The Canon PowerShot Elph 500 HS is the more stylish Elph version of the PowerShot S95 enthusiast compact. The 500 HS has a similar lens with a bright f2.0 maximum aperture and semimanual shooting modes. It also has the company's HS (high-sensitivity) system for improved low-light photos. However, the S95 uses a 10-megapixel CMOS sensor, larger than the 500 HS's small 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS. There's also a $100 separating them in price and while the photos from the S95 are better, they won't be $100 better for a lot of snapshooters.
On the other hand, I'd pay the $100 to get the physical controls of the S95 over the touch screen operation of the 500 HS. Those considering this camera as a lower-cost alternative for getting the f2.0 lens and aperture and shutter speed controls might be disappointed using the touch screen for everything. Snapshooters who only plan to use these things occasionally and don't do a lot of fiddling with settings probably won't mind the loss of physical controls. Plus, the 500 HS is capable of turning out some excellent photos.
|Key specs||Canon PowerShot Elph 500 HS|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4 x 2.2 x 1 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||6.6 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3.2-inch LCD, 460K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||4.4x, f2.0-5.8, 24-105mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 24fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li ion rechargeable, 180 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; wall charger supplied|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, Eye-Fi SD/SDHC cards|
|Bundled software||ZoomBrowser EX 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac); Map Utility 1.0 (Windows/Mac)|
Yes, the photos do get softer and noisier above ISO 200--typical for point-and-shoots--but ISO 400 and 800 are still very usable. Like other "HS" models I've tested this year, the noise and noise reduction are well balanced so you still get good color and detail up to ISO 800. Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished. While you might not want to view them at larger sizes or heavily crop them, the high-ISO results should be satisfactory for Web or prints at small sizes. Also, using the f2 maximum aperture allows you to get some very good low-light photos without resorting to its highest sensitivities.
Color accuracy is excellent for its class, producing bright and vivid results. Exposure is generally very good, but highlights tend to blow out. Other manufacturers have been solving this to some degree with high-dynamic range modes that will take two or three shots at different exposures and overlay them for a more-balanced shot. Unfortunately Canon doesn't offer a mode like that and its i-Contrast feature is more for rescuing shadow detail than highlights.
Video quality is on par with a very good HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. The full HD video records at 24fps, and though panning the camera will create judder and there is visible trailing on moving subjects, the video is definitely watchable. Those things are typical of the video from most compact cameras, too. The low-light video is predictably grainy, but it's at least as good as this camera's high ISO photo performance. The zoom lens does work while recording; it moves very slowly, though, likely to prevent the movement from being picked up by the stereo mics in front.
|General shooting options||Canon PowerShot Elph 500 HS|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200|
|White balance||Auto, Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom|
|Recording modes||Auto, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Portrait, Kids & Pets, Smart Shutter, High-speed Burst, Best Image Selection, Handheld Night Scene, Low Light, Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Color Accent, Color Swap, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, Creative Light Effect, Movie Digest, Movie (Standard, Super Slow Motion, Miniature Effect, iFrame)|
|Focus modes||Face Detection AF, Center AF, Tracking AF|
|Macro||1.2 inches to 1.6 feet (Wide)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Color effects||Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color (sharpness, contrast, saturation, red, green, blue, skin tone)|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
Canon's Elphs are usually designed for snapshot photographers who don't want to fuss with settings. The 500 HS breaks that by offering Shutter-speed- and Aperture-priority modes. Shutter speeds can be set from 15 seconds to 1/1,600 second. Apertures include f2.0, f2.2, f2.5, f2.8, f3.2, f3.5, f4, f4.5, f5, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0. With the lens fully extended, you just get four, though: f5.8, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0. Being able to control shutter speed is great for freezing or blurring motion; the aperture control gives you the ability to select how much of a scene you want in focus. If you're expecting to create a really shallow depth-of-field, though, you can only really achieve that when shooting close-ups. For portraits it will soften the background some, but not enough to blur out distracting backgrounds.
The main focus of this camera is still automatic shooting. The shooting-mode switch on top of the camera has two options: one for Auto and a camera mode (that's what I'm calling it since it's designated by a picture of a camera). The camera mode gives you access to a Program Auto mode as well as all the scene modes, creative effects modes, and slow-motion video recording. (Check out the slideshow earlier in this review to see examples of the creative effects.) However, they're laid out over several screens with large icons, so if you're the type to change modes frequently, this can be a pain. Canon's Smart Shutter option is there, too, which includes a smile-activated shutter release as well as Wink and Face Detection self-timers. Wink allows you to set off the shutter simply by winking at the camera, and the Face Detection option will wait till the camera detects a new face in front of the camera before it fires off a shot. Both work well.
You'll also find Canon's Movie Digest mode that records a few seconds of VGA-quality video before you take a picture. The camera then takes all of those clips for a day and strings them together into a single movie recapping your day. Since it's a separate mode you have to remember to use it regularly throughout the day. Also, because it automatically stitches the clips together, if there's something you don't want, you'll have to edit it out yourself. It would be nice to have the option to create the movie or just store the clips as well as have it create a movie with the photos you took inserted between the clips. Still, the result is actually cooler than I thought it would be; you just really have to pay attention to what you're doing before you shoot a picture for it to be good.
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.
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.
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