Two of the hottest digital cameras
of 2004 were the Canon PowerShot A75 and A85. Both
were superior to the competition thanks to their picture
quality, full manual controls, and expandability. For
2005 Canon has gone even further with their replacements,
the A510 ($199)
and A520 ($299).
Instead of slapping new model numbers on the same old
thing, Canon reinvented the A75 and A85 with some great
new features, which include:
- 4X optical zoom lens (versus 3X
on the old models)
- Smaller, more compact body
- Built-in "zoom flash" (more
on this later)
- Support for an external slave flash
- Uses SD/MMC memory cards (versus
- Uses two AA batteries (instead
The two cameras have the same resolution
as the old models: 3.2 Megapixel for the A510 and 4.0
Megapixel for the A520. The only other difference between
the two cameras is the color of their bodies.
This review will be a little different
that most, as I will be reviewing two cameras in one
review. I will be using the A520 as the "model" in
the product shots. Photo tests will be from one or
both cameras, depending on the test.
With that out of the way, get ready
to learn more about these two cameras, which I expect
to be just as popular as their predecessors.
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot A510 and A520 have average
bundles. Inside their respective box, you'll find:
- The 3.2 or 4.0 effective Megapixel
Canon PowerShot A510 or A520 camera
- 16MB MultiMedia card
- Two AA alkaline batteries
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital
Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
- 161 page camera manual + software
manual (both printed)
Canon includes a 16MB MultiMedia (MMC)
card with the cameras. That won't hold too many photos
at the highest quality setting, so I'd advise that
you buy a larger memory card right away. I'd say 128MB
is a good starting size. The camera can use SD or MMC
cards, though you'll get higher capacities and better
performance from the former. High speed memory cards
are not a necessary purchase with either of these cameras.
The A510 and A520 use two AA batteries,
versus four on the A75/A85. Canon includes alkalines
with the camera, which will quickly run out of juice
and end up in the trash. Your best bet is to buy a
four-pack of NiMH rechargeable batteries, which will
last a lot longer while simultaneously saving you money
(not to mention saving the environment). Using 2300
mAh NiMH batteries, you can take 300 shots per charge
(using the CIPA standard), which is above average.
Don't forget to get a nice, fast charger along with
I'm a big fan of cameras that use
AA batteries, because 1) they're cheaper than proprietary
li-ion batteries and 2) you can use alkalines in a
pinch if your rechargeables die.
There's a built-in lens cover on the
A510/A520, so there are no messy lens caps to worry
The A510 with the
HF-DC1 High Power Flash / Image courtesy of Canon,
One thing I absolutely loved about
the A75/A85/A95 was just how expandable it was. Guess
what, these new models have even more options! I've
compiled them all into this handy chart:
||Why you want it
||Brings the wide end of the lens down by
0.7X to 24.5 mm; requires conversion lens
||Boosts focal distance by 1.75X, up to 245
mm; requires conversion lens adapter
||Shoot at higher magnifications in macro
mode (as close as 4 cm); requires conversion
|Conversion lens adapter
||Required for conversion lenses; you can
attach standard 52 mm filters to it as well
||Take your A510/A520 up to 40 meters underwater!
||This is a slave flash; it fires when the
camera's on-board flash does; it attaches
via an adapter to the tripod mount;
||Power the camera without wasting your batteries
||Includes four 2300 mAh NiMH batteries and
The external flash is the new accessory
offering I was referring to. It effectively doubles
the flash range of the camera.
(Mac OS X)
Canon includes version 22 of their
excellent Digital Camera Solutions software with the
two A-series cameras. Included in this package are
ZoomBrowser (for Windows) or ImageBrowser (for Mac),
PhotoStitch (for making panoramic photos), plus TWAIN
and WIA drivers for Windows. Zoom/ImageBrowser can
be used for downloading images from your camera, basic
editing of your photos, and photo printing.
(Mac OS X)
ArcSoft Camera Suite 1.3 is also included
with the A510 and A520, which contains VideoImpression
and PhotoImpression for Mac and PC. Although it has
a quirky interface, there are some useful tools in
this easy-to-use software.
Recent Canon camera manuals have been
more complex than earlier ones, but they're still above
average. The manual included with the A510 and A520
is complete, but expect lots of "notes" and
Look and Feel
Despite having a more powerful zoom
lens, the A510 and A520 are quite a bit smaller than
their predecessors. They're still not as compact as,
say, the Digital ELPH cameras, but they'll fit comfortably
in larger pockets. Build quality hasn't changed much
since the old models: the cameras are made of a mixture
of plastic and metal, and they feel very solid considering
their price. The important controls are easy to reach,
though I wish the cameras had a more substantial right
Now, here's a look at how the A510
and A520 compare with some of the competition:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
x 2.5 x 1.2 in.
x 2.5 x 1.5 in.
x 2.4 x 1.3 in.
x 2.2 x 1.1 in.
x 2.7 x 1.6 in.
x 2.3 x 1.4 in.
x 2.1 x 1.4 in.
x 2.5 x 1.6 in.
x 2.4 x 1.4 in.
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Jeff,
didn't you just say the A510/A520 were smaller than
the A75/A85? Well, yes, they are -- try them in person
if you don't believe me. But if you dunk them in water
(NOT RECOMMENDED), the new models will displace more
water than the old ones. So don't read into those volume
numbers too much!
Well that's enough about that, let's
move onto our tour now. Keep in mind that I'm using
the A520 as the "model" in this next section.
Two of the biggest new features on
the A510 and A520 can be found on the front of the
Big feature number one is the new
F2.6-5.5, 4X optical zoom lens. Big zoom cameras seem
to be all the rage these days, so I wasn't entirely
surprised to see Canon add another "X" to
the zoom here. The focal length of the lens is 5.8
- 23.2 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 140 mm.
Just like with the old models, you
can add conversion lenses and filters to the A510 and
A520. Just press the button to the lower-left of the
lens and remove the ring, like so:
Then you just attach the conversion
lens adapter (optional) and the filter or conversion
lens of your choice! Very few entry-level cameras offer
Getting back to our tour now. To the
upper-right of the lens is the camera's built-in flash.
While this may sound boring, this is actually exciting
and new feature number two. Why? Because when you zoom
toward a distant subject, the flash "zooms" too!
In laymans terms: it covers a wider area at wide-angle
and a smaller area at telephoto, which is exactly what
you want. These are the first Canon cameras to be equipped
with a zoom flash.
Despite the fancy flash, the working
range of the flash is 0.45 - 3.5 m at wide-angle and
0.45 - 2.2 m at telephoto is fairly average. By attaching
the optional slave flash you can effectively double
To the left of the flash is the optical
viewfinder and AF-assist lamp, the latter of which
doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp
is used by the camera as an aid for low light focusing.
The only other item worth mentioning
on the front of the camera is the microphone.
One thing that hasn't really
changed since the A75 and A85 is the LCD. It's still
1.8" in size, and it has around the same resolution
(115,000 pixels). The screen is bright, subjects
are sharp, and motion is fluid. Low light visibility
is just okay. The screen "gains up" a bit,
though not as much as I would've liked. Still, you
should still be able to make out your subject on
Directly above the LCD is the optical
viewfinder, which is of average size. One thing missing
here is a diopter correction knob, which is used to
focus the view through the finder (pun intended).
Below the LCD are three buttons: Print/Share,
Menu, and Function. The Print/Share button lights up
when you're connected to a PC running a modern version
of Windows. By pressing the button while its lit, the
Direct Transfer menu opens. You can see the various
options in the screenshot above.
The Menu button does just as it sounds.
The Function button opens the -- get ready -- function
And here it is, the function menu.
The options here include:
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to
+2EV in 1/3EV increments)
- White balance (Auto, daylight,
cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
- Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous,
10 sec self-timer, 2 sec self-timer, custom self-timer)
- ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200,
- Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral,
low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
- Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted,
- Flash output (1/3, 2/3, full)
- Resolution (see chart later in
- Compression (see chart later in
Time to discuss some of those items!
The custom white balance option lets you use a white
or gray card as a reference, for perfect color in any
lighting. This is one feature that far too few cameras
The continuous shooting feature will
take up to 8 shots at 2.1 frames/second on the A510,
and 6 shots at 1.7 frames/second on the A520 (my measurements,
at Large/Superfine size). Believe it or not , the self-timer
feature is worth a mention. More specifically, the
custom self-timer feature. This lets you choose the
start time (0 to 10 seconds) as well as the number
of pictures taken (up to 10).
The photo effect lets you change the
color or sharpness of your image instantly, and you
can use it for stills or movies.
Back to the tour, now. To the right
of the LCD you'll find the switch that moves between
record and playback mode, the four-way controller,
and the display button, which toggles the LCD and the
info shown on it on and off. The four-way controller
is used for menu navigation, changing manual settings,
- Up - Flash setting (Auto, fill
flash, flash off) - redeye reduction is activated
in the menu
- Down - Focus mode (Auto, macro,
manual) - see below
The manual focus mode lets you set
the focus yourself by using the four-way controller.
A guide showing the current focus distance is shown
on the LCD, and the center of the frame can be enlarged
so you can make sure your subject is properly focused.
At the bottom of the photo is the
door for the SD/MMC card slot. We'll have a closer
look at this in a bit.
There's more to see on the top of
the camera. Just below the power button is the mode
dial, which has plenty of options, including:
||Point-and-shoot mode, many menu options
||Camera chooses shutter speed and aperture.
All menu options are unlocked.
|Shutter Priority (Tv)
||You choose the shutter speed and the camera
picks the correct aperture. Shutter speed
range is 15 - 1/2000 sec. The 1/1600 and
1/2000 sec shutter speeds are only available
above F4.0 at wide-angle and F8.0 at telephoto.
|Aperture Priority (Av)
||You pick the aperture, the camera picks
the appropriate shutter speed. The choices
range from F2.6 - F8 and will vary depending
on the focal range used.
||You pick the aperture and shutter speed.
See above for values.
||More on this later
||Helps you make panoramic shots
||You pick the situations and the camera
uses the appropriate settings. Choose from
foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater,
indoor, kids & pets, night snapshot.
||Slows the shutter speed down
||For stopping action
||For people pictures with a night backdrop
I said it before, and I'll say it
again: one of the reasons I recommended the A75/A85/A95
so much was due to their offering of automatic and
full manual modes -- so people can start off easy and
can progress to more advanced techniques once they
learn more about photography.
Just to the right of the mode dial
is the camera's speaker. Above that is the shutter
release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped
around it. It takes just two seconds for the zoom controller
to move the lens from wide-angle to telephoto. I counted
just eight stops throughout the 4X zoom range, which
makes being precise a bit challenging.
On this side of the camera you'll
find the A510/A520's I/O ports, which are kept under
a rubber cover. They include A/V out, USB, and DC-in
(for optional AC adapter). One thing that Canon didn't
improve on these new models is the USB speeds: it's
the same old, slow USB 1.1 here.
There's nothing to see on this side
of the camera. I should mention that the lens is at
the full telephoto position in this picture (it was
at full wide-angle in the previous shot).
On the bottom of the camera you'll
find the plastic tripod mount, SD/MMC card slot, and
battery compartment. The doors covering the two compartments
are fairly sturdy, though I wouldn't try to force them.
As you can see, the cameras use two AA batteries; the
old models used four.
The included 16MB MMC card is shown
Using the Canon PowerShot
It takes about 2.5 seconds for the
cameras to extend their lens and "warm up" before
you can start taking pictures.
Autofocus speeds were about average,
with focus times typically around 0.4 - 0.6 seconds
when the shutter release button is halfway pressed.
Focusing will take longer at the telephoto end, but
I never found it to be sluggish. One area in which
the A510 and A520 have gone downhill since the A75
and A85 is in terms of low light focusing performance.
Despite having an AF-assist lamp, but cameras focused
poorly in my tests, which was quite surprising. While
you do have the ability to manually set the focus,
I was expecting better from these two Canon cameras.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even
at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speeds were good, with
a delay of just under two seconds before you can take
another shot, assuming you've turned off the post-shot
You can delete a picture as it's been
saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo
Now, here's a look at the image size
and quality choices available on the two cameras:
||Approx. file size
||# Images on 16MB card
2272 x 1704
2048 x 1536
1600 x 1200
1024 x 768
640 x 480
Neither the A510 nor the A520 support
the RAW or TIFF image formats.
Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where
x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even
if you replace and/or format memory cards.
Now, onto the menus!
The A510/A520's menu system looks
just like the one on the old models. It's fairly basic
and easy-to-navigate. The options in the record menu
- AiAF (on/off) - turns the 9-point
autofocus system on and off; if turned off, camera
focuses on whatever is in the center of the frame
(which is faster)
- Redeye reduction (on/off)
- MF-point zoom (on/off) - whether
the center of the frame is enlarged while using manual
- AF-assist beam (on/off)
- Digital zoom (on/off)
- Review (Off, 3-10 sec, hold) -
post-shot review; the hold option is new: it'll keep
showing the photo you took until you press the shutter
- Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
- print the date and/or time on your photos; this
feature ONLY works when shooting at the 1600 x 1200
Well, that was easy. Next!
Here now is the setup menu, which
you can access from either the record or playback menu.
The options here include:
- Mute (on/off) - turn off those
annoying beep sounds!
- Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
- Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
- Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
- Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
- Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
- Power saving
- Auto power down (on/off)
- Display off (10, 20, 30 sec,
- Clock display (0-10 sec, 20 sec,
30 sec, 1-3 mins) - yes, the camera doubles as a
- Card format
- File number reset (on/off) - maintain
- Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will
automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
- Distance units (m/cm, ft/in) -
for manual focus
- Language (English, German, French,
Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish,
Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Russian, Portuguese,
Greek, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Traditional
Chinese, Korean, Japanese)
- Video system (NTSC, PAL)
An additional "My Camera'" menu
allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps,
and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes. If
these bother you, you can also turn them off.
Well enough about menus, let's do
photo tests now. Some tests were done with just one
camera, others with both, so read my descriptions carefully!
Despite using the same settings and
calibrating the white balance in the same way, there
are noticeable color differences between the A510 and
A520 in our macro test. The A520's colors have a bit
of an orange tint, while the A510 is more bluish. I
figure this is just a random white balance quirk, and
not something you can draw conclusions from.
Both cameras produced very "smooth" photos
of our macro test subject, with no grain or noise to
You can get as close as 5 cm at wide-angle
or 30 cm at telephoto while in macro mode, on both
cameras. The recordable area is 60 x 44 mm at wide-angle
and 84 x 63 mm at telephoto, per Canon's measurements.
Buying the 250D close-up lens will lower the minimum
focus distance down to 4 cm at wide-angle and 14 cm
Both cameras did a nice job with our
night test shot, though the A520 is a little noisier
than its lower resolution sibling. With full manual
control over shutter speed, the two cameras were able
to take in plenty of light. There's a bit of purple
fringing, but nothing too horrible.
Using that same scene, let's take
a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects
the noise levels in images, one camera at a time.
Since the A520 starts out noisier
than the A510, it's not surprising that it did worse
in this test. Both cameras faired poorly at ISO 200
or above, but especially the A520. These really aren't
great cameras for high ISO shooting, but then again,
I used the A520 for the distortion
test, which shows moderate barrel distortion at the
wide end of the lens. The distortion test shows a bit
of corner softness and vignetting (dark corners), but
I did not find this to be a problem in my real world
The other area in which the A510 and
A520 have gone downhill when compared to the old models
is in terms of redeye. Both the A75 and A85 fared well
in this test, but both the A-series models did poorly.
I used the A510 for the shot you see above; the A520
was just as bad. While your mileage may vary, you should
probably expect to deal with redeye at least some of
One thing Canon didn't mess with on
the two cameras was the image quality: it's excellent.
The cameras take photos that are just right in terms
of sharpness: not too soft, nor too sharp. They have
a nice "smooth" look to them. Colors were
accurate, as was exposure. Purple fringing does rear
its ugly head a little, but it's nothing that I'd consider
problematic. Noise levels are low, with the A520 being
just a little noisier than the A510. However, as you
saw above, neither camera performed well at high ISO
Don't just take my word for it, though.
Look at our A510 and A520 photo
galleries and print the photos as if they were your
own. Then decide if their photo quality meets your
Another thing that hasn't improved
since the A75/A85 is (unfortunately) the movie mode.
You're still stuck with the same old sluggish frame
rate and time limits. I know Canon can do better, as
the latest Digital ELPHs have an excellent movie mode.
On the A510 and A520 you can record up to 30 seconds
of 640 x 480 (10 frames/second) video with sound. By
dropping the resolution to 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 you'll
get longer recording times (3 minutes max) and a slightly
better frame rate (15 frames/second).
The included 16MB memory card holds
a grand total of 22 seconds of video at the 640 x 480.
Remember, no matter how large of a memory card you
have, the time limits will remain the same. Those are
per movie limits, so you can have lots of 30 second
You cannot use the zoom lens during
filming, not surprisingly.
A movie editing feature lets you trim
unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
I've got two remarkably similar sample
movies from both cameras. You'll have to excuse the
rather pedestrian subject matter (pun intended), it's
been hard to get good video samples lately. Bonus points
if you know where I took this!
to play A510 movie (4.6 MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)
Click to play A520 movie
(5.0 MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The playback mode on the new A-series
cameras is just like the one on the old cameras. It's
pretty good, though you probably won't be showing it
off to friends.
The camera has all the basic playback
features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows,
DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode,
voice annotations (60 secs), image rotation, and zoom
and scroll. Playback mode is also the place to print
photos when connected to a compatible Canon or PictBridge-enabled
The zoom and scroll feature lets you
enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around
in the zoomed-in area. This feature is pretty snappy,
despite the fact that the A510/A520 don't use Canon's
latest DIGIC II image processor.
By default, the cameras don't give
you much info about your photos. But press the display
button and you'll get plenty of details, including
Playback speeds are decent, with a
one second delay between high res photos. After using
the blazing fast SD200 and SD300 (which use DIGIC II),
the A510 and A520 seemed a little sluggish in this
How Does it Compare?
In most respects, the Canon PowerShot
A510 and A520 are nice upgrades to two of my favorite
cameras from 2004. However, two things have changed
for the worst (low light focusing and redeye). Even
so, these two cameras are still arguably the best entry-level
digital cameras on the market.
First, the good news. Despite being
smaller than their predecessors, the A510 and A520
offer a bigger zoom lens. Where most cameras have 3X
zoom lenses, the A-series models offer a 4X zoom. Not
satisfied with that? The cameras support wide-angle,
telephoto, and close-up conversion lenses. A new optional
feature on these models is an external slave flash,
which attaches to the side of the camera. For people
who take a lot of flash shots, this may be worth the
$100 price. While the A-series cameras offer a new "zoom
flash" feature, that doesn't necessarily translate
into better flash range. It does, however, focus the
light on the subject while you're shooting at the telephoto
end of the lens.
One thing I really liked about the
old A-series cameras was the full manual controls,
and the new models have them as well. While beginners
will probably stick to automatic or scene modes at
first, once you learn more about photography you'll
appreciate having the manual controls too. In addition
to manual exposure controls, the A510 and A520 also
feature manual focus and white balance. Photo quality
on the cameras is excellent, with smooth photos, accurate
color/exposure, and low purple fringing and noise levels
(except at ISO 200 or above). Camera performance is
generally good (save for an issue mentioned below),
but not spectacular. It would've been nice if Canon
had put the DIGIC II chip into these models, but you
can't have everything. One performance area in which
the cameras did better than average was in terms of
battery life: you can take 300 shots per charge using
NiMH rechargeable batteries.
Now, the bad news. Two things have
gotten worse since the A75/A85, and a few things haven't
changed when they should've. Where the old models could
focus well in low light, the new models cannot. I don't
know why, but they just don't like to focus in dimly
lit rooms, despite having an AF-assist lamp. You've
got manual focus to back you up, but you shouldn't
have to use it for some of the shots where the AF failed
for me. Another disappointment is in terms of flash
photos -- redeye is much worse than on the older models.
Some of the features that aren't any better than the
old models include the sluggish, time-limited movie
mode, low light LCD visibility (it's okay, but could
be better), and the lack of a histogram in record mode.
Some rechargeable batteries would've been nice, as
In conclusion, I can highly recommend
the A510 and A520 to most people. However, those who
take a lot of photos in dim lighting (and by that I
don't mean interior lighting, I mean darker than that)
or fans of redeye-free photos may be frustrated with
either of the two cameras. To be fair, most of the
competition has the same problems, but since the old
models didn't have these problems, I'm going to knock
Canon for it. If the cameras seem like a good fit for
you, then check'em out.
If you're trying to decide between
the A510 and A520, note these tradeoffs. The A520 will
let you make larger prints and gives you more flexibility
when cropping your photos. However, images are slightly
noisier, especially at high ISO sensitivities. Also,
the frame rate in burst mode is slower than on the
A510 since there are more pixels to deal with in each
photo. Remember: more pixels does not mean better photo
What I liked:
- Excellent photo quality
- 4X optical zoom lens
- Full manual controls, unusual for
a camera in this price range
- Compact body feels solid for the
- Support for optional conversion
lenses, external flash, underwater case
- Above average battery life
- Plenty of scene modes
- Nice software bundle
What I didn't care for:
- Poor low light focusing, despite
having an AF-assist lamp (worse than old models)
- Redeye (worse than old models)
- Movie mode still needs some work
- Noisy images at ISO 200 and above
- LCD doesn't "gain up" very
much in low light
- Including rechargeable batteries
would've been a nice touch
Other entry-level cameras to consider
include the Canon
PowerShot A95, Fuji FinePix E500 and E510, HP
Photosmart R607, Kodak
EasyShare DX7440, Nikon Coolpix 4600 and 5600 (both
coming soon), Panasonic
Lumix DMC-LS1 (coming soon), Pentax Optio S40 and S50,
and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P73, DSC-S60,
and DSC-W5 (the
last two are also "coming soon").
As always, I recommend a trip down
to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot A510
and A520 and their competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in
our A510 and A520 galleries.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this
review, please send them to Jeff.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail
me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other
DCRP readers, please visit our forums.