In terms of design the X500 is relatively small compared to other superzoom models and weighs in at just 445g. Most of this weight comes from the 4x AA batteries (alkaline, lithium and NiMH all accepted) that are required to provide the camera with power. The front of the camera gets a relatively deep handgrip that’s been ergonomically designed to comfortably accommodate three fingers. On the back you’ll also find a dimpled thumb rest. Overall build quality isn’t bad at all, with the X500 feeling pretty solid in the hand.
Using the camera is a pretty simple affair, with all of the buttons falling within easy reach. The four-way directional pad on the back provides direct access to Macro, Self-timer and Flash settings, with an additional button offering a direct route to Exposure compensation. On the top, meanwhile, you’ll find a button for Face Detection options along with a button that turns the Image Stabilisation on and off.
Should you want to change ISO, White Balance or AF settings though, you’ll need to enter the in-camera menu. This proves quite easy to navigate, just so long as you’re using the camera in one of its fully automatic modes. Should you want to use the camera in any of the PASM exposure modes though, then changing shutter speed or aperture settings quickly becomes a bit of a chore that requires more than its fair share of button tapping. The camera would certainly benefit from some kind of control wheel as this would provide a far more efficient way of doing things.
While the headline specification and feature-set of the X500 points to a camera that offers great value for money on paper, some compromises are of course inevitable on a camera of this price. Sadly, in the case of the X500 these do add up to a rather long list of gripes and complaints. We’ve already mentioned the limited video recording abilities, but where the X500 really falls down is in its general performance. There’s no simpler way to put than to say, it’s a very slow camera – from start-up time to AF performance, everything about the X500 feels like it’s happening in slow-motion.
Shutter lag is a real problem too, with the camera taking up to one second to actually capture an image once you’ve fully depressed the shutter button. Combine this with sluggish autofocus and the end result is that you’re much more likely to miss the kind of fleeting moments and candid snaps that a speedier camera would be able to capture with ease. Processing times don’t fare much better either, with the camera taking around four seconds to process each image when the camera’s used in Single-shot mode, or up to six seconds when the flash is being used. If you’re just shooting landscapes or static subjects it’s unlikely to be a problem, but if your subjects are moving or if you only get a fleeting chance to capture the moment then the X500 is just as likely to let you down as it is to get the shot.
Image quality leaves a lot to be desired too. The various metering modes on offer – Automatic, Centre-weighted and Spot – all tend to produce images that are underexposed. Dynamic range isn’t all that great either and while shooting landscapes with bright skies we found that the camera threw the foreground into deep shadow. Using the Spot metering function or adjusting the EV compensation does produce better accuracy, but all in all we were left slightly dumfounded by just how inaccurate the X500’s metering module actually is.
Image sharpness is ok at smaller image sizes – 6x4 for example – but enlarge your images much beyond this and the all-too-common signs of a small, densely populated sensor will soon become visible; namely smeared detail. Noise isn’t too bad at the very lowest settings of ISO 80, 100 and 200, although even at ISO 80 some noise reduction processing is apparent when images are blown up. Above ISO 200 though and image quality soon tails off, especially if the camera is being used in dim light.
As we mentioned right at the start of this review, GE doesn’t provide any details on who manufactures the X500’s image processor, which leads us to believe that they’re either making their own or sourcing cheap OEM ones. Looking critically at the X500’s other flaws we suspect that GE has cut similar corners with cheap components elsewhere in the camera. As a result the X500 is quite seriously compromised, both in terms of performance and in terms of image quality.
On paper the General Electric X500 looks like a well-featured, flexible and keenly priced superzoom. Unfortunately, the old adage about getting what you pay for rings true though, and while the X500 does provide a generous range of shooting modes and features, it falls short in terms of performance and overall image quality. More specifically, shutter lag and AF speed in particular are both annoyingly slow and could mean you miss shots, while the in-camera metering is decidedly iffy. If you think your can live with these flaws, then the X500 offers quite a bit for the money, however we’d advise to either save up and invest in a better camera, or settle for something with fewer features or a shorter zoom range but better performance and image quality.