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Canon PowerShot SX500 IS Overview

by Mike Tomkins
Posted: August 21, 2012

The Canon SX500 IS marks the start of a new product line for the company, as it doesn't directly follow or replace any existing SX-series camera. It's aimed at the photographer who wants oodles of zoom reach, but isn't willing to live with a tanklike camera body to achieve this. Although it's not really pocket-friendly--except for in a jacket, anyway--the SX500 IS will fit nicely in the palm of your hand, and it's pretty small by megazoom camera standards.

The closest existing model in terms of the lens would be the SX40 HS, and it's to this model that Canon is drawing a comparison when it says that the new SX500 IS has made significant improvements in terms of autofocus speed. The two cameras don't share the same lens--that in the SX40HS has a bit more reach and is brighter, but it's at about as close as you can get. (As well as the variation in lenses, the SX500 IS is much smaller and lighter, with less "faux-SLR" styling, and lacks the viewfinder and flash hot shoe, among other important differences.)

So--how does the Canon SX500 IS' autofocus performance compare to that of the SX40 HS? Significantly faster, at least under Canon's test conditions. (Wide angle, Program autoexposure, center-point focus, with a light value of Lv 13 on the subject.) Canon specs the SX500 IS as capable of achieving a focus lock in 0.26 seconds, and tripping the shutter in 0.3 seconds. That's said to be about one third faster than the SX40 in the same conditions. Canon says this was achieved with lighter lens elements, a more powerful focus motor, a reworking of the operational sequence and autofocus algorithms, and a boost in the readout speed from the image sensor.

The improvement is all the more impressive when you consider that the Canon SX500IS is based around a CCD image sensor, rather than the typically-faster CMOS chips found in the SX40HS and most other SX-series models since 2010. Resolution from the 1/2.3-inch image sensor is sixteen megapixels as in the simultaneously-announced SX160IS, and although the SX500 also shares the same previous-gen DIGIC 4 image processor, its maximum sensitivity limit of ISO 1,600 equivalent is higher. (It still lags some modern competitors, though.)

The PowerShot SX500IS' lens might not be quite as far-reaching as that of the SX40HS, but that's not to belittle it--there's no question that the 30x range from a 24mm wide angle to a 720mm telephoto is impressive. The maximum aperture of f/3.4 to f/5.8 across the zoom range is rather dim, but perhaps understandable given that range, and the camera's relatively affordable price tag. As you'd expect, Canon's Intelligent IS image stabilization system is included.

Another feature that will be very handy given all that zoom range is what Canon terms Zoom Frame Assist. Acknowledging the fact that it's very easy to lose track of your subject towards the telephoto end of the zoom range, Canon has included a dedicated button that, when pressed, racks the zoom to wide angle as quickly as possible, while marking your previous zoom level with a frame so that you can see where you'll return to with a second press of the button. That makes it easy to relocate your subject and center it in the frame, and the handy bit is that the camera zooms faster when using this feature than it would when using the regular zoom control.

As we've noted, the Canon PowerShot SX500IS lacks a viewfinder, and instead provides only a three-inch LCD panel on which images and movies are framed and reviewed. Resolution is in the middle of the field, at around 461,000 dots.

The SX500 also forgoes any external flash provision, with only a built-in strobe. There are 32 scene types recognized by Smart Auto mode, and the camera also supports high-definition video capture. Unfortunately, the framerate at the maximum 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels) resolution is only 25 frames per second, likely due to the choice of a CCD image sensor.

Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the newer SDHC and SDXC types. Power still comes courtesy of a proprietary NB-6L lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack.

Available from September 2012, the Canon PowerShot SX500 IS is priced at around US$330.