Comparing the Canon 40D and Canon 50D

UPDATED CONCLUSIONS
The purpose of my original post was to compare the feature set of the new 50D with that of the 40D to determine “for myself” if the new features would justify the cost differential. I’ve been very impressed with most of the 50D’s new features such as the new LCD, the auto-ISO feature and the UDMA support. Most of my print work is at 16″ x 20″ or 16″ x 24″ and the increased resolution of the 50D looks very inviting.

My only reservation with the 50D is it’s ability to maintain a good signal to noise ratio at ISO 100 – 800, which is my normal working range for both landscape and wildlife work. As I stated in my post, I believe the 50D’s 15.1/CMOS sensor has reached (or perhaps slightly exceeded) the maximum pixel density for an APS-C sized sensor and the recent DxOMark tests seem to support this conclusion.

Having said that, in the two months since I originally wrote my article, the street price for the 50D body has dropped significantly and this impacts my recommendations. Right now the cost differential between the 40D and 50D body is less than $250 (USD) and for that amount of money I believe the 50D is now a better value than a 40D.

DECEMBER 12, 2008 UPDATE: DOUBLE OUCH! If you’re reading all the reviews of the new Canon 50D and comparing it against the 40D and still haven’t made up your mind, here is one more highly technical fact. Take a good look at the DxOMark comparison between the 40D and 50D. The 40D actually scores higher on the DxOMark Sensor overall ranking.

UPDATE: OUCH! I just got done reading dpreview’s 50D in depth analysis and it looks like my suspicions about potential NOISE issues were correct. The pixel density of the 50D is just too high to maintain a decent high ISO signal-to-noise ratio. Just this once I hoped that Canon had broken the laws of physics and given us a small sensor with low noise. Oh well, one more reason to save up for the new 5D Mark II. Maybe this is why Canon doesn’t present the 50D as a successor to the 40D.

I always get excited when Canon (or Nikon) releases a new DSLR body, especially a “prosumer” model like the new Canon EOS 50D. I was interested in comparing the new 50D with my one year old 40D to see if there was a compelling reason to upgrade. Looking at the early press releases, previews and hands-on reviews of the 50D left me with mixed feelings and it was difficult to cut through the marketing hype and get to the facts to make an accurate comparison.

Then I found this data on a Canon USA web site and decided to condense it to show only the differences between the two cameras. You can view the entire comparison here.

Item EOS 50D EOS 40D
Effective megapixels/sensor type 15.10/CMOS 10.10/CMOS
UDMA support Yes No
Image processor DIGIC 4 DIGIC III
Auto Lighting Optimizer Yes Full Auto Only
High ISO Noise reduction Yes, four levels Yes, on/off
Peripheral illumination correction Yes No
Folder selection/creation Yes No
Highlight tone priority D+ indication Yes No
AF Modes: Live Yes No
Live face detection Yes No
AF microadjustment (C.Fn) Yes No
Shooting modes [no.] 13 12
Creative Auto Yes No
Auto ISO speeds 100 to 1600 100 to 800
Manual ISO Speeds 100 to 3200 100 to 1600
Extended ISO (C.Fn) H1 : 6400
H2: 12800
H: 3200
Continuous High Speed Shooting 6.3 6.5
Max. burst JPEG L/Fine 60 75
Max. burst RAW 16 17
Max. burst RAW+JPEG 10 14
LCD Display pixels [approx.] 920,000 230,000
LCD Quick Control screen Yes No
Settable options for auto playback Yes No
Custom functions 25 24
HDMI jack Yes No
Battery – Possible Shots 800 1100
Weight (without battery) [g] 730 740

Pros

  • Higher pixel density
  • Higher LCD display resolution
  • UDMA support
  • Higher ISO speeds
  • Improved high ISO noise reduction

Cons

  • Higher pixel density results in NOISE issues
  • Reduced maximum burst
  • Reduced (27%) shots per battery charge
  • Higher price
  • High ISO noise reduction doesn’t work for RAW images.

Conclusion
If you’re in the market for a new “prosumer” grade DSLR the Canon EOS 50D is a great choice. If you’re wondering whether or not to upgrade from your current 40D to the new 50D, I’d have to say no, since the cost seems to outweigh the benefits. You might be better off putting your money towards the purchase of a new EOS 5D Mark II instead.

44 thoughts on “Comparing the Canon 40D and Canon 50D

  1. I too am mystified!
    I am in the process of buying a digital camera for the 1st time, (I had near-professional Canon film cameras and lenses, so I held out as long as I could). I would buy a Nikon D90 if I were to buy a Nikon.
    Canon? I first thought about an XSi; the Nikon D90 was the next thing I thought about; then, looking at Consumer Reports, I saw I could get a more advanced (?) camera, a 40D for less than the D90. So I decided to check out the 50D as well (also well rated by Consumer Reports)[Maybe it would have features that I really wanted?] I went to Amazon to compare prices and was way surprised to find the 50D cheaper than the 40D? Is the 50D the bargain it appears to be? Why is it cheaper than the 40D?
    I will also be buying two kit lenses or an 18-200 lense, a 35mm, a 50mm and 85mm prime lenses, a flash, and etc.
    I will be purchasing something soon, so please respond quickly if you are out there. What should I buy? What is the best value system?

    • Pete!

      I could’ve written your post! What did you end up getting?

      And why?

      I’m in a total quandry, too.

      I used to have a film SLR (Minolta X570) and have been limping along with digital point and shoot but am finally ready to get back into the DSLR thing. Thought about going with a rebel, but like you, thought maybe go for the 40. Or the 50. Or the Nikon???

      Ack!

      Thanks for posting 🙂

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks a lot. If I can’t find a good 5D, will you still recommend 50D over 40D? I understand 40D is discontinued. However, surprising, its price has not been dropped lower than the 50D price. Does it suggest that 50D is a defective model?

    Thanks.

    anil

  3. Hi Jeff,

    From the older posts I understand that paying more for 50D does not justify as the picture quality and features are not much superior than 40D. However, I am surprised to see USD 1272 quoted by Amazon for 50D (with EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Standard Zoom Lens) and USD 1299 for 40D. Does it mean 50D has problems and 40D is in more demand? With this changed pricing, will it be a good idea to go for 50D rather than 40D?

    Thank you.

    anil

  4. Hi Jeff,

    I’m upgrading from the canon digital rebel. And, will be shooting weddings. Which would you purchase 40d or the 50d??

    Also, 2 must have lenses?

    Thank you very much for your time and help!

    Le’lani

    • Le’lani,

      Thanks for reading.

      I would recommend the EOS 40D for shooting weddings where low light situations always occur. The 40D’s sensor provides better low light performance with less noise in my opinion. I currently own both the EOS 40D and 50D and prefer to use the 40D for portrait and low light situations.

      As for wedding lens suggestions I would recommend visiting David Ziser’s blog at http://digitalprotalk.blogspot.com/. Dave’s the best wedding photographer I’ve ever known and his blog is full of examples and equipment discussions.

      Jeff

  5. Hi Jeff:

    Informative column/blog. Thanks.

    I am looking to upgrade from my Canon Rebel XT to a Canon 40D, mainly for the reasons that I want a more durable body, faster continuous shooting and, better low light images – mostly for travel/wildlife photography. Having said that, I only want to upgrade to something that will last me a long time (as opposed to 2-3 years). Does the 40D fit the bill? I’ve heard that the 40D is being discontinued. Is that an issue in terms of longevity? or is a camera limited strictly by the number of actuations? Thanks in advance.

    • Vinay,

      Thanks for reading. Just because Canon discontinues selling a certain model doesn’t mean they don’t continue to support it and repair it. I know many people that still use their 10D and 20D bodies with no problems at all. I expect to use my 40D body for many years to come.

      Jeff

  6. Thanks again Jeff. I like landscapes/ seascapes and birds…I was beginning to think along those lines and you have helped clarify my choices.

  7. Thank you, Jeff, for the article and the stream. I have found it very useful. I am wondering whether to upgrade my 350D to a 40D or 50D. Here in the UK there is still a large price difference between the 2 cameras – over £200 for body only, so if I budgeted for the £820 the 50D costs I could get maybe get close to 40D and some spare cash to help with an IS lens as well? I have the 50 f1.8, the 55-250 and a great Sigma wide angle zoom . Any advice welcomed!

    • Geoff,

      Both the EOS 40D and 50D are great cameras and you won’t go wrong with either. If your photographic interests don’t require a 15.1 MP sensor and your budget’s tight then I recommend the 40D. I currently own both cameras and shoot with both every week although for different types of subjects. In my opinion, the 40D’s sensor provides better contrast and less noise, which makes it a great portrait, landscape and low light camera. There are really three reasons I use the 50D; the LCD is much easier to see, the AI Servo auto focus system is more accurate and the 15.1 MP sensor’s resolution is great for capturing birds in flight and cropping tight.

      One lens you might want to consider for a 40D is Canon’s EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. This is a very inexpensive wide-zoom lens that provides good image quality and excellent image stabilization. It’s a great general purpose lens and the image stabilization is superb. I’ve hand-held shots down to 1/8th of a second with this lens.

      Thanks for reading!

      Jeff

  8. Thanks for taking the time to respond so quickly Jeff. I never thought of renting, that’s a great idea. And I also never thought of an extender, another great idea. I did get a 1.7x extender for my Sony and have yet to get a decent shot with it. Always grainy. I did set it for telephoto lens attached, but maybe I have still have some settings wrong.

    I don’t quite understand much of what I really need to know regarding f-stops and apeture and all that. I should probably take some classes as I am hooked on getting out and taking pictures. When I see the quality difference between mine and a friends (Canon with the 70-300 mentioned) it’s a little frustrating knowing I had the oportunity for a great shot and it ends up with way too much noise if I crop it too much.

    You mentioned “300mm may be too short for capturing birds from normal shooting distances” Really? I’m in Florida and the birds are really really big here. LOL.

    Anyway, now I have new questions regarding these extenders. Does the end result picture come out much better with the extender than if you just crop it to the max? And would a 2x extender help even more? Would I be better off putting the money into a better general lens?

    Again, any words of wisdom would be very helpful.

    thanks,
    Karen

    • Karen,

      The Canon brand extenders (I recommend the EF 1.4X II and not the EF 2X) only work with Canon’s L Series lenses. The EF 1.4X works great and the image quality is degraded very little. I’ve used the EF 70-300mm before and its a nice consumer grade zoom to learn with but it won’t work with a Canon extender. Again, renting is a great way to try out the gear before you spend the money.

      Jeff

  9. Hi there, I want to upgrade from a Sony DSC-H5 to the 40D or 50D and have a question. On the Sony, You can choose what megapixel you want to take the picture in. You also can convert it up or down after the shot is taken.

    My question is, does the 50D let you choose different size pixels and if it does, does that help with the noise level? Or is it only a 15.10mp and that’s your only choice? On one site, there was only a $157 diff in price. I will use mostly for birding and plan to get an EF 70-300 IS. Any recommendations? This will be the last camera I will be able to get for a long long time and don’t want to make a mistake.

    I’m torn between the 50D being easier for first time users but having the noise problems I don’t know if I should head toward the 40D. Want to use mostly for birding but I’d also like to take those shots at dusk on occasion. So with that in mind, is it the higher resolution or the lower noise that is better? My Sony has a lot of noise in low light which is why I want to upgrade.

    Please help!

    • Karen,

      Thanks for reading. Let’s see if I can answer your questions.

      The EOS 50D allows you to shoot in three different resolution RAW formats, RAW (15.1 MP), sRAW1 (7.1 MP) and sRAW2 (3.8 MP) but you must choose the format before you begin shooting and I don’t know of any way to convert images from one RAW format to another “in camera”. I really haven’t seen noise issues with the 50D unless the ISO rating was set at 800 or higher. I generally shoot birds at ISO 100 or 200 so this is not an issue for me. The EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM is a nice lens but 300mm may be too short for capturing birds from normal shooting distances. I currently use the EF 300mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4x Extender or rent the EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens.

      I recommend renting the 50D before making your decision to see if it fits your needs. The folks at LensRentals.com can set you up with a the 50D and a few lenses for a 4 day rental which should allow you to make a better informed decision.

      Jeff

    • Meg,

      Thanks for reading. In my opinion the EOS 40D would be a better portrait camera than the 50D. The 40D’s sensor is much less prone to create noise and has a better dynamic range for low light situations. I shoot very few portraits now but the 40D has always performed well for those I’ve done in the past. I know many wedding photographers that swear by the 40D.

      Jeff

  10. Hi Jeff,
    Im in a serious dilemma. I bought a Canon XSi (450D) recently, im happy with the performance even though I dont have very good quality lenses, just using (18-55 IS and 50mm 1.8).
    This is a great camera, the thing is that i want to take photography seriously and XSi in my hand seems too small and looks unprofessional and I always think that if I’ll go to shoot any wedding or function, people will laugh at me having this small thing in my hand.
    I still have a few days left where I can return this and upgrade myself to 40 or 50D. The reviews of 50D I had been reading since last night dont seem very good.
    Whats your opinion? what should I do?

    • I currently shoot with both the 40D and 50D and they are both excellent cameras. For low light situations I prefer the very low noise capabilities of the 40D but for wildlife images I prefer the resolution of the 50D. You really can’t go wrong with either camera and if you’re starting out I’d suggest a lens like the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. It’s not as expensive as the L Series lenses but provides very good image quality. Many wedding photographers use this lens on a regular basis.

      Jeff

  11. I would like to upgrade from Canon XTI (lens: canon 28-135 IS and 50mm f 1.8), to 40d or 50d, what would you suggest?

    I am a volunteer photographer at my child’s high school marching band and they perform in the evening, so there is not enough light and many times I am not allowed to use flash and picture has noticeable noise.
    Also take lots of pictures indoor. Any help and suggestion about the camera and lens would be appreciated.

    • Ramesh,

      Thanks for reading. I’ve found the 40D to be a better low light camera (less noise at ISO 800) in my images. If you’re photographing the marching band at half time in a stadium the overhead lights should provide enough light for ISO 800 – 1600 but you’ll need a fast (f/2 or better) lens and image stabilization if possible. The 5D or 5D Mark II would be a better choice along with a fast lens if you can afford it.

      Jeff

  12. Pingback: Canon 50D - Raw Noise Reduction « Serious Amateur Photography

  13. Would you consider the 50D to be much of a upgrade over the Rebel XTi? And, since there is not much price difference between the 40D and 50D ($250) shouldn’t I go with a 50D instead?

  14. Sorry – I just looked around my archives. I didn’t keep the full size images. They were for work (social committee stuff) and so I wasn’t about to keep 5MB hallowe’en “snaps”.

    B.

  15. Brian,

    Thanks for reading and for the comments. Are you finding the noise levels to be acceptable as compared to your 40D in actual shooting? How much clearer is the LCD in sunlight?

    Jeff

  16. Just to throw my bit into the mix….

    The 50D finally has a usable AUTO-ISO setting. The 40D started -but never quite got it.

    The 50D has micro adjustment for different lenses. No more “Perhaps I’ll send it to the shop to have them calibrate”. Do it yourself.

    The 50D noise is still very good. Canon has been able to get a higher pixel density by removing the intersensel gaps. The sensels are apparently each the same size still. I have shot many shots at 1600 and had to look at the EXIF to realize it was 1600.

    I had the 40D and a sweet upgrade path brought me to the 50D. A step up that I don’t regret. If I had to pay full market to upgrade from 40->50->NO. If I was buying first time then the 50D is a “YES”

    In the end, it’s all about getting out and shooting with what you can afford and what you enjoy using.

    Cheers!

  17. Stephanie,

    Thanks for reading and I’m glad my post helped. I was really hoping that the 50D would turn out to have a 12 megapixel sensor with a better autofocus system, like the Nikon D300. For right now it looks like the 40D is the best choice for people looking for an APS-C sensor and the new 5DMKII for folks wanting a full frame sensor.

    Jeff

  18. Thank you this is the exact article I needed to read. I currently own a Canon XT and am looking for an upgrade. I was trying to decide between the 40D and the 50D and you have answered my specific question. Thank you.

  19. I spent a while deciding between the 40 and 50D. Your post really helped, as did the one from Spot Cool Stuff:

    http://tech.spotcoolstuff.com/photography/digital-camera/slr-showdown-40d-50d-canon-eos/

    In the end, I decided on the 40D. You never know about the path not taken, but so far I really love the camera. It is a lot heavier than I thought it would be (something none of the reviews seem to mention) but the pics it takes are beautiful.

    Thanks for your help!

  20. Biccy,

    Welcome to the ranks!

    Actually for a first time DSLR owner I’d recommend one of Canon’s “consumer” grade kits such as the EOS Rebel XSi (450D) with a good kit lens like the EF-S 17-85mm f/4.0-5.6 IS USM. B&H Photo or Adorama are two great places to shop for the best price and best buying advice.

    If you have the cash I’d buy the 40D (which I currently own) over the 50D due to the cost difference and lower noise in the 40D. Again, the EF-S 17-85mm f/4.0-5.6 IS USM lens works great with this body as well.

    One final note. I’d recommend buying any lens you can afford with Canon’s “IS” image stabilization, especially for first time DSLR users. They are more expensive than non “IS” lenses but are really worth the extra money. You’ll take far more “keepers” than “rejects” with an “IS” lens.

    Jeff

  21. Hey Jeff,

    I’m thinking about getting one of canon’s DSLR but I’ve been tossing between the 40D and 50D, what would you reckon be better for a first time DLR user?

  22. Mark,

    Great shots. I’m totally jealous. Hurricane Ike took down so many trees here there aren’t enough leaves left to turn. Oh well, at least the sun is shining!

    Jeff

  23. Hey Tom!

    I agree completely. I’ll be shooting with my 40D for many years to come. In fact, my last Canon was a 1975 F-1 with motor drive and it still works!

    Take Care!

    Jeff

  24. Me lusty…

    Things are good here in NJ, Jeff. My Phillies are in the world series and nature is giving us a treat. Take a look over at my Flickr stream for some nice (I think) autumnal images.

  25. Nice work Jeff, not that I was thinking of upgrading at all but I do a lot of study on the laptop with my time and could not agree with you more. If I had the money I would put it towards the new 5D MkII instead.

    I have to say, I purchased a used 10D for my boy Jared early last year for $200. A camera that I paid for years ago $1,500 new. And it takes such amazing pictures. (well he takes the pictures and the camera captures very nice images)

    I think so many consumers, which I am now one of, just love to upgrade, that may change now given the current financial waters.
    Keep blogging.
    Tom

Comments are closed.