Check out an examination of the GE Power Pro X500, a budget-friendly 16-megapixel 15x wide-angle megazoom with an electronic viewfinder, manual controls, and powered by AA batteries.
The photo quality from the GE X500 is good as long you have plenty of light; and it's actually a bit better than expected given its price. However, its 16-megapixel resolution does nothing to improve this camera's photos, and any pixel peepers out there will not like what they see when photos are viewed onscreen at full size. Like most in its class, it's good up through ISO 200; above that you get more noise, softness, and off colors, making photos only suitable for small prints and Web use. Even still, you probably won't want to go above ISO 800. There are ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200 settings at a reduced resolution of 4 megapixels, but I wouldn't use them, as their color is bad and details are completely smeared. Basically, this camera is fine for outdoor use in full sun to cloudy conditions producing photos suitable for 8x10 prints or smaller and Web use. If you do a lot of indoor shooting in dim lighting and don't want to use the flash, I would not buy the X500.
The X500, like a lot of megazooms, is very good for macro shots. It can focus as close as 2 inches from a subject and produces nice fine detail if you have plenty of light. This is a 100 percent crop of the inset image taken at ISO 80. The crops look fine at small sizes, but when viewed larger you can see a lot of color noise.
Color was very good from the X500 at or below ISO 200. Above that, colors get washed out and dull looking. Again, though, when viewed at full size you will see some color noise even at ISO 80 (and a general lack of fine detail, too). White balance outside is solid, but indoors both the auto and presets were off. There is a manual option that's easy to set, and I recommend using that whenever possible under unnatural light.
One of the best parts of the X500 is the availability of aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual shooting modes. That's extremely rare in a camera at this price. At the wide end, the apertures are: f3, f3.3, f3.8, f4.6, f5.8, and f7.3; in telephoto you have a choice of f5.2 or f6.6. Shutter speeds go from 1/2,000 second to 30 seconds. What's nice is that the X500 has graphics on the aperture and shutter speed onscreen controls, giving you an idea of what setting to use for a subject (e.g. fireworks at the 30-second shutter speed position), making this a nice choice for learning about these controls.
You can certainly find more compact cameras with the X500's zoom range, but you'd lose other features like the electronic viewfinder and AA batteries. Still, for a 15x camera, its size is reasonably small with a lens that starts at a wide-angle 27mm and goes out to 405mm (35mm equivalent).
There is some visible barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens (top) and some very slight pincushioning when then lens is extended (bottom). Center sharpness is fairly good, and the lens is consistent for the most part, softening slightly out at the edges and in the corners. I've seen far worse on more-expensive cameras, though.
The X500 has a more advanced panorama shooting mode than I usually find at this price. You press the shutter release with the camera aimed where you'd like to start your panorama shot and it puts a circle and a target on the screen. Put the circle in the center of the target by moving the camera to the right and it'll take the next shot when it's centered. Do that once more and it'll take your three shots and stitch them together in-camera into a single photo. This is best for scenes with little or no movement. As you can see in this example, if you have moving people, you're likely to have them show up twice in your shot and the camera has a more difficult time correctly stitching things together.