You might think a long zoom and a high resolution can only be bought in a chunky body. Not true. With the PowerShot SX500 IS, Canon has taken the lead from its compact IXUS range to create a truly petite snapper, but with the added power of a superzoom.
A mighty 30x zoom, decent resolution and compact body could be yours for a couple of tenners short of £300, making this superzoom a tempting option.
There's no denying this is a very small camera. In my pretty average hands there's just room for a finger and a half on the grip, but that doesn't make it uncomfortable. Far from it. It's light and well balanced and you can still keep a good grip on it as the chunky end is scooped to fit your finger, and there's a textured patch on the back for your thumb.
Its specs are anything but small though. The sensor is a 16-megapixel chip and the zoom is an impressive 30x optical unit.
Because of this, it bears more than a passing resemblance to a shrunken dSLR, although without the interchangeable lenses. However, with the focal length kicking off at 24mm and carrying on through to 720mm (both 35mm equivalent measures), if you don't need a specialist lens like a fish eye or pancake, you have to question what an entry-level dSLR could do in terms of focus and zoom that the SX500 can't.
Maximum aperture at wide angle is f/3.4, and even at full telephoto it remains a pretty impressive f/5.8.
Naturally, when you're zoomed right in, you can only see a tiny portion of the scene in front of you, which can make it difficult to find your subject if you didn't keep it in the frame while zooming. Fortunately, there's a Framing Assist button on the side of the lens barrel to help out.
When held down, this zooms the lens back out to wide angle, with a rectangle overlaying the central portion of the frame to indicate what you would see at your current zoom level. Line up this rectangle with your subject and then let go of the button and it'll return to your original zoom position, this time focused on your subject.
Minimum focusing distance literally can't be bettered, as it stands at 0cm when the lens is pulled back to wide angle. That means you can press your subject up to the lens and it will still be focussed, although obviously if your subject covers the lens entirely, you will have an issue with light. At full telephoto, the minimum focusing distance is 1.4m.
That means it performed particularly well in my macro tests, fixing its sights on a very thin slice of the subject and keeping it razor sharp, while throwing everything that comes in front of and behind it into soft focus.
Focusing at such close distances helps show off how sharp the lens is at its centre. Zooming in on a shot of, say, a seeded dandelion reveals an impressive level of detail, where the individual strands of each seed head can be seen very clearly.
Stray away from the centre and things are less sharp. The trees at the back of the cemetery below are not so clear in the corners of the frame, where there's also some pretty obvious chromatic aberration. This is a fringing effect where sharp contrasts -- in this case, the leaves passing in front of the overcast sky -- are fringed with a third colour that's not visible to the naked eye.
Here, it's a magenta halo, which is caused by the lens splitting off that tone slightly when it focuses the incoming light on the sensor. Many post-production editing tools such as Aperture and Lightroom can minimise it, but it wouldn't be present in a perfect result.
Colour reproduction was excellent throughout my tests, with the SX500 IS producing results that were very faithful to the original scene under all lighting conditions.