DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S410 / S500 Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 25, 2004
Last Updated: May 18, 2004

Printer Friendly Version

Some of the most popular digital cameras in recent years have said "Digital ELPH" on the body. And I can understand their success -- after all, they're small and stylish, and they take great pictures to boot.

The latest ELPHs are the PowerShot S410 and S500, which are slightly updated versions of the S400 (see our review). The main difference between the S400 and S410/500 is the addition of a Print/Share button. Since the two are nearly identical, I decided to cover both cameras in one review. But before we begin, let me cover the differences between the two models:

  PowerShot S410 PowerShot S500
Resolution 4.0 effective Megapixel 5.0 effective Megapixel
Burst mode
(max. speed)
2.5 frames/sec 2.2 frames/sec
Movie mode resolution 320 x 240 640 x 480
Trim around lens Silver Gold
Also known as Digital Ixus 430 Digital Ixus 500
Price $499 $599

So there you have it. I decided to use the S500 as the "model" in the review -- so the photo above is the only place you'll see the S410. Aside from the color of the ring around the lens, they are identical.

Let's begin!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S410 and S500 have excellent bundles. Inside their boxes, you'll find:

  • The 4.0/5.0 (effective) Mpixel Canon PowerShot S410/S500 camera
  • 32MB CompactFlash card
  • NB-1LH rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions and ArcSoft Camera Suite
  • 161 page camera manual + add'l software manual (both printed)

Canon has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to bundled memory cards. When everyone else was including 8 or 16MB cards with their cameras, Canon gave you a 32MB card. Now they've taken it a step further, by offering high speed memory cards. The bad news is that they don't tell you just how high speed it is. Based on my tests, I'm thinking they'd be rated as 8X cards.

Regardless of the speed of the card, you'll find that 32MB is a decent starter size, but you'll definitely want a larger card soon after you get going with the S410 or S500. I recommend a 128MB card for the S410, and a 256MB card for the S500.

The S410 and S500 use the same NB-1LH lithium-ion battery as the S400. This battery has a modest 3.1 Wh of energy, which is average for a compact camera like this. Canon estimates that you can take around 315 photos (per charge) with 50% flash use, or spend 140 minutes in playback mode.

If you've been visiting this site for a while, you know that I don't like proprietary batteries for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, they're par for the course on cameras like this. I do recommend picking up a spare battery, which will set you back $45.

I love this battery charger! The reason for that is that it plugs right into the wall, with no cords to worry about. Your battery will be charged in about 130 minutes.

As with all the Digital ELPHs, the S410 and S500 have a built-in lens cover, so there are no lens caps to worry about.

There are just a couple of accessories for these two cameras. My favorite is the WP-DC800 waterproof case ($170), which lets you take the camera up to 40 meters underwater. Two power-related options are the AC adapter ($60) and car battery charger ($50). Last but not least, there's also a soft case available.


ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)


ZoomBrowser (Windows XP)

Canon is now up to version 16 of their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software. Included in this package are ZoomBrowser (for Windows) or ImageBrowser (for Mac), PhotoStitch (for making panoramic photos), plus TWAIN and WIA drivers for Windows. Zoom/ImageBrowser can be used for downloading images from your camera, basic editing of your photos, and photo printing.


RemoteCapture (Mac OS X)

Also built-in to the "Browser" software is RemoteCapture, which you can use to control your Digital ELPH over the USB connection. Images are saved directly to your computer.


PhotoImpression 5 (Mac OS X)

Also included is version 5 of ArcSoft's PhotoImpression software, which is getting better with each version. Here you can do more photo retouching and printing. The user interface is quite good, as well. VideoImpression is also included, for editing those short movie clips the camera can record.

Canon's camera manuals have always been better than average, and that continues to be the case here.

Look and Feel

The S410 and S500 are exceedingly beautiful cameras -- among the nicest I've ever seen. They're all metal, except for the plastic doors on the side and bottom of the camera. The front and top of the camera has a special "Cerebrite" coating, which helps prevent scratches (which are all too common on metal cameras like this).

The S410 and S500 are small, without being too small. The important controls are all easy to reach, and there aren't too many buttons to worry about.

Here's a look at how the S410 and S500 compare to the competition in terms of size and weight:

Model Dimensions (WxHxD) Volume (bulk) Mass
Canon PowerShot S410/S500 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 8.2 cu. in. 185 g
Casio QV-R40/R51 3.5 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 10.9 cu. in. 160 g
Minolta DiMAGE G400 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu. in. 145 g
Minolta DiMAGE G500 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.2 in. 9.8 cu. in. 200 g
Nikon Coolpix 4200/5200 3.5 x 2.3 x 1.4 in. 11.3 cu in. 155 g
Olympus Stylus 410 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.3 in. 11.2 cu. in. 159 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC70 3.4 x 2.6 x 1.4 in. 12.4 cu. in. 163 g
Pentax Optio S40 3.5 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 8.1 cu. in. 125 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1 3.6 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 6.9 cu. in. 180 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W1 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 11.2 cu. in. 190 g

As you can see, the ELPH twins are on the smaller end of the spectrum.

Let's begin our tour of these two cameras now, beginning with the front.

The S410 and S500 have the exact same lens as the S400. This F2.8-4.9, 3X zoom lens has a focal range of 7.4 - 22.2 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 108 mm. The lens is not threaded, and no conversion lenses are available.

To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash. The working range of the flash is a respectable (for a compact camera) 0.46 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.45 - 2.0 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to these cameras.

Directly to the left of the lens is the AF-assist lamp, a staple on Canon cameras for many years that other manufacturers are finally adding to their cameras. This little lamp helps the camera focus in low light situations.

The S410 and S500 feature a bright, 1.5" LCD display. The screen -- with a resolution of 118k pixels -- is quite sharp, and motion is fluid as well. You can adjust the brightness in the setup menu (discussed later).

Straight above the LCD is a large (for a compact camera) optical viewfinder. It does lack diopter correction, so if your vision isn't perfect, you may not be able to see clearly without your glasses.

To the left of that is the mode dial, which moves the camera between record, manual record, Stitch Assist, and movies modes. Note that manual mode isn't really "manual" -- it just unlocks the full menu.


The function menu

There are four buttons below the LCD, including one which does a whole lot of things. From left to right:

  • Set - the "ok" button for the menus
  • Menu
  • Display - turns LCD on and off, plus info shown on it
  • Function button
    • Exposure compensation (+2EV to -2EV in 1/3EV increments)
    • Long shutter mode (1 - 15 sec) - only appears when this option is turned on in the menu system
    • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
    • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
    • Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black & white) - quickly adjust color
    • Image size (Large, medium 1, medium 2, small) - more on these next two later
    • Compression (Superfine, fine, normal)

The manual white balance and long shutter speed controls are the only manual controls on the S410 and S500. This is what I'd call a "point-and-shoot plus" camera.

The function button is also used to delete a photo while in playback mode.

To the right of those buttons is the four-way controller, which are used for menu navigation and more. The "more" includes:

  • Up - Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow-synchro)
  • Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous shooting, self-timer) - more on the continuous shooting features later
  • Left - Focus (Macro, infinity)

To the lower-right of the four-way controller is the one main difference between the S410 and the S400: it's the Print/Share button (which also lights up). When connected to a Direct Print or PictBridge-enabled printer, pressing this button will let you print your photos. When connected to a Windows PC, the following screen will be shown on the LCD:

As you can see, you can transfer all images, new images, images that you've DPOF marked, or you can manually select some. The wallpaper option sets the chosen image as the background picture on your PC!

At the top-right of the photo is the mode switch, which moves the camera between record and playback mode. Below that is the release for the CompactFlash slot door.

Before I tell you about what's on the top of the camera, I wanted to point out that gold colored ring around the lens. On the S410, it's silver.

Up on top of the camera, you'll find the speaker and microphone, power button, and the zoom controller with the shutter release button inside it.

The zoom controller smoothly moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.8 seconds. There are only seven zoom "steps", so being precise isn't terribly easy.

On this side of the camera, you'll find the S410/500's I/O ports. These includes digital (USB) and A/V out. They are protected by a rubber cover.

These cameras do not support USB 2.0.

On this side of the camera, you'll find the CompactFlash slot. This is a Type I slot, which means that you cannot use "fatter" cards like the Microdrive. The construction of the door covering this slot leaves something to be desired.

The included high speed CompactFlash card is shown at left.

On the bottom of the camera, you'll find the battery compartment and metal tripod mount.

The plastic door over the battery compartment isn't the greatest, so be careful with it. In case you're wondering where the AC adapter plugs in, it's right here. You stick a "fake" battery in the slot, and feed the power cable through the hole.

The included li-ion battery is shown on the right.

Using the Canon PowerShot S410 / S500

Record Mode

The ELPHs start up fairly quickly, taking about two seconds to extend their lens and prepare for shooting.

Once up and running, you'll find autofocus speeds to be around average. Focusing typically took anywhere from 0.7 - 1.0 seconds -- and longer if the AF-assist lamp needed to be used. And speaking of the AF-assist lamp, when lighting is poor, this reddish lamp helps the camera focus -- and it does a good job.

Shutter lag was not noticeable at fast shutter speeds. At slower shutter speeds (read: indoors) I did notice a slightly delay between the time I fully pressed the shutter release button and when the photo was actually taken. I didn't see a huge difference with the "quick shot" feature (described below) turned on.


No histogram in record mode

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent. There's a delay of a little over one second before you can take another photo -- assuming you've turned off the post-shot review feature.

After a shot is taken, you can press the function button to quickly delete the photo.

Here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the S410 and S500:

PowerShot S410
Resolution Compression Approx. file size # shots on 32MB card
(included)
Large
2272 x 1704
Superfine 2.0 MB 14
Fine 1.1 MB 27
Normal 556 KB 54

Medium 1
1600 x 1200

Superfine 1.0 MB 30
Fine 558 KB 54
Normal 278 KB 108
Medium 2
1024 x 768
Superfine 570 KB 53
Fine 320 KB 94
Normal 170 KB 174
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 120
Fine 150 KB 196
Normal 84 KB 337

PowerShot S500
Resolution Compression Approx. file size # shots on 32MB card
(included)
Large
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.5 MB 11
Fine 1.3 MB 21
Normal 695 KB 43

Medium 1
2048 x 1536

Superfine 1.6 MB 18
Fine 893 KB 33
Normal 445 KB 67
Medium 2
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1.0 MB 30
Fine 558 KB 54
Normal 278 KB 108
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 120
Fine 150 KB 196
Normal 84 KB 337

There's no TIFF or RAW mode available on this camera. The camera names files as IMG_####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9900. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase or format the card.

The S410 and S500 have the same, easy-to-use menu system as the other Digital ELPH models. The items in bold are only found in manual mode. Here's the full list:

  • Quick Shot (on/off) - see below
  • AiAF (on/off) - turns multi-point autofocus on and off
  • Continuous shooting (Standard, high speed) - see below
  • Self-timer (2, 10 sec)
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec) - for showing image on LCD after it is taken
  • Long shutter (on/off) - see below

The Quick Shot feature reduces shutter lag, but the image on the LCD freezes while the camera is focusing. So you'll want to use the optical viewfinder in that case.

One of the main differences between the S410 and S500 is how many photos they can take in continuous shooting mode. In standard continuous mode, both shoot at 1.5 frames/second. Each image is shown on the LCD as it is taken -- a necessity for tracking a moving subject. In high speed mode, the S410 shoots at 2.5 frames/sec, while the S500 does 2.2 frames/sec. The images are not shown on the LCD as they are taken, which means that you'll need to use the optical viewfinder to follow your subject.

The S500 must have a lot more buffer memory than the S410, as I was able to take 16 shots in a row (at either speed), while the S410 started to slow down after 5 or 6 shots.

The long shutter feature lets you use long exposure times, a must for low-light shooting. Just don't forget your tripod. The shutter speed range is 1 - 15 sec, with many points in between. You cannot, unfortunately, manually set the shutter speed to something fast, like when you want to freeze action scenes. There aren't any scene modes, either -- a sports or action mode would've been nice.

The S410 and S500 also have a setup menu, with the following options:

  • Mute (on/off) - turn off those annoying beep sounds!
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • LCD brightness (-7 to +7, increments of 1)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Date/time
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Language (English, Deutsch, Français, Nederlands, Dansk, Suomi, Italiano, Norsk, Svenska, Español, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)

There is also a "My Camera" menu, which allows you to customize the startup screen and various noises that the camera makes. You can also turn them all off, thankfully.

That's enough about menus, let's do photo tests now. Since there two cameras in this review, I'm going to do things a little differently. Where different test results are expected, I did the same test for both cameras. Otherwise, I used the S500 for the test.

S410
 
S500

S500

Despite many attempts, I was unable to get the S500 to take as nice of a macro shot as the S410. The S410's shot is just a little sharper (though the S500's isn't bad either). Both shots have good detail and accurate color. The custom white balance feature was a must, as I shoot under 3200K quartz lights.

You can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle, and 30 cm at telephoto. The image area is 58 x 43 mm and 107 x 80 mm, respectively (wide/telephoto).


View S410 night shot
View S500 night shot

I must confess that I underexposed the night shots for both cameras. I should've used a longer exposure. It looked good on the LCD so I went home. Since the camera lets you manually select slow shutter speeds, taking in more light is easy. Aside from the underexposure, the only other thing worth mentioning is a bit of purple fringing around some of the lights in the distance.

The shots below illustrate two things. First, they show that the S410 and S500 are capable of taking in more light than in my night shot above. Secondly, you'll see how upping the ISO sensitivity increases noise.

S410

ISO 50
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image
S500

ISO 50
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

See those ISO 200 shots? That's how I would've liked my original shot to be exposed (minus the noise, of course).

Speaking of noise, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the S500 has more noise at ISO 400 than the S410.

When I reviewed the S400, I was shocked when it did a great job at the redeye test. Well, the party's over, as you can see. I'm in a different location now than I was when I did the S400 test, and for whatever reason, there's redeye this time around.

What are your options? Take the shot again. Add more lighting to the room. Remove it in software.

And since some people have asked, yes, I do use redeye reduction when I do this test.

The distortion test shows mild barrel distortion at wide-angle, as well as some fuzziness in the corners (which was not a problem in the real world photos that I took).

As was the case with the S400, photo quality on both the S410 and S500 is excellent. Colors are accurate, as is exposure. Images have a smooth look to them, without seeming "overprocessed". Purple fringing is kept to a minimum, and so is noise.

But please, don't just take my word for it. Check out the S410 and S500 photo galleries and decide for yourself if the quality meets your expectations. You are more than welcome to print them, as well.

Movie Mode

One of the other areas that separates the S410 and S500 is their movie modes. While the S410 can record at 160 x 120 and 320 x 240, the S500 goes a step further by supporting 640 x 480 movies.

Unfortunately, both the frame rate and recording times aren't so hot. At 640 x 480, the frame rate is just 10 frames/sec, and you're limited to 30 seconds. At 320 x 240 or 160 x 120, the frame rate is 15 frames/sec, and the recording limit is 3 minutes. Those recording limits are fixed -- you can have the largest memory card on earth and the limit will still be 30 seconds or 3 minutes.

Sound is recorded along with the video. Because of that, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here are two sample movies for you. I apologize for the wind noise.

S410

Click to play movie (3.3MB, 320 x 240, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
 
S500

Click to play movie (7.6MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

While the frame rate stinks, the video quality is quite good on the S500.

Playback Mode

The S410 and S500 have the same, excellent playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras. Everything is very snappy.

The ELPHs have all the basic playback features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. I've already discussed the Print/Share feature earlier in the review.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you blow up the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It's very well implemented.

The Sound Memo feature lets you add a 60 second sound clip to an image. Another nice feature is the ability to rotate photos. You can also mark photos for transfer to your e-mail program, assuming that you use Canon's software.

If you've recorded a movie, an editing function lets you trim unwanted frames from the beginning or end of it.

The S410/S500 provide a decent amount of info about your photos, including a histogram. The shutter speed and aperture used would've been nice, though. They move through images fairly quickly as well -- about one second elapses between high res photos.

How Does it Compare?

While not as much of a standout as they once were, the two new Digital ELPHs -- the S410 and S500 -- are still some of the best choices in the compact point-and-shoot category. One of the strong points of the old S400 was image quality -- and both cameras continue that tradition. Both cameras produced saturated, sharp, and "smooth-looking" images. For those who shoot at high ISO sensitivities, you'll find that the S500 is noisier than the S410. The design of both cameras is second to none (like I needed to tell you that!). Other pluses for both models include performance: these cameras startup, and shoot/playback images quickly. In low light, the AF-assist lamp helped the cameras focus well. The software and camera bundle are excellent, as well. Finally, the S500 gets bonus points for a nice continuous shooting mode (for total shots taken, not the frame rate).

Why did I say that these two cameras aren't as hot as they once were? Mainly because the competition has gotten better. For example, there are a grand total of zero scene modes on this camera (and two manual controls) -- the competition (namely Casio and Nikon) have tons, and I think these models should at least have a few. Another example is movie mode. Most cameras let you record until the memory card fills up; Canon limits you to 30 seconds or 3 minutes, depending on the quality. While the S500's VGA movie mode is nice to look at, the 10 frame/sec frame rate makes for choppy video. For some unexplainable reason, my (negative) redeye test result was the opposite of the one I did on the identical S400 -- who knows? Lastly, the two cheap plastic doors on the camera don't fit in with the quality build of the rest of the camera.

All things considered, I still very much recommend these cameras. Now, which one do you want? First of all, if you have an S400, don't bother with the S410 -- the extra button on the back isn't that exciting. Choosing between the S410 and S500 depends on your needs. If VGA movies, more continuous shots in burst mode, and large print sizes are important to you, then the S500 is probably the best choice. For the average shooter, the S410 is more than adequate.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Small, beautiful metal body
  • Very fast performance
  • Good burst modes (esp. the S500)
  • AF-assist lamp
  • VGA movie mode (S500 only), although limited compared to competition
  • Excellent bundle
  • Optional underwater case

What I didn't care for:

  • Redeye
  • Flimsy plastic doors over battery/memory card compartments
  • Sluggish frame rates, recording time limits in movie mode
  • Scene modes would be nice

Other compact 4 and 5 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Casio Exilim EX-Z4, QV-R40, and QV-R51, Fuji FinePix A340 and F700, HP Photosmart R707, Kodak EasyShare CX7430 and DX7630, Kyocera Finecam SL400R and S5R, Minolta DiMAGE G400 and G500, Nikon Coolpix 4200 and 5200, Olympus Stylus 410, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC70, Pentax Optio 555, S40, and S4i, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P100, DSC-T1, and DSC-W1.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot S410 and S50 and their competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see some pictures? Check out the S410 and S500 galleries!

Want another opinion?

None yet.

Buy them now

PowerShot S410

PowerShot S500

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

All content is © 1997 - 2004 The Digital Camera Resource Page. All Rights Reserved.
Reviews and images from this site may NEVER be reposted on your website or online auction.
All trademarks are property of their respective owners.

Comments should be directed to Jeff Keller.