It’s fair to say that if someone was to mention the name General Electric, you probably wouldn’t think of digital cameras. Much more likely to spring to mind are jet turbines and perhaps energy generation, along with all manner of white goods. It may therefore surprise you to learn (we were certainly surprised) that the American conglomerate makes a surprisingly large range of digital cameras – including a number of colourful ultracompacts and waterproof models.
The X500 is GE’s take on the superzoom genre and slots into what it calls its “Power Pro” range. As such the X500 comes with a 15x optical zoom, a 16MP sensor and an electronic viewfinder, all for a knockdown, budget price of around £100. Yes, you did read that right – £100. And that’s not all, look a bit closer and you’ll discover that the X500 also comes with manual controls, built-in image stabilisation, plus HDR and one-touch Panoramic capture modes. Does this all add up to something of a leftfield bargain or have corners been cut elsewhere that compromise the camera’s overall worth? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
The X500 is built around a 1/2.3in CCD sensor with an effective resolution of 16MP. It’s all but impossible to discern who actually manufactures this chip though. Indeed, the lack of clear-cut information about where the various internal components of the X500 come from is something that does rather mark GE out as a non-specialist manufacturer catering specifically for the budget end of the mass market. As with the BenQ GH700 we reviewed some time ago, GE doesn’t offer any concrete information about the X500’s image processor either, although sensitivity ranges from a fairly limited ISO 100-800 at full resolution, with expanded settings of ISO 1600 and 3200 available at 4MP.
On the front of the camera you’ll find a GE-branded 15x optical zoom that offers the 35mm focal range equivalent of 27-405mm. Maximum aperture is f/3 at 27mm, rising to f/5.2 at 405mm. The zoom is controlled by a rocker switch positioned just in front of the shutter release and also benefits from lens-based image stabilisation technology for supposedly sharper images at extended telephoto settings and slower shutter speeds.
On the back of the camera you have the choice of using either a fixed LCD monitor or a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) to compose your shots with. At 2.7in and 230k-dots the LCD screen is a little on the small side and doesn’t offer a particularly detailed image either, although for £100 it’s very much par for the course and it would be somewhat unrealistic to expect anything of better quality. While it’s just about functional enough to compose and review your images with, we did find that the LCD monitor tends to display images a little darker than they actually are when viewed on a PC monitor.
There’s no information available as to the exact resolution of the EVF, but safe to say it’s towards the lower end of the scale with overall picture quality not all that great. In complete contrast to the LCD monitor below it we also found that the EVF also tends to display the image too brightly. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s all but unheard of to find an EVF on a £100 camera, and for this reason General Electric deserves some credit for managing to offer one on the X500.
Another area where the X500 scores well is on the range of exposure modes offered. In addition to the regular Automatic mode the camera also offers an automatic Scene recognition mode plus a range of Scene modes. In amongst the regular Scene modes (Portrait, Landscape etc) you’ll also find an automatic HDR capture along with a one-touch Panoramic capture mode, both of which are nice additions given the budget price. Those looking for a bit more creative control can also choose to take the X500 out of point-and-shoot mode and use it in a choice of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority or fully Manual mode.
While still image options are generous, the same cannot be said of the X500’s movie recording capabilities. There’s no HD video recording, and the highest quality you can record at is 640 x 480 VGA at 25fps, with sound recorded in mono. It is possible to use the zoom while recording video, and (rather slow) continuous autofocus is also possible too. Overall video quality is just about ok for non-critical web use and social media postings, but with so many comparatively priced compact cameras now offering at least 720p HD, the X500’s video capabilities do fall short overall.