BUILD AND DESIGN
The Canon 500 HS is built around a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor with 12.1 megapixels. Moving some of the sensor's circuitry to the back of the sensor boosts its light-gathering potential, and Canon claims much improved low light capabilities over its non-HS system point-and-shoots.
The back panel is dominated by a 3.2-inch touchscreen, and the user is almost entirely dependant on the touchscreen for setting camera functions. The front of the camera is built with a slight outward curve, incorporating that 4.4x zoom lens, a built-in flash and an auto focus assist lamp. HDMI and A/V OUT ports are available under a latch on the camera's side, and a similar latch on the bottom covers the battery and memory card slot.
The PowerShot 500 has very little in the way of straight lines. There's a subtle two-tone color palette with the back and part of the top chassis a lighter color than the front. Our review model is pearly pink, and the 500 is offered in brown or silver.
Ergonomics and Controls
Controls on the top panel include a sliding shooting mode switch, an on/off button and a shutter release encircled by a zoom toggle. The back panel offers just an image review button. There's a ridge to the right of the LCD for a better grip in the right hand. The camera body appears to be a sturdy composite plastic.
The sliding latch on the bottom of the camera has a nice rubberized grip for easier operation. The latch itself is made of a thin plastic. A tripod mount is offset from the center.
I found the camera to be tricky to hold. The ridge on the back panel offers some help stabilizing the camera in the hand, but the curved lines make it pretty easy to drop. A wrist strap is included and can be looped through a small hook on the side of the camera; I recommend using this.
The touch interface is as intuitive as any I've used. Aside from the occasional hiccup in use - having to press an icon twice for the camera to register a selection - it was fairly responsive. Swiping the screen in a horizontal motion in image review will send images sliding across the display in an iPhone-like fashion. Icons in the scene selection menu are enlarged appropriately. The icon layout on either side of the display can be rearranged to the user's liking - a very handy feature.
There are some quirks, as there are with most any touch interface. The video record button is positioned where you'll naturally want to put your thumb, resulting in the occasional unwanted video clip. The quick function menu presents somewhat smaller icons, so it takes a little more finesse. And those with large fingers will likely be frustrated with the user experience.
Menus and Modes
Menu selections start with the switch on the top panel. Shooting mode options are Auto and Program Auto - the latter will give you more options in image exposure. A movie record button on the camera's shooting screen will start and stop video.
Icons on either side of the shooting screen provide access to camera settings like white balance, flash, self timer and exposure compensation. A Func. button pulls up a quick menu with more options like compression, image size and movie quality. With the function menu displayed, a "menu" icon will appear in the bottom right corner, providing access to a two-tabbed screen of camera settings. Here, you'll be able to change image stabilization options, AF frame mode, i-Contrast on/off, LCD brightness and volume control.
Auto mode will make your scene selection for you, but Program mode offers several other shooting modes when the "P" icon is pressed. Some of those modes are:
A couple of notes on Movie Digest mode - turn off your AF lamp before you start shooting or you'll have a funky orange glow in your video clips. Half-press the shutter and hold it for three seconds if possible so that the camera won't save the three seconds you spent getting the shot lined up. I liked this feature - a neat way to document an event without the need to switch into video mode. There are some considerations you'll have to make when using it, but overall it's a fun addition to the ELPH system.
More familiar scene modes are available including portrait, kids and pets, handheld nightscene and fireworks. Creative filter modes include fish eye, miniature, toy camera, creative light effect, super vivid and poster effect. Canon 500 HS users will not want for scene modes.
The menu should be intuitive to someone who has used a Canon point-and-shoot before, but it may take some getting used to for a beginner. I often needed to press twice on some of the icons for the touch screen to register my choice, but the more I used the camera the less this became a problem.
Even after I had become well acquainted with using the touch screen, it still provided the occasional stumbling block. I would aim for the white balance shortcut and instead trigger the touch-activated focus feature. Those who want to do little more than point and click may be fine; those who want to constantly adjust settings may find themselves frustrated on occasion.
That 3.2-inch display on the back panel has 461k-dots of resolution. I found it to be acceptably sharp and fluid. Bright sunlight makes it more difficult to use, but it was fairly usable in most outdoor conditions. Direct sunlight is a no go.
Our lab contrast test confirmed that the Canon 500 HS packs an above average LCD. We measured a peak brightness of 634 nits and a black level rating of 0.73 nits. That adds up to an overall contrast ratio of 868:1, a very good score and an indicator that the images you see on your screen will be true to what you have captured.
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