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Canon EOS 500D Moor Row

The 500D produces stunning images and video. The big problem is the price. With the kit lens, it costs more than £700; the 450D, with the same lens, costs £200 less. Alternatively, Nikon's top-end amateur camera, the D90, costs about £750, with a superior 18-105mm VR lens and similar video capabilities.

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Canon EOS 500D

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It could be a sign of the rapidly-expanding DSLR market that Canon has had difficulty getting the kind of admiration for its new entry-level DSLRs that it got for the likes of the EOS 350D. And with new DSLRs announced virtually every month, it's hardly surprising that the 500D shares a lot of its features with its 12-month-old stablemate, the EOS 450D.

The body is exactly the same size, which is to say it's a little too small to be really comfortable. Most people's thumbs will naturally fall over the screen, rather than being compressed onto the rubberised thumb grip, for instance. Moreover, like the 450D, it offers nine autofocus points, 14-bit Raw capture and a maximum continuous shooting speed of 3.4 frames per second (fps), down ever so slightly from the 450D's 3.5fps.

Looking through the viewfinder yields an identical view, too, with viewfinder magnification at 87%, which makes framing and manually focusing shots easy. It even comes with the same lens, Canon's EF 18-55mm IS, with its effective image stabiliser.

There are some significant changes, however. The 500D enjoys a megapixel bump over the 450D, from 12.2 to 15.1. The 500D also has a vastly expanded sensitivity range compared with the 450D: where the latter could only go as high as ISO1600, the 500D can be pushed to ISO3200, and with a minor adjustment to the Custom Settings menu, all the way to ISO6400 and even ISO12800. Performance up to ISO1600 was excellent, and even shots taken at ISO3200 were usable, albeit only just. Our shots at the two highest sensitivities, however, were disrupted by very high noise levels.

Another difference is that where the 450D uses Canon's Digic III image processor, the 500D uses the Digic 4, which adds H.264 video encoding. That makes the 500D the cheapest DSLR in Canon's range capable of high-definition video.

You can opt for either 720p or 1080p encoding, although the latter is somewhat cramped by a 20fps frame rate. 720p works better, capturing video at 30fps. It's fair to say that the video we captured was stunning.

There are a few drawbacks. The 500D doesn't automatically change focus while shooting video, so you have to press the exposure lock button to force it to focus via contrast detection. This has the simultaneous drawbacks of being slow, inaccurate and, in the case of the 18-55mm IS lens supplied with our review model, very noisy on the final video clip. You can adjust focus using the internal focus sensor, but this creates a break in the video when the mirror snaps back into place, focus adjusts and the mirror gets out of the way again. Further, the integrated microphone is a simple, monoaural unit with no wind-cutting technology, and you can't plug in your own. It's also impossible to set your own shutter speed or aperture before shooting, making background blur difficult to control. You can control exposure compensation, but that's the only manual video control available.

Still, manual-focusing is made easier by the 500D's spectacular 3in LCD screen. It's the same size as the 450D's, but it has four times the resolution, putting it on par with the screen on the 5D Mk II. The 920,000 pixels mean the images previewed on the screen are incredibly detailed, and colour quality is beyond reproach.

The 500D's battery life has suffered a slight knock, no doubt in part because of the high-resolution screen. The 450D could capture about 500 shots on a single charge; the 500D will manage about 100 fewer. Over the course of a weekend, we took around 333 images and about 20 minutes of video, and in the process went from a full battery to a blinking red battery alert.

The 500D produces stunning images and video. The big problem is the price. With the kit lens, it costs more than £700; the 450D, with the same lens, costs £200 less. Alternatively, Nikon's top-end amateur camera, the D90, costs about £750, with a superior 18-105mm VR lens and similar video capabilities. In fact, for about £150 more, you could have Canon's top-end consumer DSLR body, the 50D, which offers the same megapixel count, LCD size and up to 6.3fps continuous shooting, as well as a tougher-feeling magnesium-alloy body. The 500D offers a convenient route into HD shooting on a DSLR, but if that's not a killer feature for you, it isn't the last word in value.

Verdict

Fantastic output from this DSLR, but its rather high price should make you think twice before reaching for your credit card.

Author: Dave Stevenson

Canon EOS 500D