- Review Date: 08/26/11
- Bottom line:
The General Electric X500 doesn't excel in performance, but it aces value, packing a big 15x zoom lens into a $150 camera.
Inexpensive. 15x zoom lens. Electronic viewfinder. Pop-up flash. Some manual controls. Simple to use.
Mediocre image quality. Dismal low-light performance. Slow.
We’ve reviewed a number of superzoom digital camera in the last few months, all with two things in common: They have long zoom lenses, and they’re all at least $300. General Electric takes a different tack with the 16-megapixel General Electric X500, packing a 15x zoom lens into a $149.99 (direct) package. Of course, any $150 camera comes with trade-offs, and with the X500 you'll have to make sacrifices in performance and quality. If you're more focused on quality, our Editors’ Choice superzoom, the 18x Nikon Coolpix S9100 ($329.95, 4 stars) is a world above the X500 in both cost and performance, but if the combination of small price and big zoom appeals, the X500 is a solid value as long as you keep your expectations in check.
The X500 feels like the little brother of a D-SLR, with its grip, large, protruding lens, and viewfinder. At its largest point, the X500 measures 2.9 by 4.1 by 2.7 inches (HWD), and weighs 15.7 ounces. (Some of that weight, no doubt, is due to the fact that the camera uses 4 AA batteries instead of a single rechargeable cell.) The Nikon D5100 ($899.99, 4.5 stars), a true D-SLR, weighs 1.8 pounds, and is much larger in every dimension. On top of the camera are a Shutter button, a mode dial for quickly entering manual or preset modes, a sliding Power button, a zoom trigger, and a couple of function shortcuts. There’s also a pop-up flash, a feature you won’t often find on a $150 camera.
On the back of the camera are more controls, like the standard five-way directional pad and playback buttons. There’s also a 2.7-inch LCD, filled with 230,000 dots—nothing spectacular, and it feels even smaller on such a large body. Most superzooms have bigger, brighter screens filled with 460,000 or even 921,000 dots, but the X500’s screen is to be expected, given its price. The screen is a bit dim, and tends to display photos as darker than they actually are, which is why I found myself using the X500’s electronic viewfinder (EVF) often. (The EVF actually has a tendency to show your photos as too bright, but that’s better than too dark.) The EVF is a nice touch, and gives the X500 even more of a D-SLR-like feel, though it’s definitely not as accurate as an optical viewfinder.
The 15x zoom lens extends from 27mm-405mm (35mm equivalent), which is a nice combination of both wide and close angles. Those are similar specs to most $300 superzooms, but the Nikon Coolpix S9100 beats it slightly on both ends, going from 25-450mm. The corresponding aperture is f/3.0-5.2, which is brighter than most cameras (Though the added brightness doesn't offer much practical benefit—more on that below.)
Using the X500 is a fairly simple experience. Switching shooting modes is simple, as is toggling common functions like the flash. The camera’s user interface is white text on a dark background, and most common functions are easy to find. Oddly, though, if you shoot in any kind of manual or priority mode, changing the shutter speed or aperture requires a lot of tapping and clicking—having a scroll wheel to change the shutter speed, for instance, would be far more efficient than clicking through menus every time you want to adjust settings.
The spec sheet and feature list of the X500 read like a camera that could compete with other superzooms, but its performance really gives it away as a $150 model. As soon as you start shooting with this camera, you’ll notice just how slow it is, even for an inexpensive camera. The X500 takes a full 4 seconds to turn on and capture a photo, and needs 4.1 seconds between photos. Those scores aren’t good for a camera of any price, bested even by the $99 Kodak EasyShare Mini ($99.99, 2.5 stars), which boots and shoots in 3.2 seconds and needs 2.8 seconds between shots. The real problem here, however, is the 0.9 second of shutter lag, which means that you’ll miss an awful lot of moments even after you press the shutter.
In the PCMag Labs, we use the Imatest suite to objectively measure image quality. The image sharpness test calculates lines per picture height, and the General Electric X500 scored 1,575; that’s a mediocre score, but means that in ideal conditions your photos will look fine. The noise performance test is a measure of how high the camera’s ISO sensitivity can go before the image becomes visibly noisy; it measures the camera’s performance in low light, without a flash. Here the X500 once again falls short. The camera is able to shoot up to only ISO 200 before breaking the 1.5-percent threshold where noise becomes noticeable. Imatest’s results paint a clear picture of what you can do with this camera: If you’re shooting outdoors, or willing to use the flash, you'll get good results. If not, you probably won't.
Few cameras this inexpensive are able to shoot HD video, and the X500 is no exception: it shoots only at 640 by 480, or 320 by 240. Those resolutions (and the quality the camera produces) are fine for YouTube, but there’s a reason there’s no HDMI output here: You won’t want to view these photos on your HDTV. Videos are recording as .MOV files, which are easy to upload to sites like YouTube and Facebook. You can use the huge zoom while recording video, and with only slight background noise. The camera writes to SD and SDHC cards, up to 16GB.
The X500’s reason for being is simple: It’s the most zoom you’ll find for $150. It's not a luxurious camera, and it doesn’t produce the best images, but it’s hard to find a cheaper alternative. You'll get decent pictures, as long as you're in good conditions or using the flash. If you want a better overall camera for your $150, take a look at the Editors’ Choice point-and-shoot Kodak EasyShare M580 (4 stars), or the Canon PowerShot A3000 IS (4 stars), each of which offers better performance and better images (but a lot less zoom). If zoom’s what you're after, be prepared to pay a lot more for top-notch images, to the tune of $330 for the Nikon Coolpix S9100.