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Canon PowerShot SD500 Digital ELPH Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
User Level
Novice to Advanced
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digital Camera Design
Automatic Exposure Control
Picture Quality
Excellent, 7.1-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
Excellent, sharp 11x17 inches
March 2005
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)



Canon PowerShot SD500
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The Canon PowerShot SD500 Digital ELPH was unveiled as part of Canon's wide ranging digital camera announcements at this year's Photo Marketing Association tradeshow. The Canon SD500 is a lot like an SD-card based version of the prior PowerShot S500 in Canon's popular, diminutive Digital ELPH camera line. The Canon SD500 and SD400 models both offer extremely unusual (and frankly, rather cool) "My Color" modes that allow you to selectively replace any color in your photo with a different one, or to make the image black and white with the exception of a single color. The PowerShot SD500 is described by Canon as having a "Perpetual Curve Design" - subtle curves on the camera body help it fit the hand comfortably. Other features include a very high resolution 7.1 megapixel CCD imager, big 2 inch LCD, and use of the (very fast) Canon DiGIC II processor. Overall, one of the more appealing subcompact digicams we've seen to date: Read on for all the details!


Camera Overview

Almost the same size as the predecessor PowerShot S500 model, the new Canon PowerShot SD500 features the great looks and sharp design that are a signature of Canon's ELPH cameras. Canon refers to the SD500 as having "Perpetual Curve Design", which basically means that there are few flat surfaces or right-angled corners on the camera body - it has a very smooth, comfortable feel in your hands. Very compact and quick on the draw (thanks to a smoothly operating retractable lens design), the Canon SD500 is a convenient point-and-shoot digital camera with a handful of extra exposure features for added flexibility, including a few features that you might not use every day, but that add some "wow" factor. With the lens retracted, the Canon SD500's front panel is smooth and pocket friendly, and its all-metal body rugged and durable (although it will show scratches, so expect to buy a soft case if this concerns you). Equipped with a 7.1-megapixel CCD, the Canon SD500 captures high quality images, suitable for making sharp prints as large as 11x17 inches, or 8x10 inches with some cropping. Smaller image sizes are also available for email transmission or Web applications, and a movie mode captures video clips with sound.

The Canon SD500 features a 3x, 7.7-23.1mm zoom lens, equivalent to a 37-111mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Aperture is automatically controlled, but the maximum setting ranges from f/2.8 at full wide angle to f/4.9 at full telephoto. A maximum 4x digital zoom option increases the SD500's zoom capability to 12x, but keep in mind that digital zoom decreases the overall image quality, because it simply crops out and enlarges the center pixels of the CCD's image. Image details are thus likely to be softer when using digital zoom. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 2.0 inches to 1.6 feet (5 to 50 centimeters) in Macro mode. Since the digital zoom only normally functions once the optical zoom has reached its telephoto setting, but macro focusing is closest at the wide-angle setting, a Digital Macro mode allows use of the digital zoom with the lens locked at wide angle. As with the regular digital zoom, this is obviously with a decrease in overall image quality. An Infinity fixed-focus mode is also available. The Canon SD500 employs a sophisticated, nine-point AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Autofocus) system to determine focus, which uses a broad active area in the center of the image to calculate the focal distance (a feature I've been impressed with on many ELPH models and have been happy to see continued). Through the Record menu, you can turn AiAF off, which defaults the autofocus area to the center of the frame. Also built-in to the SD500 is an AF assist light - a very bright orange LED - which aids the focus mechanism in low light when it's enabled via a menu option. For composing images, the SD500 offers a real-image optical viewfinder, as well as a large 2.0-inch color LCD monitor. The LCD reports a fair amount of camera information, but excludes exposure information such as aperture and shutter speed. In Playback mode, a histogram display reports the tonal distribution of a captured image, useful in determining any over- or under-exposure.

Because the ELPH line capitalizes on ease of use, exposure control is typically automatic, increasing the line's appeal to point-and-shoot users. The Canon PowerShot SD500 sticks to this trend, with a series of unique Scene modes, but does provide a handful of manual adjustments. Main camera modes are controlled by a mode dial at the top right of the camera's rear panel. Choices include Auto, Manual (similar to Program Auto), Scene (with choices being Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Indoor, Kids & Pets, and Night Snapshot), and Movie. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, with the one- to 15-second end of the range only available in Long Shutter mode (which also automatically invokes a Noise Reduction system to eliminate excess image noise in longer exposures). In straight Auto mode, the camera controls everything about the exposure except for file size, flash, etc. Manual mode provides more hands-on control, with White Balance, Exposure Compensation, ISO, and some creative effects, but it is not a true manual control, because the user is not allowed to set--or even to know--the aperture or shutter speed settings. Camera operation is straightforward, as you typically just point and shoot most of the time. Pressing the Shutter button halfway sets focus and exposure, and the small LEDs next to the optical viewfinder let you know when the camera is ready to take the picture.

The Scene modes tweak exposure variables to accommodate common photographic situations. In Portrait mode, the camera opts for a large aperture to blur the background, making the subject stand out. In Foliage mode, saturation is boosted to offer bold colors in foliage. Snow and Beach modes both bias exposure so that the camera is not fooled into underexposing images because of a bright background; Snow mode also adjusts white balance appropriately. Fireworks mode uses a long exposure to capture the trails of fireworks. Underwater mode - designed for use with an optional underwater housing - uses a white balance setting appropriate for correcting the cold tones of an underwater photo, and also attempts not to use the camera's flash. Indoor mode biases the white balance system towards tungsten or fluorescent lighting, attempts to reduce camera shake with wider apertures and higher sensitivity, and avoids using flash where possible. Kids & Pets mode opts for a faster shutter speed to freeze quick motion. Finally, Night Snapshot mode uses the camera's flash and higher sensitivity if necessary to try to obtain an exposure with your subject and a dark background correctly exposed.

The Canon PowerShot SD500 uses an Evaluative metering system by default, which means that the camera divides the image area into zones and evaluates both contrast and brightness among all the zones to determine the best overall exposure. A Spot metering option ties the exposure to the very center of the frame, and is useful for off-center or high contrast subjects, letting you pinpoint the exact area of the frame to base the exposure on. There's also a Center-Weighted metering option, which bases the exposure on a large area in the center of the frame. Exposure Compensation increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. A White Balance option offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual) settings. The Canon SD500 also offers a creative Photo Effects menu, which adjusts sharpening, color, and saturation. Sensitivity equivalents include 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings, as well as an Auto setting. The SD500's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Suppressed, and Slow-Synchro modes.

A new - and rather unusual - option on the Canon SD500 is the "My Colors" mode, accessed through the Function menu. Available for both still image and movie shooting, this mode offers nine settings - Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Color Accent, Color Swap, and Custom Color. The Positive Film setting attempts to replicate the bold colors of positive film in the red, green and blue channels. The Lighter Skin Tone and Darker Skin Tone settings attempt to alter skin tones appropriately, without affecting the rest of the photo. The Vivid Blue, Vivid Green and Vivid Red options emphasize saturation in one channel only. Most unusual are the Color Accent and Color Swap features, however. In Color Accent mode, you place a small square in the center of the camera's LCD over a color you want to accent, and press the left arrow on the Four-way navigation controller. A narrow band of colors surrounding the color you selected will remain untouched in the final image; the rest of the photo will be in black and white. In Color Swap mode, you similarly select two colors with the square at the center of the LCD (one by pressing the left arrow; the other with the right arrow). The camera will then replace one color with the other in your final image - for example allowing you to make a green car appear blue. Both effects allow a little fine control over the color you selected using the left arrow key; you use the up and down arrows to slightly adjust the color you want to accent or swap. You can't, however, fine-tune the color you want to replace the swapped color with for Color Swap mode. Both the Color Accent and Color Swap modes are rather fun, and they're definitely very unusual, but the effects can be rather unpredictable. You generally end up with a slight fringe of the old color surrounding your replaced color in Color Swap mode, and it can be difficult to control the exact color you want to affect in both modes. For this reason, it is rather nice that Canon has provided the ability to set the camera through the Record menu to capture a duplicate copy of images captured in My Colors mode, without any color changes made. If you end up throwing away your color-altered image, you'll still have your original source image to change with an image editor, or just enjoy in a more normal manner. Finally, the Custom Color mode allows you to manually fine-tune the saturation of colors in the Red, Green and Blue channels (plus the saturation of skin tones), with five steps of control over each.

A two- or 10-second self-timer option counts down by flashing a small LED on the front of the camera before firing the shutter, giving you time to duck around the camera and get into your own shots. In addition, a Custom timer function allows you to set the camera for a delay from 0 to 30 seconds, and a number of photos to be captured once the delay has been elapsed (from one to ten). After the timer expires, the camera will capture the number of photos requested with an interval of approximately one second between photos, and the flash does recharge quickly enough to capture 10 photos in a row with flash. This could be rather nice for people trying to take photos of a large family gathering - 30 seconds gives you plenty of time to get into your photo, and with the ability to capture ten images with one press of the shutter, there's a better chance you'll get a shot where nobody blinked or made a funny face.

Stitch-Assist mode is the Canon SD500's panoramic shooting mode, which lets you shoot as many as 26 consecutive images. As each image is captured, a portion of it appears alongside a live preview of the current scene, helping you to line the next image up with a proper overlap. The series of images can then be "stitched" together into a single panoramic frame with the accompanying software. A Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of consecutive images (much like a motor drive on a traditional camera), at approximately 1.9 frames per second, for as long as the Shutter button is held down. The actual frame rate varies slightly with the resolution setting, and the maximum number of images will also depend on the amount of memory card space and file size. (Depending on the speed of the SD memory card you're using, the camera will eventually slow somewhat, having to wait for the memory card after is "buffer" memory is full. With a 32x Lexar-brand SD card, we found we could shoot upwards of 11 consecutive images before the camera slowed to an average of 1.4 frames/second, still fairly fast.)

The Canon SD500 also has a Movie Record mode, which records moving images with sound for as long as there is available battery life and flash card space, depending on the resolution setting. Movies are recorded at either 640 x 480, or 320 x 240 pixels, at either 30 or 15 fps. A special fast frame rate movie mode can capture 320 x 240 moving images at 60 frames/second for as long as one minute. The camera's Playback mode allows cropping of movies, with a minimum length of two seconds for the cropped movie. You can preview the change, and opt to save the new movie over the old one, or as a new file. During playback, you can also step through images frame by frame, and you can play them at one of four reduced frame rates (without sound).

The My Camera settings menu lets you customize camera settings to a specific theme. Everything from the startup image to operating sounds can be assigned to a theme, either one of the pre-programmed themes or one downloaded from the camera software or stored on the memory card. The PowerShot SD500 also lets you record short sound clips to accompany captured images, via the Sound Memo option, great for lively captions to vacation photos or party shots.

The Canon PowerShot SD500 stores images on SD memory cards (hence, the "SD" in its name). A 32MB card accompanies the camera, but I highly recommend picking up a larger capacity card, so you don't miss any shots. These days, 128 - 256 MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. The camera utilizes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, which accompanies the camera, along with the necessary battery charger. Because the Canon SD500 does not accommodate AA-type or any other off-the-shelf battery format, I strongly advise picking up an additional battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. The optional AC adapter kit is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, and actually uses a "dummy" battery that inserts into the camera's battery compartment. A USB cable and interface software are also packaged with the camera, for downloading images to a computer and performing minor organization and corrections. A software CD accompanies the camera provide the necessary drivers and editing software, both compatible with Windows and Macintosh platforms. The CD holds Canon's Digital Camera Solution Disk version 23.0 and also features ArcSoft's PhotoStudio version 4.3. Finally, an A/V cable connects the SD500 to a television set, for reviewing and composing images. The Canon SD500 is Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) and PictBridge compatible, with detailed print settings in the Playback menu. Canon offers a selection of direct-connect printers as well, which simplifies printing even more.

Basic Features

  • 7.1-megapixel CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 2.0-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
  • 3x, 7.7-23.1mm lens, equivalent to a 37-111mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • Maximum 4x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control, with Long Shutter mode for longer exposures.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/4.9, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • SD memory card storage, 32MB card included.
  • Power supplied by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (charger included) or optional AC adapter kit.
  • Canon Digital Camera Solution Software v23.0 with ArcSoft PhotoStudio 4.3, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.
  • Print/Share button.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with sound. (Up to 640x480 pixels, at up to 30 frames/second.)
  • Fast Frame Rate movie mode with sound, for 60 frames/second capture at 320x240 pixels, one-minute maximum recording time.)
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Stitch-Assist panorama mode.
  • Infinity and Macro focus modes plus "Digital Macro" mode.
  • Customizable "My Camera" settings.
  • Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release, plus custom timer with multi-shot feature.
  • Sound Memo option for recording captions.
  • Spot, Center-Weighted, and Evaluative exposure metering.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a Custom setting.
  • Photo Effect and My Colors menus for color adjustment.
  • Unusual Color Accent and Color Swap features for special effects in still images or movies
  • Adjustable ISO setting.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
  • A/V cable for connection to a television set.



The Canon ELPH series of digicams continues to be a popular option for many consumers, given its tiny size and reputation for great quality. The PowerShot SD500 Digital ELPH updates the S500 with attractive new styling, a new 7.1-megapixel CCD for high resolution images, and a Secure Digital memory card slot rather than the larger CompactFlash slot of the earlier model. Although exposure control is mainly automatic, the availability of exposure times as long as 15 seconds and adjustable ISO increases the camera's exposure versatility a great deal. The uncomplicated user interface and smooth styling helps novices and more advanced amateurs alike feel at home, with enough control over the exposure to make both happy. The Canon SD500 makes a great "all around" camera for anyone, and would make a good "second camera" for enthusiasts for those times when they don't want to lug along their full-size all-the-bells-and-whistles camera. All in all, one of the better subcompact digital cameras currently on the market.



With gently flowing curves over most of the camera's body, the Canon PowerShot SD500 is actually almost exactly the same size as its predecessor the S500, but somehow looks more compact. Given the small size and the fact that the SD500 is slightly lighter than the S500, it's impressive that the new model actually offers a larger 2.0-inch LCD display, as compared to the 1.5" display of the older model. The compact size is perfect for quickly stashing in a pocket or purse without worrying about damaging the rugged, all-metal body (though if you want to maintain that gorgeous finish, you'll want to put it in a protective case first, because it can get scratched). The retracting lens is a smart design that keeps the camera front completely flat when the camera is off, underscoring the camera's pocket friendly design, while an automatic lens cover means you don't have to worry about smudging the lens or losing a lens cap. Measuring 3.37 x 2.24 x 1.04 inches (85.6 x 57.0 x 26.5 millimeters), the Canon SD500 should easily fit into the average shirt pocket. With a weight of 6.0 ounces (170 grams) without battery and memory card however, you may be more comfortable carrying it in a coat pocket or purse rather than your shirt pocket.

Several distinctive ELPH features identify the front of the Canon SD500, with the lens off-center slightly toward the right, and both the viewfinder and flash just above it. A light emitter, next to the optical viewfinder, serves multiple purposes, including autofocus assist, red-eye reduction, and the self-timer countdown. The camera's telescoping lens moves into place quickly, projecting an inch from the front of the camera when powered on, and retracts fully within the camera when switched off to maintain a flat profile. (Startup time is a very fast 1.0 second.) To the upper left of the lens is a hole for the camera's tiny microphone. No real finger-grip is provided, so be sure to attach the accompanying wrist strap.

The Shutter button, Zoom ring, and Power button are all located at the right of the camera's top, with the former two protruding dramatically from the surface, while the latter is almost flush and features an LED in the center to indicate that the camera is switched on. A five-hole grille at the left of the camera's top identifies the location of the camera's speaker.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) are the AV Out and USB port concealed by a soft rubber door that connects to the camera body to prevent accidental loss. The door features a slightly "metallic" finish, and fits very snugly back into place with a gentle press - unlike many such doors on digicams that seem impossible to ever get properly closed after they've first been opened. Below the door is the wrist strap attachment eyelet.

The opposite side of the camera is basically bare, with only a couple of screws visible, plus four tiny protrusions in the corners that let the camera stand vertically on its end (although we wouldn't advise trying this on anything other than a perfectly level, smooth surface - and even then not near an edge the camera could fall off!).

The remaining camera controls are on the rear panel, along with the optical and LCD viewfinders. The LCD monitor is large for a subcompact camera, measuring 2.0 inches diagonally. Because of the screen size, all controls are located to the right. A five-position Mode dial at the very top right of the camera's rear selects between Playback mode, and the four Record modes - Auto, Manual, Scene and Movie. Below and to the left of this is the Print / Share button, which features a blue LED in the center that lights when the camera is ready to print or transfer images, and blinks when either is in process. A Four-Way Arrow pad incorporates most of the quick settings, with the outside buttons handling both navigation and items like Macro and flash modes. The Function button nestles in the middle of the Four-way Arrow pad, also serving as the Set button for making menu selections. Below this arrangement are the Display and Menu buttons. Finally, two LED lamps next to the viewfinder report camera status, lighting to indicate when focus is set or the flash is fully charged.

The Canon SD500 features a nice, flat bottom panel, which holds the metal tripod mount and the battery / memory card compartment. The tripod socket is almost exactly centered in the camera body, good for stability, but not a great choice for panorama shooters since the mount is not below the center of the lens. Inside the battery / memory card compartment, the battery and SD memory card slots line up side by side. A small spring-loaded latch ensures the battery won't accidentally fall out when you open the compartment cover. The cover itself slides open and then outward, with a small, rubber flap in its center. This flap covers a hole in the compartment cover that accesses the connector jack in the "dummy battery" used in the optional AC adapter kit. (Like many other Canon digicams, the SD500's AC adapter scheme employs a dummy battery that fits into the battery compartment, and which provides a plug for the AC power converter's cable.)

Unfortunately the tripod mount is also right alongside the battery / card compartment door, meaning that you'll have to remove the camera from a tripod if the battery life or flash card space is exhausted (although in fairness, this is hardly a camera you'll shoot in a studio with anyway). Likewise, the rubber flap for the AC adapter kit is close enough to the tripod mount that when using AC power, you likely won't be able to use a tripod.

The Canon SD500's sleek metal case does seem to have one downside though: We found that it was very easily scratched. Just normal (pretty careful, really) usage resulted in a number of small but visible scratches on it. - A shame, given how beautiful the case is to start with.


Camera Operation

The Canon PowerShot SD500's user interface is straightforward and relatively uncomplicated, with a similar menu setup and basic control philosophy as the rest of the current ELPH series. Most of the camera's functions are controlled by buttons on the top and rear panels, while a handful of settings are controlled through the LCD-based Record menu. A Function menu provides faster access to basic settings like image size, quality, and exposure compensation, without the need to sift through menu screens. The LCD menu system itself is quite efficient, as you view menu items organized in tabs instead of through a series of pages. Additionally, the Setup and My Camera menus are always available, regardless of the camera mode. With the instruction manual in-hand, it shouldn't take more than a half an hour to an hour to get comfortable with the camera.

Record Mode Display: In any record mode, the LCD display shows either the image area with no information, the image with a limited information display, or no display at all. Pressing the Display button cycles through the available displays. When the information display is active, it reports resolution and image quality settings, the number of available images, Record mode, orientation, and a handful of exposure settings (although not aperture or shutter speed).

Playback Mode Display: Playback mode also offers three display modes, including the image only, the image with information, and the image with expanded information and a histogram. You can also display as many as nine thumbnail images at a time on-screen with the index display mode, or zoom in on captured images to check fine details, focus, or framing.

External Controls

Shutter Button
: Located on the top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed. If the Self-Timer is activated, a full press of the Shutter button triggers the countdown.

Zoom Lever: Surrounding the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this lever controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, the wide-angle end activates first a nine-image index display, and then a "jump" mode that allows you to page through screens of nine thumbnails at once. The telephoto setting zooms in on captured images for closer inspection of fine details.

Power Button
: To the left of the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on or off. A green LED in the center of the button illuminates whenever the camera is powered on.

Mode Dial: Just below the shutter button, but on the rear panel, this dial controls the camera's operating mode, offering the following selections:

  • Playback Mode: Replays captured images and movies, with options for image management and printing.
  • Auto Mode: Sets the camera for image capture, with all variables except for image size / quality, self-timer, AF assist beam, optical / digital zoom, macro mode, and limited flash modes set automatically.
  • Manual Mode: Sets the camera for image capture, with all variables available for the user to adjust.
  • Scene Mode: Sets the camera for image capture, and enables nine scene modes, and with a limited subset of exposure controls available (the exact subset varies between scene modes). The nine scene modes are Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Indoor, Kids & Pets, and Night Snapshot.
  • Movie Mode: Captures moving images with sound, which in almost all modes will record as long as there is space on the card, and as long as the card you're using is fast enough (the exception is the 320 x 240 at 60 frames per second mode, which will only record 60 seconds of video at a time).

Four-Way Arrow Pad: This four-way rocker button is located to the right of the LCD monitor and serves multiple functions. In any Settings menu, the arrow keys navigate through menu selections. In Record mode, the arrow buttons control various exposure-related functions, with not all options being available in all modes. The up arrow cycles through Evaluative, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes. The left arrow controls Macro and Infinity focus modes, and cycles back around to the normal AF mode. The right arrow accesses the camera's flash modes, cycling through Automatic, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced Off, and Slow-Sync settings. Finally, the down arrow key activates the Self-Timer and Continuous Shooting modes, or returns to the normal exposure mode.

In Playback mode, the up arrow calls the Jump menu, and the down arrow calls the Delete menu, while the right and left arrow keys scroll through captured images and movie files. When you zoom in on an image, all four arrows pan the view.

Function / Set Button (see image above): Occupying the center of the four-way arrow pad, this control activates the Function menu in any record mode, and confirms selections once any menu has been invoked. When used to activate the Function button, the following options are available (not all options being available in all modes):

  • Shooting Mode: Selects among the available shooting modes: Manual, Digital Macro, and My Colors. In Movie Mode the options are Standard, Fast Frame Rate, Compact, and My Colors.
  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments.
  • Long Shutter: Accesses longer shutter times, with thirteen steps from one to 15 seconds. (Only appears when enabled through the Record menu, and is accessed by pressing the Menu button while the Exposure Compensation option is highlighted.)
  • White Balance: Controls the color balance of images. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual setting).
  • ISO Speed: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, or to 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
  • Photo Effect: Enables Vivid Color (high color saturation), Neutral Color (low color saturation), Low Sharpening, Sepia, or Black-and-White picture effects, or disables the effects altogether.
  • Compression: Sets the JPEG compression to Superfine, Fine, or Normal.
  • Resolution: Specifies the image resolution. Still image resolutions are 3,072 x 2,304; 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; and 640 x 480 pixels; a Postcard mode also takes the resolution to 1600 x 1200 and locks the resolution to Fine; a date stamp can be printed on the image in this mode, and the top and bottom of the screen are greyed out when you half-press the shutter button, showing the portions of the image that won't fit on a 4x6 postcard. Movie resolutions are 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 pixels.

Display Button
: Lower left of the Four-way nav, this button cycles through the LCD image and information displays and in Record mode includes an LCD Off state for power saving when desired. In Playback mode, this button cycles through the image only, information display, and info display with histogram modes.

Menu Button
: Lower right of the Four-way nav controls, this button accesses the LCD menu system in both Record and Playback modes.

Print/Share Button:
Located to the upper left of the Four-way nav, the Print/Share button is used for activating uploads to Windows computers or connections to a variety of compatible printers, including those complying to the PictBridge standard. The button glows blue when ready to print or transfer images, and flashes blue when printing or transferring images.


Camera Modes and Menus

Playback Mode: This mode allows you to scroll through captured images and movies, write-protect images, view a nine-image index display, zoom into a captured image, delete unwanted images, rotate images, set up images for printing on DPOF compatible devices, as well as play and crop movies.

Auto Mode: Sets the camera for image capture, with all variables except for image size / quality, self-timer, AF assist beam, optical / digital zoom, macro mode, and limited flash modes set automatically.

Manual Mode: Sets the camera for image capture, with all variables available for the user to adjust.

Scene Mode: Sets the camera for image capture, and enables nine scene modes, and with a limited subset of exposure controls available (the exact subset varies between scene modes). The nine scene modes are Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Indoor, Kids & Pets, and Night Snapshot.

Movie Mode: Records short movie clips with sound, at either 640 x 480, or 320 x 240 pixels. The actual amount of recording time in all but Fast Frame Rate mode is limited only by the capacity of the SD card in the camera (and of course the remaining battery life). Recording time is limited to 60 seconds per clip in Fast Frame Rate mode. A handful of exposure controls are available in this mode, although options like flash mode, Continuous Shooting, and optical / digital zoom are disabled.

Record Menu System: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in any record mode (some options are not available in all modes). Three menu tabs appear, one each for Record, Setup, and My Camera sub-menus.

Record Menu:

  • AiAF: Turns on the AiAF focus system. If switched off, the camera bases autofocus on the center of the frame.
  • Self-Timer: Sets the Self-Timer countdown to two or 10 seconds, or lets you specify a custom timer. The custom timer can have a delay of 0 - 10, 15, 20, or 30 seconds, and allows multiple shots (from one to ten in total) to be captured. If the camera is set to capture multiple shots, these are captured with an interval of about one second between shots, enough time for the flash to recharge if required. Focus and exposure are locked from the first shot. (A very handy feature for getting good shots of groups, as someone invariably blinks right as the shutter goes off.)
  • AF Assist Beam: Turns the AF assist light on or off. If on, the bright orange LED on the camera's front automatically illuminates in low lighting.
  • Digital Zoom: Enables the SD500's 4x digital zoom function, which is engaged by zooming past the optical zoom range. Also disables digital zoom.
  • Review: Turns the instant review function on or off, sets the amount of time that the captured image is displayed on the screen from two to 10 seconds, or allows a "Hold" mode where the image remains on the screen until the shutter button is half-pressed. The instant review function applies to still images only.
  • Date Stamp: Activates the Date Stamp feature, which imprints the date (and optionally, the time) on the lower right of images captured in "Postcard" mode only.
  • Save Original: When in My Colors mode, sets the camera to save an unmodified version of each still image captured, as well as the version modified by the My Colors function.
  • Long Shutter: Activates Long Shutter mode, so that it appears in the Function menu.
  • Stitch Assist: Enables Stitch Assist mode (the Canon SD500's panoramic shooting mode), and lets you choose a shooting direction (to the right or the left). After pressing the Set button to start the sequence and taking the first shot, a portion of the previous image appears alongside a live preview of the current scene in the LCD monitor, helping you to correctly overlap the images. Exposure is locked for the sequence which ends when you press the Menu button. The final series of images can be stitched together as one image on a computer via the accompanying software.

Setup Menu:

  • Mute: Turns the camera's beep sounds on and off.
  • Volume: Individually sets Startup, Operation, Self Timer, Shutter, and Playback volumes. Five steps are available for each item, or the sound for each item can be disabled individually.
  • LCD Brightness: Adjust the brightness of the LCD backlight, with 15 steps of control available.
  • Power Saving: Toggles the camera's automatic shutoff function, which turns off the camera after a length of inactivity. Also sets display shutdown time to 10, 20, or 30 seconds, or to 1, 2, or 3 minutes.
  • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock, as well as the format for dates (mm/dd/yy, dd/mm/yy, or yy/mm/dd).
  • Clock Display: Controls the clock display option, which shows the current time (but not the date) for a period of 0 - 10, 20 or 30 seconds or for 1, 2 or 3 minutes when the Function key is pressed and held for two seconds. (Handy if you forgot your wristwatch, I guess.) If set to zero, the clock is displayed only while the Function button is held in.
  • Format: Formats the Secure Digital card, erasing all files (even those marked for write-protection). An optional is available to low-level format the card.
  • File No. Reset: Resets file numbering with each new Secure Digital card. If disabled, the camera continues numbering in sequence, regardless of memory card.
  • Auto Rotate: Toggles Auto Rotate feature on and off. The camera can detect when the camera is held approximately level, or when it is rotated left or right beyond approximately 45 degrees. If you aim the camera vertically up or down, it will remember the orientation before you did so - hence letting you control which orientation an image is tagged with even for shots where the camera is tilted enough vertically to prevent the sensor working.
  • Language: Sets the camera's menu language to one of a whopping 21 choices. English is the default setting.
  • Video System: Sets the camera's video-out signal to conform to NTSC or PAL timing.

My Camera Menu

  • Theme: Selects a common theme for each My Camera menu settings item. Four options are available, the first one being Off. When a theme is selected, all of the following settings automatically adjust to that theme. Users can also select and upload their own sounds to the camera.
  • Start-Up Image: Sets the startup image when you turn on the camera to: Black screen, Canon logo, Canon logo with sunset, and nature scene. You can also apply your own image using the Canon software.
  • Start-Up Sound: Sets the startup sound when you turn on the camera to: No sound, Musical tone (1), Musical tone (2), or Birds chirping. You can also apply your own sounds using the Canon software.
  • Operation Sound: Sets the sound when any control or switch is use (except the Shutter button). Options include no sound, Beep, Musical tone, and Chirp.
  • Self-Timer Sound: Sets the sound that signals you when the shutter release is two seconds away. Options include no sound, Fast beeps, Telephone ring, and Howling.
  • Shutter Sound: Sets the shutter sound that you hear when you depress the Shutter button (there is no shutter sound in Movie mode). Options include no sound, Shutter sound, Musical Tone, and Bark.

Playback Menu System: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Playback mode, the Playback menu also has subject tabs for the Setup and My Camera menus. Since these were described above, I won't repeat them here.

Playback Menu:

  • Protect: Marks the current image for write-protection, or removes write-protection. Protected images cannot be deleted or manipulated, except through card formatting, which erases all files.
  • Rotate: Rotates the current image. The first press gives a 90 degree clockwise rotation; the second press rotates the image 90 degrees counterclockwise from the original position. On the third press, the image returns to its original orientation. The image data is not actually rotated; the camera actually sets a tag in the EXIF header, hence your software must recognize this tag to be able to recognize the orientation set in-camera.
  • Sound Memo: Records a short sound clip to accompany a captured image.
  • Erase All: Erases all files on the memory card, except protected ones.
  • Slide Show: Automatically plays all captured images in a slide show.
  • Print Order: Determines how many copies of the current image will be printed, with options for creating an index print, imprinting the date and time, and imprinting the file number.
  • Transfer Order: Select images for downloading to your computer.

Print Connection: When you connect the Canon SD500 to a PictBridge, Canon Direct Print, or Bubble Jet Direct-compatible printer, a new menu option is enabled, allowing easy print to a number of basic paper sizes, all without a computer. A special icon appears in the upper left hand corner, with the word SET right next to it, telling you that to adjust settings, you should press the Set button. You can select not only the size and type of paper, but you can also crop the pictures right in the camera. If you only print one size, full frame, you need only press the Print/Share button and printing of the current image begins immediately.

In the Box

Packaged with the PowerShot SD500 are the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • 32MB SD memory card.
  • NB-3L lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Battery charger.
  • Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk v23.0 software CD.
  • Operating manuals and registration card.


Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. (These days, 128 - 256 MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
  • Additional NB-3L lithium-ion battery pack.
  • AC adapter kit.
  • Small camera case.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...



See camera specifications here.


Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.


Test Images

See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my standard test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Indoor Flash






Viewfinder Accuracy

"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the Canon PowerShot SD500, we've put together a "photo gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the SD500.


Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For full details on each of the test images, see the Canon SD500 "pictures" page.

For a look at some more pictorial photos from this camera, check out our Canon SD500 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon SD500 Zoom with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Very good color throughout my testing. The Canon SD500 produced very good color and saturation throughout my testing, and I typically found good results with all of the white balance settings I tried (with only very slight color casts). Like most popular consumer digital cameras, the SD500 oversaturates bright colors somewhat, but manages to do so without also oversaturating skin tones. The net result is very pleasing color that should appeal to most consumers. Its white balance system handled most of my test conditions well, but had a little trouble with the difficult household incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test when in the Auto mode. The Incandescent and Manual white balance options had no trouble with incandescent lighting however. All in all, very good color, and good white balance performance.

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, but slightly high contrast. The Canon SD500 handled my test lighting quite well, though the camera produced contrasty shots under the deliberately harsh lighting of the "Sunlit" Portrait and the outdoor house shot. That said, dynamic range was actually pretty good, as the camera held onto all but the most extreme highlight detail in both settings, and managed to deliver fairly good shadow detail as well. Indoors, the camera required a bit higher than average positive exposure compensation, though the default flash exposure was fairly bright. Good exposure overall, and better than average dynamic range.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,500 lines of "strong detail." The Canon PowerShot SD500 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It didn't start showing artifacts in the test patterns until resolutions as low as 1,200 lines per picture height vertically and horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,600 lines horizontally, and to about 1,400-1,500 lines vertically. (Fairly strong aliasing cut the resolution performance along the vertical axis.) "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until nearly 2,000 lines.

  • Image Noise: Detectable noise at all ISO levels, but fine, tight pattern makes it quite acceptable, even at ISO 400. As sensor resolution increases in digital cameras, noise levels increase as well. BUT, if the ultimate aim is to make prints, you have to consider the fact that the noise that's very evident when viewed 1:1 onscreen may be less significant in a normal-sized print. In this light, while the Canon SD500 shows at least some blue-channel noise even at ISO 50, and quite a lot of it by the time you get to ISO 400, this noise isn't all that visible in prints. Even at ISO 400, 8x10" prints from its images should be entirely acceptable to most users, and at 5x7" the noise simply isn't an issue at all.

  • Closeups: A small macro area with great detail. Flash had trouble up close though. The Canon SD500 captured a small macro area, measuring 2.17 x 1.63 inches (55 x 41 millimeters). Resolution was high, with great detail. The camera's Digital Macro mode captured an even tinier area, but the resulting image was soft due to the digital zoom that was used. (Probably useful for web and other online work though.) The SD500's flash had trouble throttling down for the macro area, and overexposed the shot badly. - Plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots with the SD500.

  • Night Shots: Good low-light performance with good color, though noise is slightly high. Good low-light focusing as well. The Canon SD500 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at the 200 and 400 ISO settings. (Images were bright to 1/8 foot-candle at ISO 100, and to about 1/4 foot-candle at ISO 50.) Noise was fairly low in most shots, though it increased at the ISO 400 setting, especially at the lower light levels. The camera's very tight noise pattern made for good-looking 8x10 prints, even at ISO 400 though. Color balance was very good, without any strong color casts. The camera's autofocus system worked down to about 1/4 foot-candle with the autofocus-assist light turned off, and in complete darkness (for nearby subjects) with the AF illuminator on. Since city street-lighting at night generally corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, the SD500 should do very well for after-dark photography in typical outdoor settings.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A very accurate LCD viewfinder, but a tight optical viewfinder. The Canon PowerShot SD500's optical viewfinder was rather tight, showing about 84 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 82 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved much more accurate, showing about 99+ percent frame accuracy at both zoom settings.

  • Optical Distortion: About average barrel distortion at wide angle, a small amount at telephoto, and low to moderate chromatic aberration. I measured approximately 0.7 percent barrel distortion at wide angle, and about 0.1 percent at telephoto, both numbers being slightly better than average. Chromatic aberration was moderate but faint at wide angle, and much lower at telephoto. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The SD500's images were sharper than average in the corners, once again, an impressive feat for a subcompact digital camera.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: Very good shutter response, very good shot to shot cycle times. The Canon SD500 is surprisingly fast for a subcompact digital camera, with full-autofocus shutter lag of only 0.45 second regardless of zoom setting, and shot to shot cycle times of 1.25 seconds, with no apparent buffer limit. Most consumer-level digital cameras we test have shutter delays in the range of 0.8-1.0 second, so the SD500 is very fast indeed, particularly impressive given its subcompact size.

  • Battery Life: Somewhat better than average battery life for a compact model, but think about buying a second battery anyway. Like most compact digicams, battery life on the Canon SD500 is a little on the short side, with a worst-case run time (capture mode, with the LCD turned on) of 103 minutes by actual measurement. This is actually better than many compact and subcompact models, but I'd still strongly recommend purchasing a second battery along with the camera, and keeping it charged as a spare. (Digicam batteries always die at the worst possible times.)

  • Print Quality: Excellent print quality, very good-looking 13x19 inch prints. ISO 400 shots looked surprisingly good at 8x10. Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See our Canon i9900 review for details on that model.) With its 7-megapixel CCD, sharp optics, and great color, the Canon SD500 produced beautiful prints. Although I normally consider 7-megapixel cameras to be usable for prints up to about 11x17 inches, 13x19s from the SD500 looked great. Most impressively, checking high ISO shots, the tight grain pattern produced 8x10 prints that I think would be acceptable to the vast majority of users. - And at 5x7 inches and below, noise just simply isn't an issue.



Pro: Con:
  • Very good resolution, very sharp images
  • Very nice color, bright without being overbearing
  • Natural skin tones
  • Incandescent and manual settings handle household incandescent lighting well.
  • Good dynamic range
  • Good close-focusing for macro shots
  • Good lens, better than average performance for a subcompact model
  • Very good shutter response, good shot-to-shot speed
  • Tight grain pattern at high ISO
  • Accurate LCD viewfinder
  • Very good low light capability, both exposure and focusing
  • Excellent movie performance
  • Compact, sleek case design
  • Slightly high contrast
  • Optical viewfinder is a little tight
  • High image noise at ISO 400 (but tight pattern helps a great deal)
  • Lens is good for a subcompact, but there's still some chromatic aberration and a little softness in the corners at wide angle
  • Battery life is only average
  • No shutter/aperture info displayed, in either record or playback mode
  • LCD images seem a little soft
  • While solidly built, case seems to scratch very easily

Free Photo Lessons

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Canon's ELPH line of digital cameras have consistently offered good image quality, user-friendly design, and excellent build quality, and the new Canon PowerShot SD500 is no exception. New to the line is its sleekly-sculpted, curving body design. When it comes to picture taking, while actual exposure control remains automatic, the ability to adjust ISO, White Balance, and access longer shutter times significantly increases the camera's shooting range. Thanks to its high-speed DIGIC-II processing chip, it's also very responsive for a subcompact digital camera, and its movie capability goes far beyond what I'm accustomed to seeing from subcompact digicam models. One particularly positive note is that the Canon SD500 seems to largely avoid the problems with softness in the corners suffered by the SD200 and SD300 models, and its 7-megapixel CCD also manages to keep noise levels under control, even at ISO 400. (Even 8x10" prints on our Canon i9900 studio printer made from the SD500's ISO 400 shots were quite acceptable, a fair bit better than we've come to expect from consumer-level digital cameras operating at that ISO level.) All in all, an excellent camera, an easy choice as a Dave's Pick.

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