With so many sub-$400 digital cameras flooding the market, it's starting to feel like a plague of locusts. How do you know which one to buy, given that the quality of these is quite good now? One strategy is to look for a few key features that make a camera stand out from the crowd. Epson's L-500V has many of the usual specs for a $400 model: a 5-megapixel sensor, a 3X zoom, an SD card slot, a continuous-shooting mode, and a small collection of scene modes. It also has one stand-out feature: the best LCD screen we've seen on a digital camera. The big, bright, high-resolution display should make the Epson a hit with families and friends who want to immediately share the fun. While the LCD will wow even the most hardened of professionals, the L-500V's performance and photo quality don't follow through on the promise. For sturdy knockabout use, the size and weight of the Epson L-500V are a good compromise. It's small enough (2.5 by 3.5 by 1.3 inches) to fit into a shirt pocket yet substantial enough (6.9 ounces) to withstand a fair amount of abuse. The rectangular metal case is easy to grip. It has raised bumps on the back to hold your thumb and a raised metal bar on the front to catch your middle finger. The two-tone gunmetal-gray/black styling gives it a distinctive look, as does the 2.5-inch LCD, which covers most of the back of the camera. There's no optical viewfinder, so don't expect to extend the battery life by turning off the screen.
The onscreen menus benefit greatly from the high-resolution LCD. The menu selections are bright and easy to distinguish. Epson has grouped many of the set-once options under a dedicated setup mode, which helps to simplify the context-sensitive menus associated with the manual exposure settings and the playback options, as well as the movie and continuous-shooting modes, all conveniently accessible using the mode dial located on top.
A small back-mounted joystick serves to navigate the menus and delete images, as well as toggle through the macro and flash settings, the timer, and the outdoor mode for the LCD. We don't generally like joysticks on cameras, though this one works well. We would have preferred the delete option not be associated with the joystick, as we occasionally pushed the joystick down by mistake and had to nervously answer "no" to deleting the current image. Even though the on-off button is recessed, we accidentally turned on the camera a few times when we hurriedly grabbed the case from the top. Two additional buttons access the direct-connect printing and in-camera print frames.It's not often you can isolate a single feature that will drive a product's success. With the Epson L-500V, that feature would have to be the gorgeous LCD screen. Its 2.5-inch size is exceptional for such a small camera, but what's most impressive is the quality of the displayed images. The screen has a 512x384-pixel resolution, which provides a high density of pixels per square inch (256 vs. a more typical 80 to 100). In addition, each pixel can display red, green, and blue as opposed to the more usual one color per pixel. All this would be technical mumbo jumbo if the result didn't knock your socks off. It does. And it promises to be a real crowd-pleaser.
The other unusual attribute for this camera is its PIF (Print Image Framer) features, which lets you add a digital picture frame to your image. The frame is stored separately from the image so that the photos aren't permanently altered. The camera has 4MB of dedicated memory that holds four frames at a time. An additional 100 frames are included on a supplied CD.
In other respects, the Epson L-500V is only a moderately capable camera. The 5-megapixel sensor captures images in 2,560x1,920, 1,600x1,200, or 640x480 resolutions and Fine, Normal, or Economy JPG compression settings. But there's no provision for saving images to uncompressed raw or TIFF files. To supplement the fully automatic mode, you can select ISO speed, white-balance light source, flash setting, scene mode, or exposure compensation. In each case, the number of choices ranges from adequate to average. The shooting modes include three night modes (Night, Night Portrait, and Night View), as well as the usual Landscape and Portrait. Though the camera allows printing via a direct USB link, it works with only a compatible Epson printer, not PictBridge. As a result, this wouldn't be the ideal camera for exploring the subtleties of photography.Overall, the Epson L-500V performed somewhat below average. On one hand, the continuous-shooting mode delivered exactly as advertised at three shots per second. This number held steady, no matter the resolution or compression rate, for as many shots as the SD card could hold. The single-shot mode loped along at a moderate 4-second clip between shots, with and without flash. And the shutter delay was a reasonable 0.7 second in our bright light test and 0.8 second in our dim light test, though we found the shutter button to be a little too sensitive, causing us to fire off a few shots when we meant to prefocus the image. The proprietary 1,230mAH lithium-ion battery lasted 279 shots, which is disappointing compared to most cameras but decent when the trade-off is that large, albeit power-hungry, LCD.
Measured in seconds (smaller is better)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (typical)||Time to first shot|