Canon EOS 500D (Rebel T1i) - Review / Test Report - Body Tour
DSLR Reviews - DSLRs

General

Body Quality

Upon the first contact, you can notice the comparatively high build quality, without creaks or rattles. The construction is based on a high quality plastic shell on an internal metal structure. The grip and the thumb-rest on the back are well rubberised, although to a lesser degree than e.g. on the EOS 50D. This results in a comparatively low weight of around 523g, including battery plus SD card. Although the grip has a height of only around 70mm, average-sized hands should have no problems to find a comfortable position on the thumb-rest.

Without the version number on the body, no unfamiliar user would have detected changes compared to the old Canon EOS 450D. The body layout is almost the same despite some movie-function related enhancements like the microphone in the front and the speaker in the back as well as two changes regarding the button layout. The metering mode button had to make for the live view and movie shooting functionality - this means slightly loss of usability compared to the button layout of the predecessor. The newly designed, silver-painted top of the program dial is hardly worth mentioning.


Body Handling

Canons' handling concept is a proven one since about 20 years and still convincing. Consequently you should be able to get familiar with the camera in no time if you ever handled a Canon DSLR before.
All main controls are located on the right side and can be managed with just one hand. The exposure-relevant actions, like shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation rely on the front dial. The later can be only changed in conjunction with the exposure correction button, as there is no secondary dial on the back as with the EOS 50D.

Beginning on the left side right above the huge screen, there are the [menu]- and the [display]-button. The second button turns the display on and off in shooting mode and changes between the different display informations in playback mode.

The silver-painted program dial with the power switch and the [ISO]-button are located on the right top of the camera. The program dial includes two new modes "Creative Auto" and "Movie Shooting". The first mode enables you to change some parameters like picture brightness or depth of field in automatic mode while the second mode enables the movie functionality. It's a pity that the ISO-button - starting with the Canon EOS 450D - is somewhat too close to the main dial, requiring finger acrobatics to change ISO settings while shooting. Furthermore, ISO can be set manually or automatically in 1-stop increments from 100 to 12800.

To the right of the thumb-rest are the [AE lock]- and the [AF point selection]-buttons, which can be used for zooming in playback mode. Beneath the thumb-rest lies the [Aperture/Exposure compensation]-button which works only in conjunction with the main dial, as well as the [Live View shooting]-button, for accessing live-view mode. The buttons for [white balance], [AF mode], [picture style] and [drive mode] are positioned clockwise around the [setting]-button. These buttons also serve as navigation keys when accessing the menu and can be handled easily while looking through the viewfinder. And finally, just below the navigation keys are the [Playback]- and the [Delete]-Button.

Last but not least, the [DOF]- and the [Flash]-button are located at the front of the Canon 500D.


Viewfinder

Even through the viewfinder is larger and brighter than viewfinders of other DSLRs in this price range it is still disappointing in relation to upper class bodies - that's no surprise regarding the reduced price point naturally. Compared to the predecessor model - Canon EOS 450D - there are no improvements here unfortunately.
The viewfinder has a coverage of approx. 95% and a magnification of approx. 0.87x, as well as a dioptre correction from -3 to +1. and like already with the Canon EOS 450D, the amount of exposure-relevant information in the viewfinder is rather scarce, showing not much more than the key exposure data. You will not find any information about the chosen metering nor white balance mode for instance.



Live View

I'm sorry to report that Canon's Live-View is still not one of the most intuitive implementation of this useful feature - activating the AF is a bit awkward. Instead of pressing the shutter release button you've to use the AE lock button first and finally press the shutter release button after confirmed focus.
Unlike the viewfinder, the image's field of view on the display in Live-View mode covers almost 100% and the display format can be magnified in two steps up to 10x. Furthermore, two different grids can be superimpose for compositional purposes.
Focusing in Live-View is possible as so-called "Quick mode" and "Live mode". "Quick mode" focuses much faster than "Live mode", but the scene view is interrupted during the AF operation because the mirror flips down and up again in order to take advantage of the conventional AF system. "Live mode" is available with and without automatic face detection and uses the CMOS sensor for focusing ("passive AF"), which is really slow.

Battery

Canon states that the LP-E5 battery provides sufficient energy for approximately 400 images - 100 images less comparing to the predecessor. That's most probably because of the higher screen resolution and the new image processor. However, this value is based on CIPA standards, but it seems to be a reasonable estimation based on what we've seen in the field. When using Live-View on a regular basis, the battery life decreases noticeably.
The supplied battery charger LC-E5 takes approx 2.5 hours for charging which is about average.

Pop-up Flash

The built-in pop-up flash unit with a sufficient guide number of approx GN 13 is TTL-controlled and has a flash coverage of up to 17mm focal length (35mm equivalent: 27mm). It supports red-eye reduction and 1st and 2nd curtain sync with a maximum sync speed of 1/200s. This is not overly speedy but fast enough for this class. Furthermore, the flash output can be adjusted in 1/2 or 1/3 steps up to +/- 2 and the flash pops up automatically when taking pictures in automatic mode.

Speed

The operational speed of the EOS 500D is commendable in this price range. The camera powers up virtually instantly and you'll not notice any delays during operations most of the time.
The camera stores images with an amazing speed to SD memory cards. Canon states a burst processing rate of up to 170 JPEGs (Large/Fine - Quality 8) or 9 RAW images with up to 3.4 images per second which is not fast enough for serious sports photography but surely for all other applications.

AF Performance

The AF speed and the accuracy of the Canon EOS 500D are impressive even in dark conditions and in continuous AF mode. However, typical for all current EOS cameras it does not provide any AF sensor handshaking during object tracking (unlike Nikon DSLRs for instance) so if you're loosing your target the AF may start to hunt into no-mans land. The AF tracking performance within "Live mode" is about average and no option for the conventional AF system.

Metering systems

The metering systems doesn't offer anything special beyond what we are used to from other consumer DSLRs. Evaluative (multi-segment), partial, spot and center-weighted-average metering are available. The evaluative system is pretty reliable but for tricky scenes you may prefer to fall back to partial metering which gives you more control over the exposure process.

White Balance

The camera does a pretty good job in natural lighting conditions but it does still struggle in artificial light conditions where you should either prefer to fall back to a flash unit (thus neutral light) or manual WB.

Dust Removal System

DSLR sensors are very prone to collecting dust so an important features is some sort of anti-sensor-dust system. Canon's "EOS Integrated Cleaning System" uses a combination of special coating and a shake filter to prevent dust and debris on the sensor. Canon's "EOS Integrated Cleaning System" is very reliable but today's dust removal systems have one strong opponent - the lens. Every time you exchange a lens dust will ultimately enter the camera and the "EOS Integrated Cleaning System" will care about it when it powers up. Nevertheless, dust can still enter the sensor chamber during zoom operations by sucking in air and may still settle on the sensor while shooting.

Video Functionality

Movie functionality has also reached Canon's most favourite consumer DSLR and the implementation of this new feature is quite user friendly. QuickTime Movies (MOV-Format) can be recorded in three different sizes from (4:3) 640 x 480 and 1280x720P with 30fps, up to HD (16:9)1920 x 1080P with 20fps, with a maximum movie length of 29m 59sec and a file size of maximum 4GB.
Taking videos with a DSLR feels slightly strange but the results are well-above avarage and not comparable to the small, low quality movies from digital compact cameras. However, the full HD is no fully implemented feature yet because the frame rate of 20fps is much too slow for real HD enjoyment. Besides the sound quality is, unsurprisingly, rather mediocre. AF is available during recording although it's even worse compared to the contrast AF in Live-View shooting mode - the focusing procedure takes quite long and focusing noises are quite apparent on the audio side.

Verdict

At the first glance the Canon EOS 500D doesn't offer much more compared to its predecessor - except the movie functionality and an excellent display. Let's check the technical skills of the Canon EOS 500D now ...





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