Slipping neatly into the company's digital SLR product line between the EOS 450D and the EOS 40D, the Canon EOS 500D, pushes the EOS 400D off the edge of the bed into discontinuity. In the same price range as models like the Nikon D5000 and the Olympus E-620, it's not quite a budget model, costing about £830 with a lens. It's more for the entry-level buyer who wants higher resolution and a better autofocus system.
In addition to the kit with the veteran f3.5-5.6 18-55mm IS lens, Canon is shipping a body-only version, available for around £750, for those who already have a lens or two lying around.
Since the body is almost identical to that of the 450D -- and it weighs roughly the same at 544g -- the shooting experience is, unsurprisingly, similar. With the 450D, we complained that the plastic body felt slightly cheap and we weren't crazy about the grip, but we've become used to it for this class of camera in the year since that review. Overall, it's comfortable and feels solid enough.
The 500D keeps the same large, fixed 76mm (3-inch) LCD display. Almost all the buttons lie under your right hand, and each feels slightly different, so you can press them without looking. None requires two-handed operation -- when you push the button to change ISO, white balance, metering and so on, the menu persists while you navigate the options.
While the modes on the dial remain mostly unchanged, there's now a dedicated movie selection. Having it on the dial makes jumping between stills and movies more awkward than necessary. The dedicated 'live view' button doubles as a record stop/start when in movie mode.
Canon has also added the 'creative auto' mode that debuted in its higher-end models, but which makes much more sense in this one. Creative auto is a semi-manual mode with capabilities you can view as an advanced auto mode or dumbed-down program mode, depending upon your viewpoint. All functions in creative auto are automated, with a few exceptions. Notably, it replaces shutter and aperture adjustment options with two sliding scales -- exposure (brighter/darker) and background (blurred/sharp) -- that implicitly adjust shutter speed and aperture. It's an interesting approach for beginners who'd like to take some chances.
The 500D also retains 'my menu', which lets you build a go-to list of the most frequently accessed menu settings -- in our case, for instance, format and metering settings. Canon has finally also adopted the ability to directly change most shooting settings via the information display on the LCD.
Our biggest peeves still remain: Canon's 'picture styles', custom contrast, sharpness saturation and colour tone unfortunately take precedence over the ability to save groups of custom exposure, white balance, metering, drive mode settings and so on. And we're beginning to hate the viewfinder. It offers the same 95 per cent coverage as its competitors, but at a lower magnification than some, and it uses the same horribly annoying, tiny focus points that don't actually tell you if it's in focus -- locked or not, it simply blinks. We had to turn on the indicator beep. There is a focus lock indicator in the viewfinder, but it's down on the bottom right where it's something of a strain on your peripheral vision.