Canon EOS 500D digital SLR camera

Canon's EOS 500D shoots 720p high-definition video in addition to snapping high quality 15.1-megapixel photos

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Canon EOS 500D
  • Canon EOS 500D
  • Canon EOS 500D
  • Canon EOS 500D

Pros

  • Excellent low light performance (up to 3200 ISO), can shoot video at 720p, produces soft and natural-looking colour tones

Cons

  • ISO button in an uncomfortable position, Live View mode is not intuitive, LCD screen does not pop out, no external microphone jack

Bottom Line

Canon's EOS 500D is a nice step up from the 400D. It is worth considering this digital SLR if you want the ability to capture high quality video with a still camera.

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Canon's EOS 500D replaces the EOS 400D in the company's digital SLR line-up, slotting in between the EOS 450D and the EOS 40D. It's not exactly an entry-level digital SLR, but it's a pretty good option for anyone looking to make the leap from an advanced compact camera to a D-SLR that can also shoot video.

What you get in the Canon EOS 500D is a D-SLR with a relatively compact body (approximately 12.8cm wide, 8cm thick and 10cm tall), a 15.1-megapixel sensor, a 9-point focusing engine, Canon's DIG!C4 image processor, and Live View. There is a pop-up flash as well as a hot-shoe, and a dial for changing the shutter, aperture and ISO values on the fly. It costs $1499 to buy the Canon EOS 500D body on its own, but it is also available in two different kits: $1649 for the single lens kit (18-55mm IS), and $1999 for the twin lens kit (18-55mm IS and 55-250mm IS). The twin lens kit represents good value and gives you plenty of versatility with regards to focal range. The quality of the included lenses is a mixed bag: the 55-250mm IS lens produces reasonably crisp shots with minimal distortion and can focus quickly. On the other hand, the 18-55mm IS lens produces soft shots and makes a lot of noise when it focuses.

With Live View, you can use the EOS 500D's 3in LCD screen and built-in video mode to capture movies at a high-definition resolution of 720p. Files are saved in the MOV format and can be played on any computer that has QuickTime installed. This is a great feature for anyone who wants a 'hybrid' camera that can capture both high quality still images and video.

In our tests, the video mode produced sharp pictures and its colours and exposure were accurate. Motion was handled quite well, but was still a little jumpy. It was definitely better than the motion captured by Nikon's D5000, which skewed a lot of straight lines, but you still won't want to use the Canon EOS 500D when you shoot your first action flick.

While the camera's built-in microphone does a decent job of recording voices, it also picks up zoom movements and mechanical noises if you use the autofocus button. Like the Nikon D5000, the Canon EOS 500D doesn’t have microphone input jacks, so you’re stuck with the internal microphone. If you want a digital camera with external microphone jacks, you’ll have to upgrade to the more expensive Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which will also give you Full HD recording at 1080p. We wish the Live View mode worked better for still images, as autofocus is slow and the screen does not pop open to let you shoot from funky angles and make self-portraits easier. To autofocus in Live View mode you have to use a separate button to the shutter, and this is unintuitive. It also means that you can't frame a subject and shoot quickly. In some cases it is probably quicker to manually focus. The EOS 500D's LCD screen is of a high quality so you can see clearly if your subject is in focus or not. The implementation of Live View on the Nikon D5000 is far superior, however.

For still images, the Canon EOS 500D has seven shooting modes: manual (M), aperture priority (AV), shutter priority (TV), program mode (P), creative auto mode (CA), full auto (square), and a depth of field mode (A-DEP). It also has six scene modes to choose from, which is far fewer than the Nikon D5000's 19. It doesn't have the extensive in-camera filters and editing of the D5000, either.

Nevertheless, inexperienced users can make good use of the full auto mode, which decides all of the camera’s settings, and creative auto mode can be fun to play with, too. For best results use the semi-automatic shutter and aperture priority modes, or the manual mode.

It’s relatively easy to change the exposure values, but the controls could have been better laid out. To change the shutter speed, you simply move the control dial; to change the aperture, you have to hold down the +/- button while moving the control dial; to change the ISO speed, you have hold down the ISO button while moving the control dial. The problem is that the ISO button is right next to the control dial, which makes it very uncomfortable to change. The ISO button would have been better off on the back of the body, in the position where the video record button is. In fact, the ISO and video record buttons should have been swapped around.

The performance of the Canon EOS 500D during our still image tests was excellent. It’s a camera that can produce soft, natural-looking tones and it doesn’t overdo red, green and blue colours when there is plenty of light. Its low-light performance is also stellar; you can use up to ISO 3200 to take photos in a dark environment, without worrying if your photos will end up looking noisy. We couldn’t notice any noise at ISO 3200 unless we scrutinised the images at their full 15.1-megapixel size; even then the noise did not ruin the image.

The Canons EOS 500D’s low-light performance is especially pleasing because its sensor size is only 22.3x14.9mm compared to the Nikon D5000’s 23.6x15.8mm, yet it packs almost three million more pixels (15.1 megapixels compared to 12.3 megapixels). So despite the higher density of pixels on the smaller sensor size, which is a good recipe for noise at high sensitivities, the EOS 500D performed just as well as the D5000 in low light.

Its speed was also very good, although it is a little slower than the Nikon D5000. We clocked it at 3.2 frames per second, and it was able to take up 32 shots in burst mode before its buffer filled and it had to write the photos to memory.

All things considered, the Canon EOS 500D is a nice step up from the 400D and is a good model to consider if you also want the ability to capture high quality video with a still camera. It’s not perfect — it could use a better control layout, a flip-down screen, and an easier to use Live View mode — but at $1499 for the body, it’s just as good an option as Nikon’s D5000, although the latter is the better camera.

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