that balances megapixels with low noise and accurate color.

Canon attributes the advance to "newly designed gapless microlenses over each pixel to reduce noise." Microlenses gather light for the light-sensitive part of the image sensor, compensating for surface area occupied by other electronics. Gapless microlenses presumably stretch across the entire pixel width. Perhaps this technology will also help out whatever model will succeed Canon's 5D, my other obvious upgrade path but one that likely would require spending twice the price for the camera body and that would require me to shell out another few hundred dollars for a new wide-angle lens to support the full-frame sensor size.

Fending off Nikon
Higher sensitivity is important for Canon. It's been losing market share to Nikon, which has pushed high sensitivity as an advantage, though with lower megapixel counts. The full-frame sensors on Nikon's D3 and D700 can reach ISO 25,600, though reaching that level was made easier through a sensor design that emphasizes a smaller number of larger pixels.

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