A Reliable budget camera that could have been better at taking videos
Being an entry level camera does not mean this camera is slow. Switch on the camera and you can almost immediately take a picture assuming focus is achieved.
You can capture images in three different sizes: Large 4752*3168, Medium 3456*2304 and Small 2352*1568; and in two different qualities: Fine and normal. You can also shoot in RAW (4752*3168) format or RAW + large (fine) together.
Focusing is at par with similar priced cameras which isn’t a bad thing. Most DSLRs cameras have accurate and very fast focusing speeds though the performance may vary depending on what lens you’re using, whether you’re using live view and the lighting conditions. Using the kit lens (18-55mm), the camera focuses in about 0.2-0.6 seconds in normal indoor lighting which is quite impressive. Moving to low light conditions, the camera struggles to focus and you might find the need to use the pop up flash as an AF-assist lamp.
Auto focus (AF) speed when using live view is quite slow in comparison. When using either of the Live AF modes with the kit lens, the camera took around 1 to 4 seconds to focus. In low light condition, the camera struggled to focus and manual focusing seemed like the only option because you can’t use the pop up flash as an AF-assist lamp. Using the Quick AF mode is the faster option though they’ll be a short moment where the LCD will blackout while the AF speed is about a second slower than the speed when shooting with the viewfinder
The camera can shoot at 3.4fps which means there is almost no lag between shots. You can continue to shoot till the buffer runs out i.e. 9 RAW images or 170 JPEG images. When shooting with the flash, you can shoot continuously for anything between 10 images to about 40 images depending on the flash power before you get the ‘Busy’ message which basically means the flash needs to refresh.
Two convenient tools while shooting in harsh lighting is the Auto lighting Optimizer which brightens the darker areas and the Highlight tone priority that reducing clipping on the over exposed areas. Both found under custom functions in the Menu.
Moving on to the ISO test to see how the camera performs at different ISO settings. We first shoot some objects under control studio lighting.
ISO 100 and 200 look identical and noise free. As you move to ISO 400, you begin to see slight hints of noise in the darker colours but it still looks fine. At ISO800, you see a little bit more noise but you should still be able to get a big print out of it. At ISO 1600 and ISO3200 there is a lot more noise and the edges seem to go a little fuzzy. At ISO 6400 you might still be able to squeeze out small print (5*7 or 6*4). It would be advisable to avoid ISO 12800 as there is a lot of noise and loss of detail.
Now to see how the camera performs in low light.
The images seem a little soft which is due to the humidity and dust that prevails during these summer months. Apart from that, the images look good at ISO 100 apart from highlight clipping visible on the sign boards. As you move to ISO 200, there is a slight hint of noise but it still quite good. At ISO 400, the noise begins to show up more prominently but it’s still well under control. ISO 800 is where you really start to notice the noise especially around the lights. At ISO1600, the noise level and detail loss is quite high but you could still squeeze a medium sized A4 print out of it. ISO 3200 is only usable for making really small prints (5*7 or 4*6) and maybe for web use. ISO 6400 and 12800 is honestly quite unusable and should be avoided unless necessary.
The image quality staying true to most other Canon cameras is a little on the softer side, nothing a little bit of sharpening can’t fix. The colours were almost accurate though a little on the flatter side but that comes down to personal preference. You can always tweak the setting slightly through the picture style presets or user options. Overall the camera manages to capture good quality images.
Shooting a video
The 500D can shoot Full HD even though it’s crippled by a slow frame rate of 20 frames per second. You also have the option to shoot at 720p at 30 frames per second or VGA at 50 frames per second. You can keep shooting till you hit the 4GB file size limit. Another limitation is the lack of any manual controls unlike the Canon 7D or the 5D MKII. There isn’t an option to use an external microphone either.
Auto focus is available by pressing the AE/AF lock button but similar to live view, the focusing is quite slow and the noise of the lens focusing will be picked up by the cameras microphone. You can obviously manual focus but managing that can be harder than it seems. As the 500D has a single DIGIC 4 processor, the time the camera takes to save a video file on to the memory card is a little on the longer side which tends to become annoying after a while as the camera cannot be used until the process is complete.
The quality of the videos is a lot better than what you might find on a point and shoot camera as you’re able to take good quality videos even at high ISO (auto) settings though the end result due to the lack of any real controls removes the edge a DSLR might have in terms of creativity.
The entry level DSLR segment is a crowded place right now with every manufacture trying to capture customers at the beginner level. Among the crowd, the Canon 500D is a good camera but it fails to stand out though the HD video mode is something that makes it a little special.
Due to its few limitations (slow live view focusing, limited controls in movie mode, soft images at default settings), the 500D isn’t a perfect camera but being a well built compact DSLR that takes high quality images even in low light conditions with accurate focusing, I would recommend it but only if the person is on a budget and isn’t looking to use it as a video camera replacement