The Canon PowerShot SX500 IS represents something of an anomaly in that it straddles the gap somewhere between ultracompact and superzoom. The first thing that strikes you about it is the size; it’s a very small camera, and yet within its diminutive body Canon has somehow managed to engineer a 30x optical zoom. In terms of focal range this pushes the SX500 beyond the traditional 16-20x reach common to many travel compacts and well into superzoom territory.
The SX500’s 30x optical zoom offers the 35mm focal range equivalent of between 24-720mm, which is plenty wide enough to take large group shots at the wideangle end or to fill the frame with faraway objects at the telephoto end. Maximum aperture at 24mm is f/3.4 rising incrementally to f/5.8 at 720mm. Neither is particularly fast, although given the engineering constraints incurred by cramming such a large focal range into such a small optic, this isn’t wholly unexpected.
Given the extended reach it’s good to know that the SX500 benefits from Canon’s own lens-based Intelligent IS stabilisation technology. This is designed to help keep images sharp at extended focal lengths and slower shutter speeds, where natural camera shake might otherwise show up as blurred images. And if 30x doesn’t sound like it offers quite enough telephoto reach then the SX500’s zoom can be further extended up to a maximum of 60x via Canon’s ‘ZoomPlus’ technology. It’s worth noting, however, that this involves an advanced pixel interpolation process, rather than anything purely optical, so don’t expect to achieve the same level of image quality when using it.
Behind the powerful zoom, the SX500 employs a 1/2.3in CCD sensor that offers 16MP of effective resolution. In addition to capturing images in the native 4:3 aspect, the SX500 can also be set to shoot in 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 although as this requires the camera to effectively take a crop from the sensor maximum resolution does take a knock as these settings. The sensor is supported by Canon’s DIGIC 4 image processor, which aims to improve image quality and control noise at higher ISO settings.
Speaking of sensitivity the SX500 offers a somewhat limited ISO range of between 80-1600. Given that most compacts in this price bracket offer at least ISO 3200 (or even ISO 6400), it does suggest that Canon didn’t have much confidence in going any higher than ISO 1600 with the SX500. Then again, as has been well documented in numerous reviews in the past, small-sensor compacts tend to perform very badly these kinds of settings anyway, so maybe it’s for the best.
The back of the camera is fitted out with a bright and clear 3in, 460k-dot LCD screen which, given the small size of the camera, takes up pretty much the whole back and appears larger than it actually is. Unlike the vast majority of superzoom cameras there’s no optical viewfinder mind.
The SX500 comes equipped with a good range of exposure modes. Those who prefer to let the camera do all the work can take advantage of the Smart Auto mode and let the camera choose a suitable setting from over 30 pre-programmed scenes. Those who want to take more direct control over the camera will find the full range of PASM modes to hand as well.
In addition, the SX500 also offers a range of Creative Filters with which it’s possible to add digital effects to your images in-camera without the need for a computer or any specialist software. There’s no Raw image capture though, which means the SX500 is strictly JPEG only – you do get a choice of resolution settings, however, should you be looking to conserve space on your memory card, or if you’re just shooting non-critical snapshots destined solely for the internet.
In terms of video capture, the SX500 does offer the ability to record 720p HD video capture, although there’s no option to record 1080p Full HD movies, which is a little unusual – not to mention disappointing – for a camera of this type and price.