HandlingOn first contact, the Ixus 500 HS generally inspires an enthusiastic response. It's small, it's cute, it's stylish, and it comes in sleek black or show-stopping blue or red. Put simply, it looks great, and build quality is impeccable.
As is all too often the way with love at first sight, once the initial wave of passion dies down, you start noticing little flaws. The main downside of the Ixus 500 HS is directly related to its small size and large screen, as all of the camera's controls are bunched up on the right-hand side of the rear face. They're packed in very tightly too! In fact, unless you have a particularly tiny thumb, you'll find you naturally cover three or four buttons when you hold the camera. That's not a serious problem (the buttons are firm enough to ensure you won't press them by accident), but it's not very comfortable—especially if you're the kind of person who often changes settings, as you could end up having to spend a lot of time checking which button you're pressing.
At the same time, the Ixus 500 HS isn't really aimed at users who like play with settings. It works very well in Auto mode, and switching the flash off and on is probably the only thing most users will ever need to worry about.
The 3-inch screen has a 460,000-dot definition, which is in line with current market standards. Viewing angles are good, and the display is generally pleasant to use. However, when you're looking back through photos and deciding which ones to delete, bear in mind that the gamma (grey scale) is much too low in light shades (the gamma drops to 0.4 for a 90% grey shade, which basically means that it'll just look like white). That could end up making a very light sky look completely washed out, for example. Colour fidelity isn't up to much either, with a delta E over 9 (this should be 3 or under for accurate colours) mainly caused by a green shade that's verging on fluorescent and a very pale blue. In other words, the screen is fine for lining up shots, but don't trust it 100% when viewing pictures onscreen.
Like most Canon compacts, the Ixus 500 HS has a clear interface, including a handy Quick menu for fast access to all the main settings.
While that's all very well and good, there are two quite annoying things about this cute little camera—the battery life and the memory card—both of which are victims of Canon's quest to make the camera as small as possible. The battery has already been seen in the likes of the Ixus 1100 HS, for example, and its capacity is no better than certain AA batteries. The Ixus 500 HS therefore doesn't like to stray too far from its charger, and if you're particularly snap happy, a half-day of shooting can seriously eat away at the battery life.
The memory card, on the other hand, is a micro SD card rather than a standard SD card. While performance and price are no longer issues with this type of media, micro SD card readers are still pretty rare, especially on computers. So although a super-small superzoom compact sounds like a great idea for travelling, unless you have directly compatible devices (like a touchscreen tablet), you'll need to remember to pack an external card reader or the camera's USB cable, which is a bit of a shame if you were expecting to travel light with such a tiny camera.
ResponsivenessThe Canon Ixus 500 HS is no lightning-fast snapper. It takes almost three seconds to take a first photo from the moment you press the On button. This could probably be something to do with the rather complex lens design, as the camera first has to deploy the telescopic part of the lens, then position the prism that sends the image to the periscopic section. Whatever the reason, though, it's a bit frustrating. Photo-to-photo turnaround isn't exactly speedy either, although there's no immediate explanation for that given the electronics in this camera!
On the other hand, the autofocus does a reasonably good job. In good light it works in under half a second at all focal lengths, and still manages to work in under a second when the light starts to fade.
Picture QualityIt's in this field that we've really been waiting to see what the Ixus 500 HS is made of. For starters, the lens is 100% new and has a particularly complex design. Plus, in theory, the sensor is new too, although given some of the specs spotted at the camera's Japanese presentation, there's a chance it could be the 16-Megapixel sensor widely used in Sony models last year, but with just 10 Megapixels used here due to the more compact lens.
It's no real surprise to see the camera struggle a little more with sensitivity than last year's Canon 'HS' cameras and their 1/2.3" 12-Megapixel sensors. However, the Ixus 500 HS still holds its own. At 800 ISO pictures are perfectly acceptable, and at 1600 ISO they can be viewed on a computer screen or used to make 4" x 6" prints (11 x 15 cm) without granular noise being too much of a problem.
The Ixus 500 HS lens is something of a nice surprise—which goes to show that we needn't have been so worried about ultra-compact hybrid-design lenses. Obviously, it's no match for the likes of Canon's SX230 or Sony's HX9V, which have the best superzoom lenses out there right now, and sharpness in the centre of the frame can be matched by several cheaper cameras. However, quality across the frame is very consistent, with sharpness levels holding up well in the corners of the frame. At telephoto settings there's a slight drop in quality, and there are better options out there (including the Ixus 1100 HS, another super-small 12x zoom compact), but the Ixus 500 HS can still deliver impeccable 8" x 10" prints (20 x27 cm). Only users who do a lot of cropping or make large-sized prints will really notice any difference.
VideoThis is one area in which the Ixus 500 HS is a bit disappointing. It's quite normal to see 24 fps video in Canon compacts these days, but the firm's other models deliver better image quality than this sleek snapper. In the Ixus 500 HS, excessive contrast levels overexpose light shades and video noise turns indoor footage into something of a snowstorm.
Sound quality could be better—while the stereo effect is clearly audible, the two tiny microphones are soon saturated and metallic sounds aren't captured well.