The Canon PowerShot SX500 IS is one of the smallest cameras on the market to feature a massive 30x optical zoom. Despite possessing such diminutive dimensions, the compact still features full manual control and a host of other features that look to assert it as a serious shooter. The question is, has anything been compromised in cramming such a large feature-set in to a small body?
Canon PowerShot SX500 IS review – Features and Design
The core feature of the Canon PowerShot SX500 IS is its 30x optical zoom, which covers a focal range of 24-720mm in equivalent terms. The lens itself is supported by Canon’s Intelligent IS stabilisation technology, which will no doubt ease some of the worries caused by such an extensive zoom. Furthermore, the zoom can be extended from 30x up to 60x magnification with the implementation of Canon’s ‘ZoomPlus’ technology, although this invloves an advanced pixel interpolation process, rather than an optical process.
At the core of the camera sits a 16MP 1/2.3in CCD sensor which offers HD video capture alongside stills capture, although unfortunately only at 720p resolution rather than full HD 1080p. The sensor itself is supported by Canon’s DIGIC 4 processor which is targeted at improving image quality and noise control at high ISO settings
On the rear of the camera sits an ample 3in, 460k-dot LCD screen which, owing to the small size of the camera, more than fills the rear and appears larger than its stated size as a result. One feature missing that will grate upon a certain section of bridge camera purchasers is a viewfinder, although the screen itself is certainly bright.
Shooting control is offered in two forms. Those happy to let the camera take control of shooting decisions can select the SX500 IS’s Smart Auto mode and allow the camera to choose suitable setting from over 30 different scenes. There’s also the option to select from a range of Creative Filters for those who are so inclined. The advanced shooter is also welcomely catered for thanks to the presence of full PASM shooting modes. One feature that is missing is Raw image capture, although this is something which is by no means common place on advanced compacts these days.
Despite having all of these advanced features and such a full specification in general, the SX500 IS is comprised of an impressively small body. As mentioned previously, one result of this small body is that the LCD screen occupies an attractively large amount of the rear of the camera. There is still plenty of room on the rear of the camera for control buttons typically found on the rear of a Canon compact – general settings are altered through a D-Pad / scroll wheel combination, while a quartet of buttons allow access to general functionality, and a final button offers one-click access the model’s HD video capture.
The top of the camera features those control buttons one would expect to find in such a location. It houses a mode dial which offers access to the various shooting modes, a power button and shutter release button surrounded by a zoom lever. Again, these are well spaced and generally allow for good handling of the camera.
One final area of camera controls is the lens barrel which fairly dominates the cameras body. As you could imagine for a camera as diminutive as the SX500 IS, the bulk of the camera is made up of the lens barrel on the model’s front. This creates a certain amount of real estate on the left hand side of the lens barrel which houses just the single button offering access to the ‘Zoom Framing Assist’ functionality. This is aimed at helping you keep track of a subject at high zoom by zooming out at the press of a button to allow for the subject to be relocated and then moving back in when the button is release. Now, while this is an interesting and clever function, you feel that a simple zoom lever might be better suited in its place. Also, the model’s lens barrel is lacking in any kind of control wheel – a feature which is always a welcome addition on this type of camera.
While there may be a few issues with regards to design, and compromises made to make the body of the SX500 IS as small as possible, the same cannot be said the about the camera’s general performance in use. The model features the same menu system as that found in other Canon compacts, and as a result offers simple access to any modification over the functionality that might need to be made.
The SX500 IS offers a variety of AF settings, including Face detection and subject tracking AF. These modes generally perform well and offer a pleasing level of accuracy as well as fast focus speeds, with the Tracking AF system offering a particularly pleasing performance.
While it’s a shame that the SX500 IS doesn’t offer full HD video capture at a resolution of 1080p, in general the movie capture mode performs well. It offers a variety of different capture modes, as well as the ability to apply some of the magic filters also found in stills capture. The SX500 IS is also generally prompt in operation, with a swift start-up time and little shutter lag noticed in between shots.
Image quality is as generally solid and reliable as you would expect from Canon PowerShot model. Colours appear generally vivid, although not so much as to be over-saturated and appear unnatural. The sensor displays a reasonable dynamic range, something which is welcome as when the SX500IS displays a tendency to over-expose it’s good to have some room to drag the highlights back down in post-production.
The SX500 IS’s ISO range is limited to ISO 1600, and the good news is that it generally performs well up to this point. Even at the top setting there is little damage done by the intrusion of noise, although these is deterioration in sharpness due to noise reduction in camera. The same can be said of colour, with ISO 800 and 1600 both showing a muting of colours, although not to the overall detriment of the image when viewed at normal size.
Canon has taken an interesting approach with the SX500 IS. In trying to make it as small as possible, yet maintain the 30x optical zoom, Canon has had to make a few compromises, notedly not offering full 1080p video capture, doing away with a viewfinder and scaling back on-camera controls. While it is a well-presented model, there are surely a lot of bridge camera customers who value these controls over the necessarily compactness of the camera. So while it’s an excellent model on the whole, it won’t be to everyone’s taste.