Just the other day I was perusing Canon's Digital Compact Cameras webpage when suddenly I was submerged in a vat of relentless consternation. The company offers 25 point-and-shoot models in the sub-$350 category. In my opinion, that's far too many, and it's part of the reason why the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS ($300) is not one the company's shining stars. In fact, the camera doesn't really replace any older models—it's yet another new design. How is one supposed to pick the right compact for the job amidst Canon's sea of snappers? Is the Canon PowerShot Elph 520 HS a worthy candidate for the average point-and-shoot enthusiast? By the end of my review, I had seen better from Canon, but let's take a comprehensive gander at this lustrous, boxy little ELPH.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Design
There are two sides to the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS's coin when it comes to design. First off, it seems as though Canon has abandoned the alien-like asymmetrical architecture of its past mid-level ELPH compacts in favor of tight, rectangular boxes of symmetry. The ELPH 520 HS resembles a bar of glycerin soap, yet its finish is the cherry on the sundae. Canon applied a lustrous, iridescent gloss to certain ELPHs this year and the 520 HS is one of the benefactors. The camera is a beautifully deep red in the shade and a vibrant stick of hot lipstick in the sunlight. There's no doubt that this camera's sexy finish will be one of its prime selling points.
On the other side of the coin, Canon made a few boneheaded moves in order to keep the PowerShot ELPH 520 HS ever so petit. First off, the camera records to MicroSD cards. While MicroSD cards are more compact than traditional SD cards, I believe it's too compact. Also, they require adapters and will most likely have to be a separate purchase since most users will be planning on using their already existing larger SD cards. Secondly, the camera's battery is tiny. It's a Lithium-ion pack that's the size of a single AA battery. Let's just say battery life maxed out somewhere between 30-40 minutes of shooting. And lastly, the rear button configuration was cramped and counterintuitive. Canon should have retained the classic 4-way directional pad with Set button embedded in the middle. As a result, shooting to longer because of the wonky button layout.
These are fairly large caveats that might have a profound effect on your decision to buy this camera.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Shooting Features
Despite the crucial design flaws of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS, the camera's shooting features were familiar and quite effective. The camera has a 12x optical zoom lens with 28mm wide angle equivalent, which was impressive based on the little ELPH's stature. The ELPH 520 HS also had a revamped Auto mode that recognized up to 58 predefined scenes and did an admiral job deploying the correct camera settings for the job. The ELPH 520 HS would shift to Macro mode for up close shots and the focus box would morph into different shapes depending on the size of the calculated focus area. I did find the tracking focus to wander away from targets at times and the camera's startup time was a bit sluggish compared to some of Canon's other compacts. In addition, the 461,000-pixel LCD screen got all sorts of grainy in low light conditions, making the monitor difficult to see.
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS had a fairly impressive toolbelt. Although there were no advanced modes like Manual, Shutter or Aperture Priority, there was a Program AE mode that allowed me to set the ISO, which topped off at 3200, Exposure Compensation and White Balance. There was no manual focus, but I did have an opportunity to set the Shutter Speed down to 15 seconds for long exposures, courtesy of Long Shutter mode. Of course, Canon's fleet of Scene modes and digital effects made it onto this PowerShot model, including Super Vivid, Miniature and Fish-eye. However, the camera had the new Soft Focus and Smooth Skin modes joining the roster as well.
Robust shooting features and a friendly, intuitive menu interface is where Canon excels in the point-and-shoot market, and the PowerShot ELPH 520 HS is no exception to that claim.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Image Quality
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS is equipped with a common 10-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor that utilizes Canon HS system, which is supposed to enhance the camera's low light sensitivity. The lustrous little ELPH is capable of capturing 1080p HD videos at 24fps, 720p at 30fps and Super Slow Motion videos at standard-definition resolutions.
So with all of those nerdlicious specifications out of the way, how did the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS perform? Well, for some reason the camera wanted to shoot up the ISO levels every chance it got. Perhaps this was because of its slow f/3.4 lens or its sensor DNA. Regardless, the results were not up to snuff compared to similar Canon compacts of yore. Of course, Macro shots in bright light were beautiful and a majority of shots taken in ideal lighting were great. But the PowerShot ELPH 520 HS will shoot the ISO up indoors even in the middle of the day. What that ultimately means is that at full resolution, you'll notice that your images will be grainy, or noisy, and the camera will opt to use the built-in flash every chance it gets.
1080p HD videos were nice, but they lacked that Canon edge I've seen from other PowerShots in the same class. Maybe Canon's imaging formula didn't add up? Maybe the slow lens was to blame? Mind you, Canon's noise management is impressive and the grain is not as intense as other competing models, but I've seen better performances from similarly priced Canons.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Image Samples
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS 1080p Video Samples
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS Conclusion
Sadly, the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS is the first ELPH in quite some time that didn't make the grade. Its battery life was short-lived, the MicroSD card medium was vexing, the button layout was unfamiliar and the camera's image quality was an arm's length behind PowerShots I've seen in the past. The camera is a sexy, lustrous little box of fun with a stellar feature set and menu system, but it was a bit sluggish. Unfortunately, I can't suggest the Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS. Instead, wait for my reviews of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS and PowerShot SX260 HS.
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