The General Electric X500 looks a steal at a penny shy of £140 given its 15x optical zoom and range of features. But as the old adage ably puts it: ‘You get what you pay for’, so let’s see exactly what you get for your money with GE’s X500.
Very long zoom digital cameras are not new but they tend to be rather more expensive than the GE X500. This camera boasts a 16MP resolution sensor and a 15x, 27mm to 405mm wide zoom lens capable of covering most subjects you’re likely to want to photograph. Its £139.99 price point makes it look a super bargain too. But inevitably, buying less expensive kit often involves compromises and the GE X500 is no exception.
GE X500 review – Features and Design
The build quality is rather nice – the X500 feels tough and akin to small D-SLR in the hand, thanks to its deeply sculpted handgrip. The 15x zoom lens protrudes from the front with a small underpowered manually activated flash unit sitting on the top of the camera.
The camera’s 2.7in screen is rather good to use even in brighter conditions, better than some I’ve used from pricier cameras. The screen is complimented by a small but rather blurry electronic viewfinder that lacks any form of dioptre adjustment; something which might have helped this blurriness.
The X500 is relatively slim line and weighs just 445g with most of the weight coming from the four 4 AA batteries this camera uses for power. The camera’s top plate features the main shooting controls such as the nicely weighted large shutter button with its surrounding lens zoom trigger and a mode dial for quickly selecting shooting modes. A sliding Power button is joined by an image stabilisation shortcut button, a face AF shortcut button, and finally the aforementioned pop-up flash. The back of the camera houses more controls, including a five-way jog pad and a playback button.
The X500’s LCD screen performs okay, but critical focus assessment is hard to achieve with a tendency to display photos as darker than they actually are when viewed on your computer later on. Use of the EVF helped a bit here but it’s very soft so it’s even harder to assess focusing and had a tendency to display images with the opposite problem, being too bright. The EVF is a nice touch at this price though and lends the X500 an even more D-SLR-like feel, so it’s nice from a handling perspective.
The 15x zoom lens extends from 27mm-405mm (in 35mm film equivalency) and, while the aperture range of f/3 to f/5.2 looks good on paper, noise issues mean a faster aperture would be a bonus.
Actually using the X500 is however a simple affair – switching shooting modes via the mode dial is effortless, while changing common functions such as the flash, macro and self timer is all done from the jog button array along with playback, menu control and exposure compensation via the camera’s back and separate dedicated buttons therein.
The camera’s menu system is white text on a dark desktop image background (a flower) and the menu is actually easy to understand and scroll around: all main functions are easy to find. Less neat, however, is if you want to use any kind of manual or priority modes – changing the shutter speed or aperture requires long bouts of button tapping. A scroll wheel to change the shutter speed, for instance, would be far more efficient than clicking through on screen adjustment menus every time you want to adjust settings. Incidentally, in shutter and aperture priority modes, you must press the exposure compensation button to activate their respective adjustment menus.
Performance, Image Quality and Verdict
GE X500 review – Performance and Image Quality
The X500’s specification list gives the impression this camera could easily compete with far more expensive super zooms, and indeed when you look at the sweep panorama, Face AF, image stabilisation, auto scene mode selection and the 20 subject programs modes it’s a fair impression. Of course, where the price compromises do start to show more is within the X500’s performance.
As soon as you start shooting you cannot fail to notice that it’s slow – slow to focus, slow to meter and sluggish when it comes to shutter button response. The camera takes just under four-seconds to turn on and capture a photo, but more worrying is it needs further four-seconds to recycle between shots. Turn on the flash and it’s much worse, around six-seconds.
The performance is actually worse then many cheaper snappers out there so it’s real shame. The most serious performance issue, however, is the one-second of shutter lag which means quite simply that you miss lots of potential moments you’d otherwise like to snap. And don’t even try to shoot fleeting action because the camera’s AF system won’t get that right either and, combined with the shutter lag, makes the camera very had to use for anything other than landscapes or static subjects.
The X500’s metering system is also hit and miss. Be it spot, centre-weighted or the camera’s AiAE auto set up, anything bright will make the picture underexpose. Spot metering provided the best accuracy (as you’d expect) but even landscapes, with bright skies, shot using the AiAE metering, would confuse the metering and through the ground into shadow. It’s possible the metering is configured poorly or the selection on the menu are picking the opposite to that indicated, but it’s a very frustrating mystery overall.
Image sharpness is okay, slightly soft but in most situations viewing or printing images at normal sizes (say 6x4in) it’ll be fine. Try blowing images up to anything larger and the smeared detail becomes quickly obvious. I get the feeling the lens is better than the results as it seems the noise processing might be over eager even at ISO 80.
The noise performance, while not brilliant, is not too bad at lower ISO settings but go above ISO 200 and again the X500 falls short. In the brightest conditions, or if using the flash on closer subjects, then things look good. Go into low light indoors or if you bump the ISO to gain faster shutter speeds, say, in shutter priority mode and noise will mar the shots.
GE X500 review – Verdict
And so who should buy the GE X500? If you want a long zoom camera but your budget does not stretch to the (typically) three hundred odd quid you’d normally pay, then it’ll fit the bill. And if you’re aware of the camera’s limitations you can adjust your shooting style to cope, although there’s little you can do with the poor AF and metering performance, nor the image noise issues.
It’s not a surprise then that this is not a premium camera, but try and find a (new) equivalent bit of kit for less money and you will be hard pressed to match the lens if nothing else.
if a long zoom is what you need on a very tight budget, then there’s practically nothing else on the market to match it
640 x 480
Auto, preset, custom
SD, SDHC, SDXC
14.1MP, 1/2.3in CCD
2.7in, 230k-dot LCD
Center-weighted, spot, AiAE
Auto, manual, 13 scene
USB 2, AV Out
Auto, fill-in, slow synchro, red-eye, flash off
4 x AA batteries
80 – 3200
15x optical zoom, 27 – 405mm
104.14 x 68.58 x 73.66mm
30 – 1/2000 sec