Canon EOS 500D Digital SLR Preview

Canon EOS 500D Digital Camera Preview


If you’ve read any of my new product previews before you’ll appreciate that I don’t particularly enjoy early mornings and I don’t much care for the packed London tube commute. As such, the 05:10 train didn’t get me off to the best of starts and the Central Line at 08:45 did little to improve my demeanour. That said, once again the coffee and Danish’s at The View, Canon’s impressive London demonstration studio, did wonders to jump start my brain and body.

So, on to the new product. As always rumours were rife, but on this occasion they just so happened to be pretty accurate and, at 04:00 this morning, the new Canon EOS 500D digital SLR was announced.

Doing my homework

Before leaving the office to head to Canon’s pad I did some quick comparisons of the new-boy alongside the most relevant existing Canon EOS models. On paper at least the Canon EOS 500D looked like it could be a direct replacement for the 450D. Canon have yet again scored a blinder with the accessories, as the 500D shares 99% of its add-ons with the Canon 450D, including the all important batteries and battery grip. However, it soon became obvious that there are some critical differences. Whereas the 450D offers 12.2 mega-pixels, the new 500D offers 15.1 mega-pixels, just like the Canon 50D. In the 450D the information is processed by the Digic III processor; the 500D features the newer Digic IV processor, just like the 50D. Where the 450D has a maximum ISO of 1600, the new 500D goes all the way to ISO 12800, just like the 50D. And although all 3 cameras are equipped with a 3” screen, the resolution of the 450D’s screen is only 230,000 pixels, compared to 920,000 on the new 500D, which is, erm, well, just the same as the 50D.

"The 500D is Canon’s entry model into HD video and is capable of both 720 and full 1080 HD video modes. "

At this point the Canon EOS 500D digital SLR is starting to look less like a 450D and more like a stripped down version of the 50D, offering the same image resolution, ISO performance and high quality LCD screen, but with a few of the 50D’s fancier features removed. The new Canon 500D has a slower frames-per-second rate of 3.4, a smaller buffer depth of 9 RAW files, and a slower maximum shutter-speed of 1/4000 second compared to the 50D’s 6.3 frames-per-second, 16 RAW file buffer depth and 1/8000 second shutter speed. All pretty black and white then, the new 500D is essentially the economy version 50D. But hang on – what’s this extra feature here? It looks like a dirty great spanner approaching the works of my done and dusted assessment of the 500D. Yes, that’s exactly what it is. Canon have only gone and given the 500D full 1080 HD video capability! Looks like my plan to visit a few of London’s finest public houses will have to be shelved and I’d better actually attend this product launch.

The view at The View

Post beverage and breakfast, courtesy of Canon, I was actually able to get my hands on the 500D. Thanks to the electro-plated EOS logo on the front, the new matte black paint job and the fact that “500D” is written on the camera, my eyes were able to tell that this was not a 450D. Which is just as well, because my hands, if left to their own devices, would have struggled. Sure, the new 500D features an improved, slightly enlarged rubber grip, but apart from that the 450D and new 500D feel almost identical, both in size and weight.

"The Canon EOS 500D now offers a choice of screen colours to allow you to tailor the display to match your photography/mood/shoes "

During the subsequent presentation, the Canon guys and gals were keen to stress that the Canon EOS 500D is not a replacement for the 450D, but instead sits at a level just above it and below the 50D. It transpires that although the specification of the sensors on the Canon 50D and Canon 500D appear to be one and the same, there are some subtle differences in the 50D’s CMOS which, combined with its faster frame rate and sturdier build quality, justify its position just above the 500D in the Canon hierarchy.

Canon EOS 500D Top Control Dial

  Canon EOS 500D Control Dial

But let’s look at what the 500D brings to this level of the Canon SLR range. The immediate and obvious main point is the HD video. The 500D is now Canon’s entry model into HD video on their SLRs and is capable of both 720 and full 1080 HD video modes. The 720 setting provides 30 frames-per-second of video and as such is ideal for fast moving subjects and action. However, if you’re filming a slightly more sedate subject and are happy with 20 frames-per-second, full 1080 HD video can be achieved. Although there is no option to attach an external microphone to the 500D, it does feature a built in mono-aural microphone to record sound along with the video. To make the video mode even more user friendly, the Movie option has been added to the improved mode dial on the top of the camera. The 500D is also supplied with HD video editing software to further enhance the functionality of this new feature.

The Canon EOS 500D’s expanded ISO range of 100-12800 (the 12800 setting is indicated by an ‘H’ in the viewfinder due to character limitations of the LED display) is backed up by noise reduction technology borrowed from the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. In addition, the Auto ISO setting has been improved when using flash. Previous EOS cameras would default to ISO 400 when using flash in the Auto ISO mode. This is still the case when using the Canon 500D’s built in pop-up flash, but when an external Speedlite is attached, such as the 580 EX II, the 430EX II, or the brand new compact Canon 270EX Speedlite, launched alongside the 500D, the Auto ISO options are expanded from 400 to 1600, giving the flash an even greater range.

Canon EOS 500D Rear Cross Key Buttons

Canon EOS 500D Rear Cross Key Buttons

There have been some other, primarily aesthetic tweaks. The Canon EOS 500D now offers a choice of screen colours to allow you to tailor the display to match your photography/mood/shoes in the same way you can change the ‘theme’ of your mobile phone display. The functions of the cross key buttons have also been ‘jiggled’. Having been booted off the Direct Print button by the Live View and Record functions, the White Balance option has relocated to the upper cross key button, displacing the Metering Mode button in the process and sending it to a homeless shelter within the menu options. This would be my one and only query with the Canon EOS 500D; is the White Balance option really more important than the Metering Modes? As 2009 marks the 50th Anniversary of Canon SLR cameras, I can only conclude that Canon seem to know what they’re doing.

Options and Recommendations

The Canon 500D is initially available in 3 separate kits; the body only, with the 18-55mm lens, or with the 18-200mm lens. Being such a small and lightweight camera, should you decide to go for the 18-200mm kit, my suggestion would be to also get the BG-E5 battery grip. It gives the whole camera a better balance when equipped with the hefty (but excellent) 18-200mm lens. I can also recommend the new 270EX Speedlite. With a flash guide number of 27, it is more than double the power of the Canon 500D’s built in flash but still small enough to be tucked in a bag pocket and taken wherever the camera goes. It also features a nifty zoom and tilt mechanism, but maybe that’s a different review.

For the time being I’m happy to say that the new Canon EOS 500D digital SLR looks like being an excellent and worthwhile addition to the Canon EOS line up. For those of you who liked the look of the HD video ability of the Canon 5D Mark II or the high ISO performance of the Canon 50D, but were looking for something a little more compact, both in stature and cost, the choice is now easy.

The Canon EOS 500D is here.

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