A digital SLR-slash-Full HD camcorder for the rest of us? We put Canon's newest EOS to the test.
Camera aficionados know all too well that SLR cameras will be superseded sooner than they think. Every once in a while however, something like the Canon EOS 500D comes along - a camera with significant upgrades that could make it last well into the foreseeable future.
Snap it up
Let's cut right to the chase, the 500D is a fantastic shooter. Stellar outdoor shooting is a given - contrast is sharp and colors are very much alive as seen in the photo above. Fully automatic shooting works wonders, although we prefer using the Program AE mode for shooting under the sun.
And while the Nikon had the smoother autofocus mechanism, sheer speed clearly goes to the Canon. Despite having essentially similar kit lenses, the 500D's Digic 4 image processor does a much better job at handling noise at high ISO levels. It even works great for high-speed activities like sports.
Knobs and buttons are unbelievably solid. While that may be a good thing - presumably a testament of good build quality - prolonged usage revealed that the stiff controls could put undue stress on fingertips. Remember that while operating SLRs, only two fingers do much, if not all, of the work - the pointer and the thumb.
The button layout has remained virtually unchanged from the EOS 450D so there should be a minimal learning curve for upgraders. Again, that may be a good thing, but adding a turn dial in lieu of the four-way cursor would have made the camera easier to use.
One thing new about the 500D's control scheme that we particularly liked is being able to press the "Set" button and tweak nearly all the settings while in shooting mode. This eliminates a lot of unnecessary steps since there's no need to go into the menus just to change small things like image size and style.
The EOS 5D Mark II already has this feature and it's received a lot of praises. The 500D is the common man's opportunity to shoot video in glorious 1080p. The experience, however may not turn out exactly how you'd expect it since it's far from being the same as using a camcorder.
Unless you have the right equipment and proper (hopefully professional) training, using the 500D for videos will yield you subpar results. Don't get us wrong though, video quality is excellent, but you need stable hands and framing techniques to master the feature.
With the 500D's small size and light weight, a tripod is in order since supporting the camera with your bare hands isn't advisable. The weakest of hand movements amplifies itself into big shakes. So much so that scan lines appear during playback.
Audio quality is also dismal with the built-in microphone that makes everything sounds tinny. It's also too sensitive, picking up the sound of buttons being pressed and fingers rubbing against the chassis.
Happy and Snappy
As mentioned, the EOS 500D sports new features that will make it useful well beyond its life despite its planned obsolescence. Save for a few specialized buttons and external displays, the 500D has the mind and the heart of a true pro.
It's a terrific piece of photographic hardware that will work great as a first camera for budding amateurs or as a backup for seasoned professionals.