Canon ELPH 500 HS Review
|Dimensions:||4.0 x 2.2 x 1.0 in.
(101 x 55 x 25 mm)
|Weight:||6.6 oz (186 g)
ELPH 500 HS Review Summary: Canon goes after the smartphone crowd with a pocketable wide-angle lens and a large touchscreen interface. Low light performance is good, and gets better with the company's Handheld NightScene mode.
Pros: Backlit sensor; High Resolution screen; Touchscreen interface; 24mm equivalent wide-angle zoom; Full HD video.
Cons: Below-average battery life; Touchscreen requires more pressure than cell phones; Zoom toggle difficult to use; Soft corners and moderate chromatic aberration.
Price and availability: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS began shipping from March 2011 in the US market, priced at around US$300.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS
by David Elrich and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 08/04/2011
With a 4.4x zoom, a 12-megapixel sensor, and easily pocketable style, the Canon 500 HS is targeted at the casual shooter, but has a touchscreen interface that's both intriguing and confounding at the same time. The 500 HS has plenty of features, though, starting with an f/2.0, 24-105mm equivalent, image-stabilized lens, 1080p Full HD video, and 8.2 frame-per-second (reduced res) capture, along with a whole host of special modes for easy photography in many situations, including low light.
Look and Feel. The PowerShot ELPH 500 HS looks similar to one of the models it replaces, the SD3500 IS; the only main difference is the extra Playback button on the back, where the SD3500 had no buttons at all. The Canon 500 HS is able to get away with fewer buttons because it has a touchscreen, which is where you access most of the camera's interface. We'll get into this more deeply later, as the touchscreen is a key feature on the 500 HS. And for the record, the 500 HS also replaces the SD4000 IS with its 10-megapixel CMOS imager and 3.8x zoom (28-105mm). In fact, the 500 HS is something of a combination of the two.
Our test sample had a nice pewter silver tone and it's also available in pink and brown, two decidedly unattractive colors. Although it has the classic ELPH box and circle design, it has rounded and beveled edges, taking it beyond the usual hard-edged rectangle. Since the 500 HS has a wide 3.2-inch LCD screen, overall it's wider than the usual digicam, measuring 3.96 x 2.18 x 0.98 inches (100.6 x 55.4 x 25.0mm) and weighs 6.56 ounces (186g) with battery and card.
There aren't too many distracting logos and icons on the front and the ELPH "circle" has nicely accented color. Also on the front is the flash, self-timer/AF Assist lamp, and two pinhole mics to capture stereo sound for the videos.
On the top of the ELPH 500 HS is the on/off button, shutter button surrounded by a very tiny raised zoom toggle and a switch that moves between Auto and Program. The zoom toggle is way too small and almost pokes your finger with its relatively sharp edge. I haven't encountered an issue like it before. It's definitely not Canon's finest hour.
Touch. There's no mode dial on the top, back, or anywhere else; you'll use the touchscreen to access every parameter. At this point you might expect me to say, "If you're looking to adjust aperture and shutter speeds look elsewhere." Surprisingly, this point-and-shoot lets you make those tweaks -- just like the SD4000 IS -- but with more limited control than you'd get on a PowerShot S95/G12. At full wide angle, available apertures include f/2.0-f/8.0, while shutter speeds of 15 seconds-1/1,000 are available at all times, with 1/1,600 second available in bright conditions when it's needed, particularly in Aperture priority mode. In Tv (shutter priority) mode, however, the camera can only be set up to 1/1,250 second. The 500 HS also has an ND filter, which the camera employs when necessary, like when you're using a wide aperture in bright light. "ND" appears in the lower left corner when the filter is active.
As for all controls other than Power, Shutter, Zoom, and Playback, you simply use your fingers to tap or swipe through your options on the touchscreen. The Canon 500's 3.2-inch LCD screen has 461K dots, has very good contrast, and was mostly usable even in direct sunlight. It had some reflectivity issues, and like every touchscreen, a handy cloth is important in order to remove fingerprints. The screen has good, strong blacks and it's a winner. I wish Canon hadn't buried the LCD brightness adjustment so deeply in the menu system, but perhaps next year.
On the right side is a compartment for USB/Stereo AV and mini HDMI ports as well as the eyelet for the wrist strap. The door hinge is plastic, so a slow and easy touch is required. On the left is a speaker while the bottom of this Made-In-Japan digicam has a metal tripod mount and compartment for the battery and card (it accepts newer SDXC media). The battery is rated a weak 180 shots, per CIPA standards. The Canon SD3500 was rated at 220, the SD4000 250, for comparison.
Lens. The Canon ELPH 500 HS has a very wide 4.4x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent range of 24-105mm. I prefer wider-angle digicams versus massive -- and decidedly more bulky -- mega-zooms. As always, this is my preference and you may want the reach of a Nikon P500 or Canon SX230 HS. The opening f-stop is a bright f/2.0. The lens is made up of seven elements in six groups. There are two double-sided aspherical lenses (including one UA lens) and one single-sided aspherical lens. Macro gets as close as 1.2 inches (3cm).
The ELPH 500 HS is relatively small and wide so you'll use a two-handed four-finger grip on the corners. Even with the light weight, stabilization is important, and this $300 camera has optical image stabilization, not sensor-shift -- a real plus as you'll see when we discuss image quality.
Controls. There aren't any! Yes, this may be an overstatement, but given there's no mode dial or four-way controller you'll make all your changes via the touchscreen. There is one big difference between Canon's 2011 and 2010 touchscreen ELPHs. The new Canon 500 HS has a slightly smaller display (3.2 versus 3.5), but I gladly gave up that real estate for a better-positioned, dedicated Playback button on the lower right. The button for the SD3500 IS was tucked between the operation and on/off switches and was a bit cumbersome. More importantly, the slightly smaller screen gives you more space to rest your thumb for a sturdier grip. Both cameras have a weird feature called Active Display where you tap the side of the camera to move through your shots during Playback. And you can advance through the photos by tilting the camera if you didn't want to swipe through them. You can also press on the left and right of the screen, which will turn into an arrow (one that's hard to see because your thumb is there); press and hold and it scans rapidly through the images. Swiping also works well enough, provided you press a little harder than you would on the average smartphone.
Now I'm all for taking chances and open to new advances in camera design, but I thought banging on the side of a camera and shaking it seemed a little risky.
Even Movie recording is activated via the Canon 500 HS touchscreen. There's a red dot in the upper right corner of the touchscreen. Just tap it and you can record HD clips. Video quality is better at 1080p, too.
Modes. When I received the Canon 500 HS, I expected a similar Auto and Program setup to the 300 HS and so many other Canon point-and-shoots. But this ELPH has many of the tweaks one expects on the more enthusiast-oriented PowerShot G12, S95, and SD4000 IS. I can't think of too many aim-and-forget cameras with Aperture- and Shutter-Priority, yet that's what you'll find here.
Of course this is an ELPH, so the Auto setting is very consumer friendly. It has the Smart Auto system of the 300 HS and it recognizes 32 scenarios in front of it and adjusts accordingly. Adjustable options in Auto are limited, which is also typical. All you can change is still/movie resolution, compression, aspect ratio, flash (Auto/Off), and the self-timer.
Move the top switch toward the left to Program and a much wider imaging world opens up. In the basic Program mode you can adjust ISO (Auto, 100-3200), White balance (six picks including custom), exposure compensation (+/- 2 EV) and flash (four options instead of the two in Auto). Tap the P in the upper left corner and a plethora of choices appears, arrayed as square buttons, six across the screen. Along with Aperture- and Shutter Priority there are classic scene modes (Portrait, Kids&Pets, and so on). There are also a number of fun filters such as Fish-Eye, Miniature, Toy Camera, and Super Vivid. This ELPH is designated HS, which stands for High Sensitivity, because it has a BSI (backside illuminated) CMOS sensor, a DIGIC 4 processor, and a brighter lens, all optimized for better performance in low light. Features like Handheld NightScene uses this high sensitivity capability to its fullest, combining several shots to reduce blur and noise in low-light situations.
High Definition video is practically part of the camera owner's Bill of Rights in 2011 and the ELPH 500 HS records Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 videos at 24 fps with stereo sound and supports optical zoom; it uses the MPEG-4 AVC H.264 codec (MOV format). Clip length is limited to about 10 minutes. You can also shoot at lower resolution if you simply want to post some clips online. The range of resolutions includes 1,920 x 1,080p at 24fps, 1,280 x 720p at 30fps, 640 x 480p at 30fps, 320 x 240p at 30fps. The onscreen red Record button appears in all modes, and works in most modes, applying whatever effect is selected, including Miniature mode. However, in modes like Toy Camera, pressing the onscreen Record button brings up a tiny yellow exclamation point, indicating that video recording is unavailable in this mode.
Menus. By now you know this is a touchscreen camera, so you'll tap and swipe your way through the menu system. For the most part, it looks like the Canon menu systems found on more traditional cameras, except that you use your finger or thumb scroll up and down or left and right to get the parameter you want, then tap on it rather than press an OK button. It works just fine, though you have to press a little harder than on a cell phone, as noted.
I liked the ability to change the background colors of the text to your preference (mine was orange) but there's also blue-gray, khaki, and pink.
When you're in Auto there are just a few choices available and you get to them by tapping the Function button on the lower left, then pressing the appropriate text or icon. In Program you can swipe through the options which show up as large, very readable icons. It's nicely done. When I reviewed the SD3500 IS I took exception to the fact the Menu icon doesn't appear until you tap Function. This time around it didn't seem as frustrating; it was just a different approach. Just remember that you have to press the Function button in the lower left, then look to the lower right for the Menu button to appear.
Storage and Battery. The Canon ELPH 500 HS uses SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards as well as Eye-Fi and a variety of Multimedia card formats. Since the camera takes Full HD video, a Class 6 or higher card should be used; 8GB or more should be considered as a 4 gig card only holds 14 minutes 34 seconds of best HD resolution videos.
The Canon 500 HS is supplied with an NB-6L lithium-ion battery and a plug-in charger (CB-2LY). Per CIPA standards it lasts for 180 shots in still mode. Last year's SD3500 IS with an even larger screen lasted for 220 shots -- go figure. There's no question the touchscreen drains the battery like vampires on a binge, and it didn't last very long during multiple outings. A spare battery is absolutely essential.
Playback. The playback options of the Canon ELPH 500 HS are varied but the coolest feature is the fact you can swipe through your images and breeze through dozens very quickly. If you want to do it more slowly you can tap on the edges of the screen and move one at a time. Unfortunately you cannot zoom in on the images by spreading your fingers. Tapping the photo itself enlarges the shot and +/- magnifying glasses appear for making adjustments. Tapping the icon on the top left lets you choose how many thumbnails will appear (up to 13x10). Hit Display on the lower right and you get a view with some metadata and a histogram, another with an enlarged inset to check your focus. You can also review your photos by shot date. Pushing the zoom toggle to the left also changes the size of the thumbnails; pressing right lets you zoom in/out.
Shooting with the Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS
I used the Canon 500 HS over a period of several weeks traveling to New Jersey's Asbury Park (the original "Jersey Shore" where rocker Bruce Springsteen played). Most of the shots were taken outdoors and I performed my usual indoor tests in available light (flash off).
Touchscreen. I found the touchscreen -- one of the key features of this digicam -- quite enjoyable. Moving through the options is a breeze, although using your fingernail rather than a fingertip gets better results for specific changes. And if your nails aren't long enough, the camera's wrist strap has a slider with a small stylus you can use to tap the screen. This is a very smart just-in-case addition, and better yet, it can't get lost like a separate stylus.
The touchscreen can also be used to set autofocus area, and in Face-detection mode, to select a face you'd like the camera to emphasize. In Face-detection, once the face is selected, the camera will continue to track the subject, setting focus and exposure accordingly until you press the shutter. When not in FD mode, the camera waits for you to half-press the shutter before focusing. When you do, the selected AF area zooms in a small box to help confirm focus. Unlike other recent cameras with touch, the Canon 500 HS has no touch shutter mode, where the camera focuses and fires on whatever subject you select.
I'm a big fan of digicams with wide-angle lenses, and in this case it's 24mm. At 24mm, you have to watch for distortion of faces, so it's better to zoom in a little with a camera like this; but 24mm does wonders for landscapes and architectural images. The Canon ELPH 500 HS has a 4.4x optical zoom (24-105mm) so you're not getting the most potent mega-zoom on the block, but then again this is a compact digicam that weighs less than 7 ounces fully loaded.
I did all of my shooting at maximum resolution (4,000 x 3,000 pixels Fine) and Full HD video. The camera worked well with decisive autofocus. The zoom moved smoothly and quickly through the limited range, but that little edge on the toggle was still annoying. Canon claims 3.4 fps at highest resolution, but my speed was under 3--which is still pretty good for a point-and-shoot. The lab tested it at about 2.2 fps with large/normal JPEGs. As is the case with many digicams, you have to be in Program to access the burst mode; in Auto it's only single shot. There's also a High Speed Burst scene mode that Canon claims will capture up to 8.2 frames per second, but the fastest we could record was 6.3 fps.
Asbury Park is a fabled and faded seaside town that has undergone extensive renovation over the past few years. I remember shooting building exteriors with a 6.1MP Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D DSLR (circa 2005) and the peeling paint of the Paramount Theater on the boardwalk was a good test for image detail. The painting's redone, but the building is still a challenge with its many colors and frescoes. The Canon 500 HS handled it well. Mega blow-ups on the monitor of brick grout showed just how much detail this camera captured, though the red bricks appear quite soft, just as we saw in the red leaf fabric of our Still Life shot in the lab. A dozen prints also reinforced what my eyes were seeing. I even captured seagulls on the fly. Photos taken outdoors of buildings, signs, amusement cars and a kids' water park are less challenging, but all were very high quality and very sharp, far better than the shots taken with the Canon 300 HS. Although both have similar "engines," the lenses are different and clearly the 500 HS has better glass.
Filters. Filters are becoming quite popular in 2011 and the Canon ELPH 500 HS has its share of fun ones. Even with the wide 24mm lens, the camera has a Fish-eye option that adds some over-the-top perspective distortion to your images. I suggest using it for landscapes rather than people, unless you want to raise the ire of your subjects. Others include Toy Camera and Miniature that offer nice tricks but don't ring my bell. I enjoyed Super Vivid which takes colors on a bit of a psychedelic journey.
Handheld NightScene is not a filter per se but as with the 300 HS, I liked the results as it combines three shots in dim light to bring out detail and reduce noise. I took some shots using Handheld NightScene, then raised the ISO up to the maximum of 3,200 in Program for comparison. I also shot in Low Light mode which drops the megapixel count to three. Just like the Canon 300 HS, low-light shooting with the Canon 500 HS is not only possible but something you'll like.
Overall white balance did relatively well in tungsten light, manual looks good but tungsten WB setting is very pink, a fairly common trait with Canon cameras. Performance of the Canon 500 HS is about average, per our lab results below.
LCD. It was a very bright day during my walk along the shore and the screen held up for the most part, even with the sun directly behind me. In some instances my face reflected off the LCD. Not being a total narcissist it was annoying, as was having to dig way too deep in the menu system to brighten the display a little. These were the most extreme conditions, however. In relatively normal use indoors and out, the screen was more than satisfactory as the 461K dots delivers the goods -- quality, color, and contrast.
Video. I recently reviewed a $1,699 JVC 3D Full HD camcorder that captured spectacular video, so it takes a lot for a still camera's movie-taking capability to impress me -- not surprisingly, I wasn't overwhelmed by the Canon 500 HS. It takes 1,920 x 1,080 videos at 24 fps (not 30 or 60) so the results were decent but a bit jerky. Colors were fairly accurate and it offers optical zooming. With the switch set to Program mode, you can also use 11 of the built-in effects for video. Not all effects are available, though, including fish-eye, toy camera, and creative lighting.
There are also Super Slow Motion modes: 640 x 480p at 120 frames per second and 320 x 240p at 240 frames per second, and an iFrame mode that records 1,280 x 720 at 30 fps. It records stereo sound, but if you zoom while shooting, the noise may be picked up on your soundtrack. As with all digicams, the small mics magnify wind noise and a breezy day at the shore sounded like the center of a tornado. Even so, it's a nice tool to have at the ready if the occasion arises; just don't expect the dedicated-camcorder quality.
Overall, the Canon ELPH 500 HS has a lot going for it, certainly more positives than negatives. See our image, optical and performance analysis below, and the conclusion as well.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Very soft at upper right
Tele: Slightly soft at center
Tele: Similar blurring, upper right corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS' zoom shows strong blurring in the right corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, though blurring in the left corners isn't as extreme. Blurring also does not extend very far into the image area. At telephoto, performance is better -- though the overall image is a hint soft, corners appear to have about the same level of sharpness as the rest of the frame. Still pretty good results overall.
Wide: Slight barrel distortion; barely noticeable
Tele: A tiny amount of barrel distortion, almost invisible
Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly very little barrel distortion at wide-angle (~0.3%), and almost no perceptible distortion (~0.08% barrel) at telephoto. Thus, the PowerShot ELPH 500 HS' intelligent processor works hard here.
Wide: High, bright
Tele: High, but less bright
Chromatic Aberration: The PowerShot ELPH 500 HS' wide-angle zoom setting shows fairly high chromatic aberration in terms of pixel count, and pixels are quite bright. At telephoto, the distortion is still fairly high, though pixels aren't as bright.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS' Macro mode captures a sharp image with strong detail in the central portion of the frame, though blurring in the corners is a little strong (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 1.77 x 1.33 inches (45 x 34mm), which is good. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens, resulting in harsh shadowing in the lower right corner, and a hot spot in the upper left.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS Viewfinder Accuracy
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS' LCD monitor showed about 100% coverage at wide-angle and at telephoto. Excellent results here.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS Image Quality
Color: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS produced good overall color, with nearly accurate saturation in most areas. Strong reds and blues are pushed a little, and bright yellows are somewhat muted, but results are a little better than average. Hue shifts are present in cyans and yellows, but here again, overall performance is better than average. Dark skintones are nudged just slightly toward red, while lighter skin tones show a tiny push toward pink. Overall though, good results.
Good, though slightly warm
Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting much better than the Incandescent setting, which came out much too pink. Auto produced better results than average, though with a slight reddish tint.
Horizontal: 1,900 lines
Vertical: 1,800 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,900 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,800 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,600 lines per picture height.
Tele: Also pretty bright
Flash: Though our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) takes the camera out of the main lab at the rated distance of 16 feet, results here are still fairly bright, though the camera increased ISO to 500. The telephoto test came out nice and bright at the rated distance of 6.6 feet, though again, ISO was increased to 500.
Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining some of the ambient light by using a slower shutter speed of 1/20 second, and raising ISO to 320. Movement of the subject could be problematic at this shutter speed, though the camera's optical image stabilization should help avoid blur due to camera shake. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is quite good at ISO 100, and despite minor softening, is fairly strong at ISO 200. More visible softening begins at ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise remains fairly well controlled, though luminance noise and noise suppression efforts, greatly blur fine details from ISO 800 on up. However, results at ISO 3,200 are better than average, despite being very fuzzy. See Printed results for more on how this affects printed images.
ISO 100 shots are usable printed at 16x20 inches, with good detail. There is some sign of noise suppression at this size, however, and reds are softer than we like to see. Most of these elements look better at 13x19 inches.
ISO 200 shots are better at 11x14, as noise suppression makes them a little too soft for 13x19.
ISO 400 images are better at 8x10.
ISO 800 shots are quite usable at 8x10.
ISO 1,600 files print better at 5x7 inches, with pretty good detail and color.
ISO 3,200 shots are better kept to 4x6 inches, which isn't bad at all.
Image quality decays rather rapidly as ISO rises, but the Canon 500 HS can produce a usable print from all settings, which is good and should serve most casual shooters just fine.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS Performance
Startup Time: The Canon 500 HS takes about 1.9 seconds to power on and take a shot, about average for its class.
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is fair at wide angle (0.50 second), though a bit more sluggish at telephoto (0.68 second). Prefocused shutter lag is 0.082 second, not the fastest out there, but still pretty quick.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is also just okay, capturing a large/fine frame every 1.96 seconds in single-shot mode. We measured 1.63 frames per second in Continuous mode with large/fine quality JPEGs, and 2.18 frames per second with large/normal JPEGs. High Speed Burst mode captured 3-megapixel images at 6.29 frames per second. There was no apparent buffer limit in any mode.
Flash Recycle: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS' flash recycles in about 6.8 seconds after a full-power discharge, on the slow side of average.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just below the 1/8 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS' download speeds are slower than some. We measured 4,241 KBytes/sec.
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS
- Wrist Strap
- Battery Charger CB-2LY
- Battery Pack NB-6L
- Analog A/V and USB Cables
- 36-page Getting Started guide
- Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk Ver. 85.0 with software and full User Guide
- Extra battery pack is a must
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card. 8GB makes sense if you plan on shooting lots of HD video.
Canon PowerShot 500 HS Conclusion
I really liked the color, tone and sharpness of photos taken with the Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS. Although it doesn't have all of the options of an enthusiast-grade digicam (it's missing full Manual) or even an entry-level DSLR, it has decent options for aperture and shutter speed. I doubt many buyers of this ELPH will even go there, but at least it offers something for those who want to go beyond Smart Auto. It has a nice selection of filters, and handles low light well, thanks to Canon's HS system. Touchscreen operation was quite good. Some may not like it, but don't count me as one of them. The Canon 500 HS does have one very serious shortfall -- a short battery life, likely due to the touchscreen. A spare battery is an absolute must if you purchase this camera.
The only major operational flaw is the hard edge on the tiny zoom toggle. The Canon 500 HS is essentially a combination of last year's SD3500 IS and SD4000 IS with some improvements including better low-light shooting and higher video resolution. Call me crazy, but I'd like to see Canon incorporate this touchscreen on a mega-zoom and a true enthusiast camera. If purists can begrudgingly accept electronic viewfinders in "DSLRs", a touchscreen shouldn't be such a big leap of faith. For all its minor foibles, the Canon PowerShot 500 HS is a winning ELPH worthy of a Dave's Pick.
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