The first priority of any DSLR must be image quality, and the Canon has it in spades. It resolved a magnificent amount of detail in our outdoors tests at both ISO 200 and 1600, and the 18-55mm optically-stabilised lens did a good job of keeping chromatic aberrations down.
Our tests revealed superb noise performance - a Canon trademark. Sensitivity goes all the way to ISO 12800, but the practical limit is 3200.
Unlike the EOS 1000D there's a spot-metering mode, and the mode dial includes a CA setting. This stands for Creative Auto, and works in a similar fashion to the Nikon D3000's wizard-style feature.
Select it and you can indirectly change shutter and aperture settings by moving a pair of sliders between "blurred" and "sharp", or "darker" and "brighter".
The body of the 500D is similar to the 1000D, but feels more rugged than its cheaper sibling thanks to hard-wearing rubber pads on the front of the grip, and another where your thumb grips the back of the body.
With 920,000 pixels, the screen has four times the resolution of the LCDs offered by the Nikon D5000 or Sony A330, and it's correspondingly easier to focus accurately in Live View mode. The menu system is also more polished than that of the 1000D.
You'll need to use the screen to make any changes to the 500D's settings, but the four-way pad on the back doubles as a set of shortcut buttons.
Push to the right, for instance, and you can choose your autofocus mode. You get a similar shortcut for white balance changes, plus a dedicated button for changing the ISO setting.
The best feature is the 500D's video mode, which is well ahead of the Nikon D5000's. There's a 29mins 59secs limit on recording, plus you can change focus mid-video automatically, albeit using slow contrast detection. In 1080p mode it shoots at only 20fps, but in 720p you get a full 30fps.
Complaints are few. We wish the viewfinder was bigger, although we appreciate the light sensor below it, which turns off the monitor when you raise the camera to your eye. Overall, the D5000 offers a slightly more attractive package, but the 500D only just misses out on an award.