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My experience and tests with Canon 500D

In late april 2009, I have bought the small Canon 500D. The main reasons for this choice is to have a reflex camera with video (I want to take videos with the Canon EF lenses!) and the 15 megapixel APS-C sensor, that allows to make very precise lens tests and to take photos of distant subjects (birds, wildlife) with good quality.  
I'm not going to publish a traditional review of the 500D. Instead, I'll publish here a "500D blog": what I learn every day from tests and experiences in the field with the 500D!

Camera Specifications

 Camera Canon EOS 500D
 Image Sensor 15.10 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
 File format 14 bit RAW (4752 x 3168 pixel, approx 20 MB .Cr2), JPEG
 Video capabilities  1920 x 1080 (1080P, 16:9) @ 20 fps 1280 x 720 (720P, 16:9) @ 30 fps 640 x 480 (4:3) @ 30 fps MOV format(H.264 video, linear PCM audio)
 Viewfinder 95% coverage, magnification 0.87x
 Autofocus 9 AF sensors (1 cross type)
 Metering modes Evaluative, Partial, Spot, Centerweighted
 Exposure modes Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, video + scene modes
 ISO sensitivities  ISO 100–3200, ISO 100 - 12800 in expanded mode
 Exposure compensation  +/-2 stops in 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments
 Shutter speeds  30" - 1/4000 plus Bulb pose
 X-sync 1/200
 Continuous shooting speed 3.4 FPS for 9 RAW
 LCD screen 3.0", 640x480 pixels
 Support SD/SDHC Memory Card
 Battery One dedicated lithium-ion battery LP-E5
 Weather sealing No
 Dimensions (W) x (H) x (D)  129 x 98 x 62 mm (5.1 x 3.9 x 2.4 in.)
 Weight (Body only)  480g without battery
 Price $ 800
 Announced 2009
 Other features live view, anti-dust


May 30, 2009: Some photo and video samples

During my trip to Finland, I have used a lot the Canon 500D, both for videos and for still photos. These are some samples that show the image quality in the field and in studio!  
The first photo is the fantastic view from the Wild Brown Bear observation hide n. 4. This photo is taken through the glass of the hide window, nevertheless, the image quality is pretty good.

Canon EOS 500D, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, 1/60 f/5.6, iso 200.

 100% crop from RAW 100% crop from processed photo

This is a photo taken from another hide, this time with the 600 f/4 and with relatively high ISO:

Canon EOS 500D, Canon EF 600 f/4 L IS USM, 1/250 f/4, iso 800.

 100% crop from RAW 100% crop from processed photo

I must say I am positively surprised by the image quality at high ISO of the Canon 500D - it is not as good as the image quality of 1DsIII, but it is quite good, it even looks slightly better than the image quality of its big brother Canon 50D. When I'll have the occasion, I'll try to do a side by side comparison between 500D and 50D!  
Do you want full size samples, RAW and JPEG? here you are :-)

Canon EOS 500D, Canon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS USM, 0.8" f/8, iso 100. Download: post-processed JPEG / untouched RAW
This is a good example of the extraordinary detail you can get with the 500D, using good lenses and perfect technique.  

Canon EOS 500D, Canon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS USM, 1/800 f/8, iso 1600. Download: post-processed JPEG / untouched RAW
Even at 1600 ISO, the image quality is still good. Of course there is noise into shadows, but much less than I expected, and with a little of noise reduction the images are 100% usable.  

Canon EOS 500D, Canon EF 24-105 f/4 L IS USM, 1/125 f/8, iso 12800. Download: post-processed JPEG / untouched RAW
Here is an example of crazy high ISO. The full size photo is pretty noisy, but for small prints and web it is still usable. I'd try to avoid ISO 12800 as much as possible on the 500D; nevertheless, if you absolutely need it and you expose properly, you can still get acceptable image quality for some usages.  
And now, somef video samples. These videos are straight out of the camera, I have not applied any post processing; the camera was set on minimum contrast and sharpening.

 Gulls - 600 f/4 (3 seconds, 12 MB) Click here for download! Bear - 600 f/4 (5 seconds, 20 MB) Click here for download!

 Wind - 20 f/1.8 (11 seconds, 38 MB) Click here for download! Shells - 20 f/1.8 (9 seconds, 30 MB) Click here for download!

Even though the 500D videos are not super sharp, the image quality is not bad; with nature subject it is difficult to notice artefacts.

May 29, 2009: White Balance matters!

When I take still photos, I don't care about white balance: I always keep the WB on Auto and I select the correct white balance during RAW converstion. With video, it is not possible: even though you can correct the color balance during post processing, the result is not as good as using the right white balance. In natural light Auto WB works well, but with artificial light, it is easy to get a result like that:

The image has a strong, unpleasing yellow cast. In these situations, you have to select manually the right WB setting; in this case, the correct setting in "Incandescent"...and this is the result:

Now, the image has natural, pleasing colors. If you try to correct the WB of the first image during post processing, you can get this result:

It is not too bad, but takes some effort (using the correct WB directly in-camera is much easier!) and overall it is still not as good as the video taken with the right WB: there are still slight color casts and the fine detail looks a bit smeared.

May 08, 2009: Canon 500D vs Canon 350D

After so many tests about video, today I have decided to try the still capabilities of the 500D, comparing it with the old 350D. This is the test target:

I have taken the same photo with both cameras, using mirror lock up, 10 seconds self timer, tripod and Canon 24-105mm at 50mm f/8, its sharpest setting. The photos had been taken in RAW and coverted with Canon Digital Photo Professional (currently it is the only program that converts 500D RAW files). This is a 100% crop from the 500D photo:

And this is the crop from the 350D photo, upsized to 15 megapixel:

The 500D shows clearly more detail. The 350D is not bad, but the 500D is better! (not a big surprise here)  
Other than detail, I was curios to compare high iso performance. These are two crops from a photo taken at 1600 ISO with the 500D and 350D.


The 500D is the first crop on the left, while the 350D is on the right. Considering that the 500D has much smaller photosites than 350D, I expected a lot more noise: instead, the 500D shows nearly the same noise performance of 350D, and more detail.

May 06, 2009: Picture Styles and "video RAW"

While for photos you can use RAW so you don't have to worry about the setting of sharpness, contrast, etc, during video these settings become very important. If your setting give oversharpened video, for example, you can't remove the excessive sharpening during post processing, so it is important to set the picture styles on the right settings: the video quality can be quite good!  
This is the standard picture style. There is too much contrast and an exaggerate sharpening.

Click on the image to view it at full resolution, 1280x720 px!
To get the best video quality, I have created a picture style with the minum value of contrast (-4), minimum sharpening (-4) and very low saturation (-2); I leave tone on the average value (0). Even tough it is not possible to get RAW video, with these settings you get a video that is "as RAW as possible": it has the maximum possible dynamic range (look at the detail into the white shells and in the shadows!) and it has no sharpening artefacts. Other than that, these settings reduce the "jaggies" problem!

Click on the image to view it at full resolution, 1280x720 px!
This video requires some post-processing to give the best results; with some curves adjustment and sharpening you get this:

Click on the image to view it at full resolution, 1280x720 px!
The resulting video is better than video taken in-camera with the "Standard" Picture Style; the details looks more natural and it has less sharpening halos and "jaggies".

May 02, 2009: Low light and bright lenses

As previously said, the 500D is not a great performer in low light. How can you improve the results? In this situation, there is only one way: bright lenses. Since the video is taken at 30 frames per second, the shutter speed can not be longer than 1/30; the only way to have more light is to use a bright aperture. Until now, I didn't like my Sigma 20 f/1.8, but with the 500D I have changed my mind: for video this lens is an awesome choice. Here is a quick test!  
This is a still frame from a video taken with a darker lens, the Sigma 12-24mm at 20mm f/5.6:

Click on the image to view it at full resolution, 1280x720 px!
Image quality is almost as bad as the video quality of my crappy Nokia 5800 mobile phone. And now, let's try the same video with the Sigma 20mm at f/1.8:

Click on the image to view it at full resolution, 1280x720 px!
There is a night and day difference! This time, the video quality is quite good, with much, much better colors and way less noise. The Sigma 20 f/1.8 was not a good lens on my fullframe 1Ds3, but on the 500D you don't have problems of vignetting and soft corners (because the APS-C sensor uses only the center part of the image, that is the sharpest), moreover, the image is quite small (1280x720 is about 1 megapixel) so it is easy to get a good sharpness. With the 1.6x crop factor, you have about the same angle of view of a 32mm: it is the widest f/1.8 lens you can get on APS-C. If you want to take videos in low light, I highly recommend the Sigma 20mm f/1.8!  
Other lenses that would give great results in low light are 50mm f/1.8, 1.4 and, even better, f/1.2; 85mm f/1.2, and the majority of lenses with apeture between f/1.2 and f/2...the brighter, the better.

May 01, 2009: Video Quality...big sensor advantage?

Since video is one of the main reasons that led me to buy the 500D, it is also one of the first things I have tested. Overall, video quality is good in day light, while it is so-so in low light - actually, it is slightly worse than the quality of my previous HF10. How is it possible? The 500D has a much bigger sensor than consumer camcorders as the HF10, so one could expect way better low light performance.  
Whatching the 500D video artifacts revealed me a possible explaination: I think that the 500D does not use the entire surface of the sensor to generate video, instead, it scans a line of pixels every 4 or 5. In other words, instead of taking 15 megapixels images and resizing them on the fly to 1280x720px, it is likely that the 500D during video take directly 1280x720px images, using only a small portion of the sensor surface. The resulting video is quite noisy in low light and, even in bright light, sometimes it shows "jaggies" (aliasing artefacts).  
To verify this theory, I have done a simple test. This is a still frame from video:

Click on the image to view it at full resolution, 1280x720 px!
And this is a 15 megapixel photo, cropped to 16:9 and resized to 1280x720px:

Click on the image to view it at full resolution, 1280x720 px!
The difference, in terms of crispness and detail is huge. If the 500D actually used the full surface of its sensor the video quality would be awesome, but by using only a row of pixel every 4 or 5, the video quality is ok, but not as good as one may expect.  
Here is an example of the jaggies artefacts:

Click on the image to view it at full resolution, 1280x720 px!
This artefact is likely a result of using only one row of pixel every 4 or 5; during the video it is not as apparent as in these still frames grabbed from the video, but sometimes it is still annoying.  
Even though I have not done in-depth tests with the 5D MarkII, I believe that it uses a much larger portion of the sensor for video; its videos are much more crisp and it has better performance in low light. Of course, the 5D2 costs $ 2700 while the 500D costs $800: you get what you pay for.
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