Canon 520 HS Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS
Resolution: 10.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3"
Lens: 12.00x zoom
(28-336mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 100-3200
Shutter: 15-1/4000
Max Aperture: 3.4
Dimensions: 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in.
(87 x 54 x 19 mm)
Weight: 5.5 oz (155 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $300
Availability: 03/2012
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon 520 HS specifications
10.10
Megapixels
12.00x zoom
1/2.3"
size sensor
image of Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS
Front side of Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS digital camera Back side of Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS digital camera Top side of Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS digital camera Left side of Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS digital camera Right side of Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS digital camera

520 HS Summary

Recapturing that original ELPH spirit, the Canon 520 HS successfully shoehorns a 12x zoom into the classic old box and circle design, making for a competent everywhere camera that's also affordable.

Pros

Compact 12x zoom; Optical image stabilization; Full HD movies; Handheld Night Scene mode; Good shutter lag time.

Cons

Uses microSD media; Short battery life; Flash is weak; Soft at telephoto; Tiny buttons.

Price and availability

The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS started shipping in March 2011 in the US market, with a choice of black, silver, red, or blue bodies, all priced at around US$250 (initial MSRP US$300).

Imaging Resource rating

4.0 out of 5.0

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Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Review

by David Elrich and Stephanie Boozer, with Shawn Barnett
Review Posted: August 9, 2012

Canon says the PowerShot 520 HS is the "world's thinnest camera with a 12x optical zoom." They're not kidding; this ELPH is tiny. And yet it outputs 10-megapixel images, has a 3-inch LCD, and costs less than $300. Its design harks back to the last decade, when cameras like the S100 Digital ELPH from 2000, and the SD1000 from 2007 were category-defining designs. Canon seems to make a statement with such designs, and here the statement is that people want a small camera with a long zoom lens in an attractive, no-nonsense package, and Canon is willing and able to deliver.

Its bold, squared corners, and indeed, the size of these photos, make the Canon 520 look bigger than it is. Expressed in inches, the ELPH 520 with a 12x zoom is exactly the same size as 2007's SD1000, with a 3x zoom: 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in (87 x 54 x 19mm) (the only difference is the ELPH 520 is 87mm wide instead of 86mm).

The Canon ELPH 520 also tips the scales at 5.5 ounces with a small battery and a smaller card. In other words, you can easily carry the ELPH with you at all times, which is something I did for weeks. As befitting the small size, there are few buttons, even though this doesn't have a touchscreen. If you're expecting manual adjustments for aperture, shutter speed and focus, you're clearly in the wrong neighborhood. However, if you are looking for a take-anywhere point-and-shoot, the Canon 520 is a solid option--especially given its 12x optical zoom, equivalent to 28-336mm.

The Canon 520 has rather sharp edges, so it's not the most comfortable thing to put in your pants pocket. I didn't get any bruises, but there are softer-edged ELPHs available if this art piece isn't to your liking. Don't forget, too, that we recommend a case rather than putting a camera in your pocket.

Since the Canon 520 is so small, it's only logical that the buttons and switches are tiny too. On the top deck is a very small Playback button as well as an equally small Mode switch and Power button. The Shutter release button is surrounded by the zoom toggle. The Canon 520 and its controls were small enough that I did some fumbling at first, but the little camera grew on me over the ensuing weeks.

The rear of the Canon 520 has a nice 3-inch LCD with 461K dots. This is helpful for framing your photos and videos, but the large size causes some problems with the remaining controls. There's less than half an inch on the right border, so forget about a classic 4-way controller surrounding a scroll wheel/center Set key. Instead you have four small keys with Function/Set below. The four controls give you access to exposure compensation, flash, display and focus (normal, macro, infinity). Function/Set is the key control, as this lets you change the few parameters available (white balance, ISO, burst mode and resolution). It's confusing to use at first, but is a decent compromise.

Other controls on the back include a Movie button that starts and stops recording, and a Menu button for changing the basic camera set-up.

Catering to transferring of images and movies to a computer, the Canon 520 HS offers a USB 2.0 High Speed data connection. The same port also doubles as a standard-definition video out and there's also a mini HDMI (Type C) high-definition video output. A USB cable is provided in the bundle, but no video cable is included of any sort.

While it's tempting to assume the Canon 520's 10-megapixel image size means better low-light performance, it turns out Canon is using a 16.8-megapixel sensor, but only drawing a 10-megapixel image from the sensor. Canon tells us this same sensor is found in the 320 HS, but that camera uses most of the sensor's image area. In order to achieve the very long zoom range in a small package, Canon said they made the lens with a shorter backfocus distance, which creates a smaller image area on the sensor.

It's also conceivable they could have more room to better correct for geometric distortion in this unusually short, yet effectively long focal length lens. Our distortion tests seem to indicate they're doing significant processing to eliminate the distortion we'd expect to see in a longer focal length lens. If all that sounds like voodoo to you, just go with, "It's what makes the camera slimmer despite its 12x lens." In effect, this makes the sensor very small, with smaller pixels than most 10-megapixel sensors, which likely accounts for the extra noise we see in the images.


Menu. Familiar Canon menu system -- easy to get up and running quickly.

As for the menu system, it's the basic linear Canon system that's been around for years. Anyone who has owned recent generation Canon cameras will hardly skip a beat once they power up the 520 HS. After a quick breeze through the 36-page Getting Started booklet, I doubt anyone will open the full manual on the supplied CD-ROM.

The overall fit and finish of the camera is reassuring. The battery compartment opens and closes with solid snaps. The card slot is similar. I was happy I didn't drop the card in the course of loading it; thank goodness microSD cards are typically supplied with full-size SD card adapters, so transferring images to laptops and inserting them in HDTVs is relatively painless (so long as you don't lose the adapter).

The Canon 520 HS uses microSD cards to achieve a small form factor, a media that's almost as hard to get for a good price as pulling a straight answer from a politician. I really do not like these cards. They belong in smartphones where they're rarely touched. microSD cards feel like they could snap as easily as a potato chip and are a lot easier to misplace than car keys, so be careful with them.

The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS has two main shooting modes--Smart Auto and Program Auto, but also includes a selection of dedicated scene modes (Portrait, Handheld NightScene, Low Light, Underwater, Snow and Fireworks). Smart Auto is fairly intelligent, as it adjusts to the scene in front of it; in this case there are 58 in its memory, far more than most competing point-and-shoots. It worked well for the most part. Program offers more photographic tweaks (white balance, metering, exposure compensation and ISO, for example). Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100-3,200 at full resolution, which is a reasonable spec for a sub-$300 camera.

 

Shooting with the Canon 520 HS

I did all of my shooting with the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS at maximum resolution (3,648 x 2,736 pixels; there is no raw capability). Videos were shot in MOV format, also at best compression (1,920 x 1,080 at 24fps). Everything was recorded on an 8GB Class 6 microSDHC card.

I used the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS for a good period, shooting flowers, Manhattan cityscapes, horse races and visits to the Jersey shore.

Overall the Canon 520 HS was a very good little pocket camera. Photos taken of spring flowers--primarily shot in Program mode--were quite good with the typical Canon color that I like. If this is a little tame for you, Super Vivid is available. I took some Macros of flowers that were helped by the fill flash, although there was some definite fall-off in the corners.

29mm equivalent 72mm equivalent 336mm equivalent

Walking through Manhattan streets offers subjects galore and the little camera handled them well. It's in situations like this the Canon 520's 12x zoom comes in really handy as you can zero in on architectural details such as church statues, iron fire escapes, mannequins in store windows, and whatever else appeals to you. I did find the Canon 520 tended to overexpose in bright light, but a little exposure compensation adjustment came in handy.


The Canon 520 HS has a 2.8fps burst mode at full resolution, which I used at the horse races at Monmouth Park. I had my share of frames with nothing in them as the horses came whizzing by, but when my panning was on target, the Canon 520 did a good job grabbing the horses in mid-stride. There was plenty of detail, but again a tendency to overexpose. The Canon has optical image stabilization, which is a real plus as it helped eliminate lots of shaky images at the track and everywhere else. Of course, OIS is not a substitute for a monopod or sturdy rail on which to rest your camera at slow shutter speeds and low ISOs.

Since the 520 HS has a speedy CMOS imager (compared to a CCD), it's capable of a few high-speed tricks such as Handheld Night Scene, which quickly combines four shots into one with lower noise. The camera combines four images into one, with the aim of reducing noise. Other cool features include High-speed burst (6.8fps at 2.5-megapixels), Super Slow-motion movies, Miniature Effect movies, Movie Digest, and even the ability to trigger the self-timer with a wink.

Like many other 2012 digicams, the Canon PowerShot 520 HS has a number of special effects such as Toy Camera, Miniature, Fish Eye, Monochrome and Poster. They're not to the level of sophistication as those found on Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, but they're nice to have in your tool kit. I liked shooting Monochrome on beach vegetation, but it just shows this very unassuming camera has a lot going for it besides just small size and a 12x optical zoom.

Battery life is really a negative for this camera. The battery is slightly larger than a AA, if a little shorter, and has a CIPA rating of only 190 shots per charge. If you plan for a long day of shooting and won't be near an outlet--with your charger--a spare battery is a must.

Full HD. 1920x1080 at 24p. Click to download 52MB MOV file.

I also review camcorders and have done a lot of recording using the new AVCHD Progressive format (1080/60p). The Canon 520 HS is only 24fps at 1,920 x 1,080, which is behind competitive digicams which handle 1080p at 30fps. You also have the option of 1,280 x 720, and 640 x 480, both at 30fps. Videos are recorded in MOV format with H.264 video encoding and Linear PCM stereo audio. Optical zoom during recording is supported.

Video quality was decent, with fairly accurate colors and relatively smooth motion. You will need a newer, high-performance computer for best viewing results.

Super Slow Mo. 320x240 at 240fps. Click to download 19.3MB MOV file.

You can also shoot in an editing friendly iFrame Movie mode (1,280 x 720 @30fps) and Super Slow Motion Movie mode (records either 640 x 480 at 120fps or 320 x 240 at 240fps, plays back at 30fps). We shot a sample of some water dripping into a bowl in Super Slow Motion Movie mode, which wowed the kids, and kept us mesmerized a bit as well. It was dark at the time, so a local lamp had to stand in. The 240 frames per second frame rate is faster than the 60Hz of the incandescent light bulb, hence the flicker.


Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Lens Quality

The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS features a 12x optical zoom lens, with a 35mm equivalent of 28-336mm.


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Moderately soft at upper left
Tele: Soft at center
Tele: Slightly more blurring, upper left corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS' zoom shows moderate blurring in the corners of the frame compared to the center, though blurring doesn't extend far into the image area. At telephoto, details are soft throughout the frame, with just slightly stronger blurring in the corners. Fair results.


Wide: No visible barrel distortion
Tele: Only one pixel of pincushion distortion, not really visible

Geometric Distortion: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS does a very good job of controlling distortion here, as there isn't any measurable distortion visible at wide angle (though edges are a bit wavy), and almost no perceptible distortion at telephoto. Good results.


Wide: Low
Tele: Moderate and bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is actually quite low, with just a hint of blue pixels suggested around the target lines. Telephoto, however, shows more noticeable distortion, with bright yellow and blue pixels around the target marks.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS' Macro mode captures a sharp image with strong detail, though with noticeable blurring and chromatic aberration in the corners of the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 1.09 x 0.82 inches (28 x 21mm), which is excellent. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens partially, resulting in a shadow in the lower right of the frame and a hot spot in the upper left. Thus, stick to external lighting when shooting this close.


 

Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS' LCD monitor showed about 101% coverage at wide-angle, and just over 100% at telephoto, both of which are very good.


 

Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Image Quality


Color: Color performance is pretty good overall, with only slight wobbles in saturation and hue. Bright yellows are muted a little, while bright reds and blues are just a little bright. Overall saturation levels are little closer to accurate than most cameras. Hue shifts are noticeable in yellows (toward green), oranges (toward yellow), reds (toward orange) and cyans (toward blue). In terms of skin tones, darker tones are pushed for warmth, while lighter tones are just about dead-on accurate. Overall, above average performance.


Auto WB:
Good, a hint warm and red
Incandescent WB:
Too pink
 
Manual WB:
Very good

Incandescent: Both the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS' Auto and Manual white balance settings performed well here, though the Auto setting was a tad too warm and red. Incandescent mode responded with a very strong pink cast.


Horizontal: 1,700 lines
Vertical: 1,700 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,700 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,100 lines per picture height.


Wide: Slightly dim
Tele: Fairly bright
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) showed somewhat dim results at the rated wide angle distance of 8.2 feet, despite a significant ISO boost to 800. The telephoto test came out a little brighter at 4.9 feet, though it too had an ISO boost to 800.

Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, with a small amount of warmth from the ambient light at a slow shutter speed of 1/20 second, ISO to 250. The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS' image stabilization system should help with the slower shutter speed, but any movement of the subject could be problematic at this shutter speed. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


100
200
400
800
1,600
3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is good but a hair soft at ISO 100, with blurring increasing slightly from that point on. Chroma (color) noise becomes more noticeable at ISO 1,600 and 3,200, though luminance noise is more visible throughout the series. Noise suppression efforts are also sabotaging detail here. See Printed section below for how this affects printed images.


Print Quality: ISO 100 prints are usable at 13 x 19, but with noticeable noise and blur; we prefer 11 x 14-inch prints.

ISO 200 prints are also good at 11 x 14 inches, but there's a little more noise and softening on close inspection.

ISO 400 shots are usable but too grainy printed at 11 x 14. They look better at 8 x 10.

ISO 800 shots likewise look good at 8 x 10.

ISO 1,600 images look quite good at 5 x 7.

ISO 3,200 shots are just fine at 4 x 6.

Considering the 10-megapixel resolution the camera's low price, the print quality of the Canon 520 HS is pretty good, but 10-megapixel cameras of the past have done better. This is likely because of Canon's use of only a portion of the larger 16.8-megapixel sensor. If you think of this camera as a simple pocket point and shoot that's smaller than most and yet has a 12x lens, these print sizes will be just fine.


 

Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Performance


Startup Time: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS takes about 2.8 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's a little slower than average for its class.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.34 second at wide angle and 0.39 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.093 second, not the fastest out there, but still pretty quick.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is also fairly good, capturing a frame every 1.84 seconds in single-shot mode. Canon rates the 520's full resolution burst speed at 2.8 frames per second, and there's a High-Speed Burst mode that captures 2.5MP images at up to 6.8 frames per second.


Flash Recycle: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS' flash recycles in reasonably quick 3.9 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is commendable.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS' download speeds are fast. We measured 8,486 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS' battery life has a CIPA rating of 190 shots per charge, which is less than average for a subcompact.


 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:
  • Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS
  • Wrist Strap
  • Rechargeable Lithium Ion battery NB-9L
  • Lithium Ion Charger CB-2LB
  • USB Cable
  • 36-page Getting Started Guide
  • Canon CD-ROM with ImageBrowser EX 1.0, CameraWindow DC 8.7, PhotoStitch 3.1/3.2 along with Camera User and Software Guides

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Spare battery is a must
  • Optional HDMI cable with mini connector (Type C)
  • Large capacity, high-speed microSDHC/microSDXC memory card. 8GB or more makes sense if you plan on shooting lots of HD video. Speed Class 6 or faster cards are recommended to record HD video.

 

Canon 520 HS Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Very compact and easy to carry
  • Good stills
  • Canon HS System
  • 12x optical zoom
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Very good 3-inch LCD screen rated 461K dots
  • Smart Auto with 58 options
  • 21 Scene and Effects modes
  • ISO range 100-3,200
  • Shutter speed range of 15-1/4,000
  • AF-Assist lamp
  • Face recognition
  • 1080p Full HD videos
  • Slow motion video
  • Handheld Night Scene mode
  • Easy to use; simple menu system
  • Macro mode gets very close
  • Good Auto white balance performance
  • Good shutter lag time
  • Fast flash recycle
  • Fast download speeds
  • Uses microSD media
  • Body has relatively sharp corners
  • Only 24fps video at 1080p
  • Spare battery a must
  • No video cable included
  • Images have soft corners
  • Soft in center at telephoto
  • Chromatic aberration at telephoto
  • Flash is weak, even with significant ISO boost
  • Print quality a little lower than expected, but likely due to drawing only 10 megapixels from a 16.8-megapixel sensor
  • Slow startup time

 

I can easily recommend the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS to anyone looking for a slightly beyond-the-basics point-and-shoot digicam, particularly if portability is important. It has a good Smart Auto system with 58 options for aim-and-forget shooting. If you want to be slightly adventurous, there are some adjustments in Program Auto, but nothing that would put it in the enthusiast category.

Where the Canon 520 excels is in zooming from a reasonable 28mm to 336mm in a small, pocketable design. We wouldn't call the image quality awesome, but we think it's good enough for small to medium prints; as we said, it's not an enthusiast camera, but a good take-anywhere camera with some extra zoom punch. Simplified controls are just right for the target market, and the modes are smart enough to get out of the way so you can just take pictures. That makes the Canon 520 HS a great choice for a day or night out on the town, and a Dave's Pick.

 

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