Thursday, 18 October 2012

Canon Powershot SX50: A Zoom War?

The announcement of the new Canon SX50 will be exciting to birders and other wildlife photographers. The zoom extends to the 35 mm equivelent of 1200 mm with image stabilisation of 4.5 stops. This is longer than the Nikon P510 I have (1000 mm).

So what's the difference on paper and the theoretical advantages/disadvantages of the two cameras.

Optical Zoom range: P510 24-1000; SX50 24-1200. Apparent advantage to Canon - but see below; Advantage to Canon for video
Maximum aperture: P510 f3-5.9; SX50 f3.4-6.5. Small advantage to Nikon
Sensor Size: P510 1/2.3 in; SX50 1/2.3 in
Resolution: P510 16.1 MPixels; SX50 12.1 MPixels. See discussion below
Size of output: P510 4608 x 3456; SX50 4000 x 3000 pixels. See discussion below
Stabilisation: P510 4 stops; SX50 4.5 stops. Small advantage to Canon
Output: P510 JPEG; SX50 RAW and JPG. Definite advantage to Canon
Weight: P510 555 g; SX50 595 g. Advantage to Nikon

With fewer pixels on the same size sensor, the Canon HX50 should be better in low light with regard to the control of noise than the Nikon. The e-Photozine review says fine to 3200 ASA. So, with respect to noise and low-light photography, the Canon is at an advantage.

In terms of the maximum zoom, the Canon's apparent advantage for still photography is not so clear cut. If the P510's output is enlarged digitally to effectively reduce the resolution to that of the SX50, then the equivalent focal length that can be reached is 1152 mm (the crude calculation is (4608/4000) x 1000). The advantage of the greater focal length is virtually wiped out. For HD video though, the Canon's longer zoom is a definite advantage.

Today, the Canon HX50 is £412 on; the Nikon P510 is £283. Is the advantage of the 1200 mm equivalent lens for video (which is virtually wiped out for stills when resolution is taken into account), RAW output and probably better performance in low light worth the extra money? A hard decision for a new buyer because the only thing I miss on the P510 is RAW.

Will Nikon respond in the battle to keep the wildlife photographer who does not want to lug an SLR by launching a new version with the same resolution, improved control of noise, RAW output and a lens with a focal length greater than 1000 mm equivalent?

Panasonic seem to be going nowhere in this arms race; their latest 'bridge' (awful term) camera (DMC-FZ200) only extends to 600 mm, way off the pace for bird photographers and recorders, despite Amateur Photographer recommending it, for those who want to try their hand at wildlife photography... (29 September 2012). By contrast, the marketeers within Nikon and Canon do at least appear to know what wildlife folks want.