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I have to admit that I like Canon cameras. I have an EOS SLR, an APS IXUS and a PowerShot G1 that accompanied me throughout a world trip, taking 2,000 pictures along the way. However, I never seem to use film anymore, especially APS which costs so much to buy and develop, and my G1 is finally starting to show its age, both in resolution and physical size. I was therefore quite excited when Canon sent me the new Digital IXUS 500 to look at.
Although the IXUS range of cameras has always been achingly stylish, right from the very first APS model, this latest digital incarnation is quite simply stunning. In fact the Digital IXUS 500 makes my old APS IXUS look positively obese.
But the IXUS’ beauty is more than skin deep. Everything about this little camera just oozes quality. The metal body is reassuringly cool to the touch and the whole camera feels solid enough to withstand a fair amount of abuse. The control layout is well thought out and at the rear, the right hand side of the body where your thumb naturally falls is clear of controls, so there’s no chance of any inadvertent button pressing. That said, when you do need to activate any of the controls, everything is exactly where you want it to be.
Small touches like the spring loaded door that hides the CompactFlash slot add to the high-quality feel. Even the battery compartment is beautifully designed. If you happen to accidentally open the battery compartment door, there’s no fear of the battery falling out. Inside the battery compartment is a spring loaded clip that holds the battery in place even when the door is open. There’s also a rubber bung inserted into the battery compartment door which allows you to use mains power directly through the battery terminals via an adapter.
Anyway, enough about the visual and tactile qualities for a while, let’s take a look at the specifications. Despite it’s diminutive size, the Digital IXUS 500 is equipped with a five megapixel CCD which can produce images at a resolution of 2,592 x 1,944. At this top resolution a picture taken with minimal compression will create a jpeg file of around 2MB. This means that you can fit around 15 top quality images on the supplied 32MB CompactFlash card. Unfortunately there’s no RAW or uncompressed TIFF option, but with a tiny camera like this, it’s unlikely to be an issue for the target buyer. You get a 3x optical zoom lens that’s equivalent to 36-108mm in 35mm language. There’s also a 4.1x digital zoom, but I’d never recommend using such a feature; you’re better off cropping and zooming in Photoshop later.
The Digital IXUS 500 is definitely more than just a point and click device. If that’s all you want from your camera, just leave it set to the auto mode and let the IXUS do everything for you. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, you’ll probably be surprised at how much control you can have over your images.
By default the camera will choose the shutter speed for you, and if it determines that there isn’t enough light it will activate the built-in flash. However, there is also a long shutter mode. If you activate the long shutter mode, you can set the shutter speed to anything from one second to 15 seconds. Obviously you’ll have to rest the camera on something if you’re going to use a long shutter, but the fact that you can keep the shutter open for 15 seconds on a camera this small is pretty impressive. If you’re using a long exposure, even the act of pressing the shutter button can be enough to jog the camera and ruin the image. To avoid this, I always use the self timer when I’m taking a long exposure shot. It can however be annoying to wait 10 seconds before the shutter is activated when using a self timer function. Canon is obviously aware of this fact and the Digital IXUS 500 allows you to set the self timer to either 10 seconds or two seconds – very considerate indeed.