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Canon Digital IXUS 500 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 20/02/05
Buy Now: £239 / $329
Rating: Highly Recommended!
Read reviews on: Canon Digital IXUS 500

Introduction: Announced on the 9th Feb 2004 - the Canon Digital IXUS 500, also known as Canon PowerShot S500 and the IXY Digital 500, is available for £239 / $329 - the Canon Digital IXUS 500 is a compact 5 megapixel digital camera, with a 3x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 36-105mm on a 35mm camera), and a 1.5" TFT screen. The camera is enclosed in a compact metal body. It records 640x480 / 10fps and 320x240 / 15fps videos with sound. The camera is compact with the following size: 87 x 57 x 28 mm (without protruding parts), and only weighs 185g (without the battery and compact flash card).

Canon have this to say about the camera:

"The ultimate in stylish high-performance, the all metal bodied 5.0 Megapixel Digital IXUS 500 is a triumph of precision optics, superb build quality and miniaturisation."

More information can be found on their site.

The Camera: It's compact and made out of metal.
(Photos of the camera were taken with the Ricoh Caplio R1v)

Front - Camera off, flash, af-assist lamp, optical viewfinder.

Front - Camera on, lens extended.

Back - the 1.5" TFT screen, mode dial, optical viewfinder, play/photo mode, CF-open, set, menu, display, func, 4-way control, direct print buttons.

Top - speaker, microphone, on/off, shutter release and zoom control.

Bottom, under the camera there is a tripod mount (far right of picture), and battery compartment.

Left Side (from back) AV out and USB under cover.

On this side is the wrist strap loop, and compact flash memory compartment (open).

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic, this camera is quite compact.

Size comparison.

Size comparison.

Size compared to the new Ricoh Caplio R1v:
(these photos taken by an Olympus Camedia C-310)

The Ricoh is thinner in width: 25mm (Ricoh) vs 27.8mm (Canon), and not as high as the Canon. 55mm (Ricoh) vs 57mm (Canon).

However the Ricoh is longer than the Canon, 100.2mm for the Ricoh vs 87mm for the Canon.

Specifications / Features:

  • 5.0 Megapixel sensor
  • Designer style, ultra compact all metal body
  • 3x optical zoom (approx. 12.3x combined)
  • 7.4 – 22.2 mm (35mm film equivalent: 36 – 108mm) - f/2.8 – f/4.9
  • 4.1x digital zoom
  • DIGIC and iSAPS technology
  • 9-point AiAF
  • VGA movies with sound (640x480/10fps limited to 30seconds, 320x240/15fps limited to 3minutes)
  • PictBridge/Canon Direct Print compatible - Print/Share button
  • 5cm macro mode
  • ISO: 50 – 400
  • TV out

Full Specifications can be found on their site.

Box Contents:

  • Camera
  • Wrist strap
  • Nimh battery (NB1LH)
  • Charger (CB-2LSE)
  • USB cable (IFC-400PCU)
  • AV Cable
  • 32Mb Compact Flash Card
  • Digital camera software
  • 161 page manual

Average box contents - it's nice to see a printed manual, 32mb memory is average for a 5 megapixel camera and should keep you going until you buy a larger card. A case would have been a nice thing to find in the box.

Battery usage: The camera uses a proprietry Canon lithium-ion battery, with a rating of 3.7v, and 840mah. Battery life seemed okay, although I would definitely recommend a backup battery is purchased.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the Play/Record switch and the 4-position dial on the back.

Photo mode/menu: The function button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode Function (Func.) Menu

LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen is a fairly decent resolution, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. There is no live histogram available.

Function menu options are: (in manual mode) Exposure compensation, White Balance (including Custom), ISO, Effect (Off, Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia, Black and White), Compression (Superfine, Fine, Normal), Image Size (L, M1, M2, S).

Record Menu Setup Menu

Photo / Record Menu options: (shown on the left, above) Quick shot, AiAF, Continuous shooting mode, Self-Timer (10, 2 seconds), AF-assist beam (on, off), Digital zoom (on, off), Review (off, 2 - 10 seconds), Long shutter (on, off).

Setup menu options: (shown on the right, above) Mute (on, off), Volumes, LCD Brightness, Power Saving, Date/Time, Format card, File no. reset, Auto-rotate, Language, Video (NTSC, PAL).

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom is quick from 2x - 10x, and easy to use. More information can be displayed by pressing the display button. The camera also displays a histogram. Playback menu options are discussed below.

Playback menu options: Protect, Rotate, Sound Memo, Erase all, Slideshow, Print order and Transfer order.

The camera does not have any scene modes, but does have a panoramic mode, this shows you the first picture that you have taken in this mode, and then the live preview screen next to this, enabling you to line up the images - when you have taken the 2nd shot, it will let you line up the 3rd shot and so on.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 32mb memory provided with the camera:

Size / Quality: Number of Photos Stored
  Superfine Fine Normal
5mp (2592x1944) 11 23 43
3mp (2048x1536) 18 34 68
2mp (1600x1200) 30 54 108
VGA (640x480) 120 196 338
Video 640x480 10fps 46 seconds
Video 320x240 15fps 91 seconds

You can fit a small number of images on the provided 32mb memory - a larger memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / higher compression options in order to fit more pictures in memory. There is an okay choice of image sizes (there is no 4mp, or 1mp setting), and there is a good choice regarding image compression.

A larger memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 128mb or 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Canon Digital IXUS 500:

128mb Compact Flash (CF) memory card - £9.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
256mb CF memory card - £15.49 from Amazon.co.uk.
512mb CF memory card - £27.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
1gb (1000mb) CF memory card - £58.24 from Amazon.co.uk.

Speed, Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, fairly quick to switch on (however, you have to hold the on/off button for about a second before it will start switching on), the camera is fairly quick to take photos. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use - the menus are responsive. The screen updates are quick and smooth. The camera is compact and fits very easily into pockets. The menus are also fairly easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple. The playback mode is also quick, it allows you to zoom as close as 10x. The camera has a very quick continuous shooting mode, unlike other cameras, the flash is available in this mode!

Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel okay, the shutter release is quite large, and I especially like the zoom control. The buttons are are labelled fairly well.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the new gallery!


Heather and Flower Group Photo

Inside: The camera has very good colour. It has a decent flash, and copes quite well with group photos - in darker conditions noise is quite visible, for example in the group photo above. The camera did a very good job at focusing the majority of the time. Red-eye was noticable in some photos.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (with a range between 50 and 400), and manual settings (50,100,200,400). (Flash was used in all of these photos)

Noise Test Photo / Macro Telephoto
ISO50 - 100% ISO100 - 100%
ISO200 - 100% ISO400 - 100%

Noise at ISO50 and ISO100 is quite low - however, at ISO200 noise becomes more noticable, and at ISO400 noise is quite high. I would personally try and stick to ISO50 or ISO100 unless lighting is very low and you need to use the higher ISO levels.


Unisys Building Mini Cooper

Outside, the camera had very good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was very good detail, and noise seemed quite low. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below simply to show what these features do.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom 4x Digital Zoom

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is fairly quiet. The lens is quick at going from wide to telephoto - and there are 6 steps between wide and telephoto.

Other Image Quality issues: There was vignetting (dark corners) in some of the wide-angle macro photos taken, although not all of them - and in all the other photos I took I did not notice this problem. I noticed some Chromatic Aberrations / Purple Fringing in a couple of the photos I took, namely the clock tower photos, but not a huge amount.

Macro: To use this camera in macro mode, you press the macro button. You can use the flash in macro mode. The camera can be as close as 5cm away from the subject.

Macro Watch Actual Pixels (100%)
Macro Mini-Pool Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is very good - the camera does a good job of toning down the flash, and colours are very good.

Movie: 640x480 at 10fps and 320x240 at 15fps with sound - unfortunately VGA movies are limited to 30 seconds long, and 320x240 movies are limited to a maximum of 3 minutes. The movie is recorded as an .AVI file.

Sanctified (Best new british gospel group 2004) - 320x240 movie - Download. (right click, save target as, 4.3mb, 13seconds)
Sanctified - 640x480 movie- Download. (12mb, 19seconds). Both videos saved as Zip files.

The quality of the movie(s) is quite good, colour is quite good, the camera also does a good job in low-light. However, the frame rate is average, and video length is limited.


Image Quality: Image quality is consistantly very good, the images have very good colour, saturation and contrast. They have very good detail. The camera did a very good job focusing as well. There were some problems however, in that when the ISO level was above 100, noise was quite visible, especially in darker areas of the image. There was also some vignetting in the corners when using wide-angle / macro. Purple fringing was occassionally noticable. There is an okay range of image sizes and compression options. The macro mode is very good. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good. There was some red-eye. The movie mode is average, at 640x480/10fps, and 320x240/15fps with sound - unfortunately this is limited to 30 seconds in VGA mode, and 3 minutes in the smaller mode.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The design is good, I especially like the zoom control. The camera is very small, and very pocketable; the camera is quite stylish as well. The 1.5" screen updates smoothly and has accurate colour making it easier to view and compose your pictures. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is fairly easy to use and there are is a good layout of buttons and controls. There is a good choice of features and options, such as 9-area focus, manual white balance, high-speed continous shooting with faslh - although there are no scene mode, and no live histogram. The camera speed is good, with a okay switch on time, okay focusing time, and okay shutter response - the speed can be increased by activating the quick shot mode.

Alternative compact 5mp digital cameras: HP Photosmart R707 (£149 - read my review), Sony Cybershot DSC-P120 (£245), Cybershot DSC-W12 (£245), Nikon Coolpix 5200 (£205), Kodak Easyshare CX7530 (£149), Olympus Mju 500 (£229 - read my review), Pentax Optio S5i (£233), Pentax Optio S50 (£169), Pentax Optio SV (£270), Casio Z-55 (£235). Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices.

Summary: The Canon Digital IXUS 500 is a compact 5 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens and a small 1.5" screen. Even though the camera is nearly a year old, I can imagine some people looking back at this camera as a classic, if there can be such a thing in the digital camera world. The camera records limited length 15fps videos with sound. It is easy to use, and produces very good images with very good colour and detail. It is quick, with an okay switch on time, good focus time and shutter response time, the continuous shooting mode is very good, as it lets you use the flash with no slow-down. For around £239 / $329 this compact and stylish camera is fairly expensive when compared to other cameras, however, it's stylish, fits very easily into pockets, produces very good images, and has a great macro mode. The only things that let this camera down are the limited video length and small screen.

If you don't mind the limited video length, then this is an excellent camera that consistantly produces great results, and is Highly Recommended!

Canon Digital IXUS 500 Rating: Highly Recommended!
Buy now from Amazon: £239 / $329.

If you would like a 4 megapixel version of the above, then have a look at the (now discontinued) Canon Digital IXUS 430, or alternatively the newer and more compact Canon Digital IXUS 40 (available for £225 from Amazon.co.uk) - the IXUS 40 has a larger 2" screen, and has unlimited video modes. You might want to look at the new 7 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS 700, or the 5 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS 50.

What I like:

  • Excellent 'Canon' Colour
  • Excellent image quality (very good detail)
  • Very fast continous shooting mode that lets you use flash
  • Very good macro mode
  • Good size
  • Good build quality
  • Auto-rotates images

What I don't like:

  • Limited video mode (limited to 30seconds in VGA, and 3minutes at 320x240)
  • Small 1.5" screen
  • Fairly expensive compared to the competition (eg Nikon 5200)
  • Tripod mount at very edge of camera (minor problem)

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the new gallery.