Not happy with the Canon 500D

Couleur Cafe 2006
In June 2006 I bought my first reflex camera: a Canon 350D. About the same time I started taking pictures of tango (above: my first tango picture, at Couleur Cafe 2006). And it was the start of an exciting journey. Concerts, milongas, tango festivals, portraits, I discovered the joy of creating – or recording –  beauty. It has become a passion, and a privilege to do. I love the concentration, the play with light, the search for the right frame, the waiting for the perfect moment and then, every now and then, the joy of seeing that you’ve created an image that actualy IS worth a thousand words.

Along that way, my 350D was my trusted accomplice. I took it everywhere, first in a simple black camera bag, afterwards, when I started buying more lenses, in a Lowepro backpack. Eventhough the screen on the back of the camera was small, it gave me enough feedback to know whether I was taking pictures the right way, allowed me to finetune ISO, whitebalance, shutterspeed. It sometimes felt like the extension of my hand, of my eye. I just loved that camera.

But then, end 2009, it started breaking down. First random power issues, then just dead. It was sent to Canon, they said: completely oxydated, we have to replace the whole interior. So I needed a new camera. I doubted a lot: should I take the 500D, its successor, or the 5D Mk II. In car terms: should I stay in the BMW 3 series, or move up to the 5? After some weeks of hesitation (“that 5D is a lot of money“), I finally settled for the 500D. Boy, have I regretted that.

It came in December last year. It had more megapixels, a larger screen, could do HD video and all that, but from the first few pictures, something felt wrong. I took a picture, looked at the screen and the colors seemed … wrong. Something I had never had with the 350D. I tried other settings for white-balance, ISO, picture style, … Nothing helped. Worst of all, the biggest ugliness appeared in low-light conditions with red-light (incandescent) lighting. And that is exactly what tango photography is about. In the course of some weeks, I all but lost my appetite for photography. The joy of creating something beautiful was gone. I looked at the images on the camera’s screen and afterwards on my PC, and it was ugly.

Thank god, a dear friend photographer let me borrow his own 350D as a second camera (he had switched to the 5D), and I found back some of the joy. I used both cameras next to one another, one with a 30mm f/1.4 lens, one with a 70-200mm f/2.8. Then, one evening at Milonga de Gante, I decided to really compare. I took pictures with the same lens, in the same place, with standard settings. The difference was so clear. Any picture that had colors that looked somewhat pleasing: 350D. Any picture so washed out in a dirty pink color that I had to desaturate it at least halfway to black/white to actually resemble anything human: 500D.

350D: Milonga de Gante 2

500D:Milonga de Gante 2

(BTW, I have much better examples of just how ugly the colors are on the 500D, but I haven’t published any. It goes against my instinct.)

I decided I had enough and went back to the shop, Foto Konijnenberg in Turnhout. I showed them the pictures, they agreed it was not normal and sent the camera back to Canon. Today I got their answer: “firmware update (only does something for Liveview and menu screen), sensor cleaning (it could not have been that dirty after 3 months of usage), camera works ‘conform the specifications’, please read your manual”. In other words: RTFM. Konijnenberg is trying to help, but if Canon says nothing’s wrong, what can they say?

So now I have to go collect my camera,  and I’m pretty sure it won’t work any better. If anyone can lend me his 500D so that I can actually see if it’s a bug (only in my camera) or a feature (in all 500D cameras), I would be very grateful. In the meantime, I’ve taken it as a sign from above: buy a friggin’ 5D Mk II, you know you want to. So that’s what I did. The 500D is destined to become my backup sissy camera.

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3 Responses to Not happy with the Canon 500D

  1. What about 50D? Why jumping from 500D to 5D ??

  2. I have a 500D too and I also upgraded from a 350D. No complaints about the colors so far.

    If you want to, you may borrow my camera for a few days to test shoot and compare. I live in Leuven/Kessel-Lo. Just give me a call.

  3. Why are you so focused on the 5D Mark II? Get the previous version, the 5D and you’ll save a lot of money and benefit from the full frame sensor quality.

    Look at this shot taken past weekend:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/bartclaeys/4433369842/