Canon Powershot SD500 Review

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Canon Powershot SD500

Steve's Conclusion

The Powershot SD500 is the first Canon digicam to exceed 1-megapixel per ounce, packing a 7.1-megapixel CCD into a diminutive body weighing only 6 ounces. That's quite a milestone in this industry; miniaturization and good design have been combined in an attractive package that barely creates a bulge in your pocket, yet captures high resolution images capable of producing 13x19-inch and larger prints.

The SD500 continues the traditional stylishness of Canon's Digital ELPH series, but departs from the boxiness of its predecessors with an attractive curved body design. But not overlooked was the need to allow the camera to stand in either vertical or horizontal orientation; tiny feet are built into the bottom and side of the camera body, allowing it to be placed on an even surface for a self-timer triggered self-portrait, or for long exposures in lieu of a tripod.

Despite the SD500's diminutive size, Canon was able to fit a 2-inch LCD, quite a step up from the 1.5-inch component of its predecessors. The LCD has both an anti-glare coating and brightness adjustment, making it usable even on the brightest of days as a viewfinder, for reviewing images and for accessing the SD500's menu system. Playback mode was very useful, providing a large bright display, image magnification of up to 10x, and a detail display mode that includes exposure settings and a histogram.

The SD500's lens is an excellent piece of glass. It has a flexible zoom range of 37-111mm in 35mm equivalence, providing a moderately wide field of view for interior and scenic shots, and telephoto coverage useful for portraits and to bring your distant subjects closer. The lens exhibits noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, but no pin cushioning at telephoto. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled, with only the slightest amount of purple fringing detectable in high contrast areas. The lens produces sharp results from corner to corner, and is a good match for the SD500's 7.1-megapixel imager.

The SD500's image quality is excellent. The ISO sensitivity is adjustable from 50, 100, 200, 400 or the camera can control it Automatically. Noise is absent from ISO 50 shots. At ISO 100, only a slight amount of noise is detectable in shadow areas, and at ISO 200 shadow noise becomes more noticeable. At ISO 400 noise becomes noticeable in highlight areas, but the images are quite usable. If you shoot night pictures you'll appreciate the "Long Shutter" option that gives you access to shutter speeds ranging from 1to 15 seconds. To insure the best possible image, Noise Reduction is automatically applied when the shutter speed is 1.3 second or longer. In addition to an excellent automatic white balance there are presets for sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, fluorescent H (daylight temperature) and a one-push custom setting for use with a white or grey card.

The SD500 is quite responsive, especially considering its size and resolution. From power-on until the first image is captured takes less than 1.5 seconds, while waking the camera from its power-saving mode took just over 1 second. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing an image, measured 1/10 second when pre-focused, and 1/2 second including autofocus. In single image drive mode, shots can be taken at 1.5 second intervals without flash, and at intervals of between 2 and 8 seconds with flash depending on subject distance. The SD500 turned in a remarkable performance in continuous mode, capturing Large Superfine images at intervals of 1/2 second with no slow-down caused by a full buffer. This performance was measured shooting Large (7.1-megapixel) Superfine image quality using a fast Sandisk Extreme 512MB SD memory card.

The camera's auto focus system is as robust as its image processing and is enhanced by a focus assist lamp that insures proper focus lock even in total darkness. The auto focus employs a very accurate 9-point AF system that does its job quickly, even when the subject is not in the center of the frame. If the LCD is on you'll see which of the nine AF points were used for the focus lock. The Macro mode has excellent coverage from six inches to about one and a half feet and controls the flash perfectly even at the closest range.

The SD500's exposure system is only automatic; so-called Manual mode giving you control of only exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, and image processing options for saturation, sharpening, black and white, and sepia. But the absence of shutter-priority, aperture-priority or manual exposure modes doesn't mean that the SD500 limits your creativity; its My Colors mode offers a range of color effects that you can use to enhance your images. The SD500 offers a choice of Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Red, Vivid Green, Positive Film, Color Accent, Color Swap and Custom Color. Want to make the green foliage stand out in your scenics? Just select Vivid Green. Did you make a trip to shoot fall colors but arrive before the height of the season? Select Vivid red and the changing leaves will be enhanced. Would you like to have a tan in the middle of winter? Darker Skin Tone would be your choice. If you're not certain that a My Colors Mode will be to your liking, just turn on the Save Original parameter in the camera's menu system; it will save both the original image and the My Colors version and you can choose the best one after the fact. My Colors modes are available both for still and moving images, so your movies can benefit from this feature as well.

Speaking of movies, the SD500 offers a variety of resolutions and frame rates to meet your needs. Fast Frame Rate shoots moving images at 60 frames per second at a resolution of 320x240, limiting the clip length to one minute. Standard movie mode offers a choice of resolutions (640x480 or 320x240) and frame rates (15 or 30fps). Standard movie clips are not limited by time, but by size; you can record movies of up to 1 gigabyte! At 640x480 and 30 fps, you'll be consuming nearly 2 megabytes per second, so make sure to get a large and fast SD memory card!

Small cameras require small batteries - the SD500 is powered by a proprietary rechargeable Li-ion pack that's good for about 250 shots with full time use of the color LCD. With the LCD off you can expect substantially more. We still recommend the purchase of a second battery pack because the camera cannot be powered by any other type of battery. Canon includes a very compact and portable AC charger for the battery that takes about two hours to charge a fully depleted pack. The charger plugs directly into an 100-240V AC outlet and has fold-away prongs, no cord is required.

Canon has created yet another winner in its Digital ELPH series in the SD500. The SD500 makes an excellent family and travel camera, able to be used by photographers of every experience level and taking up no more space than a deck of cards. At a street price of under $500, the SD500 is not inexpensive, but it offers a compelling value to those who need its combination of small size, high resolution, terrific image quality and style.

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