With the Digital SLR market still growing, and models flying off the shelves, Canon has added yet another DSLR model to its range, this time sitting at the top of the entry-level models on offer above the 450D but below the 40D. But can the new 15.1-megapixel video sporting camera deliver the goods? We had a brief play with a prototype at Canon's London offices.
Based on the EOS 450D casing with some tweaks and changes, the compact DSLR (if that's possible) is solid in its build and design. The handgrip on the right hand side has been designed to be a little deeper for a better grip and the changes work. You can now get your hand on and around the camera and this combined with a light weight means you aren't going to be struggling to keep it steady.
The screen on the rear has been increased to 3-inches - it's actually the same as the company's flagship model the 5D mark II - and it's big, bright and glossy. Supposedly coated in substances to stop major reflections, even on a mild day we experienced plenty of glare (see images). That said the extra real estate is welcomed and with the new DIGIC 4 menu interface, scrolling through menus and changing the options is lovely. It's a good job too as the 500D is missing a secondary LCD as found on 40D and earlier entry-level models.
Packed in tightly on the back of the camera is the usual array of buttons, while the top panel features a mode dial, the ISO button and of course the all important shutter button.
The mode dial gives you access to all the usual presets such as Auto, aperture priority and so on, and a range of landscape and portrait offerings as well as the new welcomed Video function. A new addition is something Canon has called Creative Auto.
Creative Auto is designed for beginners to the wonderful world of DSLR photography and puts things like Depth of Field, F-stops and aperture into easy to understand non-technical terms. So instead of mentioning f-stops you get asked the question "Do you want your backgrounds to be sharp or blurry?" A quick press of the set button and a scroll of the jogger wheel and you've got your setting. It's as easy as that.
The mode will be great for photographers starting out, however it would have been nice if there was an option to explain what was actually happening so you could progress your knowledge further. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he'll eat forever.
New to the model is the introduction of video. Here you'll get 1080p resolution at 20 frames a second and 720p resolution at 30 frames a second. The camera does sport autofocus although even Canon admit that it's slow to react and you're probably going to be better off doing focus pulls on your own. Trombone shot here we come. There is a built-in mic for recording sound, but no way of adding an external mic for a better performance, not even via the hot-shoe.
Canon blame the lack of an external mic on size and cost factors, which is a shame because but it means this is a handy feature rather than something that gives you a complete package: they've still got to protect their camcorder range after all.
You do however get an HDMI socket on the camera to allow you to playback content on your TV quickly and easily. The video results are good, although clearly depending on what you are doing and what lens you are using. We would recommend upgrading from the kit lens if you are planning on doing any real video work.
Although our test was brief, we were able to take plenty of shots. Unfortunately we weren't able to keep those shots to analyse later or post here. However we were able to look at them on a large screen at Canon's offices. The results using the kit 18-55mm IS kit lens where very good (even though they were prototypes) and while we still question the need for 15.1 megapixels, it will allow you to crop in hugely. I suppose it's one of those things: you don't know you need 15.1 megapixels until you have them.
With an increase in resolution the file size increases to around 6MB a piece and this is saved to an SD card. Following previous models' the size reduction doesn't allow for CompactFlash, instead you have SDHC support up to 32GB.
The EOS 500D is clearly aimed at the amateur photographer looking for a very good offering without venturing into Canon's higher range like the 40D or above.
From a feature set point of view the things of note here are the improved resolution, video capabilities, the bigger screen, Live View, HDMI socket, the Creative Auto setting, the DIGIC 4 processor, a 9-point wide area AF, and ISO 100-3200 that's expandable to 12800.
The result from our brief play is that the 500D looks to be a very impressive camera indeed. While a lot of the features beat the 40D, the camera does lack some of the 40D's key features like its speed, the back plate dial and additional LCD, which for us still mean we prefer the higher model, even if it is twice the size.
So should you take a closer look when it hits the shops in May? If you're still at that level when you aren't ready to go the full hog, yes we think you should. The price is going to be the only thing stopping you though. There was a time not long ago when this level of DSLR camera was around £500, now they seem to come in more around the £850 price in the UK.
We need more time with the camera and looking at the pictures the camera produces before we give this model a score here on Pocket-lint, but on the surface, this looks to be a winner.
The Canon EOS 500D is due out in May.