Canon PowerShot SX500 IS

Need a lot of zoom for a little bit of cash? The PowerShot SX500 IS fits the bill nicely, as long as you can live with its quirks.

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CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.

Design and features

Cameras with a lengthy optical zoom to their name — we call them superzooms — are often bulky creatures. Lumbering back and forth from photo opportunities on an adventurous sojourn, superzooms don't often get to be described with the tag "petite".

Here we have the Canon PowerShot SX500 IS, which bucks the trend of bulk and weight, instead positioning itself as a compact device with 30x optical zoom that can sit comfortably in the palm of your hand.

Behind the lens sits a 16-megapixel CCD sensor, and, as you may have already guessed, the IS tag in the product name denotes image stabilisation.

The 3-inch screen possesses a resolution of 460,000 dots, about average for cameras of this class. A 24mm wide-angle lens means you can cram more scenery and vistas into your shots. At the top of the camera body is a small pop-up flash, which needs to be pulled up into position by the photographer, alongside a power button and mode dial housing all of the main controls.

The dial gives access to full manual controls — Program, Aperture, Shutter and Manual exposure — as well as automatic, scene modes, creative effects, discreet mode for quiet shooting and movie mode. Down the back panel is also a dedicated video-record button, as well as a directional pad and control ring for tweaking settings like ISO, flash and self-timer.

The simple, uncluttered top panel and mode dial on the SX500 IS.
(Credit: CBSi)

The SX500 IS uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and comes with a neck strap and lens cap in the box.


General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Canon rates the battery at 195 shots.

Image quality

For general photographic situations and shooting in ample lighting, the SX500 IS produces perfectly acceptable shots. Colour rendition is good on default settings, and dynamic range is surprisingly good. However, there are a few things to look out for along the way, including some lens issues.

The lens exhibits a fair amount of purple fringing on high-contrast areas. While it's something that can be resolved in post-processing to some extent, it's still desirable to minimise it in-camera. Also worth noting at this stage is that the SX500 does not shoot in RAW, just JPEG.

When shooting in bright situations or direct sunlight, the screen becomes very difficult to see. This is something that plagues many cameras, but many get around it by offering an electronic viewfinder. Unfortunately, due to the price and positioning of the SX500, it misses out on this feature.

Now you don't see it, now you do. Getting up close and personal at the 24mm wide end (top) and 60x Zoom Plus (bottom).
(Credit: CBSi)

Digital zoom is not usually worth even mentioning in a review, but the SX500 comes with a bit of extra reach thanks to something called Zoom Plus. Able to hit the equivalent of 60x zoom with this feature, you can get even closer to subjects if need be. The results are impressive, especially if you are just looking to use it as an emergency backup or for lower-resolution display online.

As with any telephoto lens, it is tricky to shoot handheld as the focal length (or simulated focal length) magnifies any handshake quite a lot.

When the ISO sensitivity climbs, the sensor and image processor clearly struggle to maintain clarity in shots. There's quite a lot of noise present, particularly if you are using the zoom and avoiding flash usage in dim situations.

Video quality is average. Other Canon compact cameras have excelled at high-quality video, but the SX500 IS suffers from jerky use of the zoom while filming, as well as an overall lack of sharpness across the video image.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/320, f/4, ISO 200

Exposure: 1/800, f/4, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/50, f/5, ISO 200

Exposure: 1/250, f/5, ISO 200

(Credit: CBSi)


The SX500 IS caters to photographers who want a lot of zoom for little cash. It succeeds well at this task, though image-quality purists will bemoan the lack of RAW and visible fringing issues on photos.

Canon Australia no longer issues RRPs for its products, but we have seen the SX500 IS for sale in the region of AU$350-AU$400.

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