CANON Digital Elph S500

Iāve been a fan of the Canon Digital ELPHs since the very beginning of the line, partly because I just like the styling, solid feel and high quality images, but also because I really appreciate the ability to use my Compact Flash cards in both my Digital SLRs and these handy little cameras. The latest edition of the Digital ELPH, which has been out for a good long time by now, increases the resolution to a nice 5 megapixel, which is enough to give you 260 dpi on an 8x10 print, or 370 at 5x7. While a 6 megapixel camera will give you a little more sharpness, youād need a magnifying glass to find it. For anything less than a professional camera, 5 megapixel is still more than enough. In fact, since they take Compact Flash cards, I usually carry an ELPH in my camera bag when Iām on assignment as a backup for my digital SLR ö it comes in really handy when I want to hand a camera to some innocent bystander to get a shot I canāt take·like one of me, for instance.

In addition to the increased resolution, the S500 adds a bit more digital magnification, increasing the maximum digital zoom from 3.6 to 4.1. The seven element lens itself stays at a 36-108mm 35mm equivalent÷a 3X optical zoom. The extra digital zoom is appreciated, but personally, Iād rather have a wider lens than more telephoto, which may seem wrong until you try to take a picture of a few friends at a party and have to make them bunch up more than their friendship warrants. For most shooting, wider is better. The lens aperture changes as it zooms, which is natural, going from f/2.8 at its widest to 4.9 at its telephoto setting. The fastest ISO (sensitivity) equivalence is 400, which works fairly well indoors when youāre taking wide shots, but makes the optical zoom less useful in dim lighting. The built-in flash works well up to about ten feet if youāre shooting wide, but drops down to about six feet in telephoto.

The S500 was introduced at the same time as the S410, which upgraded the 4 megapixel S400 ELPH with the addition of a PRINT/SHARE button. When the camera is connected to a printer via its USB cable this button lights up to alert the user that they can print directly from the camera. Though naturally it works with Canon printers, it also works with any device supporting the ćPictBridgeä standard, which all the major suppliers have agreed to support. If the device supports PictBridge, youāll see a special symbol in the upper left hand corner of the LCD screen when the camera is connected to it via a USB cable.

Iām not sure if this is actually the case, but the display seems a bit better calibrated on the S500. On previous Digital ELPH models I found myself turning down the screen brightness to try and match what I was really seeing, but here it seems a better match. Although I use the manual setting often so that I can adjust the exposure and other settings, the results I get from using the auto settings are usually as good·or better.

The battery life is as good as ever, and Iāve never considered buying a spare battery for any digital ELPH Iāve ever used. With the LCD turned on, the camera is rated at an impressive 190 shots, and Iāve yet to exceed its capacity in a dayās worth of shooting. Even if I could, the charger is the same size as the camera (i.e. very small) and its plug folds up, so it hardly takes up any room in your luggage and recharges the battery in about an hour.

File sizes for the S500 reflect the higher resolution. The ćLarge/SuperFineä setting will give you 2.5 MB pictures, but if you drop the JPG quality down just one notch to ćLarge/Fineä it comes down to a significantly smaller 1.4 MB per image, with only the slightest loss in perceived picture quality.

If there is one area in this latest Digital ELPH that Iām not thrilled with, itās the cameraās speed. Maybe Iām jaded, but as long as Canon is improving the image quality, Iād like to see some other improvements as well. It takes about two seconds for the S500 to fully turn on, which is tolerable but by no means fast by todayās standards, and it takes that long (or longer) to get a focus/exposure lock on the scene. Once the camera is locked on to its target the shutter release is quick, but in the current crop of digital cameras, I find the S500 to be running well in the back of the pack. Its ćfilm speedä could stand to be updated too ö 400 ISO equivalent has been standard for the Digital ELPH cameras pretty much since the first model, and itās high time that got bumped up to 800 ISO or more, allowing for better indoor shooting. Sure, high ISO pics can get grainy, but sometimes you just need it.

Model-Canon Digital ELPH S500
Street price-US$329
Sensor res-5.0 megapixels
Image dimensions-2592x1944 down to 640x480
ISO-Auto, 50/100/200/400
Lens-F:2.8-4.9 (3X/4.1X)
Lens focal length-7.4-22.2 mm (36-108mm equiv.)
Shutter-1/2000 to 15 second
Exposure compensation-+/- 2.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Storage-CF Card (32MB included)
Focus-AF, fixed to center
LCD screen-1.5 inch TFT (118k)
Flash modes-auto/on/off/red-eye/slow-synch
Battery-NB-1LH Li-Ion
Weight-6.5 ounces w/o battery
Dimensions-3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches
Included-ArcSoft, cables, strap, card

The S500 includes a video mode, with a three minute maximum length on each clip. The highest resolution mode is 640x480 pixels and slightly over 40 MB per minute, running up to a maximum clip size of approximately 125 MB. Iām not a video guy, and this limitation actually works to my advantage, encouraging me to shoot vignettes rather than movies, and it can be a lot of fun, while avoiding the endless video syndrome that camcorders are prone too. Movies are stored in the .AVI format and can be played back through most media players. The flipside of large 640x480 format is a rather sluggish frame rate of just 10 frames per second. At the smaller 320 x 240 and 160 x 120 formats you get 15 frames per second. Still not blazing, but the S500 is a camera and not a video recorder.

The Canon Digital ELPH S500 carries on the tradition of a fine line of cameras, and with its increased resolution should provide images that will stand up to its competitors for years to come. However, they have a lot of competition now, and I hope Canon wonāt rest on its laurels. The extra digital zoom is nice, but I would have preferred a wider lens instead. For someone who wants to use their Compact Flash memory card collection, itās worth serious consideration. If youāre just starting out and havenāt chosen a memory format, you might want to look at some of the Secure Digital cameras in the same price/performance range, including Canonās SD300 or Casioās 7MB Xilim P700, which we look at elsewhere in this issue.

÷Ernest Lilley



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