What's hot: The PowerShot S50 combines ease of use, excellent picture quality, a 5-megapixel image sensor, and a great selection of features into a handy, point-and-shoot-style model. At just over 4 inches long and under 2 inches thick, it fits easily into a pocket, and the controls are well arranged. For instance, you access the seven scene modes (such as portrait and sports) through a dial on top; many other cameras force you to wade through on-screen menus to change scene modes. The quality of the images that the PowerShot S50 produced was impressive: The photos were sharp and well exposed, though images taken with the built-in flash tended to look a bit bleached out. We also noticed some noise (a pattern that looks a little like TV static) in several photos, the effect being most noticeable in the blue skies of outdoor shots.
What's not: Some users may find the sheer number of controls on the back of the camera intimidating, as there are seven buttons, a four-way scroll button, and a slider. In addition, on top you'll find the scene mode wheel, the shutter button, and the zoom button. All of the buttons are clearly labeled, however, and navigating the on-screen menus is relatively painless. The display can also be a little overwhelming; in full auto mode, it shows eight different pieces of information around the edges of the screen. Fortunately, you can remove them: Pressing the display button twice switches the screen into a mode where it shows just the image. (Pressing the button once turns the LCD off, another nice touch if you want to use the optical viewfinder and save battery power.)
What else: The battery life of 261 shots (about 1.25 hours of use) should be enough for a typical weekend getaway, though the PowerShot S50 can use only Canon's own lithium ion batteries. Some cameras (such as the Olympus E-20N) allow you to use disposable batteries in a pinch, but you'd be stuck with the S50 if your battery ran out partway through a trip.
The built-in panorama mode is easy to use; the camera shows the previous image alongside the live image, so lining up pictures is simple. The camera does not build the panorama itself, though -- you must import the images into the included PhotoStitch software to do so.
Upshot: The PowerShot S50 blends ease of use and strong image quality into a convenient package.
By Richard Baguley