Another day, another touchscreen camera. The Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS was rolled out in early February - about the time when we used to go to that one trade show - with an "HS" designation and a big 3.2-inch touchscreen. That HS stands for High Sensitivity. Translated from Canon-ese, that means the ELPH 500 has a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor (12.1 megapixels in this case) and a DIGIC 4 processor. We first saw this technology in the PowerShot SD4000 with several models following since then.
Canon boasts that the HS system will produce better images in low light, with less of the grain that's common in photos captured at high ISO and less blur in dim lighting from slow shutter speeds. The 500 HS also offers a maximum aperture at wide angle of f/2, which allows the use of faster shutter speeds.
The Canon 500 HS is also equipped with 1080 HD video recording, a 4.4x optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization and shutter/aperture priority shooting modes. There is no full manual exposure mode. Canon adds "toy camera" and "monochrome" to an ever-growing list of creative scene modes available to the user.
Our review unit is a pearly pink. I highly recommend the use of the enclosed wrist strap - the sides of the camera are rounded slightly and it's very easy to drop. There's a slight ridge on the right side of the back panel, but the plastic shell is slippery and snapping shots with one hand is a risky proposition.
There's an on/off button, shooting mode switch and shutter release on the top panel. The back panel has just one button for image review and a whole lot of LCD. There's a two-toned treatment to the curvy exterior, with a lighter pink shade on the top and back panels of the camera body. The camera itself is somewhat heavy for its size.
The ELPH 500 HS, so far, shows every sign of being another excellent point-and-shoot from Canon. Images are sharp, colors pop and the interface is relatively easy to navigate. It seems to be suffering from a tendency to blow out highlights in contrasty scenes, a trait it shares with many other compact cameras.
Contrast and sharpness look very good for the consumer class 500 HS. Auto white balance struggled under office fluorescent lights (don't we all?) but setting a custom white balance is a snap and straightened things out nicely.
My complaints thus far are limited to the touch interface. While it's fairly responsive and it makes possible such wonders as dragging and dropping your most-used settings to the sides of your shooting screen, it's kind of a pain. The shortcuts to inputs and menus line the left and right sides of the screen. With almost all of the back panel real estate given over to the LCD, it's easy to accidentally press any of these icons. You might find yourself accidentally pressing the one-touch video record icon, or changing the white balance.
I liked Canon's first touchscreen camera quite a lot. In that case, the camera offered both physical buttons and a touch interface. Some may prefer the minimalist approach that the 500 HS adheres to. I'm not convinced that I do, but there's still plenty of shooting to do as always, and we'll be analyzing everything from image quality to performance in our upcoming full review.