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.
On some counts, the 500D offers some pretty decent specs, highlighted by the 15-megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor (for Canon's traditional 1.6x focal-length multiplier) and the same 9-point user-selectable autofocus system as the 450D. Aside from new capabilities like movie capture and creative auto, the camera offers effectively the same feature set as the 450D, with the same strengths and holes.
It lacks common perks that Sony, Pentax and Olympus include in their cameras, like in-body mechanical stabilisation and a wireless flash controller in the body, a feature we occasionally find quite useful. The inclusion of an image-stabilising kit lens doesn't quite compensate, since additional optically stabilised lenses tend to cost more in the long run.
The 500D performs very well for this class of dSLR. It wakes and shoots in a quick 0.2 seconds. In bright conditions, it can focus and shoot in a fast 0.3 seconds, and even in dim conditions maintains a 0.6 seconds shot lag. That makes it faster than the more expensive Nikon D90. Typical shot-to-shot time is about 0.4 seconds, for both raw and JPEG, and throwing the pop-up flash into the mix bumps that up to 0.7 seconds.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speeds for this year's models in this price range are running between 3 and 4 frames per second, with the 500D coming in at a respectable, though not class-leading, 3.3fps. In practice, both the frame rate and 9-point AF system are certainly fast enough to keep up with kids and pets.
It's always tricky to bump the resolution and not degrade photo quality -- the pixels in the 500D's 15-megapixel sensor are, as you'd expect, smaller than those of the 450D's 12-megapixel version -- 4.7 microns versus 5.2 microns -- but the Digic 4 processor seems to compensate well for noise. Photos remain sharp, with few artefacts, as high as ISO 1,600, although sharp-eyed photographers will probably want to max out at ISO 400 for the cleanest photos.
The extended sensitivity range goes up to ISO 12,800, and, while that's not a setting we'd suggest for everyday use, as long as your subject isn't very detailed or dark, it can work in a pinch. Canon seems to have tweaked its default exposure settings to be slightly brighter, and the result is more clipped highlights than we expected but probably more crowd-pleasing mid tones and shadows. The 500D also renders punchy colour -- bright and saturated but not too much.
The 500D's video surpasses that of the limited-to-24fps 720p D5000, but it's not quite as robust as that of the EOS 5D Mark II, which supports 30fps for its 1080p capture. The movie quality is solid, but we'd stick with the 30fps 720p and avoid the 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution mode -- it's only 20fps, and motion looks rather jerky.
You can manually invoke AF while you're shooting, which is useful, but remember that it's slow and creaky. Initiating focus creates some jerkiness, but at least you don't have to stop, focus and restart -- we definitely prefer having the option. Like many of the low-end implementations, the 500D uses mono audio (there's no mic input) and could benefit from a wind filter.
The Canon EOS 500D's improvement in low-light AF may be a compelling upgrade for current 450D owners, and the higher resolution and video-capture capability may provide some allure as well. If you're looking to buy an entry-level Canon dSLR, the 500D won't disappoint, and, if you need high resolution, good high ISO performance or 30fps movie capture in this price range, it's the model to beat from any manufacturer.
Edited by Charles Kloet