Steve's Conclusion

Steve's SnapShot
  • 30x optical zoom lens (24mm to 720mm)
  • 16-megapixel image sensor
  • 3.0-inch LCD display
  • DIGIC 4 image processor
  • HD Video Recording
  • Smart AUTO Mode
  • Intelligent Image Stabilization
  • Zoom Framing Assist
  • Pros
    • Nice to find 30x zoom in such a lightweight camera
    • Lens moves quickly through its zoom range in still image mode
    • Good mix of manual and automatic shooting controls
    • Popup flash gives better performance than many built-in flash units
    • Mode dial makes it easy to pick shooting modes
    • Images look OK when viewed at normal sizes
    • SX500 is pretty easy to use
    • Right hand grip is just the right size for one-handed photography
    • Control buttons are of a comfortable size
    • Separate battery charger is included
    • Menus are pretty easy to understand
    • Shortcut menus can be accessed through Func button
    • Dedicated exposure value button is rare on a camera in this price range
    • Camera has a cheap feel to it because of all of the lightweight plastic in the design
    • Images have quite a bit of noise when printed at large sizes
    • Shot to shot delays are very poor, especially when using the flash
    • Shutter lag should be better when the lens is at its widest angle setting
    • Burst modes are below average performers in this price range
    • Overall, the camera should work more quickly
    • Not enough of a "stop" between optical zoom and digital zoom settings
    • No full HD movie mode
    • Placement of focus assist lamp is awkward and easy to block with your left hand
    • Chunky SX500 won't fit in a pocket, and all-black design is a little boring
    • Battery life is below average
    Timing Test Results
    • Power up to first image captured = 2.8 seconds (with start-up image turned off)
    • Shutter lag when prefocused = less than 1/10 of a second
    • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.5 seconds
    • Shot to shot delay without flash = 4.5 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 3.3 seconds with review Off
    • Shot to shot delay with flash = 7.3 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 7.1 seconds with review Off
    • Continuous = 5 frames in 6.2 seconds @ 16M
    • AF Continuous = 5 frames in 9.6 seconds @ 16M
    • All tests were taken using a SanDisk Class 4, 16 GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
    Bottom Line
    The 30x optical zoom lens on the PowerShot SX500 IS provides some very impressive telephoto capabilities in a sub-$250 camera. Canon also included some unique features and manual control options with this model. However, image quality is below average if you're planning to make large prints, and the camera's shot to shot delays are a significant disappointment.
    Pick This Up If...
    You want a lightweight, large zoom camera with at least a 30x telephoto and some nice manual control features, but you have a limited budget and can live with some image quality and performance drawbacks.
    One of the reasons why some people choose to avoid fixed-lens cameras with large zoom lenses is because most such cameras are really heavy and large. The Canon PowerShot SX500 IS camera carries a 30x optical zoom lens, but it's one of the lightest models you're going to find with such a large telephoto option.

    The SX500 is still a chunky model, measuring almost 5 inches in thickness when the lens is fully extended. But unlike most large zoom fixed-lens models, you shouldn't have much of a problem operating this camera one-handed.

    Although it's great to have such a large zoom lens, don't expect a lot of other above-average features with this camera. The PowerShot SX500's response times are disappointing, especially its delays between shots and when using the flash. Even in burst mode, the SX500 doesn't work very quickly. At least start-up times are pretty good for a large zoom camera.

    Image quality is a mixed bag with this PowerShot model, as you're going to create photos that look great at first glance on the camera's LCD screen and on your computer. If you make smaller-sized prints, you'll be pleased with the results most of the time. Colors are accurate and the exposure levels are good.

    Once you blow those images up to a large size, though, you're probably going to notice some problems. There seems to be a lot of noise in the images, even those shot at low ISO settings and in outdoor light, instances where you wouldn't expect to find noise. This occurs in part because Canon included a relatively small image sensor in the SX500, a bit smaller than what you'd normally find with a large zoom camera. If you try to shoot at mid- to high-ISO settings, your images won't be useful other than for really small prints or over the Internet.

    Flash photos are also a bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality. When shooting at the extreme wide angle of the lens (24mm), you're going to end up with vignetting in your photo (dark areas in the corners of the photo). As you shoot images with more of a mid-telephoto setting with the flash, though, the flash image quality is a bit better. The popup flash with the SX500 tends to work better than a built-in flash on a point-n-shoot camera because it's centered over the lens and it's larger.

    Canon has given you the ability to shoot at quite a few different resolutions (up to 16 megapixels) and aspect ratios (16:9, 4:3, 1:1, and 3:2) with this model, which is handy.

    Overall, the SX500's image quality is going to remind you much more of a point-n-shoot camera, which is disappointing. I expect better image quality from an ultra-zoom camera and from a camera in this price range.

    On the upside, image sharpness is pretty good with the SX500 IS, and the autofocus is very accurate. Unfortunately, some of the muddying that occurs with the abundance of noise will cause some images to appear to lose their sharpness as you magnify them or print them at large sizes.

    Canon included an option for using manual focus with this model by working through the onscreen menus, but using it is probably more trouble than it's worth unless you're trying to shoot a very precise macro photograph. We found that the SX500's autofocus mechanism is more than accurate enough for most types of photos.

    There are other manual control options with the PowerShot SX500 IS, including the ability to shoot in Manual or Program mode, where you can set the white balance, ISO, etc. This camera's Auto mode works pretty well, too, so the SX500 provides nice flexibility for those who are just learning about photography to bounce between shooting modes.

    No matter which mode you're using, the 30x optical zoom lens in this camera is clearly the star component. Although there are other fixed-lens cameras on the market with larger lenses, such as 40x and 50x, it's difficult to match the 30x zoom lens of the SX500 IS in a camera in this price range.

    Unfortunately, creating a lightweight large zoom camera has a couple of drawbacks. The overall design leaves this camera feeling a little cheaply made. With a big zoom camera, you just expect it to have a bit of a heftier, tougher feel. I would not want to accidentally drop this camera a few feet, because I'm not sure it would survive.

    Another problem is that Canon included a pretty small rechargeable battery with the SX500 IS. While having a smaller battery does keep this camera's weight down, you'll have to sacrifice battery life. Canon estimates you'll be able to shoot less than 200 images per battery charge with this camera, and my tests showed closer to 150 shots. In addition, running the lens through it's full zoom quite often will drain the battery more quickly.

    Canon did include a very nice LCD screen with the PowerShot SX500, measuring 3 inches diagonally. It has above average resolution and sharpness. However, you will notice some glare problems when shooting in bright sunlight. I found the screen was easier to view when I adjusted the LCD's brightness setting to its maximum level, but this drains the battery even more quickly.

    Oddly, Canon chose to include an HDMI slot with this camera, even though it has a maximum HD movie resolution of just 720p. Although the HDMI slot is handy, most people who want to shoot a lot of movies with their fixed-lens cameras are going to seek out a model that can shoot 1080p resolution instead, so the inclusion of an HDMI slot seems like an unnecessary use of resources.

    Movies shot with the SX500 IS are of an adequate quality. The focus seems to work quickly enough to allow you to follow moving subjects relatively easily. Although the zoom lens is available while shooting movies, it moves painfully slowly during movie recording, requiring almost 10 seconds to move through the full zoom. It's better than having no zoom when shooting movies, but not much better.

    Another problem when recording movies with this camera is the LCD screen has a difficult time keeping up with the display of the scene if you're moving the camera while shooting or if you're in a low light situation. This is called a jelly effect, and it can make it difficult for you to frame scenes correctly in your movies.

    As with most PowerShot cameras, the SX500 is really easy to use and its menu structure makes a lot of sense. You should have no problem picking up this model and shooting good photos almost immediately after charging the battery for the first time. There are 21 scene modes available, as well as several special effect shooting options, including fish-eye, monochrome, and super vivid. This camera has just enough advanced features to allow you to learn a bit about photography, too.

    One interesting advanced feature that you likely won't find elsewhere is the framing button on the side of the SX500's lens housing. This button is a great addition to a long zoom camera, because you sometimes can lose sight of the subject on the LCD when you're at the maximum zoom level. Press and hold the framing button, and the camera will temporarily digitally zoom out. Find the subject again, center it in the frame, and release the framing button. This feature means that the optical zoom motor never has to move as you reacquire the subject of the image, saving you time.

    The PowerShot SX500's other control buttons are well placed and are comfortable to use. Canon also included a nice control dial as the four-way button, which is handy for scrolling through a lot of menu options or images in a hurry.

    Bottom Line - The PowerShot SX500 IS long zoom camera from Canon is a difficult one to recommend to everyone. The noise in the images makes it tough to create large prints. The images do look pretty good on a computer screen and when shared digitally. Image sharpness is very good with the SX500 -- at least when excessive noise in the images doesn't muddy the sharpness. Shooting with the 30x zoom lens can give you some photos that you just can't recreate with a smaller zoom lens camera. There's a good mix of automatic and manual control features, too. However with an ultra-zoom camera, I'd prefer a build that feels more sturdy and a larger battery that yields more photos per charge. There's just something that feels cheap about the build of this camera. The initial price of the SX500 at about $300 was a bit too high, but the cost of this model has dropped recently. Because it's almost impossible to find a camera in this price point with a 30x or larger zoom, this camera's great telephoto capabilities make it a tempting option in its lowered price range. Personally, If I was in the market for a lightweight camera with a big zoom, I'd be willing to sacrifice a little zoom and go with a smaller camera body, such as the PowerShot SX260 with a 20x zoom, which will provide better image quality, too. For those who can't turn down a 30x zoom lens at this price point, the SX500 IS is an adequate camera, as long as you know you can live with its drawbacks.

    You can check out the price of this camera on Adorama by clicking here.

    Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.