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Home > Reviews > Cameras > Canon PowerShot S500 DIGITAL ELPH

Canon PowerShot S500 DIGITAL ELPH Review
9/12/2004 - Updated 3/12/2006

I was looking around for a small, compact digital camera and finally decided on Canon's PowerShot S500. It is a 5 Megapixal ultra-compact digital camera with 3x optical zoom lens and DIGIC image processor. I picked this camera because I have lot's of compact flash cards (which it uses) and my previous experience with a very reliable Canon's PowerShot S230 (2 Megapixal).

My job as a designer also demanded a camera that can capture larger images with more detail for ads, brochures, presentations and website. When visiting architects, or job sites, I discovered that a digital camera is an important tool in capturing job schedules, job conditions, architects sketches/doodles, shop drawings and, of course, people. You may forget their names, but you have captured their faces :-)

What's Inside
Opening the box revealed the following items :

1 - PowerShot S500 Digital Elph
1 - NB-1LH lithium-ion battery pack
1 - CB-2LS Battery charger
1 - USB Interface Cable
1 - AV Cable
1 - Wrist Strap
1 - Canon Digital Camera Solutions CD-ROM and manual
1 - ArcSoft Camera Suite CD-ROM and manual
1 - 161 page User's Guide (in English and another User's Guide in Spanish)
1 - Registration Card
1 - 32MB CompactFlash memory card.

Just a note on the 32MB CompactFlash card. When shooting in Large/SuperFine mode, you will only get 11 shots. I would recommend at least a 128MB, which would give you almost 50 shots.


First Appearance
Front Back Left
Right Top Bottom
The PowerShot S500 Digital Elph appears to be a solid, durable camera. It is what I expected when I first held it in my hands. In fact I learned that the body is scratch resistant stainless steel. Using a metal body is unusual nowadays since plastic is being used for most products like this. It feels like it should last a long time, but in technology years, especially recently, it will probably be out-of-date in a couple of years (or when the new models come out).

The camera is fairly light at 6.53 oz. (185g), and small 3.43 x 2.24 x 1.09 in. (87.0 x 57.0 x 27.8mm). It easily fits in my shirt and pants pockets which makes it ideal for carrying it around wherever I go. With the built in lens cover that automatically seals the lens when powered down, I wouldn't have to worry about replacing (or losing) a separate lens cover.

Probably the most annoying thing I find about these high tech manufacturers is their use of proprietary batteries. Just like cell phones, the batteries are not interchangeable with other models in their line. As a matter-of-fact, the same applies to inkjet printer cartridges.

Well... back to the battery. It is a 3.7V 840mAh lithium ion rechargeable battery. On a fully dead battery, it charges in about 3 hours. There is a red LED on the charger indicating that the battery is charging and it turns green when the battery is charged. The battery compartment is located on the bottom of the camera. Sliding the battery door (it's plastic) outward, and lifting exposes the cavity. The battery can only go in one way, so no mistakes can be made here (hopefully).

According to the specs, with the LCD on, occasional zooming, and 25 percent use of the flash, you should get about a 190 shots. With the LCD off, about 440. In my experience, I find these numbers to be somewhat overrated. On a fully charged battery, with LCD on and flash usage about 1 out of 4 shots, the number of shots I get varies tremendously. On cool days, around 50°F (10°C), I can sometimes get 60 to 70 shots. On warmer days, 80°F (27°C), I'm lucky to get 120 shots. With the LCD off however, daytime shooting and no flash, I've managed to get about 400 shots.

The battery charger is well designed, compact (same size as the camera) and lightweight. There are no cables or bricks to mess with and when plugged into a dual wall socket (only the upper one) you still have access to the other socket. Very nice.

Memory Card
Canon provides a 32MB CompactFlash card with the camera, which is, in one way, nice of them. Considering when you buy a film camera, you do not get film, or some digital single lens reflex, you'll have to buy the memory card separately.

Depending on the resolution and JPEG compression, the number of images you can capture, on a 32MB card with the S500, ranges from 11 to 337. My uses for this camera requires highest resolution and minimum compression, so the 32MB card is off to eBay. I already have a 256MB card (almost 100 shots) and a 512MB (almost 200 shots), so I'll be using those.

Using the PowerShot S500 Digital Elph
With the battery and memory card installed, it's time to power it on. Outdoors, when pressing the power button and taking the first shot, it takes about two seconds. Indoors, when flash is required, it takes just over 4 seconds. You'll know when you're ready to shoot when you see the green light just to the left of the viewfinder.
On top of the camera, you'll notice some holes in the body. The single one, towards the front is the microphone is used when recording movies, or taking sound memos. The array of 7 holes is the speaker which is used for audio feedback or playing back movies. However, it does not seem to playback sound memos. Hmmm...
Photographs taken with Canon's PowerShot S500 Digital Elph
Subject:   Jet contrails
Model:   Canon PowerShot S500 Digital Elph
Shutter Speed:   1/160 sec
F-Stop:   f/2.8
ISO Speed:   n/a
Focal Length:   7.4 mm
Notes:   This photograph was taken moments after the sun went down.
Subject:   Mallard duck
Model:   Canon PowerShot S500 Digital Elph
Shutter Speed:   1/640 sec
F-Stop:   f/3.5
ISO Speed:   n/a
Focal Length:   10.8 mm
Notes:   Taking photographs of wildlife can be a real challenge. I chased this duck all day until finally, he slowed down. I'll probably hear from the animal activists on this one.
Subject:   Medieval Times
Model:   Canon PowerShot S500 Digital Elph
Shutter Speed:   1.0 sec
F-Stop:   f/2.8
ISO Speed:   n/a
Focal Length:   7.4 mm
Notes:   Long exposures can result in some interesting effects.
Subject:   Medieval Times
Model:   Canon PowerShot S500 Digital Elph
Shutter Speed:   1/5 sec
F-Stop:   f/2.8
ISO Speed:   n/a
Focal Length:   7.4 mm
Notes:   One of the few usable indoor shots. All I had to do was back off on the coffee consumption.
Subject:   Mike Emond's Willis
Model:   Canon PowerShot S500 Digital Elph
Shutter Speed:   1/160 sec
F-Stop:   f/2.8
ISO Speed:   n/a
Focal Length:   7.4 mm
Notes:   Early morning photograph. Camera was placed a few inches from the asphalt. You will notice a pronounced barrel distortion at this wide angle setting.
Subject:   Church tower
Model:   Canon PowerShot S500 Digital Elph
Shutter Speed:   1/250 sec
F-Stop:   f/7.1
ISO Speed:   n/a
Focal Length:   7.4 mm
Notes:   It was a bright/warm day. Using Superfine mode helped to minimize color fringes.
All the photographs above have been taken in Superfine jpeg mode, and reduced 50% in Photoshop with moderate jpeg compression to conserve disk space and bandwidth. Camera was handheld. No color corrections, level adjustments, sharpening or croppings were made.

Like I mentioned earlier, this camera is small, but there are smaller and lighter cameras out there. The PowerShot S500 Digital Elph is about the size of a deck of cards, and about twice as thick. The stainless steel body was one of the factors for choosing this camera. I would think that all point-and-shoot cameras are this easy to use. Installing the battery and memory card couldn't be easier.

Attaching the wrist strap was probably the most difficult part in using this camera.

From a professional (advanced amateur?) point of view, the lens on this camera captures very clear/sharp wonderful images. Unfortunately the images captured at the widest angle (as with other point-and-shoot digital cameras) does display a considerable amount of barrel distortion (think about fisheye). The distortion is less as you zoom out. Another problem is bright daylight. Here is where chromatic aberrations is quite noticeable. Overall, this camera is a lot of fun to use.


Gary Kawamura
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