As well as the increase in resolution, the Canon EOS 50D boasts 14-bit colour, sensitivity up to ISO 12800, a new 300dpi three-inch LCD and UDMA support for bursts up to 6.3fps.

In many other respects, the Canon EOS 50D is a timely upgrade: Canon has added contrast-detection AF with face detection to Live View, built-in peripheral illumination correction for in-camera JPEGs (Raw files are tagged for the bundled DPP utility) and pro-level AF micro-adjustment.

Also appealing is the increased weatherproofing, and the new Quick Select menu option that apes Sony and Olympus offerings. This last option greatly improves the Canon EOS 50D's handling by selecting features from the rear data-panel using the mini-joystick and fore and aft command dials.

Like the EOS 40D, which remains in the range for the time being, the Canon EOS 50D has excellent ergonomics, and a build quality not unlike the maker's pro-level digital SLRs.

The Canon EOS 50D has a sizeable viewfinder too, but it still lacks the on-demand grid, like that of rival Nikon's. We were also surprised to see the maker has not significantly updated the nine-point AF system. While it performed quickly and accurately in our tests, it lacks the coverage of the Nikon D300's excellent 51-point AF system.

The new 3in LCD easily impresses with its generous viewing angles, excellent resolution (920,000-pixels) and very effective anti-reflection coating. The flipside is that the Canon EOS 50D's screen smears easily and is difficult to clean.

Our sample model Canon EOS 50D arrived with the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS lens, a handy 27-135mm equivalent mid-range zoom with optical image stabilization and super-fast auto-focus. Together they make an excellent combination and compete well with rivals boasting in-camera anti-shake systems, but you'll have to budget more for other lenses with IS.

We're not overly enamoured with most Live View systems, except when they're used for highly precise focus. However, the Canon EOS 50D's contrast-detection AF is reasonably fast in operation, and the face-detection option may be useful in certain situations, for example in high-contrast scenes.