When Canon set out to make an ultra
compact, ultra high resolution camera, it wasn't as
simple as dropping a new CCD into an existing body.
The reason for that is due to the size of the CCD sensor
itself: on the SD200, SD300, and the new SD400, the
CCD is 1/2.5" in size. But a 7.1 Megapixel sensor
-- also used in the PowerShot G6 and S70 -- is physically
larger (1/1.8"), so it wouldn't work in the SD200/300/400
So, Canon designed a camera that shares
most of the guts of the other SD series cameras and
gave it a radically different look. That camera is
SD500 Digital ELPH ($500). Canon calls it a "perpetual
curve" design, and it's certainly eye-catching.
Since the sensor and lens are larger, the whole camera
is as well. It's about a quarter inch thicker than
the other SD models, and it's 30% heavier as well.
In addition to the new body and higher
resolution sensor, Canon also threw in these new features:
- 50% longer flash range versus the
- 14% more battery life than other
SD series models
- New "Night Display" feature
brightens the LCD in low light
- My Colors feature lets you highlight
and even swap colors right on the camera
- USB 2.0 High Speed support
I should mention that the PowerShot
SD400, a 5 Megapixel camera that has the same design
as the SD200 and SD300, also has the last three features
Okay, let's get into our review of
Canon's latest and greatest Digital ELPH!
The SD500 is known as the Ixus
700 in some countries.
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SD500 has an average
bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 7.1 effective Megapixel Canon
PowerShot SD500 Digital ELPH camera
- 32MB Secure Digital card
- NB-3L lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital
Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
- 193 page camera manual + software
manual (both printed)
Canon gives you a 32MB Secure Digital
(SD) memory card along with the SD500, which sounds
nice at first until you see how many photos that can
hold. Since you probably don't know, I'll tell you:
it holds nine at the highest quality setting. So you
definitely need to buy a larger card right away, and
I'd suggest 512MB as a good starter size. Like the
other SD series cameras, the SD500 absolutely loves
high speed SD cards. If you plan on using the VGA movie
mode or continuous shooting feature, you will need
to spend the extra bucks to get a fast card.
Since it's a larger camera, the SD500
uses a larger battery than the other SD series cameras.
The payoff comes when you look at the battery life
numbers. Where the SD200/300/400 can take 140 shots
per charge, the SD500 can take 160 (measured using
the CIPA standard). While a 14% increase in battery
life is nothing to frown upon, it's still a little
below average. Cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T33/T7,
Nikon Coolpix 7900, and especially the Casio Exilim
EX-Z750 easily best all of the Canon SD series models
in terms of battery life.
My usual complaints about proprietary
batteries like the one used by the SD500 apply here.
They're expensive ($43 a pop), and you can't put in
a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the
day like you could with an AA-based camera. Then again,
you'd be hard pressed to find an ultra-thin camera
that uses AAs.
When it's time to recharge, just drop
the battery into the included charger. This is my favorite
style of charger -- it plugs right into the wall (yes,
I know some don't like this). It takes about 95 minutes
to fully charge the battery.
There's a built-in lens cover on the
SD500, as you'd expect on a camera like this. Despite
being larger than the other SD cameras, the SD500 is
still very small.
There are a couple of accessories
for the SD500 worth mentioning. The most interesting
is the WP-DC70 waterproof case ($200), which lets you
take the ELPH up to 40 meters underwater. Another cool
accessory is the HF-DC1 external slave flash ($110),
which works with most of Canon's other PowerShots as
well. The flash attaches via the tripod mount and is
triggered by the flash on the camera. Using this will
boost the SD500's flash range to over 9 meters!
Other accessories include an AC adapter
($50) and a soft camera case.
(Mac OS X)
Canon includes version 23 of their
very good Digital Camera Solutions software with the
SD500. Included in this package are ZoomBrowser (for
Windows)/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
4.3 for Mac OS X
For whatever reason, Canon is no longer
including the full ArcSoft PhotoSuite with their cameras.
Now you just get PhotoStudio (v 4.3 for Mac, v5.5 for
Windows), which is kind of like a "light" version
of Adobe Photoshop. It's not bad, though I miss all
the bells and whistles of PhotoImpression (though not
its quirky interface).
Recent Canon camera manuals have been
more complex than earlier ones, but they're still above
average. The SD500's manual is complete, but expect
lots of "notes" and fine print.
Look and Feel
The PowerShot SD500 has more in common
with the design of the old S410 and S500 than it does
with the newer SD200/300/400. Imagine the old S410
but with a curved left side, and that's the SD500.
While it's noticeably thicker and heavier than the
other SD series cameras, it's still a very compact
camera -- it should fit into your pockets with ease.
The SD500's build quality is excellent,
save for the usual flimsy battery/memory card slot
cover. The body is made almost entirely of metal and
it feels very solid. Be warned that metal cameras tend
to scratch easily, so take care of whichever one you
end up buying. The important controls are all easy
to reach, though I wasn't thrilled with the placement
of the mode dial.
Here's a look at how the SD500 compares
with some of the competition:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
x 2.2 x 1.1 in.
x 2.1 x 0.8 in.
|Canon PowerShot SD500
||3.4 x 2.2 x 1.0 in.
||7.5 cu in.
x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
x 2.2 x 0.7 in.
Minolta DiMAGE G600
x 2.2 x 1.2 in.
x 2.4 x 1.4 in.
x 2.4 x 1.0 in.
Stylus Verve S
x 2.2 x 1.1 in.
x 2.0 x 1.0 in.
x 2.0 x 0.8 in.
x 2.0 x 1.0 in.
x 2.4 x 0.6 in.
x 2.4 x 0.9 in.
As you can see, the SD500 falls right
in the middle of the pack. It's larger than the SD200/300/400
(as I've said already), but smaller than the S500 which
I've had it with numbers, so let's
start our tour of the SD500 now!
The most striking feature of the SD500
is its "perpetual curve" design. This is
one camera that definitely turns heads -- and that's
speaking from experience!
The SD500 uses a different, larger
lens than the other SD series cameras. While I'm not
100% certain, I'm fairly confident that this is the
same lens that was used on the old S410 and S500. Regardless
of that, the lens here is an F2.8-4.9, 3X zoom model.
The focal length is 7.7 - 23.1 mm, which is equivalent
to 37 - 111 mm. Like the other SD series cameras, the
SD500 doesn't support conversion lenses.
To the upper-right of the lens is
the camera's built-in flash. One of the "perks" of
a larger camera is a larger flash, and that's why the
SD500 has more flash power than the other SD cameras.
The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 5.0 m at wide-angle
and 0.5 - 3.0 m at telephoto -- excellent numbers,
and 50% better than the SD200/300/400. For even more
flash action you can use the external slave flash that
I mentioned in the previous section.
To the left of the flash is the optical
viewfinder. The item to the left of that is the AF-assist
lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist
lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low
The only other item to mention on
the front of the camera is the microphone, located
just to the left of the lens.
Anybody remember the PowerShot S500?
It had a 1.5" LCD display. My, how things have
changed -- for the better. The SD500, like the three
other SD cameras, has a 2.0" LCD which is bright
and beautiful. With 118,000 pixels, the screen is plenty
sharp, as well. One of the night features on the SD400
and SD500 is called Night Display. This automatically
brightens the screen in low light situations so you
can actually see what you're looking at. It's about
Just above that LCD is the camera's
optical viewfinder, which is on the small side. But
heck, I shouldn't complain: look how many cameras don't
even have these anymore. Something missing is a diopter
correction knob, which is used to focus what you're
looking at, though they are basically nonexistent on
compact cameras like the SD500.
At the upper-right corner of the photo
is the mode dial. I must say that I prefer the switch
used on the other SD cameras, but what can you do?
The options on the mode dial include playback, record,
manual record, scene, and movie mode. The manual mode
isn't really that manual -- it just unlocks all the
menu options on the camera. The scene modes available
on the camera include portrait, foliage, snow, beach,
fireworks, underwater, indoor, kids & pets, and
The next thing to see is the Print/Share
button. When connected to a PictBridge-enabled photo
printer, you can make prints right from the camera.
If you hook into a Windows PC, you'll be able to transfer
photos and even select your computer's desktop picture,
all right from the camera.
The next item to mention is the four-way
controller, which is used for menu navigation and much
more. Pressing the controller in one the four directions
also does the following:
- Up - Metering (Evaluative, center,
spot) + Jump (skip ahead 10 photos in playback mode)
- Down - Drive (Single shot, continuous,
self-timer) + Delete photo
- Left - Focus (Auto, macro, infinity)
- Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto
w/redeye reduction, flash on w/redeye reduction,
flash on, flash off, slow synchro)
One of the standout features on the
SD500 is its unlimited continuous shooting mode. You
can keep shooting at approximately 2 frames/second
until the memory card is full (you can thank the DIGIC
II chip for this). The only requirement is that you
use a high speed SD card.
By pressing the center button on the
four-way controller, you'll open up the Function menu.
It has the following options:
- Manual mode (Manual, digital macro,
My Colors) - see below
- Special scene mode (portrait, foliage,
snow, beach, fireworks, underwater, indoor, kids & pets,
night snapshot) - only shown when mode dial is set
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to
+2EV in 1/3EV increments)
- Long shutter mode (Off, 1 - 15
- White balance (Auto, daylight,
cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
- ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200,
- Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral,
low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
- My Colors (Positive film, lighter
skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green,
vivid red, color accent, color swap, custom color)
- see below
- Compression (see chart later in
- Resolution (see chart later in
The only real manual controls on the
SD500 are for white balance and shutter speed. The
custom white balance option lets you use a white or
gray card as a reference, for perfect color in any
lighting. The long shutter speed feature lets you manually
choose a speed range from 1 - 15 seconds -- great for
long exposures. Too bad there's no way to force a fast
shutter speed for action shots.
The photo effect lets you change the
color or sharpness of your image instantly, and you
can use it for stills or movies.
Using the My Colors "Color
The My Colors feature is new to the
SD400 and SD500 and deserves a closer look. Most of
the options (skin tones, vivid colors, etc) are self-explanatory,
but the last three options deserve some attention.
Before we go on, I should mention a few things. First,
you can choose to save the original, unaltered image
if you desire (probably a good idea). Second, using
the flash or changing the white balance or metering
is going to prevent this feature from working properly.
||Color accent using the green color on The Body
The color accent feature will turn
your image to black and white, except for the color
which you've selected (see above). To select the color
you point the camera at the color you want to sample
and then press the four-way controller. You can fine
tune the selected color by pressing up/down on the
four-way controller, but it didn't make a huge different
in my testing. For this option as well as the next
two, the camera gives you a preview of what it's about
to do before you take the photo.
||I've always wanted a red lawn! I swapped
the green from the grass with a red color I took
from an envelope. As you can see, color swap isn't
perfect, as things are weren't green got changed
The color swap feature does just as
it sounds: you can exchange one color for another.
Want to see how your car looks in red? Well, select
your car's color first and then find something red,
and the rest is history.
The custom color feature lets you
adjust the color balance for red, green, blue, and
skin tones from -2 to +2 in 1-step increments.
The final buttons on the back of the
camera are Display (turns the LCD on and off and toggles
what is shown on the screen) and Menu (which does just
as it sounds).
Up on top of the SD500 you'll find
the speaker, power button, shutter release, and zoom
controller. The zoom controller, which is wrapped around
the shutter release, moves the lens from wide-angle
to telephoto in just 1.3 seconds. I counted seven steps
throughout the zoom range, which is on the low side.
Here's one side of the SD500, and
there's not much to see. Compare this shot with the same
view from the SD300 to see how the SD500 is a little
On the other side of the camera are
the I/O ports. They include video out and USB. The
SD500 (and SD400 as well) are the first Canon digital
cameras to support USB 2.0 High Speed -- about time!
On the bottom of the SD500 you'll
find the metal tripod mount, battery compartment, and
SD card slot. The battery and memory card slots are
covered by a flimsy plastic cover which could bust
off if you're clumsy. In addition, you can't swap memory
cards while the camera is on a tripod.
The included battery and SD card are
shown at right.
Using the Canon PowerShot
If I'm not mistaken, the SD500 starts
up even faster than the SD200 and SD300. It took under
one second for the SD500 to extend its lens and prepare
No live histogram
to be found
Focusing speeds were very good on
the SD500, generally ranging from 0.3 - 0.5 seconds.
If the camera has to "hunt" a bit, or if
the AF-assist lamp is used, focus times can be around
one second. Low light focusing was very good thanks
to that AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even
at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speed was also excellent
on the SD500, with a delay of about a second before
you can take another picture, assuming you've turned
the post-shot review feature off. Again, this is one
area in which the DIGIC II processor really helps.
You can delete a picture as it's been
saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo
button (the "down" key on the four-way controller).
Now, here's a look at the image size
and quality choices available on the camera:
||Approx. file size
||# Images on 32MB card
3072 x 2304
2592 x 1944
2048 x 1536
1600 x 1200
640 x 480
See why I recommend buying a larger
memory card? Something to remember about high resolution
cameras like this is that file sizes are pretty large.
The SD500 does not support the RAW
or TIFF formats.
Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where
x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even
if you replace and/or format memory cards.
Now, onto the menus!
The SD500 has the same new style menu
system as the other cameras in the SD series. Everything
is really snappy and easy-to-use. Note that some menu
options are not available while in the automatic shooting
mode. With that in mind, here's what's in the record
- AiAF (on/off) - turns the 9-point
autofocus system on and off; if turned off, camera
focuses on whatever is in the center of the frame
(which is faster)
- Self-timer (2, 10 secs, custom
timer) - see below
- AF-assist beam (on/off)
- Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best
to keep this turned off
- Review (Off, 2-10 sec holds) -
post-shot review; the hold feature will keep the
image on the LCD until you press a button
- Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
- print the date and/or time on your photos; only
works with the image size set to postcard (1600 x
- Save original (on/off) - whether
an unaltered image is also saved while using the
My Colors feature
- Long shutter (on/off) - I described
this feature earlier
- Stitch Assist (Off, left-to-right,
right-to-left) - helps you make panoramic photos
The custom self-timer option is new.
Instead of just 2 or 10 seconds, now you can have the
camera take up to 10 shots automatically, with a delay
ranging from 1 to 30 seconds before the photo is taken.
There is also a setup menu on the
SD500, so let's take a look at that now. Here's what
you'll find in the setup menu:
- Mute (on/off) - turn off those
annoying beep sounds!
- 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 in 1 step
- Power saving
- Auto power down (on/off)
- Display off (10, 20, 30 sec,
- Clock display (0-10 sec, 20 sec,
30 sec, 1-3 mins) - yes, the camera doubles as a
- Card format
- File number reset (on/off) - maintain
- Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will
automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
- Language (English, German, French,
Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish,
Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Russian, Portuguese,
Greek, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Traditional
Chinese, Korean, Japanese)
- Video system (NTSC, PAL)
An additional "My Camera'" menu
allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps,
and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes. The
software included with the camera lets you use your
own photos and sounds as well, if you desire. If these
bother you, you can also turn them off.
Well enough about menus, let's do
photo tests now.
The SD500 did an excellent job with
our macro subject. Colors look accurate and saturated
and the figurine has a very "smooth" look
to it. Smooth shouldn't be mistaken for soft, though,
as you can easily count the specs of dust on Mickey's
You can get as close to your subject
as 5 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto (the SD200/300/400
are a little better in this area). A digital macro
mode locks the lens at the wide-angle position and
lets you use the digital zoom to get closer to the
subject -- the 5 cm minimum distance remains the same.
You're probably better off not using the digital macro
The SD500 also did a great job with
our night test photo. The camera took in plenty of
light, though I probably should've exposed it for a
little longer. The buildings are nice and sharp, and
noise levels are reasonable for a 7 Megapixel camera.
By using the long shutter feature you can take exposures
as long as 15 seconds -- just remember your tripod.
Speaking of noise, let's take that
same scene and see how increasing the ISO sensitivity
affects noise levels:
The SD500 does fairly well at ISO
100. At ISO 200 details start to disappear, and they're
just about gone at ISO 400.
There's just mild barrel distortion
at the wide end of the SD500's lens. While I don't
see any vignetting (dark corners) here, I did see some
blurriness in the corners, which is something you'll
encounter a bit of in your real world photos as well.
If you've been visiting this site
for long enough then you know that small cameras have
big redeye problems. The SD500 is no exception. In
general, when the lens and flash are close together,
redeye will result. You can fix it up pretty well in
software, thankfully. Another option is to pick up
that external slave flash I mentioned earlier, though
it kind of defeats the purpose of having an ultra-compact
Overall I was very happy with the
photos produced by the PowerShot SD500. Exposure and
color were good, and images had a nice smooth (but
not soft) look to them. Noise levels are good, especially
considering the resolution of this camera. Probably
the only issue (besides a little corner softness) is
purple fringing: it's above average (as was the case
on the other SD series cameras as well).
Don't just take my word for it, though.
Have a look at our photo gallery,
and print the photos as if they were your own. Then
decide if the SD500's photo quality meets your expectations!
Like the SD200 and SD300 before it,
the movie mode on the SD500 is first rate. You can
record VGA video (with sound) at 30 frames/second until
the memory card fills up! You will need a high speed
SD card for this. A 512MB card can hold a little over
4 minutes of video. You can shoot at the slower 15
frame/second frame rate to extend the recording times.
There are also 320 x 240 (at 15 or 30 fps) and 160
x 120 (15 fps) modes available, with the latter having
a 3 minute time limit.
There's also a unique "Fast Frame
Rate" mode, which lets you record up to 1 minute
of 320 x 240 video at a whopping 60 frames/second.
This is great for videos of fast moving subjects.
The My Colors and Photo Effects features
mentioned earlier can be used in movie mode as well.
A movie editing feature lets you trim unwanted footage
off the beginning or end of a clip.
You cannot use the zoom lens during
filming (it will be locked when you start filming).
You can, however, use the digital zoom without a major
loss in quality.
Update 3/16/05: I
did not experience hear any "high pitched whine" while
recording movies in silent rooms. The only thing I
noticed was a static-like sound, which I suppose could
be a little annoying.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using
the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a sample movie for you, recorded
at the high quality 640 x 480 setting. It's a little
shorter than usual, but you get the idea.
to play movie (14.4 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The SD500 has the same, excellent
playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras. I hate
to sound like a broken record, but the DIGIC II chip
makes playback mode VERY snappy.
The camera has all the basic playback
features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows,
DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode,
voice annotations (60 secs), image rotation, and zoom
and scroll. The SD500 supports the PictBridge system
for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature lets you
enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around
in the zoomed-in area. It's nice and fast!
By default, the SD500 doesn't give
you much info about your photos. But press the display
button and you'll get plenty of details, including
The camera rockets through photos
in playback mode. It moves from one to the next instantly.
How Does it Compare?
With the PowerShot SD500 Digital ELPH,
Canon has delivered an excellent ultra-compact, high
resolution digital camera that's one of the best out
there. It takes excellent quality 7.1 Megapixel photos
that rival those from the higher-end PowerShot G6,
though purple fringing and corner softness are issue
(though minor, thankfully). While it's a bit chunkier
than the other SD series cameras, the SD500 is still
a very small metal camera that can go anywhere with
ease. Build quality is very good, save for the usual
cheap plastic door over the memory card and battery
compartment. The SD500 has a nicely sized 2.0" LCD
display that gains up in low light situations (finally!).
I'm also glad to see that Canon hasn't done away with
the optical viewfinder on the SD cameras.
Camera performance is excellent, again
thanks to the DIGIC II processor. Whether it's startup,
shutter lag, shot-to-shot, or playback speed that you're
measuring, the SD500 blows away the competition. Low
light focusing is also very good thanks to the SD500's
AF-assist lamp, and the newly added support for USB
2.0 High Speed is a nice bonus. Both the movie and
continuous shooting modes are excellent, as long as
you're using a high speed memory card. The movie mode
lets you record VGA size video at 30 frames/second
until the memory card is full. Similarly, the continuous
shooting mode will keep firing away at 2 frames/second
until you run out of space on the card. The new My
Colors feature is interesting and kind of fun, though
I have to wonder how often it will be used after the
novelty wears off. In terms of manual controls, the
SD500 is a mixed bag. You can create a custom white
balance setting and pick a long shutter speed, but
other useful things like manual focus or the ability
to choose a fast shutter speed are missing. Point-and-shoot
lovers will be pleased with the selection of scene
modes on thee camera, but again, where's the action
There isn't too much else to complain
about, as I've slipped most of the SD500's negatives
in the previous two paragraphs. As you'd expect on
a camera like this, redeye is a problem. While the
battery life is improved over the earlier SD models,
it's still not as good as some of the competition.
And finally, you cannot swap memory cards while the
camera is on a tripod.
In case you didn't notice, I like
the PowerShot SD500. A lot. If you want a lot of pixels
in a small camera, this is a great choice. If you like
what you've read but don't need 7.1 million pixels
then the 5 Megapixel PowerShot
SD400 is worth a look.
What I liked:
- Excellent photo quality (though
see issues below)
- Compact and very stylish metal
- Blazing performance
- First rate movie and continuous
- Powerful flash for a compact camera
- Unique My Colors feature
- LCD visible in low light (and it's
- AF-assist lamp; good low light
- USB 2.0 High Speed support
- Optional underwater case and external
What I didn't care for:
- Some corner softness and purple
- Redeye is a problem
- Cheap plastic door over memory
card / battery compartment
- While an improvement over the other
SD series cameras, battery life could be better
- Can't swap memory cards while camera
is on a tripod
- More manual controls would be nice
Some other compact, high resolution
cameras to consider include the Canon
PowerShot SD400, Casio Exilim EX-Z57 and EX-Z750, Fuji
FinePix Z1, Konica Minolta DiMAGE G600 and X50, Nikon
Coolpix 7900, Olympus Stylus
Verve S and D-630Z, Panasonic
Lumix DMC-FX7, Pentax
Optio S5i, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200, DSC-T7,
As always, I recommend a trip down
to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD500
and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in
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.
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