Canon 500D review (EOS Rebel T1i in the US) - the DSLR bringing Full HD video to the masses; the What Digital Camera test of the Canon 500D DSLR reveals all...
The Canon 500D launch came at the same time as Nikon’s D5000 (first sample images available here), a model that is likely to be its closest rival, based on features and street price. The abnormal situation of rising camera prices may have left a convenient gap in the market for this type of camera, and interest level for the 500D has been high.However, does it offer enough of a benefit to the photographer to justify the £870 price?
The next models up from the Canon EOS 500D are the two-digit EOS 40D and EOS 50D. The newer EOS 50D offers benefits over the 500D and has a £400 higher RRP, yet currently you can pick one up on the internet for just £830 – that’s £40 less than the 500D. At the lower end are the still current EOS 450D at £670 and the entry model EOS 1000D at £460, with further savings on both to be found online. So what does the new Canon 500D bring that is unique from the others, and has caused it to gain so much attention? The What Digital Camera Canon EOS 500D review reveals all…
Hidden inside Canon 500D’s body is a brand new 15.1MP APS-C sensor, and though similar to that featured in the EOS D50 it doesn’t benefit from having gapless sensor sites. This produces an image that is 4752×3168 pixels in size, or roughly A3 size at 300dpi. However, this is enough resolution to take enlargements to A2 and beyond for poster-sized prints or selective enlargements. This sensor has impressive low-light and noise capabilities, allowing an ISO range of 100-3200 ISO, plus extended values of 6400, and H (approx. 12800 ISO) when allowed through the custom functions.
Canon EOS 500D review – Features
Canon EOS 500D review – processor
The 500D also features the latest DIGIC 4 processor and is designed to handle large image sizes at speed to ensure prolonged continuous shooting at 3.4 frames per second for up to 170 images in JPEG format, or nine Raw images. The 14-bit processing also ensures rapid start-up and review times.
Canon EOS 500D focusing and metering
The Canon 500D handles focusing by a 9-point TTL system, set out in a diamond formation around the centre-point and gives decent coverage of the viewfinder for all but the most extreme uses. The Canon 500D’s metering is equally well equipped, offering the TTL 35-zone system, with choice of spot, partial, evaluative, and centre-weighted options. Exposure compensation is available in third or half-stop measures up to a maximum of +/-2EV.
Canon EOS 500D sensor cleaning
As with previous EOS models, the Canon 500D automatically cleans the sensor in-camera by vibrating the sensor to shake dust off. This happens every time the 500D is turned on and off, and takes just a few seconds, though can be bypassed on start-up by half-pressing the shutter button, or disabled via the menu system. Canon has also sought to eliminate dust by reducing the amount generated inside the EOS 500D and, for stubborn particles, a dust-mapping mode used in conjunction with the Digital Photo Pro (DPP) editing software.
Canon EOS 500D LCD screen
The Canon 500D’s rear LCD screen may not have grown in size from the 3in model on the 450D (not that you’d need it to) but it has drastically improved in quality. It now boasts a resolution of approximately 920,000 dots, opposed to the 230,000 previously. This has resulted in a much crisper display that is very usable, even in bright conditions, thanks to new anti-glare coatings. This is particularly useful when it comes to composition, as the rear screen can be used with LiveView mode. The Canon EOS 500D has LiveView; allowing for full 100% coverage of the image on the LCD screen, refreshed at 30fps and with real-time evaluative metering.
Focusing can be achieved manually, using the focus ring on the lens, and the image can be magnified by five or ten times to ensure accurate adjustment. Autofocus is also available in three forms: Live mode, with a fully adjustable focus point across the whole image; face detection mode, which automatically recognises and tracks faces; or quick focus to use one of the nine AF points. The 500D also allows a grid overlay and live histogram to be shown on screen to aide composition and exposure.
Canon EOS 500D HD Movie mode
The Canon EOS 500D also has that all important 1080p Full HD Movie mode, accessed by selecting from the shooting menu on the top dial (it works in much the same way as the LiveView mode). The image is displayed on the rear screen and focusing can be achieved manually or by the three AF modes featured in LiveView. Recording is started and stopped via the LiveView button on the rear, while pressing the shutter the camera will still take a still image, even while recording video.
The 500D saves in a .MOV format at a choice of VGA or 720p at 30fps or 1080p at 20fps and sound is picked up via a small mono microphone on the front of the camera.
The only function missing is the ability to plug in an external microphone, but otherwise this appears fairly comprehensive.
Canon EOS 500D lenses
As with previous models, the Canon EOS 500D accepts Canon’s entire range of EF and EF-S lenses, giving you a huge range of creative possibilities. As well as the body only version, kits are also available with either an 18-55mm or 18-200mm lens in the box.
Canon EOS 500D shooting modes
On top of the regular creative shooting modes of Manual, Aperture priority (Av), Shutter priority (Tv), and Program (P), the Canon EOS 500D offers an aperture dependant mode (A-dep), which will highlight the area in focus using the AF points, and creative auto (CA). Creative auto provides the same control as the regular creative modes but in a simplified form to allow new users to experiment with ease.
A display on the screen gives two sliders – one for background sharpness and one for the overall brightness – essentially controlling the aperture and shutter, while flash and drive modes can still be set manually. For a more point and shoot control there is also a full auto mode (green square) and six scene modes.
Canon EOS 500D flash unit
The Canon EOS 500D has a built-in flash unit which springs open by pressing the button to the left side of the camera and will also open automatically if using the auto and scene modes. The flash itself sits nice and high above the lens and will cover wide enough for a 17mm lens focal length (27mm equivalent). It has a guide number of 13, meaning it will cover up to 13 meters at 100ISO – fairly standard for a built-in unit – and will sync up to 1/200th/sec. It does also feature red eye reduction and +/-2EV flash compensation. The full range of Speedlite models can be attached via the hotshoe and works with E-TTLII to provide complete control.
Canon EOS 500D SD card
Images are stored on Secure Digital (SD) cards, and it is fully compatible with SDHC cards for faster write times and larger storage capacities. Images and video can also be outputted and downloaded via the mini USB AV and mini HDMI ports.
Design & Performance
Canon EOS 500D review – Design
Canon EOS 500D review – body
Those familiar with the 450D might not notice any difference in design to the Canon 500D – but they are there, albeit subtle. The Canon 500D body size is identical but it does weigh 5g more – not that you’d notice. The shooting dial has been given a silver finish, the direct print button is now shared with the LiveView and movie recording function, and small holes are visible on the back and front for the microphone and speaker.
Despite its relative lightweight build, the Canon EOS 500D feels fairly solid and the right-hand grip is deep enough to give a decent hold, even if it is still too short for most people to get all four fingers around it. For a more substantial hold, the same battery grip as for the EOS 450D (and all other accessories) is fully compatible with this model, and also means you can double the battery capacity, too. All the necessary buttons are reachable from a standard grip position, including the AF selection, exposure comp, and depth-of-field preview. The rest of the buttons, though not huge in size, are spaced generously enough to avoid pressing the wrong one, except when using heavier gloves in the winter.
Canon EOS 500D review – shooting functions
The Canon 500D’s LCD screen gives a nice clear selection of all main shooting functions, plus you can have it in a choice of four colour themes should you wish. The menu system is divided into eight sections across the top, and grouped into Shooting, Playback, Adjustment and My Menu sections by colour and icon. This makes finding your desired function much quicker, especially if you assign your most used ones to the My Menu list. A sensor below the eyepiece will automatically switch off the LCD screen when you put your eye to the viewfinder – to avoid its light distracting from your composition. What it can’t avoid though, is the nose prints left on the screen, after lots of shooting.
Canon EOS 500D review – viewfinder
The Canon 500D’s viewfinder itself is sufficiently bright and offers a -3 to +1 dioptre to correct for spectacle wearers wishing to compose without their glasses. It gives a 95% coverage and the information appears in clear but non-obtrusive green lettering below the frame, showing shutter, aperture, the digital exposure needle, ISO, and number of shots left on the buffer.
The small build of the Canon EOS 500D is one of its strengths and with most of the standard lens range it feels well balanced. It’s only when you attach a larger, heavier pro lens that it becomes unbalanced – though not unmanageable.
Canon EOS 500D review – Performance
Canon EOS 500D review – body
One really noticeable thing about the Canon 500D is its autofocus. It offers fast and accurate focusing even in low light conditions. A nine-point AF system may not be anything new but it is still considered generous for a camera of this price and thanks to the layout of the points, it does cover the essential areas. The range of focusing modes allows a choice of single shot and servo focusing, for continuous focus tracking, or auto switching between the two. The tracking does work well but takes some practice to perfect.
Canon EOS 500D review – metering
Metering is also very well catered for, with the evaluative mode performing very well in most situations, though did have a tendency to overexpose when faced with bright or high contrast scenes. This was easily rectified by using the exposure compensation or switching to one of the other metering modes, such as centre-weighted average, partial or spot.
Canon EOS 500D review – processor
Thanks to the DIGIC 4 processor, images are transferred from sensor to card in seconds, allowing the buffer to remain free for the next shot, and shooting to continue. Our tests showed a write time of 1sec for large JPEGs, 2secs for Raw files, and 2.5secs for Raw plus JPEG. This allowed a continuous run – before slowing down from the full 3.4 frames per second – of three shots in Raw+JPEG, eight shots in Raw only, and in large JPEG mode it happily filled our 1GB SD card (with 285 shots) without slowing.
Canon EOS 500D review – LCD screen
The 500D has a noticeably crisper LCD screen – allowing you to get a more accurate representation of your final image in terms of colour, tone and sharpness. Despite its size and lack of shielding, it was still easy to use in bright sunlight and its viewing angle is virtually unimpeded
to the physical limits to which you can see it.
Canon EOS 500D review – movie function
The movie function on the Canon EOS 500D is almost every bit as impressive as on the Canon 5D MkII, offering blistering high quality – a full 1920×1080 pixel HD – and benefiting hugely from the large optics and sensor of the camera. During filming your aperture, shutter, and ISO are all controlled automatically, which does slightly limit creative control but you can use exposure compensation to an extent, and at any point during filming you can take a still image. What this version lacks is the ability to add an external microphone, instead relying on the internal one built into the front of the camera body. Unfortunately this can be an issue if you wish to use the autofocus modes during filming, as the noise of the AF motor drowns out any other sound, therefore forcing you to resort to manual focus for audio clarity.
Canon EOS 500D review – flash coverage
Flash coverage is pretty impressive for a built-in device and, when used with the more creative modes, can look extremely natural and almost flash-free. The flash settings in the menu allow you to fine tune and the latest ETTL units can also be controlled via the menu.
Canon EOS 500D review – lenses
During the testing I tried the Canon 18-200mm image stabilised lens that is available as one of the camera’s bundles. This is not a light lens, and does suffer from a creeping focal barrel when pointing downwards, but it feels solid to use and produced some great images.
Image Quality & Value For Money
Canon EOS 500D review – Image quality
Canon EOS 500D review – Raw & JPEG
The Canon EOS 500D offers both Raw and Jpeg files which share the same softness to them from the default settings – but once processed the results are crisp. The advantage of the Raw file really comes through for processing, as you can fine-tune your sharpening and other adjustments at full 12-bit resolution before converting.
Canon EOS 500D review – Tone & Exposure
The Canon 500D’s images appear very natural in tone and colour in standard mode – though there are options to boost the contrast in camera using one of the picture style modes, or fine-tuning. Exposure is generally very good, however it does err on the side of caution to protect shadows and highlights, even with the Auto lighting optimizer set to Normal. This however, is better than losing detail and it takes just a quick tweak in software to fine tune. In more contrasting light conditions it does have a tendency to overexpose slightly, and is therefore best to stop down by up to one stop before shooting.
Canon EOS 500D review – Noise
Noise starts to become evident at 800 ISO but retains its integrity up to 1600 ISO. Beyond this, levels increase more rapidly and at the highest 12800 ISO setting the image shows some serious signs of break up.
As Canon has suggested by offering a standard ISO range of 100-3200, and the others as an expansion, these higher settings (6400 and 12800) are to be treated as a compromise. For when raising to that level of ISO is the only way to get the picture. Though this may seem a little harsh when most of the 500D’s adversaries struggle beyond 1600 ISO.
Canon EOS 500D review – Sharpness and Detail
The Canon 500D has a 15.1 megapixel sensor which certainly delivers on account of pixels – but it also lives up to expectations in terms of detail. On close inspection the images have exceptional levels of detail, and holding up to scrutiny even at 200%. Images have been left with very little in terms of sharpening however, which means they can appear slightly soft straight from the camera. This treatment does mean that it can withstand greater adjustment in processing, and ‘straight-to-print’ users can adjust sharpening setting in camera if needed.
Canon EOS 500D review – ISO
The Canon EOS 500D generally provides impressive results on the noise front, though at 6400 and 12,800 ISO deterioration occurs – particularly in shadow areas where the detail is notably lacking. However, the results compare well to equivalent models and offer much the same performance as the new full frame Canon EOS 5D MkII.
Canon EOS 500D review – Value For Money
This year’s stable of price increases continues to confuse any comparison on value for money between new and older models. While the manufacturers’ recommendation for retail prices to rise, in most cases the prices on the high street have not. This means a greater gap between SRPs and street prices, and therefore an anomaly in the price of a new camera as, at least initially, it will sell for close to the retail price.
For this reason the new Canon EOS 500D seems expensive against current street prices – you can buy the superior EOS 50D for £45 less, or the Nikon D90 at a fraction of the price, if you want the movie options. But based on SRPs it sits neatly at £100 cheaper than the EOS 40D, and £200 dearer than the EOS 450D.
Over the next couple of months these street prices should start to even out but the real question comes from another new camera, offering a competitive specification. The new Nikon 5000D is set to be £150 cheaper and when we test it we’ll see how the Canon 500D fairs against it. For now however, this is a great camera for the money – especially for those looking to upgrade an older Canon body, and use the movie functions.
Though initially the Canon 500D may seem like only a slight progression in the range, it offers far more than is expected. Everything about this model feels more refined, and the overall handling and performance is close to flawless. There are still areas to gripe about though: an AF function in movie mode that makes sound unusable, a lack of audio input for an external mic, the 20fps rate at full HD, limited continuous shooting in Raw mode, and an AF system now outclassed by cheaper models; but overall this is a very impressive camera capable of taking stunning images. If you’re looking for a compact-sized DSLR with plenty of features, you wont be disappointed by the EOS 500D. It’s a truely deserving winner of our Gold Award.
Canon 500D manual
Canon 500D manual – pdf
The Canon 500D is available to download from the Canon website
Buy a printed copy of the Canon 500D manual
Get a printed manual, or printed tests for the Canon 500D manual from the What Digital Camera camera manuals site
For general help and advice in using a DSLR, see our techniques section
Though initially this camera may seem like only a slight progression in the range, it offers far more than is expected. Everything about this model feels more refined, and the overall handling and performance is close to flawless. There are still areas to gripe about though: an AF function in movie mode that makes sound unusable, a lack of audio input for an external mic, the 20fps rate at full HD, limited continuous shooting in Raw mode, and an AF system now outclassed by cheaper models; but overall this is a very impressive camera capable of taking stunning images. If you're looking for a compact-sized DSLR with plenty of features, you wont be disappointed by the EOS 500D. It's a truely deserving winner of our Gold Award.