Color reproduction

Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

Once again Canon's 500D delivers color that is, to all intents and purposes, identical to every other SLR in its current range across the various Picture Styles, which is useful for anyone moving from one model to another. As we've seen in other reviews the standard hues are also very similar to most other SLRs in this class, with minor saturation and brightness differences but essentially the same color response.

Canon EOS 500D Compare to:  
FaithfulMonoAdobe RGB

Artificial light White Balance

Every time an new Canon DSLR is announced we can pretty much predict that it won't do white balance in artificial light. Auto white balance and the manual settings all produce pretty strong color cast indoors under artificial light sources. Therefore, if you want your whites to be white, you will almost definitely need to use custom white balance or the Kelvin temperature option.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 11.5%, Blue: -15.2%, Poor
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 7.8%, Blue: -11.8%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 8.2%, Blue: -11.9%, Poor
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red: 6.2%, Blue: -7.8%, Average


The EOS 500D's built-in flash does a very decent job. Color and exposure are excellent, and in the fully automatic modes ambient light and flash exposures are usually perfectly balanced (auto fill flash works well too).

Highlight tone priority

The 'Highlight tone priority' (HTP) function first found its way onto Canon's entry-level model with the 450D and on the 500D works in exactly the same way as on its predecessor. Activated by C.Fn II-5, it (according to the 500D user manual) "Improves the highlight detail. The dynamic range is expanded from the standard 18% gray to bright highlights. The gradation between the grays and highlights becomes smoother." It goes on to warn "noise in the shadow areas may be slightly more than usual." With HTP turned on the minimum ISO setting increases to 200. We've looked at this feature in previous reviews and in the dynamic range section of this review, but the example below give an impression of what it does on the 500D.

We've used ACR's highlight clipping warning to show how HTP can hang on to a little of the detail in clipped areas. The function doesn't do any miracles but you can see that it recovered some detail in the roof of Tower Bridge, our favorite gallery subject. It has also pulled back some blue in the sky (although ACR still shows the entire sky as clipped).

Ultimately in situations such as those shown below it's worth turning HTP on, but it's fair to say that the difference it makes in most shots isn't huge. Although it can save a shot that's been inadvertently over exposed you're far better off shooting raw.

Highlight tone priority OFF Highlight tone priority ON
ISO 200, 1/320 sec, F6.3 (+0.33 EV AE-C) ISO 200, 1/320 sec, F6.3 (+0.33 EV AE-C)
Clipping Clipping
100% crop 100% crop
100% crop 100% crop

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

The EOS 500D follows a long line of cameras whose image quality was consistently up with the best in class, and while you won't find any nasty surprises in its image output, it becomes clear that improvements in image quality between camera generations are becoming smaller and smaller. The jump from 12.2 megapixels on the EOS 450D to 15.1 megapixels on the 500D only constitutes an increase in resolution of approximately 11 percent in each dimension and at base ISO you'll struggle to find more detail in the 500D images.

There is no significant improvement to be found at higher sensitivities either and at ISO 1600 the output of both camera generations shows (and measures) comparable amounts of noise and detail. When shooting in RAW the 500D actually shows visibly more noise at higher ISOs than its predecessor which leads to the conclusion that while the sensor's noise characteristics appear to have deteriorated the Canon JPEG processing must have been improved quite significantly in order to keep JPEG noise at similar levels as before.

The difference in detail between an out-of-camera JPEG at base ISO and a carefully sharpened RAW conversion is comparatively small as well. Again this indicates that the 500D's JPEG engine is doing a fairly decent job at getting the most out of the captured RAW data.

Having said all that, one big difference between the two cameras obviously is that you can still keep shooting in near darkness with the 500D's ISO 12800 setting while the 450D gives up at ISO 1600. The output is perfectly usable at screen size (although it gets quite soft) up to ISO 3200. The two highest settings produce a very intrusive type of color noise and should be firmly reserved for small prints or on-screen use only.

Leaving all the pixel-level comparisons to the predecessor aside, at its default settings the 500D produces clean and detailed output with natural colors. The anti-aliasing filter appears to be comparatively light for a Canon, resulting in better pixel-level sharpness than we saw on the EOS 50D, which produces the same image size as the 500D. To make the most of all the pixels on the sensor you need to invest in good lenses though. At least towards the edges of the frame the kit-lenses struggle to resolve all the detail the sensor can capture, even when stopped down.

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.

All in all the 500D delivers good image quality in most situations but it's not really better than its predecessor. So, if you are a 450D user, purely from an image quality point of view there is no need for an upgrade, but obviously the 500D comes with a number of new features such as HD video and an expanded ISO range (just in case you are looking for reasons to justify the purchase of a new toy).