Conclusion - Pros
- Good resolution and detailed output (but only very marginally better than 450D)
- Decent (but not 'best in class') high ISO JPEG performance
- Extended ISO speed up to 12800 (not great quality but it's there for emergencies)
- Good quality HD video (but sound output does not match the image quality)
- Currently the cheapest 1080P video capable DSLR (albeit only at 20fps)
- Overall snappy and responsive performance
- Very clear, high resolution 3.0 inch screen with anti-reflection coating (but still hardly usable in sunny conditions)
- Brightest and largest viewfinder in class
- Good number of external controls provide quick access to all important shooting parameters and the interactive quick control panel is a good alternative for those who prefer the compact camera style of controls
- Intuitive menu system and customizable 'My Menu'
- Good control over High ISO NR
- Fairly efficient Highlight Tone Priority features preserves some additional highlight detail
- Reliable flash exposure
- Peripheral illumination correction
- Optional battery grip
- HDMI output
- Comprehensive software package included
- Good battery life
Conclusion - Cons
- Visibly more noise in RAW files than some of the competition
- Slightly less highlight range in JPGs than the competition
- Relatively limited RAW headroom, channel clipping means color accuracy can often not be maintained when recovering clipped areas in RAW conversion
- Metering has occasional tendencies to overexpose in very bright, contrasty conditions
- Unreliable auto white balance and presets under artificial light
- Still slightly plasticy appearance and surfaces
- Grip is a little small for larger hands
- Flash has to be raised for AF assist (although AF is good even in low light)
- Limited exposure compensation range (+/- 2.0 EV)
- Contrast detect AF so slow it's useless for most types of photography (it's the same for most of the competition though)
- Slightly more expensive than the competition
The EOS 500D is the latest incarnation of a highly successful line of cameras and although the 'entry level' market segment is these days much more crowded than it used to be, we would be very surprised if the new model would not sell like hotcakes.
All the major manufacturers cram more and more new features into their 'budget' offerings but the EOS 500D is arguably the currently best specced camera in the segment, which lifts it some distance above pure 'entry level' territory. It comes with the highest resolution sensor (15.1 effective megapixels) in its class, an excellent 3.0 inch high resolution screen, extended sensitivity up to ISO 12800 and the arguably for many users most attractive new feature, a movie mode that records 1080P/20fps or 720P/30fps High Definition video footage.
It combines all this with decent image quality and while its appearance might be a little plasticy and the handling can be difficult with larger hands the 500D's main problem could be that it's a little pricier than most of its direct competitors which, in these times of economic turmoil, might render it less attractive to some potential buyers.
At base ISO the 500D produces clean and detailed output with natural colors but to make the most of the camera's 15 megapixels for big enlargements or cropping you should invest in good lenses. At least towards the edges of the frame the kit-lenses struggle to resolve all the detail in a scene.
The Canon does a decent job at higher sensitivities and up to ISO 1600 produces perfectly usable output that shows good detail but also visibly more chroma noise than the Nikon D5000 (if you're willing to sacrifice some image detail you get rid of it almost entirely by setting noise reduction to 'Strong' though). ISO 3200 gets visibly softer and the two highest settings produce a very intrusive type of color noise. They should therefore be firmly reserved for emergency situations.
When shooting in RAW the picture changes slightly to the negative. The 'extra quality' you can usually get out of RAW files compared to shooting in JPEG is relatively limited on the 500D. One reason for that is the quality of the camera's JPEG engine. It is doing a pretty good job at 'optimizing' the JPEG output when converting the RAW data. However, the 500D's RAW images are also slightly lagging behind some of the competition and surprisingly even the 450D in terms of high ISO noise and to a smaller degree in terms of pixel level detail. It's not going to be an issue when checking images at screen size but it's certainly visible up-close.
Metering is generally reliable but, like the 450D, in bright conditions the EOS 500D has a tendency to overexpose resulting in clipping of highlights. And although the JPEG dynamic range in the highlights is slightly smaller than on the predecessor there's enough headroom in raw files to pull back highlight detail in most of those shots. It's therefore recommendable, especially in bright and contrasty conditions, to always shoot JPEG + RAW. Otherwise you'd better check your exposures carefully and apply some negative exposure compensation where necessary.
We have in the past been slightly critical about the handling of the 500D's predecessors and we're still not too keen on the camera's ergonomics. The grip is comparatively small and, especially for photographers with larger hands, the camera doesn't sit as comfortably in the hand as, for example, the Nikon D5000 or Olympus E-620. The external controls give you good access to the most frequently changed shooting parameters but we'd love to see a 50D style second control wheel. Having said that we are looking at a budget camera here and the manufacturers have to draw the line somewhere.
The menu design is very intuitive and for everybody stepping up from a digital compact camera the Quick Control Screen will be a welcome alternative to changing settings via the hard buttons. All in all the EOS 500D is a camera that, after some initial adaption time, you will find easy to use. Just make sure you hold one before you buy and check if its smallish grip is suitable for you.
Like most current SLRs the live view feature is, mainly due to the very slow AF, of limited use outside the studio and while the video mode delivers excellent quality footage it offers very little manual control. None of these points are deal breakers though and Canon might even, like it did in the case of the 5D Mark II, at some point offer a new firmware to allow for more manual interference.
The final word
If you currently own an EOS 450D or another fairly recent entry-level DSLR from an image quality point of view there is not necessarily a need to upgrade to the EOS 500D. However, the HD video mode, new high-resolution screen or extended ISO range make it easier to justify the expense if you're likely to use these features. For anybody buying their first DSLR the 500D is an easy recommendation but you might want to have a look at the Nikon D5000 as well. It comes with a similar feature set to the 500D ('only' 720P video though) and performs slightly better in low light.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Decent results in virtually any situation, movies
Not so good for
Extreme low light photography, HDR, big hands.
Canon's popular consumer model takes another step away from the 'entry-level' with an impressive spec sheet and consistently good performance across the board. It may struggle to really excel in any particular area, but it taken as a whole it's one of the strongest contenders in this category.
Original Rating (June 2009): Highly Recommended
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