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...
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.