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

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The Good The Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS 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.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 8

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.

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.

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