Canon PowerShot SD500 Review

The SD500, which is also known as the Digital Ixus 700 in Europe and the IXY DIGITAL 600 in Japan, was introduced right before PMA in February of 2005. It is the most recent model in a long line of ultra-compact ‘ELPH’ or ‘IXUS’ cameras that date all the way back to the early 2000s (and a lot farther back than that in the film camera world).

The SD500, which has a resolution of 7 megapixels and is somewhat broader and curvier than its predecessors, has replaced the S500 (IXUS 500) as the flagship model of the line; it is also around 8 percent lighter than that model. A redesigned mode dial, quicker USB 2.0 connectivity, greater performance owing to the DIGIC II processor, and upgraded movie capabilities are some of the other modifications that have been made. Many of these enhancements can also be found in the new SD400.

The SD500, much like its predecessors, does not have a great much in the way of manual controls, but it does manage to pack quite a few high-end capabilities into the compact all-metal housing it comes in;

Key Specs

  • 7.4 megapixel CCD
  • color TFT monitor with a 2.0-inch screen
  • 37-111mm (equiv.) F2.8 – 4.9, 3x optical zoom
  • 640 × 480 videos at 30 frames per second
  • Fast frame rate videos (320×240 pixels At 60fps)
  • Click here to print and share.
  • The addition of a ‘hold’ button.
  • Individualized white balance
  • Metering methods include spot, center-weighted, and evaluative.
  • DIGIC II in addition to iSAPS
  • 9-point AiAF
  • Nine scene modes

Design

Although it has a strong family resemblance to earlier generations of IXUS and ELPH models, the SD500 represents a slight shift in direction away from the very boxy styling of its predecessors (to quote Canon: “with its unique ‘Perpetual Curve’ contoured design, the brushed stainless steel ‘titanium gray’ SD500 continues the IXUS tradition of pushing compact camera design into new territories.”) Although it has a strong family resemblance to earlier

This translates for both of us into the SD500 having a pleasingly rounded left-hand side as well as a clear absence of sharp edges. As befits a camera that is located at the higher end of the price range for ultra-compact cameras, it is beautifully built with admirable attention to detail. The SD500 has a silky stainless steel finish that is almost indulgently tactile, and its looks and feel exude quality. The SD500 also has an optical viewfinder.

The main drawback of the finish that was selected is that it appears to be quite prone to scratches and other types of blemishes (so keep it in a case when not in use). I also found the camera to be a touch on the “slippy” side, which meant that I felt a lot safer with the wrist strap in place than without it. Personally, I think this is because of the way the camera is designed.

Although the control arrangement has been significantly modified (there is now a mode dial rather than a switch, and the majority of the buttons have shifted), the fundamentals remain the same as they were in the majority of the other models in the series.

This ensures that you have access to external controls for metering, flash, focus (macro or infinity), and self-timer/drive mode. On the other hand, the wonderful FUNC menu is used to access the rest of the camera’s features.

Within your grasp

The pebble-smooth shell, along with the lack of any obvious ‘grip,’ means that it can seem a bit perilous handled in one hand, but is in reality completely useable. The SD500 weighs around 194 grams when fully filled, which is just substantial enough to feel solid and sturdy in the hand.

The placement of the shutter release and the zoom rocker makes operation with one hand simple; nevertheless, you should still ensure that the strap is wrapped around your wrist in the event that the camera escapes your grasp and begins to move in the wrong direction.

The workings and the controls

There is virtually total uniformity in the controls and menus throughout all of Canon’s tiny camera ranges, making it one of the most enjoyable aspects of reviewing a Canon compact camera. Each new generation is an evolution rather than a complete reinvention 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, making it one of the most popular digital cameras on the market today.

It goes without saying that this is a really straightforward camera; in fact, it is a “point-and-shoot” type that offers extremely little control over the manual settings. What you do get, however, is control over the majority of the critical settings, including metering, flash, ISO, white balance, file size and quality, and so on.

What you do not receive, however, is any significant control over the apertures and shutter speeds of the camera, except from a small selection of subject modes.

Image Quality

A Perfect White Balance

In addition to the camera’s built-in auto white balance, the SD500 features a total of five different white balance settings, including sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, and fluorescent H. You may also set the white balance manually by pointing the camera at a white or gray object and using the ‘custom’ white balance setting. This setting is available as an additional white balance option.

Even if you switch the camera off, it will keep the custom white balance setting that you have previously selected. When shooting normally outside, the auto white balance serves its purpose admirably (as confirmed by our studio tests).

Fluorescent illumination doesn’t pose much of an issue indoors, but incandescent (tungsten) lighting results in a rather strong orange color cast. This is something that we’ve experienced with the majority of Canon PowerShots.

If you want the colors to be more muted, it is best to remain with the preset (or use the one-push custom WB). When we asked Canon about its method of determining the white balance, we were told that the warm colors that appear on the camera’s display when it is shooting in incandescent light are deliberate and are done so in order to “try to keep some of the warm atmosphere of this kind of shot.” This information was conveyed to us after we contacted the company.

Performance in a Flash

The built-in flash on the SD500 reportedly has a working range of 0.5 meters to 4.8 meters (1.6 feet to 16.4 feet) at the wide end of the zoom and 0.5 meters to 2.8 meters (1.6 feet to 9.8 feet) at the telephoto end, making it slightly more powerful than the majority of the other models in the range. In macro mode, it can focus as close as around 30 centimeters (about 12 inches) (in all cases assuming the ISO is set to auto).

The flash performed well in our real-world tests, with almost no color cast but a slight tendency to underexpose (which is easy to fix and a lot better than burnt-out results). Additionally, there were some issues that seemed to be connected to the choice of focus point when using the auto-focus mode, but these were easily resolved.

Even with the red-eye reduction feature activated, the flash has a very short recycle time, ensuring that you won’t miss any spontaneous photo opportunities while you wait for it to fire. We discovered that the autofocus (AF) illuminator would enable focus in total darkness (or as close to it as we could get) at distances of up to approximately one meter. When the light levels are poor, the autofocus assist illuminator can help you focus at distances of up to around two meters.

Macro Focus

The macro mode of the SD500 is most effective at the broad end of the zoom, as is the case with most tiny digital cameras. At this end of the zoom range, you can get as near as 5 centimeters, which is not terrible at all for an “ultra-compact” camera. Even if the performance is less outstanding at the long end of the zoom (with a subject distance of 30 centimeters), it is still rather handy.

Concerns Regarding the Specific Image’s Quality

When it comes to picture quality, it is inevitable that an ultra-compact camera like this one would involve some sort of sacrifice on the part of the user.

The question that needs to be answered is how much of a sacrifice we are willing to make in terms of image quality in order to obtain a camera that is truly pocket-sized. Additionally, the question that needs to be answered is whether or not there is any real advantage to the large 7-megapixel files (over, say, the 4-megapixel SD300) in real terms for everyday use.

First, the good news: this is a Canon, and it has all of the typical Canon hallmarks, including outstanding color that is both bright and natural, highly precise exposure and focus, and a very high level of detail (see resolution tests).

The photographs, particularly those that contain delicate low contrast detail such as foliage, sometimes appear to be a touch soft or even muddy (they are very smooth, almost too ‘polished’), but they react well to sharpening and print nicely when they are. The information in areas of higher contrast is portrayed fairly crisply, although extremely bright and contrasty situations can wreak havoc on the metering.

We noticed that corner softness was a little issue at the wide end of the zoom range and at maximum aperture, but it is a lot better than in prior generations, and it isn’t particularly noticeable in images taken in real-world environments. We also discovered that the typical Achilles heel of Canon cameras, purple fringing, was a serious problem in the majority of the high-contrast photos we took.

In the end, the SD500 produces the kinds of results that very few people in the target market would find anything to complain about, and it would make the ideal ‘carry always’ camera for anyone who ordinarily uses a larger, more sophisticated camera but doesn’t want to sacrifice too much image quality for the sake of portability.

Coloring along the edges

There is noticeable purple fringing present to some degree in all of the photographs that have very bright regions, particularly those that are overexposed, and in several of the photographs, it is very strong.

In most situations, it is not enough to ruin photographs, but when shooting with a wide-angle lens outside on a sunny day, you may end up with very strong fringes at the edges of the frame where bright and dark areas meet.

Problems with overexposure and charred highlights

We discovered that extremely bright environments can on occasion result in major exposure difficulties (significant over-exposure). In spite of the fact that the default contrast curve looks to be fairly steep, the dynamic range appears to be pretty decent. However, you will need to get the exposure just right in order to keep the information in the highlights and shadows.

iAF multi-point focus failures

The SD500 is undoubtedly quick to focus, but it also misses more shots than it should. However, to put this into perspective, we’re probably talking about one miss out of every one hundred (more in low light).

The issue that arises, as it does with other ‘intelligent’ multi-point AF systems, is that the camera will frequently choose a very small foreground item to focus on. However, this is something that can be readily avoided by observing the focus point that is being used (or sticking to single-point focus).

Specifications

Body MaterialMetal
Also known as• European name: Canon IXUS 700
• Japanese name: Canon IXY Digital 600
Sensor• 1/1.8″ CCD, 7.4 million total pixels
• 7.1 million effective pixels
Image sizes• 3072 x 2304
• 2592 x 1944
• 2048 x 1536
• 1600 x 1200
• 640 x 480
Movie clips• 640 x 480 @ 30 / 15 fps
• 320 x 240 @ 60 / 30 / 15 fps
• 160 x 120 @ 15 fps
• Up to 1GB (640×480, 320×240, 30/15fps) (depending on memory card speed and capacity)
• Up to 3 mins (160×120) (depending on memory card speed and capacity)
• Up to 1 min (320×240, 60fps) (depending on memory card speed and capacity)
Lens• 37 – 111 mm (35 mm equiv) 3x optical zoom
• F 2.8 – 4.9
Shutter speeds15 – 1/2000 sec
Focus• TTL autofocus
• 9 point AiAF
• 1-point AF (fixed to center)
• 5cm macro mode (Wide), 30cm (Tele)
Shooting mode• Auto
• Manual
• Digital Macro
• Portrait
• Foliage
• Snow
• Beach
• Fireworks
• Underwater
• Indoor
• Kids and pets
• Night snapshot
• Stitch assist
• AE compensation -2.0EV to +2.0 EV in 1/3EV steps
Sensitivity• Auto
• ISO50,100,200,400
White Balance• Auto
• Daylight
• Cloudy
• Tungsten
• Fluorescent
• Fluorescent H
• Custom (manual)
Image parameters• Vivid
• Neutral
• Low sharpening
• Black and white
• My colors (9 settings)
Continuous2 fps until memory card is full
Flash• Built in
• Modes: Auto, on, off, red-eye reduction, slow sync, flash exposure lock
• Range: Wideangle: 0.5 – 4.8 m (1.6 – 16.4 ft), Tele: 0.5 – 2.8m (1.6 – 9.8 ft)
Storage• SD Memory Card
• 32MB SD supplied*
ViewfinderReal Image Optical
LCD monitor• 2.0″ TFT LCD
• 118,000 pixels
Connectivity• USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
• A/V out
Power• Rechargeable lithium ion NB-3L battery
• Charger included
• (Optional AC adapter KIT ACK900)
In the box*• Canon PowerShot SD500 Digital ELPH (IXUS 700, IXY DIGITAL 600)
• Wrist strap
• Lithium Ion battery
• AV cable
• USB cable
• 32MB SD card
• Software CD ROM (Canon Digital Camera Solutions & ArcSoft PhotoStudio)
Other features• Spot (center), Center-weighted & Evaluative metering
• PictBridge, Exif Print and DPOF compatible
• Playback Histogram
• Orientation Sensor
• Autofocus Illuminator
• Optional High Power Flash HF-DC1 (slave)
• Optional Waterproof Case
Weight (inc batt)192 g (6.8 oz)
Dimensions89.5 x 57 x 26.5 mm (3.52 x 2.24 x 1.04in) Excluding protrusions

Final Verdict

It is not without good cause that the IXUS and Elph series have proven to be so popular; the mix of size, design and materials, performance, and reasonable image quality is appealing. The SD500 is no exception; it is quick, simple to use, and able to provide first-class results in the appropriate settings; in short, it has all the markers of a design classic, and it is no exception. However, it is not a camera that is devoid of issues. Some, such as the rather erratic behavior of the AiAF “intelligent” focus system, can be easily overcome (switch to center focus), while others, such as the SD500’s tendency to miss fine low-contrast detail, will only really cause you a problem if you are printing at sizes that are greater than about 8×10 inches.

In the end, however, purchasing any camera that is designed to be as physically small as possible is always going to represent something of a compromise, and I think that on balance the SD500 represents an acceptable trade-off. It is certainly capable of producing sharper, more detailed results than the majority of its competitors, and its street price is, at less than $500, pretty competitive.

You may wonder whether you really need a pocket camera with 7 million pixels, but a quick glance at the test results shows that the SD500 is capable of capturing significantly more detail in everyday scenes than any of its predecessors or competitors with 4 or 5 megapixels. This is especially true when shooting in low-light conditions. Even if it is hardly a revolutionary step forward, the SD500 will offer you the upper hand if you choose to print a little bit larger than usual.

The SD500 is a terrific small camera, but I had the impression that it didn’t quite live up to its promise. Perhaps I judged it too harshly. Having said that, we did not experience any of the movie audio difficulties (a slight whine or hiss) that were described by some owners (and were, in fact, extremely pleased by the movie mode), and the results are frequently breathtaking when there is sufficient light and a lot of contrast.

Pros & Cons

Good For
  • Excellent resolution
  • Excellent color and exposure
  • Very portable and easy to carry in your pocket
  • Stunning in its structure and composed entirely of metal
Need Improvement
  • There is no indication about the exposure while recording or playing back.
  • The battery life is not outstanding when using an LCD.
  • The finish is quite vulnerable to scuffs and scratches, and it can be slippery in the hand.
  • There is hardly much room for manual adjustment.

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