Price: 756 . 843 . 1216
Pros: Excellent low-light performance (up to ISO 3200); can shoot video at 720p; produces soft and natural-looking colour tones .
Cons: ISO button in an uncomfortable position; Live View mode is not intuitive; LCD screen does not pop out; no external microphone jack.
The performance of the Canon EOS 500D during our still image tests was excellent. It’s a camera that can produce soft, natural-looking tones and it doesn’t overdo red, green and blue colours when there is plenty of light. Its low-light performance is also stellar; you can use up to ISO 3200 to take photos in a dark environment, without worrying if your photos will end up looking noisy. We couldn’t notice any noise at ISO 3200 unless we scrutinised the images at their full 15.1-megapixel size; even then the noise did not ruin the image.
The Canons EOS 500D’s low-light performance is especially pleasing because its sensor size is only 22.3x14.9mm compared to the Nikon D5000’s 23.6x15.8mm, yet it packs almost three million more pixels (15.1 megapixels compared to 12.3 megapixels). So despite the higher density of pixels on the smaller sensor size, which is a good recipe for noise at high sensitivities, the EOS 500D performed just as well as the D5000 in low light.
Its speed was also very good, although it is a little slower than the Nikon D5000. We clocked it at 3.2 frames per second, and it was able to take up 32 shots in burst mode before its buffer filled and it had to write the photos to memory.
With Live View, you can use the EOS 500D's three-inch LCD screen and built-in video mode to capture movies at a high-definition resolution of 720p. Files are saved in the MOV format and can be played on any computer that has QuickTime installed. This is a great feature for anyone who wants a 'hybrid' camera that can capture both high quality still images and video.
In our tests, the video mode produced sharp pictures and its colours and exposure were accurate. Motion was handled quite well, but was still a little jumpy. It was definitely better than the motion captured by Nikon's D5000, which skewed a lot of straight lines, but you still won't want to use the Canon EOS 500D when you shoot your first action flick.
While the camera's built-in microphone does a decent job of recording voices, it also picks up zoom movements and mechanical noises if you use the autofocus button. Like the Nikon D5000, the Canon EOS 500D doesn’t have microphone input jacks, so you’re stuck with the internal microphone. If you want a digital camera with external microphone jacks, you’ll have to upgrade to the more expensive Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which will also give you Full HD recording at 1080p.
All things considered, the Canon EOS 500D is a nice step up from the 400D and is a good model to consider if you also want the ability to capture high quality video with a still camera. It’s not perfect — it could use a better control layout, a flip-down screen, and an easier to use Live View mode — but at $1499 for the body, it’s just as good an option as Nikon’s D5000, although the latter is the better camera.