I got myself A Canon EOS 500D kit as a light weight camera and here is my mini review with my impressions and opinions on this camera. This isn’t a scientific test, but just some information for you interested in the latest Canon offering.
The body is nice and light weight and feels solid and feels comfortable to hold. Canon has used decent quality plastics and it feels solid. I started off with the EOS 300D (Canons first consumer grade d/SLR) and the build quality of the 500D is much better and it’s great to see that Canon have improved the XXXD series line.
The buttons seem well placed and easy to press even for someone with big hands. The thing that I do miss is the rear control wheel which hasn’t been included on any of the XXXD series cameras. To change apertures, you need to hold down the “AV” Button and turn the top scroll wheel. On a plus side, The AV button is nice and big, unlike the one that they had on the 300D which was also uncomfortable to hold down and turn the top scroll wheel. The 500D feels more comfortable (Probably because it’s a much smaller camera then the 300D was). There is also another way to change the aperture via the custom functions where you can assign the “Set” button at the rear which gives you quick access to all functions rather then having to press each function button. You press the set button and select which setting you want to use using the navigation pad, when you select the aperture value, you can use the top scroll wheel to change the aperture settings. I find this custom function to be very useful as it provides the user with quick and easy access to the cameras settings by just pressing one single button.
The on/off switch is nicely placed at the top of the camera (Under the settings wheel) and makes turning on the camera and being able to quickly capture a photo easier then the on/off switch found on the XXD and 5 series cameras which has a 3 position switch that is located at the rear of the camera (It has a setting to operate the camera with the rear control wheel locked). I prefer having the on/off switch at the top near the shutter button (Nikon also have their on/off switch at the top, except Nikon has their on/off switch under the shutter button).
The SD card slot feels solid (There had been complaints about the memory card doors on previous Canon cameras). To the left of the camera you have a HDMI, USB and shutter release cable inputs which sit behind a rubber cover which is easy to access the inputs as replace when done.
The shutter is nice and quiet, it’s quieter then the shutter on my 40D/50D and 5DMkII and is similar to the shutter on my 300D. The maximum shutter speed is restricted to 1/4000th sec while the 40D/50D goes up to 1/8000th sec.
The viewfinder is nice and big and bright which is good considering it uses a Pentamirror rather then a Pentaprism. I would say it’s nearly as good as the viewfinder on my 40D/50D but slightly dimmer but you wouldn’t really notice unless you were shooting in low lighting conditions so don’t let that put you off because in real world shooting you will hardly notice the difference and is a huge improvement over the earlier cameras I’ve owned which was like looking down a tunnel!
THE LCD SCREEN
The rear LCD screen is nice and big and bright and is easy to read, even in bright light. Canon have used the same screen found on the 5DMkII with 920,000 dot pixels and the 3 layer anti reflective coatings. The 500D doesn’t have a top LCD screen which is found on the XXD 5 Series and 1 Series cameras, but to honest I haven’t really missed it much and most of the cameras I’ve owned over the years have had the top LCD (All except for my 300D). The screen has a auto sensor that turns the screen off when you cover it up (when you put your eye up against the viewfinder) and can also be turned off by pressing the “Display” button which is located next to the viewfinder for those times when you want to be discreet, conserve battery power or when shooting long exposures. If you don’t turn off the rear LCD screen during long exposures, the screen goes black and shows a exposure timer in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. This is a really useful feature as you can clearly see how long your exposure time is! With all my other Canon cameras I’ve used, you had to press the top LCD light to see the exposure time which meant that you needed to touch the camera during the exposure which meant risking camera shake during the exposure, or shine a light onto the top LCD to read the timer (Which could result in stray light messing up the exposure). I really like the way the timer has been implemented on the 500D, It’s a very useful feature for me since I do allot of long exposure photography.
The 500D uses the same 9 point auto focus layout that has been available since the 20D and 400D cameras. The 500D only has one cross type sensor (The centre point) unlike the 40D/50D which has cross type sensors on all 9 points. Cross type sensors are useful when shooting moving objects when using AI-AF mode for tracking, as well as under low light conditions. I find the AF to be about as good as the one in the 5DMkII for general shooting, the 5DMkII has 6 invisible assist points which helps when shooting moving objects but doesn’t seem to offer any advantages in low light conditions. If you do plan on shooting action I would recommend you either get a 40D or a 50D.
LIVE VIEW MODE
The 500D Has 3 Live view modes, you can choose to have the camera drop the mirror to get AF, or you can set it to use contrast detection to AF, And you hold down the AF button on the back of the camera. There is also a face detect mode which uses the contrast AF to focus. I find that the contrast detect modes are very slow and would recommend using the “Quick mode” which flips the mirror up and drops it back down after achieving focus.
The Live view button now serves as live view mode, Video record and as a direct print button.
In Live view mode you can set the camera to give you a constant readout, or you can set the camera to simulate your exposure settings. I use the exposure simulation mode, And I also use it as a preview/mirror lockup mode, Allot of people have complained that Canon doesn’t offer a mirror lockup button, But I find that using live view mode just before taking the shot where you would traditionally use mirror lockup is just as good since the mirror is locked up when shooting in live view mode anyway, And the mirror doesn’t drop back down after the exposure, So you can take another shot without the vibrations from the mirror dropping down and then up again, And you don’t have to press the shutter button twice like you do when your using the mirror lockup mode. There is also a face detect mode using the contrast detect auto focus, but once again, it’s slow and it would be better just to use the regular auto focus.
To shoot video with the 500D, you need to turn the mode wheel to “Movie mode” which is located in the basic zones, one thing that I don’t like is the fact that you can’t turn the wheel all the way around, I shoot in M mode most of the time, so when I want to shoot video I have to turn the mode wheel all the way around to get to the video mode (past all the pre-set settings). Canon should have put the video mode just after the “Green rectangle” Auto mode for easier access. I still prefer the way Canon and Nikon have done the video mode, where you just press a button on the rear of the camera and then press the record button to start/stop recording video but this is just a small gripe since I don’t do much video anyway and it may or may not be a issue, depending on how much you plan on using the video mode.
Video mode is a handy feature, but it offers very limited controls or user input. You really only have the option of changing the exposure compensation, and the camera sets the Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO automatically. The AF is very slow at best, since it uses the contrast detect mode. You are better off manually focusing or pre-focusing. Trying to handhold the camera and shoot video is very hard, so a tripod/monopod is definitely recommended!
The video is a bit choppy at the 1080p setting, this is because Canon has limited the output to 20 f/ps so if you plan on using video on anything that moves, the 1080p setting wouldn’t be that useful. The 720p setting works better, and does 30 f/ps and is more useful and usable.
The menu system is similar to the 40D/50D/5DMkII. I still preferred the scroll down single paged system on my 20D where I could use the rear scroll wheel to navigate from page to page, Rather then having to press the navigation pad to select the page, Then use the scroll wheel to select the settings I want, But this is only a minor thing, It’s still easy to navigate your way though the menus and find the settings.
I have been very surprised by the picture quality from the 500D compared to the 50D that I had late last year which I found to be really soft, and my lenses were being out resolved. The 500D doesn’t seem to suffer the same problems and the photos come out sharp and full of detail! The sensor in the 50D uses gapless micro lenses which means there are no gaps between the pixels, the 500D’s sensor doesn’t use the gapless micro lens technology and I think that could be the reason why the 500D’s images seem to look better then what I was getting from my 50D.
Another real surprise to me is how well the 500D handles high ISO nose. The 500D is perfectly usable up to ISO 3200, but is still very usable at ISO 6400 and 12800 if you don’t plan on making large prints. The high ISO performance is nearly as good as the 5DMkII, which is pretty impressive for a APS-C sensor with 15 mega pixels! It’s a huge improvement over the 50D which I found wasn’t usable past ISO 1600 for any serious sized prints and unusable at ISO 6400 and 12800. Banding doesn’t seem to be a issue at the extreme end of the ISO range on the 500D too, my 50D showed banding at ISO 6400 and ISO 12800. Canon has done a great job with the 500D, it’s a real shame they rushed to release the 50D which was released about 6 months before the 40D was due to be replaced based on Canon’s 18 month production cycle. I haven’t used the 50D with the latest firmware fix though, which supposedly fixes (reduces) the banding issue at the higher ISO settings. The 500D performs well at all ISO settings so if your looking at buying a 500D and have been worried about how it would perform at high ISO’s I can definitely recommend it!
AUTO LIGHTING OPTIMISER AND HIGHLIGHT TONE PRIORITY
Canon have included a auto lighting optimiser mode into the 500D (Also found on the 50D and 5DMkII) This mode works similar to the Nikon Active D lighting setting which is designed to bring out shadow detail. From my tests I have found that there is very little difference between having the OLO setting on high and having it turned off. If you shoot RAW having this function turned on or off doesn’t make a difference because you can apply the feature via the Canon Digital Photo Professional software which is included with the camera.
Highlight tone priority mode seems to work the same way as my previous cameras (40D/50D/5DMkII) and is used to retain more highlight detail, but it does make shadows appear to have more noise then shooting with HTP switched off. Again, you can apply this feature via software when shooting RAW.
50D vs. 500D
As you have already read throughout this review, I owned a 50D last year before I got a 5DMkII and I decided to return the camera because I was not very impressed with what I was seeing from that camera vs. the 40D it was replacing.
The 50D has a few minor features which some shooters might consider important or not, these include:
A rear control wheel.
A slightly bigger and slightly brighter viewfinder (The one on the 500D is still good though and there is very little real world difference).
6.5 fps vs. 4.5 fps – This could be important if you shoot allot of action/sports/birds etc. The 50D also has a bigger buffer.
9 Cross type Auto focus points – Again, It depends on what you shoot and what conditions you shoot under. I shoot landscapes so it’s not an important feature for me, but it may be for others.
Lens fine tuning – The 50D allows you to make adjustments to your lenses to correct front/back focusing issues.
A Top LCD Screen – To be honest I don’t really miss it. The 500D is my second d/SLR that hasn’t had a top LCD screen (And I’ve owned a few over the years!) after the 300D. I think the combined rear LCD screen has it’s advantages, especially when shooting at night where with other Canon cameras you have to activate the top LCD screen light (Which only stays on for a few seconds) to be able to read the information on the top LCD screen, With Nikon d/SLR’s though you can set a custom function to leave the light on. With the 500D you have all your shooting information displayed on the rear screen and it’s really easy to read (You can turn off the screen when you don’t need the screen).
CF Memory cards – Some prefer the bigger physical size of the CF cards over SD cards, but this comes down to each individual photographer’s individual preferences.
The body – The 50D has a magnesium alloy body and is bigger then the 500D, some photographers prefer the bigger body, once again it’s down to each photographers preferences. The 50D has “weather sealing” but it’s only just a few strips of foam and shouldn’t be something to rely on (The 5DMkII has better weather sealing).
The 500D advantages:
Small and light weight:
The camera is very light weight and paired up with the kit lens, you have a really light weight camera that doesn’t draw allot of attention. This is great if your a street photographer and like to keep a low profile, of if you just don’t want to draw attention to yourself. It’s also great for those times when you don’t want to carry around a big heavy setup. I’m also getting better results using the 18-55 IS Kit lens on my 500D then I was getting with my 17-40 and 24-105 on my 50D. I’ve been impressed with the kit lens.
Canon’s first APS-C camera to include video, this would benefit those that that need the extra reach from the crop sensor that the 5DMkII doesn’t offer. The video quality is also better then the Nikon D90, with full 1080p and 720p vs 720p on the D90.
High ISO Performance:
The high ISO performance on the 500D is much better then the 50D, no banding issues at the highest ISO settings and very usable at high ISO settings. I find that the 500D performs better then the 50D, which I found was noisy past ISO 800. The 500D is clean up to ISO 3200 and still usable at the boost settings with some noise reduction applied either in camera, or via post production.
I have been very impressed with this camera so far, it has excellent picture quality and great ISO performance and you can get usable images even from photos taken at ISO 12800 if you apply some noise reduction and don’t print really large prints. ISO’s up to 3200 are clean and definitely usable. It’s not as good as the 5DMkII, but the 5DMkII costs more then twice as much, and has the advantage of being a full framed camera. The body is well built for a plastic Canon body (Still not as good as the plastic Nikon bodies though). The rear LCD is a pleasure to work with, most of the functions are activated via buttons rather then having to go into the menus, and with the custom function to activate the quick menu’s via the “Set” button on the back of the camera make accessing all shooting functions quick and easy.
If your looking for a good small, lightweight and easy to use Canon d/SLR and are on a budget, it’s hard to look past the 500D. I can definitely recommend the 500D over the 50D for most shooters. If you do shoot allot of moving objects and shoot sports/birds etc you might want to look at the 50D though because of the better auto focus, bigger buffer and faster frame rate, but for an everyday shooter the 500D would be the ideal choice. If you plan on shooting at high ISO’s the 500D would be the better choice over the 50D though.
Overall I can highly recommend the 500D and would suit someone who is looking for a nice light weight and easy to use d/SLR with plenty of features to keep most photographers satisfied with great picture quality that will also allow you to make good large sized prints and also capture HD video which is another nice addition. It’s a great camera at a reasonable price.
You can read a follow up of this review Here