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Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS review: Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS

Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

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Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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The Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS updates Canon's SD4500 IS, bumping up the resolution of its backside-illuminated CMOS sensor to 12 megapixels; changing from a narrow lens with a 10x zoom to a 28mm wide-angle lens with a 12x zoom; switching from a 3-inch LCD to a 3.2-inch high-res touch screen; and adding a bunch of shooting features. All of that in a body that is less than an inch thick.

canon-powershot-elph-510-hs-digital-camera-compact-12-1-mpix-12-10-optical-zoom-red.jpg
7.8

Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS

The Good

The <b>Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS</b> is an attractive, easy-to-use snapshot camera with a nice wide, long lens, and plenty of shooting options, all in an ultracompact body.

The Bad

The 510 HS's battery can be very short depending on the features you use and its shooting performance is a little behind that of competing models.

The Bottom Line

The Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS hits on design, features, and photo and video quality, but is slightly off target on shooting performance.

It certainly sounds like a no-brainer for anyone looking for a pocket camera to handle everything your phone's camera can't. And for the most part, it is. Its shooting performance could be a little better and its battery life longer, but really the 510 HS is an awesome little camera.

Key specs Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS
Price (MSRP) $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.9x2.3x0.9 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3.2-inch touch-screen LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 12x, f3.4-5.9, 28-336mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 24fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 170 shots
Battery charged in camera No; wall charger included
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC; Eye-Fi wireless SD card support
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.8/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.8/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)

Overall, photo quality is excellent for this class of camera. Images do get softer and noisier above ISO 200--typical for point-and-shoots--but ISO 400 and 800 are still very usable. Like other "HS" models I've tested this year, the noise and noise reduction are well balanced so you still get good color and detail up to ISO 800. Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished. While you might not want to view them at larger sizes or heavily crop them, the high-ISO results should be satisfactory for Web or prints at small sizes, though, again, colors will look a little off. Keep in mind, too, that if you're shooting indoors with lens extended, you'll need the higher ISOs to keep shutter speeds fast enough. Also, the auto white balance is warm indoors, which doesn't help color when combined with higher ISOs; use the presets or use the custom option when possible.

Color accuracy is excellent for its class, producing bright and vivid results. Exposure is generally very good, but highlights tend to blow out. Other manufacturers have been solving this to some degree with high-dynamic range modes that will take two or three shots at different exposures and overlay them for a more-balanced shot. Unfortunately, Canon doesn't offer a mode like that and its i-Contrast feature is more for rescuing shadow detail than highlights.

As for the lens quality, Canon keeps both barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushioning at the telephoto end under control. There was some softness at the very sides and corners of my review sample, but it was negligible; center sharpness was very good. I did see some fringing in high-contrast areas of photos, however it was only really visible when photos were viewed at full size on screen.

Video quality is on par with a very good HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. The full HD video records at 24fps, and though panning the camera will create judder and there is visible trailing on moving subjects, the video is definitely watchable. Those things are typical of the video from most compact cameras, too. The low-light video is predictably grainy, but it's at least as good as this camera's high ISO photo performance. The zoom lens does work while recording; it moves very slowly, though, likely to prevent the movement from being picked up by the stereo mics on top.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Program and Scene, Movie
Focus modes Face Detection AF, Center AF, Tracking AF, Touch AF
Macro 0.4 inches to 1.6 feet (Wide)
Metering modes Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin, Darker Skin, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color (adjustment of contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue and skin tone are available)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

The 510 HS offers plenty of snapshot shooting options. Canon's scene-recognition Auto mode is very reliable as auto modes go, using 32 predefined shooting situations to pick the correct settings for what you're shooting. (Canon's new Intelligent IS system uses similar recognition technology to optimize image stabilization and it seemed to work well in my tests.)

For those times when shooting in Auto isn't getting you what you want, there's a Program mode, which gives you access to metering, focus, white balance, ISO, and other settings as well as a bunch of scene modes. These include Portrait, Kids & Pets, Handheld Night Scene, Best Image Selection, High-Speed Burst, Low Light, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Long Shutter, which can be set from 1 second up to 15 seconds. You'll also find Canon's Smart Shutter option, which includes a smile-activated shutter release as well as Wink and Face Detection self-timers. Wink allows you to set off the shutter simply by winking at the camera and the Face Detection option will wait till the camera detects a new face in front of the camera before it fires off a shot. Both work well.

Canon PowerShot 510 HS creative modes
If you want to do more than take a regular snapshot, the 510 HS is loaded with options for getting creative with your photos and movies.

In addition to the company's standard creative-shooting options--Color Accent and Color Swap--it has other creative options: Toy Camera, Monochrome, Miniature Effect, Fish-eye Effect, a Super Vivid mode that intensifies colors, and a Poster Effect that posterizes photos. These modes aren't necessarily must-haves, but they can be fun to play with, if only to add some interest to what would be an otherwise boring shot. Plus, they're available when shooting movies, too.

The 510 HS's Movie mode can capture clips at resolutions of up to 1080p full HD at 24 frames per second. Drop down to 720p or VGA and it records at 30fps. There is an Apple iFrame format mode that creates smaller video files to make importing, editing, and Web sharing easier. You also get a Super Slow Motion mode that records at 120fps or 240fps. The slow-motion clips are only at a resolution of 640x480 or 320x240 pixels, respectively, so they're really only suitable for viewing at small sizes, but fun nonetheless.

Shooting performance is a bit mixed. From off to first shot is 2.5 seconds, which isn't great, but touch-screen cameras as well as those with long lenses generally take a little longer than a regular ultracompact. However, it doesn't really speed up any from shot to shot, taking an average of 2 seconds and nearly double that with the flash. Shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed without prefocusing--is very good, though, at 0.3 second in bright lighting and 0.6 second in dim. With the lens extended in low light, it was a bit slower to focus, but that's common with megazooms.

The camera's continuous shooting is capable of capturing at 3.3 frames per second, with focus and exposure set with the first shot. It can shoot until your memory card fills up, though, which is nice; competing cameras have a burst limit and make you wait while images are stored before you can shoot again. The 510 HS does have a continuous option with AF, but that slows the shooting to 0.8fps. The camera also has a high-speed burst mode that can shoot 3-megapixel photos at up to 7.8fps. The results are very good compared with similar modes on other cameras I've tested, suitable for small prints and definitely for Web use.

To sum up, if you're trying to shoot active kids or pets or sports, you'll be able to do it as long as you have plenty of light especially if you're using the zoom lens. Using the zoom indoors, you're probably going to end up with some blurry shots and probably not what you were trying to capture.

The Canon 500 HS's touch screen controls
Canon lets you customize the touch-screen interface so you have the settings you want at your fingertips.

Jamming a wide and long lens into a tiny body is pretty incredible. I really like the look of the camera, too, but the slick finish on the front gives you no grip and collects fingerprints. On back is a bright, high-res 3.2-inch touch-screen LCD, so there's only a handful of physical controls: power, play, and shutter release buttons; a zoom ring around the shutter release; and a shooting mode switch on the top of the body. Everything else is handled with the touch interface.

The screen is fairly responsive and can be calibrated to your touch, but the interface itself can be a little trying at times to navigate. Canon does include the option to rearrange and customize the layout of the main shooting screen, though, so if you want fast access to ISO or white balance, you can add those icons to your screen. One of the best uses for a touch screen is for focusing on specific subjects by tapping on them, which this Canon does. You can also tap to focus and shoot.

In Playback mode, the touch screen can be used for flipping through or scrolling between images, selecting photos to delete or mark as favorites, starting a slideshow, and magnifying a section of a photo by tapping on the part you want to see more closely.

Should you want to connect to a computer, monitor, or HDTV, there are Mini-USB and Mini-HDMI ports on the body's right side. The battery and memory card compartments are on the bottom under a nonlocking sliding doors. The battery does not charge in-camera, and that touch screen doesn't do its shot count any favors, so you'll probably find yourself opening the compartment quite a bit. Battery life is CIPA-rated for only 170 shots, but using movie capture, burst shooting, or pumping up the screen brightness will shorten life.

Conclusion
Canon still seems to be playing catch up with its point-and-shoots, but the Canon PowerShot 510 HS shows that they don't have far to go. If you're looking for a tiny, long zoom camera, the 510 HS is one of the best you're going to find.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10
1.9 
1.1 
0.7 
0.4 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX7V
1.7 
1.4 
0.7 
0.4 
Nikon Coolpix S8100
1.1 
1.5 
0.7 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS
2.5 
2 
0.6 
0.3 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

canon-powershot-elph-510-hs-digital-camera-compact-12-1-mpix-12-10-optical-zoom-red.jpg
7.8

Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 8