Canon PowerShot SD500 Digital Elph
At a Glance
Canon PowerShot SD500 Compact Camera
This Digital Elph has a smooth metal body and is small enough to take everywhere, but image quality could be improved.
The $500 Canon PowerShot SD500 Digital Elph is so small it fits easily in just about any pocket, leaving you no excuse for not having a camera handy when those once-in-a-lifetime baby/puppy/soccer shots happen. The resulting photos weren't our taste testers' favorites, but they should prove more than acceptable for all but the most demanding photographers.
Pick up the SD500, and it just feels substantial. It weighs only 6 ounces, but the metal body appears sturdy and well-made. Its dimensions are petite: 3.37-inches wide by 2.24-inches tall by 1.04 inches deep. Canon helps keep things small by using an SD Card to store photos (a 32-MB card is included). The unit's compactness is most notable when you compare it with other small cameras. For example, place Sony's comparable Cyber-shot DSC-W7 next to the Canon, and the Sony looks positively oversized.
When you power up the camera, its 3X optical lens opens and its sharp 2-inch LCD quickly springs to life. In addition to the LCD, the unit also includes an optical viewfinder--a nice touch that's often missing in cameras this size. Controls are logically placed, with power, shutter, and zoom mounted on top. The camera's mode dial gives you access to its various shooting modes: Automatic, Manual, Special Scene, Movie, and Playback. From within the manual mode you can set white balance, ISO sensitivity, and exposure compensation. The SD500's f/2.8 to f/13 aperture range is the widest I've seen on such a small camera, but you can't set the aperture or shutter speed manually.
Additional settings available within the manual mode include My Colors (which lets you swap colors within an image) and Digital Macro (for extreme close-ups). There are more tricks within the camera's Special Scene menu. Here you can pick from nine different modes: Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Indoor, Kids and Pets, and Night Snapshot. (Note: I wouldn't recommend using the underwater setting without the optional underwater camera housing).
Navigating the camera's menus is fairly straightforward using the circular directional thumb pad, Function Setting button, Menu button, and Display button, but at first I couldn't figure out how to delete an image (it's a simple downward click on the multidirectional Function button). During my informal testing I found the camera a joy to use--the epitome of point-and-shoot simplicity. The SD500 is simple enough that you can hand it to someone else while you pose for a group shot, and be confident that they'll be able to figure it out.
You should net a fair number of photos from the camera between charges of its removable, proprietary lithium ion battery. In our tests it lasted 230 shots (half with flash and half without). That's not bad, but Sony's comparable (if somewhat larger) Sony DSC-W7 managed 406 shots, and the equally compact and less expensive Fujifilm F10 exceeded 500.
The SD500's weakness is its image quality. The photos looked good overall, but in our taste tests they didn't score as well as some other compact point-and-shoots in the same price range. For example, the Fujifilm F10 significantly outscored the SD500 in all image-quality categories, and is significantly less expensive at $370. Most disappointing was the SD500's weak performance in our test shot using the built-in flash; overall, its score for exposure accuracy was lower than most other point-and-shoot cameras. That said, test images looked sharp, and most casual photographers won't find much to quibble about when it comes time to make prints from everyday snapshots.
The small and rugged Canon SD500 Digital Elph is a good companion for capturing everyday mementos, though image quality may disappoint more-demanding photographers.
Canon PowerShot SD500 Digital Elph
7.1 megapixels, 3072 by 2304 maximum resolution, 37mm to 111mm focal range (35mm equivalent), f2.8 to f13.0 maximum aperture range, shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/2000 second, optical and LCD viewfinders, USB connection, 32MB internal memory and SD slot, rechargeable lithium ion batteries, 6 ounces, Digital Camera Solutions CD. One-year parts and labor warranty, 11-hour weekday toll-free support.