It seems that hi-def video is the new buzz feature for digital SLRs. Nikon did it first with the D90 (and has since launched the D5000), but Canon hasn’t been far behind, first launching the EOS 5D MkII and now this, the D500 - an ‘entry level’ video DSLR.
The term ‘entry level’ is, as ever, relative, and at first glance the £700 price tag seems very high for what the 500D actually offers.
There’s a 15.1megapixel APS-C sensor, which is decent enough, but the 3.4fps maximum continuous shooting speed is pretty unimpressive and the rear LCD screen is static. This doesn’t compare well with the similarly priced Nikon D5000, which has a tilting screen to help you frame your shots from any angle.
There are also some irritating quirks related to the video mode. Firstly, while Canon is keen to highlight the 500D’s Nikon-beating 1080p HD mode, the fact that it’s limited to 20fps makes it pretty useless for everyday video shooting. What television supports 1080p at 20fps? And why would anyone want to use it in the first place?
Secondly, there’s no way to hook up an external microphone, meaning you have to use the built-in mic, which is liable to pick up unwanted sounds like the autofocus motor, or your hand adjusting the focus manually. It’s mono only, too.
But we don’t want to give the impression that the 500D’s movie mode is rubbish, because it certainly isn’t. Switch down to 720p and you get gorgeous HD images at a non-useless speed of 30fps.
Just using Canon’s plasticky 18-55mm kit lens we managed to snag some gloriously sharp clips, sporting the kind of depth of field you’d ordinarily associate with a video camera many times the price.
So imagine what you could do with Canon’s high-end, wide aperture lenses – it’d be possible to churn out home videos with a Hollywood sheen. Budding filmmakers on a budget – particularly ones who have already invested in Canon lenses – will find this camera a godsend, provided they can get around the audio issue.
Of course, the 500D is still very much a stills camera first and foremost, and here it does a fine job. There’s the usual range of options for adjusting shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and ISO, nine autofocus points and a nice-sized viewfinder, plus a decent on-board flash. The 3in rear screen offers live view too.
Photos are sharp and relatively noise-free, even at higher ISO settings, but as with most DSLR cameras we reckon that performance is mostly down to which lenses you use. We found no significant issues using the cheap kit lens, but investing in better glass will certainly yield better results.
Overall the EOS 500D is an impressive addition to Canon’s DSLR range, and a nice update to the 450D. It’s not without its issues, but Canon users looking to add video to their repertoire finally have an affordable, capable option. Just don’t expect to use that much vaunted 1080p mode.