Though the specification (and price) might be a bit excessive for the first-time SLR user, if you want a compact Canon with HD video and ample room to grow into, consider the 500D. Advanced beginners who can live without the HD may as well step up to the similarly priced Canon 50D.
FullHD video recording
Great image quality
Good at high ISO
Good user interface
Expensive for a first time buy
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The 500D is the fifth generation in Canon's entry-level line of DSLRs and sits alongside the year-old 450D as the flagship model. Yet its features seem to have more in common with the semi-professional Canon EOS 50D than its predecessor.
First up, a brand-new CMOS sensor, similar to the 50D's, boosts the 500D from 12.2MP to 15.1MP. It also gets the same 920,000-pixel 3-inch LCD as the 50D – much clearer and more detailed than the 45OD's 230,000-pixel screen. Again like the 50D, Canon has boosted the sensitivity range up to 12800.
The 500D inherits the same 14-bit DIGIC 4 processor as the 50D and 5D MKII too, which contains noise levels well and captures vibrant colours and a pleasing dynamic range.
Further imaging enhancements from the 50D include Peripheral Illumination Correction, Auto Lighting Optimizer and High ISO Noise Reduction settings. The 450D's Manual Exposure options, integrated dust buster, nine-point AF and spot metering are also retained.
Crucially, the street price of a 500D body is also remarkably close to that of a 50D (£820), but there are some important differences that separate the two – most obviously the camera bodies.
The 500D retains a similar petite plastic body and stainless steel chassis to the 450D, whereas the 50D boasts a beefier magnesium alloy body with a more comfortable grip and balanced feel when using telephoto lenses.
The 500D's smaller body means there's no room for the 50D's top LCD or rear scroll wheel. Instead, everything is controlled via the interactive LCD, buttons and top dial.
The 50D is a touch faster, too, offering continuous shooting at 6fps for 16 RAW frames compared with the 500D's 3.4fps for nine RAW files. The 500D also takes a couple of seconds to render RAW previews at 100 per cent – inconvenient if you're in a rush.
On top of this, the 50D offers a bigger, brighter viewfinder, Kelvin White Balance control, faster shutter and flash sync speeds and about 30 extra custom function settings.
The one trump card that the 500D does hold is its HD Movie Mode. The only other Canon DSLR to offer HD video is the pro-level 5D MKII. Both capture HD (720p) videos at 30fps, but while the 5D manages Full HD (1080p) at 30fps, the 500D drops to 20fps.
That's fine for static and slow-moving scenes, but with fast-moving subjects motion can appear jerky. Clips are saved in the H.264 .MOV format, rather than Motion JPEG, which is used by the Nikon D90 and D5000.
In Movie Mode the ISO, aperture and shutter speed are always set automatically, but you can set AE Lock and Exposure Compensation manually. Movie capture is part of the camera's Live View function, so there's no continuous focus as with a conventional camcorder. Instead, you can focus via autofocus modes or by magnifying the image and focusing the lens manually.
The fastest AF Mode is Quick Mode because it uses the same autofocus mechanism as viewfinder shooting. You can activate autofocus during filming, but if you set Quick Mode it reverts to the slow Live Mode once you hit Record.
Furthermore, the noise from AF lens mechanisms virtually drowns out any other audio picked up by the camera's mic. There's no external mic jack either, so you're best off avoiding AF altogether during movie recording. A dedicated HD camcorder would offer more control, but aside from a little shadow grain and noisy low-light results, the 500D's movie quality is impressive.
There's also no denying the advantage of being able to employ all manner of potentially top quality lenses, plus workarounds such as using ND filters, long lenses or macro lenses. By focusing manually you can make dramatic focusing changes during filming, plus add arty colour effects using Picture Styles.
Even considering its surfeit of cutting-edge enhancements and flagship status, the additional inclusion of a high-definition movie mode appears to have inflated the price of the 500D somewhat beyond entry-level expectations.
However, if you like the idea of a high specification, ultra-portable DSLR that'll also let you film family memories, fun stuff for YouTube or more ambitious artistic works, the 500D could prove to be everything you need.
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