Canon EOS 500D review

If you’re in the market for a digital SLR (DSLR), Canon or Nikon have to be top of the list. Canon’s second DSLR to feature full high-definition video capture after the 5D Mark II – and its most affordable to date at £870 – the EOS 500D battles Nikon’s movie-shooting D5000, also pitched at enthusiastic amateurs. Canon’s contender features a higher full HD, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution than the D5000’s 1,280 x 720 pixel clips, plus 15.1-megapixel photos rather than 12-megapixel. Connectivity to an HD TV set is offered via a side-mounted HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) port, though sadly the 500D’s built-in microphone is only mono.

Both rivals have recently pioneered class-leading low-light photography on their DSLRs, and here the 500D’s fairly standard ISO100-3200 light sensitivity range can be boosted to an ISO12800 equivalent to deliver flash-free photography in near darkness. You’ll have to select it from the custom menus first, though. A tripod and the image stabilised 18-55mm equivalent kit lens are also required to help achieve acceptable results. The speckled appearance of grain, or image noise, can be visually intrusive, and destructive, at higher ISOs, but noise reduction is handled by the Digic 4 processor also found on Canon’s pro-level models.

And a good job it does, with clean results up to and including ISO3200. And while the expanded ISO6400, particularly the top 12800 settings (select ‘H’), may start to resemble a fuzzy TV picture, it’s a useful feature to have when you don’t want, or are unable, to use flash despite poor light conditions. The processor has also enabled a frankly so-so maximum shooting speed of 3.4fps for up to 170 sequential JPEGs.

Composing shots

As the device is aimed at the mass market, the EOS 500D is still compact and lightweight when gripped in the palm despite its sophisticated feature set. Shots are composed via a small-ish optical viewfinder or, by implementing Live View via its dedicated button, the larger 3in screen below. This has a resolution and clarity at 920k dots to rival professional DSLRs, and so aids manual focusing in particular when utilising Live View. Live View is only accessible in the camera’s creative modes (ie, those requiring a degree of user input) such as program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual, not the more basic handholding scene modes.

For snapshots, compact camera-style auto focus is also included, as is the now-standard face detection feature to bias humans in the frame. The camera is quick to power up too. Flick the on/off button and shots can be taken more or less instantaneously; the 9-point auto focus system rapidly locking onto an intended target. An integrated cleaning system helps avoid dust that may have intruded when swapping lenses from sticking to the exposed sensor. Adding to the user-friendly feel, this self-activates on powering up and down.

Committing large JPEGs or Raw files to removable SD or SDHC, the quality of the kits lens, though not perfect, is nevertheless surprisingly good; picking up detail such as tiny spots of dust on the item in our close-up test shot. Worth flagging up as helpful creative tools are the camera’s built-in Picture Style effects modes, and being able to swap the standard default for settings better suited to portraits (softer skin tones) or landscapes (more vivid greens and blues) if you feel initial results are slightly flat is useful.

Although highlight details occasionally burn out, you have the screen to tell you so, while any barrel distortion or corner softening when shooting at maximum wide angle is at an acceptably subtle level. When shooting video, stills can be taken in the middle of a filming sequence should the need arise (albeit at 2 megapixel), and we found the best results for our widescreen ratio HD clips were achieved by zooming into the intended subject, manually focusing, and then zooming out before shooting. Keep in mind the actual file sizes are large, though, so free up some space on that hard drive first.

OUR VERDICT

Despite being meant for the masses, the 500D’s £870 body-only asking price is a little high for the guy in the street, who’ll have to spend just under £1,000 to get the kit lens too. Still, if being intuitive to use with HD video and high-resolution stills in one neat package appeals, Canon’s latest contender comes highly recommended.

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