A capable DSLR for photographers who require a broad range of adjustable functions plus Full HD video recording.Announced in late March, Canon's EOS 500D is another 'in-betweener' model, like the Nikon D5000 and Olympus E-620 we reviewed recently. Positioned between the 450D and the 50D, the EOS 500D offers the same effective resolution of 15.1 megapixels as the EOS 50D, the same DiG!C 4 image processor and the same Full High Definition movie recording capabilities as the EOS 5D Mark II. . . [more]
Announced in late March, Canon's EOS 500D is another 'in-betweener' model, like the Nikon D5000 and Olympus E-620 we reviewed recently. Positioned between the 450D and the 50D, the EOS 500D offers the same effective resolution of 15.1 megapixels as the EOS 50D, the same DiG!C 4 image processor and the same Full High Definition movie recording capabilities as the EOS 5D Mark II. (For a table comparing key features of the EOS 500D, Nikon D5000 and Olympus E-620 click here.)
Build quality has been matched to the 500D's market position, which is a step above entry level. Despite looking a little plasticky, the new model's body feels solid, thanks to a stainless steel core beneath the polycarbonate resin casing, which has glass fibre reinforcement for additional strength.
The lid to the battery compartment in the base panel closes securely and has a solid hinge, while the SD/SDHC card compartment's lid is a snug fit. The only slightly iffy compartment cover is for the connection ports and this is made from rubber and has a rather thin hinge.
Front view of the EOS 500D with the EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens that will be offered in the Premium kit. (Source: Canon.)
Front view of the EOS 500D without a lens attached. (Source: Canon.)
A cutaway view of the EOS 500D body. (Source: Canon.)
Unlike the EOS 50D (which has two rotating dial controls), the 500D has only one control dial and no joystick-style multi-controller. This means you're dependent on the arrow pad and single rotating dial just behind the shutter button when you adjust any of the functions. (Shooting modes are outlined below.) More toggling is needed to access some functions as a result.
The rear panel on the 500D sports the same 3.0-inch, 902,000-dot (VGA), TFT monitor as the 50D and other more advanced models. It's noticeably better for checking images and video clips than the 230,000-dot displays on cheaper and earlier cameras and makes a real difference to Live View shooting. However, there's no top panel data display for checking camera settings.
The monitor lies flush with the camera body, with the viewfinder fitting snugly in above it. The button control layout is also almost identical to the EOS 1000D's, although the quick access for white balance adjustment has been shifted from the print/share button to the top button of the arrow pad and replaced by the metering pattern selector. The print/share button also accesses the Live View shooting modes and toggles video recording on and off.
Rear view showing the large VGA-resolution LCD monitor with the Interactive Quick Control Panel displayed. (Source: Canon.)
Although similar in physical appearance to the EOS 450D, the new model has a slightly larger grip plus barely visible microphone and speaker grilles on the front and rear panels. The former can be seen as a cluster of four dots above the EOS logo, while the latter is a three dot cluster just below the AE/AF lock and AF point selection/magnifier buttons.
The mode dial on the 500D has the same silver cap as the 50D's and carries the icon for the Creative Auto shooting mode, which was introduced with the EOS 50D. Also added to the Basic Zone selections is a new Movie shooting mode. Unlike the EOS 5D Mark II, where movie capture is accessed via the Live View mode, the only way into video recording is via this mode dial setting.
Top view of the EOS 500D with the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, showing the mode dial, grip and some key controls. (Source: Canon.)
The Interactive Quick Control Panel, which first appeared on the EOS 50D has also been applied to the 500D. Displayed by default when the camera is powered up, it is accessed via the SET button in the centre of the arrow pad - unless you have reassigned that button via C.Fn IV-11. A D+ icon appears in the upper right corner of the screen if Highlight Tone Priority has been enabled via C.Fn II-6.
A couple of changes have been made to the menu system. Flash control is now located on the first page of the recording menu, along with Peripheral Illumination Correction for correcting vignetting with JPEG files. (For raw files, this correction is provided in the supplied Digital Photo Professional software.) The 50D's AF Microadjustment is not available but ISO expansion is provided for the first time in a Canon consumer-level camera.
In another first for a consumer DSLR, unlike previous entry-level models, where you can only shoot raw files in the Creative zone shooting modes, users of the EOS 500D can record CR2.RAW and RAW+JPEG images in the Basic zone still capture modes.
Raw file capture plus RAW+JPEG are now available to photographers who use the Basic zone shooting modes.
The ISO button has been enlarged and raised slightly to make it easier to use. Manual ISO settings range from 200 to 3200, with ISO100 (at the lower end and), ISO 6400 and H1 (ISO 12,800) available if ISO extension has been set in C.Fn I. Other Custom Function changes include the addition of 50D settings such as three adjustment levels each for the Image Optimiser and High ISO noise reduction settings.
The mode dial on the EOS 500D is divided into two zones: Basic and Creative. Basic zone settings include Full Auto, Creative Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait, Flash Off and Movie. The Creative zone covers the Program AE (P), Shutter-priority AE (Tv), Aperture-priority AE (Av), Manual (M) and Automatic Depth-of-Field (A-DEP) shooting modes.
The on-screen display for the Creative Auto shooting mode.
Sensitivity, white balance, dynamic range control, autofocusing and Picture Style are set automatically in the Basic zone modes and the evaluative metering pattern is locked in by default. Drive and flash modes are also restricted and the colour space is locked at sRGB. In the Creative zone modes, just about all of the available functions can be adjusted - and you can select the Adobe RGB colour space if you wish to use it.
The exceptions include the Auto Lighting Optimiser and exposure compensation in Manual mode and the Ai Servo and Ai Focus and manual AF point selection in A-DEP mode. Program shift is blocked in the Tv, Av and M modes, while in the Portrait and Landscape modes in the Basic zone the Picture Style setting defaults to Portrait and Landscape respectively. Ai Servo AF is locked in by default in the Sports mode and the AF-assist beam can't be used with the Landscape, Sports and Flash Off modes.
Live View and Video Shooting
Access to the Live View mode has been changed from the SET button on the 450D to the Print/Share button just above the arrow pad. Canon has also reassigned the top button on the arrow pad to white balance controls instead of metering as it was in the 450D and 1000D models. Metering modes on the 500D are adjusted via the Quick Control Panel or main menu.
The Live View mode on the 500D is almost the same as the 50D and, as in other Canon DSLRs, it's only available in the Creative Zone modes. Autofocusing is supported for Live View shooting with three modes: Live mode, Face Detect and Quick mode. As in most DSLRs, Live View AF is relatively slow, particularly in low-contrast situations and with subjects that lack detail. Focus can also change abruptly when you're following a subject, particularly if the lighting changes.
Face detection is new to the Live View shooting in Canon's entry-level EOS cameras and Canon doesn't specify how many faces the system can distinguish. In this mode, the AF frame is superimposed on the primary face. You can shift it to another face with the arrow pad buttons. The frame glows green when focus is achieved. Unlike the other Live View AF modes, you can't magnify the image to check focusing.
You can also superimpose a grid frame (two options available) on the monitor in Live View mode and overlay an information display on the live view by pressing the Display button. Toggling through the Display options you can choose from no data (with only the magnification icon and AF point visible), exposure data below the image or a fill information display with AF points overlaid and icons for the AF mode, Picture Style, WB, video or drive mode and image quality setting plus a histogram overlay and shooting data below the image.
The full information display for still photography in Live View mode with the rule-of-thirds grid superimposed on the image.
The information display for video recording with AF points overlaid.
You require a Class 6 SDHC card with at least 4GB capacity in order to shoot video clips and the EOS 500D offers the same movie recording options as the EOS 5D Mark II (and uses the same recording system):
- Full HD recording at 1920 x 1080 pixels with a frame rate of 20 fps;
- HD recording at 1280 x 720 pixels with a frame rate of 30 fps, and
- SD recording at 640 x 480 pixels with a frame rate of 30 fps.
For the highest resolution movies and maximum quality if you wish to grab the occasional still frame while shooting video clips, the 1920 x 1080 ('1080p') recording mode is the best option. Roughly a second of video (and sound) recording is lost each time you take a still photo. When you playback the recording, a freeze frame of the photo is displayed on-screen while the still image is recorded (at the resolution and quality selected for still shot) and audio playback is temporarily suspended.
The 1280 x 720 HD mode will deliver excellent results on most HDTV sets and motion will be recorded more smoothly because of the higher frame rate it provides. The 640 x 480 SD (standard definition) mode is designed for web-based content and where small files are required.
Functions that become non-adjustable in movie mode include the metering modes, program shift and bracketing settings, manual ISO settings, white balance fine-tuning, Ai Servo and Ai focus AF, the AF-assist beam, depth-of-field preview, drive modes, flash settings and the Adobe RGB colour space. The Auto Lighting Optimiser is set automatically, along with the noise reduction processing (if required).
Sensitivity is standardised at ISO 100 and only increased when light levels are low enough to make shooting impractical otherwise. It can go as high as ISO 6400 (or ISO 12,800 if expansion is enabled) in near darkness.
Shutter speed is also set automatically, with a maximum of 1/125 second. You can over-ride the camera settings via the exposure compensation controls, which provide +/- 2EV of adjustment in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps. AE lock is also available when you're shooting video. While shooting movies, 500D users can also take advantage of the Picture Style, Highlight Tone Priority and Peripheral Illumination Correction functions.
Autofocusing is activated by pressing the AE Lock button (indicated with an asterisk). This system is simpler than the system in the EOS 5D Mark II, where users must use the menu to pre-activate autofocusing during video shooting.
Autofocusing while you record a video clip is not recommended in the 500D's user manual because of a risk of de-focusing the lens or causing an incorrect exposure. The default AF setting in movie mode is Live AF, which uses the central AF frame only. As with stills capture, this frame can be moved with the arrow pad buttons in movie mode.
Interestingly, Canon has opted to 'simplify' audio recording with movies on the EOS 500D by eliminating the ability to add an external microphone. In addition, no user adjustments are provided for controlling sound levels. You're forced to rely on the camera's built-in microphone and auto levels adjustments, which may concern potential buyers who are serious about recording video with this camera.
There are a couple of positives for 500D users who wish to shoot video: you can turn off sound recording during video shooting and dub in a soundtrack later. In addition, the larger sensor will provide better picture quality than any HD camcorder, particularly in dim lighting and it will be easier to use differential focusing to blur unwanted background details (although not quite a match for the EOS 5D II in this respect).
Sensor and Image Processing
The EOS 500D has two advantages over other 'in-betweener' models: its resolution is higher and it offers 14-bit raw files, whereas its competitors' raw files are only 12-bit. Raw files from this camera average 20.2MB in size, compared with 10.6MB for the Nikon D5000 and 13.9MB for the Olympus E-620, and this fact alone will provide photographers with more editing flexibility and, in the end, the ability to create better images.
Of course, this is irrelevant for photographers who only shoot JPEGs - but it's worth bearing in mind. Also worth bearing in mind - even for JPEG-only shooters - is the need for higher-capacity memory cards and a workable system for backing-up your images. Both will need to be able to handle more image data than entry-level cameras produce.
This issue will also be pertinent for anyone who wants to shoot video with the 500D, particularly at Full HD quality. Movie file sizes and shooting times for a 4GB card (the maximum capacity for a single movie file) are shown in the table below.
1920 x 1080
1280 x 720
640 x 480
We've already provided details of the EOS 500D's sensor in our review of the EOS 50D. Despite having the same sensor, the 500D doesn't offer the same range of shooting modes as its 'big brother'. There is only one raw file setting (instead of three on the 50D) and photographers who like to shoot RAW+JPEG files can only record Large/Fine JPEGs in such pairs.
JPEG options are the same in both cameras. Interestingly, the buffer memory in the 500D appears to be similar in size to the 50D's. Typical file sizes and maximum burst capacities are shown in the table below.
4752 x 3168
4752 x 3168
3456 x 2304
2352 x 1568
4752 x 3168
The 500D uses the same DiG!C 4 processor as other recent Canon DSLRs and has the latest version of the Canon's EOS Integrated Cleaning System, which combines vibration of the low-pass filter in front of the sensor with a fluorine coating that repels dust. Dust Delete Data logging enables stuck-on particles than can't be dislodged via this system to be removed via Canon's supplied Digital Photo Professional software.
Playback and Software
Playback options are essentially the same as on the EOS 50D - with the addition of the ability to view video clips. We've covered the options for still shots in our review of the 50D so we'll focus on video playback here.
Pressing the Play button switched the camera to play mode when the mode dial is set to Movie. Thumbnails of recorded clips are displayed on the monitor and selected via the arrow pad cross keys and SET button. Pressing the SET button again starts playback of the last video clip. The soundtrack for the clip is played back through the speaker on the rear of the camera, just below the AE Lock/AF point selection buttons.
Playback of video clips shot with the EOS 500D on a computer running Windows XP.
The playback menu is navigated with the cross keys on the arrow pad. You can pause playback by pressing the SET button and adjust the sound volume with the control dial. Frame-by-frame playback is engaged each time you press the SET button, while holding down the SET button rewinds the video clip.
The camera can be connected to any standard TV with monitor-type inputs using the A/V cable supplied with the camera. For HD playback on an HDTV set you will require an additional mini-HDMI to HDMI cable (not supplied with the camera). Playback on a computer is possible via the supplied ZoomBrowser EX (for Windows) or ImageBrowser (for Macintosh) software applications. However, you need at least a 2.6 GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB of available RAM for smooth playback. Clips can also be played back with Apple's QuickTime software.
The EOS 500D comes with three CDs. One contains latest versions of Canon's digital photography software suite for Windows and Mac computers. (We've already covered these applications in our review of the EOS 50D.) The other contains the software instruction manual.
The third disc is titled Step Up Photography. It contains a series of animated HTML tutorials covering basic photographic situations and shooting techniques plus hints on using accessory products. A catalogue of Canon accessories is also included. Two illustrated booklets are also provided: Great Photography is Easy! and Do More with Macro!, along with a comprehensive and well-laid-out user manual.
Our shooting tests for the review camera were performed with both the 18-55mm and 55-250mm lenses that comprise the twin lens kit (RRP $1999). Test shots were taken in a wide range of weather conditions, covering both sunny and overcast conditions, different times of day and varying light levels.
Subjective assessment of test shots showed the camera's exposure metering system to be accurate with all metering patterns. Even quite challenging shooting conditions, such as strong backlighting, contre-jour and low light levels were competently handled. Autofocusing in adequate lighting was fast and accurate but we observed a tendency to hunt in dim lighting (which was probably due to the inherently slow kit lenses).
Imatest showed resolution to slightly below expectations for both JPEG and raw files, although raw files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Digital Photo Professional turned in slightly higher figures than JPEGs. Best performance with the 18-55mm kit lens was at the 25mm focal length with an aperture setting of f/8.
Colour accuracy was not quite as good as we found in our tests of the EOS 50D, although saturation levels were similar. The 500D also showed slightly higher saturation in the red band, which was evident in test shots as a warmish cast. Skin hues were also shifted slightly to the warm side, although no significant shifts were found in other hues.
Low-light performance was outstanding, with no visible noise in long exposures right up to ISO 1600 and very little noise at ISO 3200. By ISO 6400, noise was visible - although not obvious. Noise was evident at ISO 12,800 but images were printable at 15 x 10 cm size. In Photo Review's Imatest tests, resolution began to decline at ISO 800 but remained reasonably high right up to ISO 12,800. CR2.RAW files retained their resolution better than JPEGs at high ISO settings, as shown in the graph below.
Long exposure noise reduction produced only slight image softening at ISO settings between 400 and 3200. Exposures at higher sensitivity settings were too short to test this function fully. The high ISO noise reduction reduced the visibility of colour noise at ISO 12,800, although the image was noticeably softened by the processing. This processing proved unnecessary at ISO settings between 400 and 3200.
White balance performance was similar to the EOS 50D. The auto setting on the review camera showed the usual auto white balance problems in test shots under incandescent lighting but shots taken under fluorescent lighting had close to natural colours. Both pre-sets tended towards slight over-correction but in-camera correction allowed natural-looking colour balances to be obtained under most types of lighting (including mixed lighting).
Flash performance was generally good and the flash could illuminate an average-sized room at ISO 200. Flash exposures were consistent all the way up to the highest ISO setting and little noise was visible right up to ISO 3200.
Video quality was similar to the clips we shot with the EOS 5D Mark II and almost as impressive in low light levels, although the review camera had some difficulties setting exposures after dark. Audio quality wasn't quite up to the standard of the 5D Mark II clips - but not far off. (Frame grabs from our movie clips are included in the Sample Images section.)
The test camera was no speed demon, although it powered-up in less than half a second and capture lag averaged just under 0.1 seconds, both with and without pre-focusing. However, while JPEG images were processed in just over two seconds, it took 4.6 seconds on average to process each raw file. In our high-speed continuous shooting tests with a 4GB Class 4 SDHC card, the test camera recorded 10 Large/Fine JPEG frames in 2.6 seconds. It took 15.2 seconds to process this burst.
In CR2.RAW mode, the camera captured 7 frames in 1.7 seconds and took 27.5 seconds to process this burst. However, it took 4.4 seconds to process this burst. With RAW+JPEG recording, we recorded 5 coupled image files in 6.3 seconds before the buffer memory filled and the capture rate slowed significantly. It took more than 30 seconds to process this burst.
Click on the following links for reviews of the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS and EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS kit lenses. Additional sample images can be found in the review of the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens.
Buy this camera if:
- You're looking for a small, light DSLR camera that can record HD video clips.
- You want a Live View system that can support autofocusing and would appreciate face detection in AF mode.
- You'd like a camera with plenty of adjustable controls that will encourage you to learn more about photography.
- You'd like to take advantage of a wide range of lenses and other accessories.
Don't buy this camera if:
- Shooting video is your main objective. A camcorder will provide a more comfortable user experience for most situations.
- You require faster continuous shooting speeds than 3.4 frames/second and rapid image processing times.
- You're strictly a point-and-press photographer. (What a waste to ignore the wide range of functions provided by this camera!)
JPEG image files
Raw image files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Digital Photo Professional.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Long exposure at ISO 200: 33mm focal length, 30 seconds at f/8.
Long exposure at ISO 12,800: 33mm focal length, 6 seconds at f/22.
Long exposure at ISO 1600: 18mm focal length, 6 seconds at f/8.
Long exposure at ISO 6400: 18mm focal length, 1 secons at f/9.5.
Flash exposure at ISO 100: 55mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 3200: 55mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 12,800: 55mm focal length, 1/160 second at f/5.6.
EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, 18mm focal length, 1/197 second at f/8. ISO 100.
EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, 55mm focal length, 1/125 second at f/8. ISO 100.
EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, 50mm focal length, 1/125 second at f/11. ISO 400.
Still frame from video: 18mm focal length at f/11.
Still frame from video: 250mm focal length at f/8.
Still frame from video: 18mm focal length at f/3.5.
Image sensor: 22.3 x 14.9 mm CMOS sensor with 15.1 megapixels effective
A/D processing: 14-bit
Lens mount: Canon EF/EF-S
Focal length crop factor: 1.6x
Image formats: Stills – JPEG, CR2.RAW; Movies - MOV (Video: H.264, Audio: Linear PCM)
Image Sizes: Stills - 4752 x 3168, 3456 x 2304, 2352 x 1568; Movies - HD: 1920 x 1080 (16:9), SD: 640 x 480 (4:3) both at 30 fps
Image Stabilisation: Lens-based
Dust removal: EOS Integrated Cleaning System
Shutter speed range: 1/4000 sec – 30, bulb, X-sync at 1/200 sec.
Exposure Compensation: Manual, +/- 2EV in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments
Exposure bracketing: AEB +/- 2EV in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments
Self-timer: 2 or 10 second delay
Focus system: TTL autofocus with 9 AF points (manually selectable) plus 6-point Assist AF
Focus modes: One-Shot AF, AI Servo AF, AI Focus AF, Manual focusing (MF)
Exposure metering: 35-segment metering; Evaluative, Partial, Spot, Centre-weighted average
Shooting modes: 7 standard modes (including P, Av, Tv, A-DEP and M)
Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful, Monochrome, User Defined 1 - 3
Colour space options: Adobe RGB, sRGB
Custom functions: 13
ISO range: ISO 100-3200 (H1: 6400, H2: 12800)
White balance: Auto, Preset (Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten light, White fluorescent light, Flash), Custom
Flash: E-TTL II Autoflash, GN 13
Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 2EV in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments
Sequence shooting: 3.4 frames/second (max.)
Storage Media: SD/SDHC cards
Viewfinder: Eye-level pentamirror; 95% coverage, non-interchangeable focusing screen; -3 to +1 dpt adjustment
LCD monitor: 3.0-inch TFT LCD with 902,000 dots (VGA)
Live View modes: Quick, Live and Live face detection AF Modes
Video Capture: Yes
Data LCD: No
Playback functions: Single, Single + Info (Image-recording quality, shooting information, histogram), 4-image index, 9-image index, image rotate possible; Playback zoom: 1.5x to 10x; jump by 10 or 100 images, jump by screen, by shooting date, by folder, by movie, by stills; highlight alert; histogram; movie playback enabled (LCD monitor, video/audio OUT, HDMI OUT)
Interface terminals: Hi-Speed USB/ HDMI mini/ Audio/Video OUT/ PC Terminal/ Remote control/ External microphone input
Power supply: LP-E5 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; approx 400 shots/charge (170 with Live View)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 128.8 x 97.5 x 61.9 (body only)
Weight: 480 grams (body only)
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Ease of use: 8.3
- Image quality: 8.5 (stills); 9.0 (video)
- OVERALL: 8.5