Operation and controls

One of the joys of reviewing a Canon compact is that there is almost absolute consistency in controls and menus across its ranges, with each generation an evolution, not a re-invention of the wheel. And this is not without good reason; the combination of plentiful external controls and the superb 'FUNC' menu, which offers single-screen access to virtually every other aspect of the camera's operation, makes mastering a PowerShot simple and using it, remarkably fluid. Of course this is a fairly simple camera - a true 'point and shoot' model, with very limited manual control. What you do get is most of the important stuff; control over metering, flash, ISO, white balance, file size/quality and so on. What you don't get - aside from a handful of subject modes - is any meaningful control over apertures and shutter speeds.

Rear of camera

The rear of the SD500 is dominated by the 2.0-inch screen (a 1.5-inch LCD is much more common on ultra-compact models), meaning the controls have been moved to the right. I found the new control layout (also used on the SD300) significantly better than the 'buttons in a row below the screen' system used on the last IXUS/ELPH I used.

Top of camera

Viewed from above you can see just how slim and curvaceous the SD500 really is - the main body is only a smidgeon over 20mm deep, and the lens fits completely flush to the body when not in use. The only controls on the top of the camera are the main on/off switch (which has a half second or so delay to avoid accidental activation) and the shutter release/zoom lever.

Display and menus

Canon's menu and on-screen display system has - despite minor appearance tweaks here and there - remained admirably consistent across camera ranges and generations. There's nothing particularly new here - but then why change a system that works?

Pressing the DISP button cycles between three preview settings; off (use the optical viewfinder), preview image only (no information displayed) and - as shown above - full information. There's plenty of information ranged around the edge of the preview image. Half press the shutter and the camera will set the focus and exposure, indicating the focus point chosen (in AiAF mode the SD500 chooses from one of nine focus points). Unfortunately there is no indication of shutter speed or aperture, simply a camera shake warning if the speed is too low.
The ubiquitous FUNC menu has two modes of operation. The default (shown here) is 'auto'. All you can change here is the file size and quality. You also get direct access to the six scene modes (digital macro, portrait, night snapshot, kids and pets, indoor and underwater). Selecting the 'manual' option gives you additional access to AE compensation, white balance, ISO sensitivity, picture/color effects. As always, the FUNC menu is fast and easy to use.
Selecting the 'My Colors' option brings up several extra options, allowing you to boost certain colors, swap colors in the scene (screenshot), remove all but one color (all other colors come out black and white) or set custom colors (screenshot). It's not Photoshop, but it's a nice novelty. Pressing the menu button in record mode brings up a list of less-commonly accessed functions; AiAF focus on/off; self timer (2/10 secs); AF illuminator on/off; digital zoom on/off; review (2-10 secs); date stamp on/off and long shutter on/off. The last option on the list activates Canon's excellent stitch assist panorama mode.
In playback mode you get the option of full screen images with no information overlay or basic information (file number, date and time). A final option is a playback histogram. What you can't see - as in record mode - is any exposure information. Pushing the zoom lever to the left (wide) changes the display to nine (3x3) thumbnails. As is usual with Canon, moving the zoom lever to the left a second time changes the thumbnail display to 'jump' mode, allowing you to quickly move through a page of thumbnails at a time.
The zoom lever is also used to zoom into (magnify) images - up to 10x in 10 steps. Press the Set button when magnified and you can jump from image to image at the same magnification.
The comprehensive movie mode has various options (accessed via the FUNC menu), including a 60 fps 'Fast Frame Rate' mode. Incidentally, you can zoom during movies, but it is digital, rather than optical zooming. The play menu offers the usual range of options, including protecting, rotating and deleting images, plus slideshows and print ordering (DPOF).
The setup menu (accessible from both playback and record modes) is where you find more general camera settings, including sounds, power saving, date and time, LCD brightness, card formatting, language and video output format. Finally, as is now standard on Canon's consumer models, the 'My Camera' screen allows you to customize the camera with your own start-up screen and sounds.