Canon EOS 500D review

£800
Price when reviewed

The distinctions between Canon’s entry-level DSLRs are becoming harder and harder to make. The 450D was very similar to the 400D, and Canon’s latest, the 500D, shares the 450D’s dimensions down to the millimetre, which means the two cameras sit exactly the same in the hand. Practically, this means the grip is a little too small to be truly comfortable, and the 732g weight means that if you pair the 500D with one of Canon’s heavier lenses you could find yourself with a seriously unbalanced piece of kit.

It’s not the only similarity. Both cameras have nine autofocus points and a handy ISO button in front of the shutter release. Both offer 14-bit RAW capture and shoot at nearly exactly the same continuous rate: 3.5 frames per second on the 450D and 3.4 frames per second on the 500D. You even get the same kit lens, Canon’s reasonable 18-55mm IS EF-S. Its image stabilisation is effective, and Canon has managed to largely cure the purple fringing problems that plagued the 18-55 EF-S lens that accompanied the 400D.

There are a few external changes – the white balance button of the 450D now operates the 500D’s Live View mode. Quickly changing the white balance is still possible, but as a result there’s no longer a button to quickly access the metering mode menu. Changing the metering mode now requires you to use the shooting settings display. The 500D also gains a Creative Auto mode, which breaks technical terms such as depth of field and aperture into simpler language such as “Background: Blurred/Sharp”.

All the significant changes are internal. Where the 450D had a maximum ISO setting of 1600, the 500D goes up to 3200 by default. And, by making a minor change in the Custom Settings menu you can push the ISO as far as 12800, although not surprisingly, images taken at this setting were ruined by noise. You also get the inevitable resolution bump, from 12 megapixels on the 450D to 15.1 megapixels.

The most important change is the image processor. The 450D used Canon’s DIGIC III processor; the 500D uses the DIGIC 4, which is the same as you get in the professional 5D Mark II. This means little in terms of image quality: the 450D took superb pictures and so does the 500D, ultra-high ISO mode notwithstanding. However, the DIGIC 4 processor adds H.264 video encoding.

The 500D is the only Canon DSLR to offer video except the 5D Mark II, and offers both 1080p and 720p recording. 1080p is an exercise in frustration, though, as the 500D can only muster 20 frames per second in this mode. 720p mode is glorious, however: a full 30 frames per second and some of the best video quality you could hope for on a device at this price. Our test videos looked superb: well-balanced colours and plenty of detail, and the ability to switch lenses is a feature missing from all but the most expensive semi-professional camcorders.

We criticised the Nikon D90 for only being able to record clips to a maximum of five minutes, but there’s no such restriction here: the 500D can record for up to 29 minutes 59 seconds, or to a maximum file size of 4GB. It’s a great feature: we frequently found ourselves framing shots in still mode and then cracking and recording a ten second HD vignette to go with it.

But even with the long recording time, video isn’t without its frustrations. As with all DSLRs, the 500D’s focus sensor is separate from the CMOS image sensor, and as such the 500D can’t focus properly while the mirror is snapped up and video is being recorded. Instead, you either have to use contrast detection focussing, which is comparatively inaccurate and, depending on the lens you use, horribly loud; or you can choose to have the mirror snap down, the dedicated focus sensor do its work, and then have the mirror snap back up, which creates a jarring break in your video. On top of that, the integrated microphone is no headline-maker, as it’s mono-only. You can’t plug in your own unit.

Details

Image quality 5

Basic specifications

Camera megapixel rating 15.1MP
Camera screen size 3.0in
Camera optical zoom range 3.1x
Camera maximum resolution 4752 x 3168

Weight and dimensions

Weight 732g
Dimensions 146 x 74 x 108mm (WDH)

Battery

Battery type included Lithium-ion
Battery life (CIPA standard) 400 shots
Charger included? yes

Other specifications

Built-in flash? yes
Aperture range f3.5 - f5.6
Minimum (fastest) shutter speed 1/4,000
Bulb exposure mode? no
RAW recording mode? yes
Exposure compensation range +/- 2EV
ISO range 100 - 3200
Progam auto mode? yes
Shutter priority mode? yes
Aperture priority mode? yes
Fully auto mode? yes
White-balance bracketing? yes
Memory-card type SD, SDHC
Viewfinder coverage 95%
Secondary LCD display? no
Video/TV output? yes
Body construction Plastic
Data connector type Mini-USB

Manual, software and accessories

Full printed manual? yes
Software supplied ZoomBrowser EX, ImageBrowser
Accessories supplied carry case

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