While the feature set is mostly (HD video recording abilities notwithstanding) on a par with what might be expected of a £300 superzoom, the thing that really makes the SX500 stand out from its peers is its size – or rather its lack of size. In spite of its 30x optical zoom the SX500 IS remains an impressively small camera.
As mentioned on the previous page, one by-product of the camera’s diminutive body is that the 3in LCD screen takes up most of the back of the camera. There’s still enough room for a selection of controls though, with direct access to Flash, Self-timer, Macro and ISO via the four axis of the directional-pad. In addition there’s also a dedicated button for accessing the main menu with, from where general settings can be altered through a combination of the D-Pad/scroll wheel and the Set button in the middle. Rounding things off are an EV compensation button, a Playback mode button, a Display button and a one-touch Movie Record button.
On the top of the camera you’ll find the main exposure mode dial that offers access to all of the camera’s various shooting modes. The shutter release button is located just in front of the main on/off button and is traditional, is surrounded by the zoom control rocker switch. Despite the cameras lack of size we actually found the various buttons to be well spaced, which in turn allows for easy handling of the camera. The in-camera menu follows the same layout as found in other Canon compacts, and even if you haven’t used a Canon in the past general navigation is pretty simple.
One further button of note is the ‘Zoom Framing Assist’ functionality that’s located on the left of the zoom barrel. This useful little feature is designed to help you keep track of subjects at long telephoto settings; pressing the button pulls the zoom right back to wideangle so that you can easily re-centre your subject. Take your finger off the button and the camera will zoom straight back in. While it’s undoubtedly a clever function, we can’t but help feel that either a simple zoom lever or a manually operated zoom barrel might work better.
While a few compromises might have been made in order to make the body of the SX500 IS as small as possible, the same cannot be said the about the camera’s general performance. The SX500 IS offers a range of autofocus settings, including Face detection and subject tracking AF. These generally perform quite well offering fast focus speeds and a pleasing level of accuracy – the Tracking AF system is particularly impressive.
While it’s a shame that the SX500 doesn’t offer the ability to record 1080p Full HD video, the movie capture mode otherwise performs quite well. You can choose from a range of different capture modes, and it’s also possible to apply some of the digital effects filters that are offered in stills mode should you want to. Elsewhere, the SX500 generally feels quite responsive, with little in the way of shutter lag noticeable.
Canon has deservedly forged a good reputation for consistent image quality with its PowerShot range and the SX500 is no exception to this. Colours are generally quite vibrant and punchy, although not unrealistically so. Dynamic range is reasonable enough for a 1/2.3in sensor, although there is a tendency for the camera to slightly over-expose on occasion. So long as highlight detail hasn’t been completely blown out then it is possible to rectify this with a dab of EV compensation, or indeed a quick tweak in a digital darkroom.
We mentioned at the beginning of this review how the SX500’s ISO range is limited to ISO 1600, which is at least a stop (or perhaps even two stops) below what we might have expected to see on a compact of this type and price. However, in testing we did find that the camera performs quite well –even at ISO 1600 images still remain useable for non-critical purposes, although there is a loss of fine detail thanks to the effects of the in-camera noise reduction. At ISO 800 and 1600 colour is also slightly muted, although not to the overall detriment of the image.
The Canon PowerShot SX500 IS is undoubtedly an interesting proposition. Part superzoom and part ultracompact, Canon has managed to engineer a small camera that comes with a powerful 30x optical zoom on the front. Of course, in order to do this Canon has had to make a few compromises; there’s no viewfinder for starters, and physical controls have been scaled back to the bare minimum too. While we could just about live with these limitations, there are certain to be many superzoom enthusiasts who cannot. On top of this the decision not to offer 1080p Full HD movie capture is disappointing. Ultimately then, while the SX500 is an excellent camera on the whole it’s unlikely to be to everyone’s taste.