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Canon EOS 500D

DSLR with HD video trimmings, but has Canon sliced off too much?

By George Cole, 15 May 2009

Review Digital SLRs are generally aimed at three distinct groups: beginners, advanced users and pros. Occasionally, a model emerges that doesn’t fit so neatly into any of these categories. Take the Canon EOS 500D – a high-end, entry level DSLR perhaps? Then again, it could also be a low-end, mid-range camera. So is the EOS 500D simply versatile or a camera that falls between two stools?

Canon EOS 500D

Canon’s EOS 500D also known as the Rebel T1i in the US

In terms of positioning, the EOS 500D sits somewhere between the EOS 450D and the EOS 40D, and includes technologies found on the more expensive EOS 50D and EOS 5D Mark II models. If you’ve used the EOS 450D, the EOS 500D will look and feel very familiar.

Both cameras are the same size and the EOS 500D is just 5g heavier. Still, there are some significant differences. Whereas the EOS 450D has a 22.2 x 14.8mm CMOS sensor with 12.1Mp (effective), the EOS 500D uses a 22.3 x 14.9mm CMOS chip with 15.1Mp. The latter is similar to the sensor found on the EOS 50D, but not identical.

Likewise, the EOS 450D and the EOS 500D both offer 3in LCD screens with Live View, but while the former has an LCD screen composed of 230,000 dots, the EOS 500D’s screen has 920,000 dots – the same as the EOS 5D Mark II. If you’re wondering why Canon has put such a high-spec LCD screen on the EOS 500D, the answer is simple: high definition video. The EOS 500D can record HD video in two formats – 1080p and 720p – although, as we’ll see, its performance doesn’t match the EOS 5D Mark II’s.

Canon EOS 500D

Optical delusion: US buyers get the lens included for less than the body-only price in the UK

You can purchase the EOS 500D as a body-only (£870) or in kit form with an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens (£970 – our review model) or an EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens (£1400). What is amazing is that, according to Canon’s official USA website, American consumers can purchase the EOS 500D - where’s it’s known as the Rebel T1i - with an EF-S 18-55mm IS lens for around £600. Sure, there are differences with tax rates, exchange rates and tariffs, but the wallet of the poor old British consumer seems to be getting a good clobbering here.

Tucked away in the front are flash release and depth-of-field preview buttons. Moving from top left, is the pop-up flash, hot shoe, large mode dial, ISO button, on/off switch, control dial and shutter button. At the back are controls for menu, display, viewfinder, AE and FE lock, and AE compensation. Other controls include Live View/Print Share, multi-controller for white balance, drive mode, AF mode and Picture Style with central set, playback and delete buttons.

Canon EOS 500D

Screen resolution is now 920,000 dots to satisfy HD users

On the right is a flap covering mini USB and mini HDMI ports, and on the left, a flap hiding the SD/SDHC card slot. The Lithium-ion battery compartment is underneath. Overall, the EOS 500D measures 128 x 97.5 x 61.9mm and the body weighs 480g. Loaded up with an 18-55mm lens, card and battery, it weighs around 750g.

The EOS 500D’s features and accessories suggest Canon hopes for a diverse range of users. The comprehensive software bundle includes Digital Photo Professional and a CD-ROM called Set Up Photography 2, a basic photography techniques interactive guide. In terms of features and specifications, you get Full HD video recording at 1920 x 1080, but the frame rate is just 20fps. There’s also a 720p/30fps mode (1280 x 720) and VGA at 30fps. To avoid falling into the camcorder tax band, a single shot of video footage lasts up to 29 minutes 59 seconds with a maximum file size of 4GB.

The default ISO range is 100-3200 and, in the interests of image quality, the noisier ISO 6400 and 12800 settings have to be user-enabled. Other features include a shutter speed range of 30-1/4000sec plus bulb, RAW and JPEG capture with a maximum resolution of 4752 x 3168, continuous shooting at 3.4fps up to 170 JPEGs or 9 RAW. The EOS 500D also packs a 9-point AF system, sensor cleaning system and a lens-based image stabilisation system.

There are four metering modes – evaluative, partial, spot and centre-weighted – and a dozen shooting modes including portrait, sport macro and landscape, plus six picture style effects, with an option for three user defined modes, which are used for tweaking colour tones.

Canon EOS 500D

Easy to handle, even on a hike

In terms of handling, Canon has done a pretty impressive job. The EOS 500D is not the lightest DSLR around, but while it feels solid and robust, you don’t get the feeling that you’re carrying around a large, heavy brick. Let’s put it this way: we took the EOS 500D on a seven-hour trek and never once felt any discomfort.

Sample Shots

Canon EOS 500D

ISO 100
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Canon EOS 500D

ISO 200
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Canon EOS 500D

ISO 400
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Canon EOS 500D

ISO 800
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Canon EOS 500D

ISO 1600
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Sample Shots

Canon EOS 500D

ISO 3200
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Canon EOS 500D

ISO 6400
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Canon EOS 500D

ISO 12800
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Canon EOS 500D

ISO 6400 at night
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Canon EOS 500D

ISO 12800 at night
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Sample Shots

Canon EOS 500D

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Canon EOS 500D

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Canon EOS 500D

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Canon EOS 500D

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Canon EOS 500D

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Canon EOS 500D

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Canon EOS 500D

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Canon EOS 500D

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Sample Shots

Taking about a second, start up is very swift and the AF system is lightning fast – except in Live View mode, see below. The dial mode offers quick access to the main settings including, auto, program AE, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, movie, plus several shooting modes. There’s also a setting marked CA, which stands for Creative Auto, and is designed for beginners wanting to experiment a little.

Canon EOS 500D

Creative Auto mode variations

Canon EOS 500D

Creative Auto mode variations

Canon EOS 500D

Creative Auto mode variations

Canon EOS 500D

Creative Auto mode variations

Canon EOS 500D

Creative Auto mode variations

The CA mode is a simplified version of aperture priority and users can easily adjust shutter speed and aperture. However, these are displayed as a two horizontal bars marked: “background: blurred<>sharp” and “exposure: sharper<>brighter”. By moving a slider along the bars with the control dial, users can adjust exposure and depth of field, without having to worry about numbers. The menu button opens up a series of tabbed set-up menus and is easy to navigate using the multi-controller buttons and control dial to change settings.

The Set button gives you fast access to the various shooting parameters depending on what your mode you are in and the ISO button is within easy reach. The LCD screen is clear, bright and sharp and ideal for shooting in Live View mode. You can either use manual or autofocus mode when using Live View and we would recommend the former whenever possible, as the AF mode is sluggish to say the least.

Canon EOS 500D

Can perform flash-free given the high ISO options

With so many pixels packed onto a chip, noise could become an issue, especially on a model that offers up ISO 3200 in normal operating mode and 12800 in custom mode. But the EOS 500D came up trumps and noise wasn’t a major issue even at ISO 1600 – the DIGIC 4 processor does an excellent job in suppressing noise. But even the DIGIC 4 can’t prevent the inevitable deterioration in picture quality using the top ISO settings.

Canon EOS 500D

Wide angle: review model equipped with the EF-S 18-55mm IS lens

Canon EOS 500D

Telephoto at 55mm. An 18-200mm lens kit is an option, or use your own EF/EF-S lenses
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Continuous shooting mode was fast and smooth with images quickly written to the SD card. The EOS 500D offers better picture quality than the EOS 450D, but the difference is not spectacular. That said, images are sharp and colours are vivid, as the sample images highlight.

What isn’t so great though, is the video performance. Video is in MOV (H.264) file format and the Full HD mode, with its disappointing 20fps, results in jerkiness on playback. The 720p/30fps mode offers smoother motion but it seems silly having to use the lower resolution setting in order to get better performance.

Canon EOS 500D

Full HD frame rate foibles make this EOS a questionable choice

Oh, and a note to Canon - we think anyone offering a camera with HD movie recording should include a mini HDMI lead in the box as standard. And it would useful if Canon had included an external mic socket on this model.

Verdict

The problem companies like Canon face is offering DSLRs with Full HD video, which at the same time, don’t harm its sales of camcorder products or more expensive DSLR offerings like the EOS 5D Mark II, which has Full HD at 30fps. It’s a hard balance to get right and, in its attempts to achieve it, it appears that Canon has compromised the video performance a little too much on the EOD 500D.

Even so, the EOS 500D is a very good camera indeed, but unless you really want video, opting for the EOS 450D will save you around £200. Our verdict is also influenced by the fact that a UK EOS 450D 18-55mm kit costs almost £400 than one selling in the US, although shopping around could save you lots. On performance, the EOS 500D scores well, but on value for money, it’s not so great. ®

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Canon EOS 500D

Canon EOS 500D

A good performer to appeal to both beginners and experienced users, but the Full HD mode is disappointing and it is pricey
Price: Body: £870, with 18-55mm lens kit: £970 RRP

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