October 9th, 2005
The 7.1 megapixel Canon SD500 digital Elph is a great camera with quick and accurate image processing. It’s loaded with features and takes vibrant sharp photos. The interface is easy enough to use and is an evolving model used by all previous Elph/Ixus cameras. The biggest complaint I have with the unit is that its quite heavy for a camera doing dual duty as an UW camera as well as a pocketable compact point & shoot, weighing in at 200g.
As an underwater camera, I think this thing takes incredibly clear photos and has an terrific variable flash. Even better still is mating the camera and housing to a SeaLife SL960D Digital Strobe. Together, the Canon and SeaLife are capable of imaging subjects at a greater range and the user can really make the most of what is a relatively inexpensive – but at the same time powerful setup.
There are several serious shortcomings of note, regarding the SD500. One is battery life. The SD500 has good battery life in general, however, it also has an auto-rotate function that allows it to know if you’re holding the camera on its side, and rotates the image accordingly. This is handy on land, but its detrimental to its performance underwater. There is no way to turn this feature off. While diving, I always keep the camera on, so that I don’t miss the moment that octopus comes out of its den or that barracuda tries to take a bite out of my buddy’s regulator hose. Powering the camera on and off is a chore and takes time. Most cameras, the Elph included, have a power off setting for the display. After 30 seconds of inactivity the camera display turns off to conserve battery life, which is great. Problem is, every time the camera shifts in the water (which is often), the motion sensor wakes it from sleep. This results in a huge amount of wasted power and I really, really wish Canon would allow the user to temporarily disable the feature. As it is, you’re likely to have enough battery life for about 2 dives, not terrific when compared to my previous underwater camera, the Pentax Optio – which averaged about 4 dives on a fully charged battery. Still, the Canon produces photos with superior image quality, despite it’s smaller gas tank.
The Canon WP-DC70 underwater housing, made specifically for the SD500, is depth rated to 130ft/40m. It features an integrated, removable diffuser for the internal flash, and unfortunately is positively buoyant with the camera installed. This is unfortunate, because many users will have to buy a $34 weight set for the housing, to make it usable underwater. Another design feature of note that I believe hinders usability is that the camera mode button is in the top right corner and operates by way of a swiveling handle. This causes problems when the thumb naturally goes there to hold the camera and inadvertently changes the shooting mode. As an example, I had a great shot all lined up during a dive the other day, and when I pressed the shutter button I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself shooting a video instead of a still photo. Among the housing’s positive features, it comes with a hood so that you can easily view the screen when there’s bright light from above (common in clear water diving), and has a double-paned glass lens for anti-fogging, and last but not least – I think that Canon underwater housings utilize some of the best stock o-rings on the market for underwater point&shoot cameras. All in all, the Canon SD500 digital Elph takes great photos as evidenced by my galleries from Costa Rica and the Pacific Northwest, even if there are a few usability issues, and presents a powerful entry level package at an affordable price point. Conclusion: highly recommended for beginner to intermediate level underwater photographers.
Entry Filed under: Gear