Lastly, it has a Creative Light Effect mode that changes the shape of twinkling lights in your photos to hearts, stars, butterflies, music notes, or crosses. It's silly and I'm still trying to forget that it's included and somehow a panorama assist mode was not.
One of the biggest benefits to CMOS sensors is their fast speed compared with CCD sensors, and the 500 HS is certainly faster than CCD-based PowerShots. On the other hand, it is slightly slower than CMOS-based ultracompacts from other manufacturers. The camera goes from off to first shot in 1.2 seconds, with shot-to-shot times averaging 2.3 seconds without flash and 3.5 seconds with flash. Its shutter lag--the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capturing a photo--is 0.5 second in bright lighting and 0.9 second in low-light conditions.
The camera's burst mode is capable of capturing at 3.2 frames per second, with focus and exposure set with the first shot. It can shoot until your memory card fills up, though, which is nice; competing cameras have a burst limit and make you wait while images are stored before you can shoot again. The camera also has a high-speed burst mode that can shoot 3-megapixel photos at up to 8.2fps. The results are very good compared with similar modes on other cameras I've tested, suitable for small prints and definitely for Web use. However, with the exception of continuous shooting, its performance is just a bit too slow for active kids and pets. You'll get something, but it probably won't be the shot you were trying for. Add in any delay caused by using the touch screen and you could have a frustrating experience shooting anything in motion.
The design of the 500 HS is very similar to Canon's last touch-screen camera, the SD3500 IS. There's only a handful of physical controls; power, play, and shutter release buttons; a zoom ring around the shutter release; and the aforementioned shooting mode switch on the top of the body. Everything else is handled with the touch interface.
The screen is fairly responsive and can be calibrated to your touch, but the interface itself can be a little trying at times to navigate. For example, when navigating the option lists in the main menu system, instead of using simple up and down arrows, you drag the lists with your finger. This would be fine if it operated smoothly, but it doesn't, and if you use the right side of the screen you may accidentally change settings to boot. Also, some shooting options require a double tap to select them while others need you to "OK" the change and still others need you to select and then hit a return arrow. If you're considering this camera for its shutter and aperture controls, changes are done with onscreen sliders, which can be frustrating if you're used to the fast dials of a dSLR. For learning or playing with on occasion, they should be fine. However, when changing the aperture it doesn't show you the effect on shutter speed or vice versa.
There are a couple positives for the touch interface, though. Canon includes a couple options to rearrange and customize the layout, so if you want fast access to ISO or white balance, you can add those icons to your screen. One of the best uses for a touch screen is for focusing on specific subjects by tapping on them, which this Canon does. It will also track the subject, making the feature even more valuable. However, unlike many newer touch-screen cameras, you cannot tap to focus and shoot.
In Playback mode, the touch screen can be used for flipping through or scrolling between images, selecting photos to delete or mark as favorites, starting a slideshow, and magnifying a section of a photo by tapping on the part you want to see more closely.
Should you want to connect to a computer, monitor, or HDTV, there are Mini-USB and Mini-HDMI ports on the body's right side. The battery and memory card compartment is on the bottom under a nonlocking door. The battery does not charge in-camera, and that touch screen doesn't do its shot count any favors, so you'll probably find yourself opening the compartment quite a bit. Battery life is CIPA-rated for only 180 shots, but using movie capture, burst shooting, or pumping up the screen brightness will shorten life.
Conclusion Canon's use of a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and a lens with a large f2.0 aperture in the PowerShot Elph 500 HS helps deliver excellent photo quality for its class as well as relatively fast continuous shooting. The touch screen or, more specifically, its interface, is what holds this camera back. It also lacks some of the advanced shooting options found on other BSI CMOS cameras, but there's still plenty here to play with including semimanual modes. If my gripes don't bother you, it's a very good point-and-shoot.
Find out more about how we test digital cameras.