The new DIGIC 4 processor has had a marked effect on some aspects of the camera’s performance. The maximum ISO setting has been upped to 3200, but can be expanded to an impressive 12,800, although it has to be said that the image quality at this setting is not good. Oddly some other aspects of the 500D’s performance are actually slightly slower than its predecessor. It does start up extremely quickly, and is able to take a picture within a fraction of a second of being switched on. In single shot mode it can take a picture just as fast as you can press the button, with virtually zero shutter lag. In continuous shooting mode it also sounds pretty quick at approximately 3.4fps, until you remember that the EOS 450D could shoot at 3.5fps. The 500D does have a larger image buffer though, and can shoot bursts of up to 170 JPEG images, although I found that even using a high speed Class 6 card there was a marked drop off in shooting speed after about 60 frames. In Raw mode it can still manage 3.4fps, but only for 10 frames.
At its best the 500D’s image quality is unquestionably very good, with rich bright colours and lots of fine detail, although if you look at the sample shots on the following pages I think you’ll agree that it doesn’t offer a decisive advantage over rivals such as the Nikon D5000, or indeed over the 450D. The exposure system appears to be the same as the 450D, and suffers from the same slightly erratic performance, under or over exposing by as much as a stop under high contrast conditions.
Dynamic range also appears to be slightly more limited than the 450D, with burned out highlights and featureless shadows on a number of high-contrast shots. Unusually shooting in Raw mode and adjusting the exposure in post-processing did little to help in these situations, but then the advanced processor should be expected to do a good job of optimising the JPEG output.
One area where the 500D does excel is image noise control. It’s one of the few APS-sensor cameras to produce reliably usable images at 1600 ISO, although it does show a little chromatic noise even at medium ISO settings. The adjustable noise control can be used to compensate, but it does reduce the detail slightly. Shooting in good conditions at lower ISO settings the 500D is capable of outstanding image quality, possibly matching that of the EOS 50D, which isn’t at all bad for a camera costing under £500.
The Canon EOS 500D is a worthy successor to the popular 450D, and adds a number of useful features, including the must-have HD video recording, a more powerful sensor and a nice new monitor. Build quality, handling and performance are as good as ever, and image quality is at least equal to anything in its class. With a good combination of versatility and quality at a decent price it looks like another best-seller.