The Canon PowerShot Elph 520 HS makes a very good first impression. It's a small, attractive box with a 12x zoom neatly tucked inside and a high-resolution 3-inch LCD on back. Even with the lens fully extended it doesn't get any bigger than an ultracompact with half of its zoom range.
Taking the shine off that first impression, though, is the camera's photo and video quality and, to some extent, its usability. Basically, some trade-offs were made to get the 520 HS down to its petite dimensions that make it a little less attractive, especially at $300.
The Canon PowerShot Elph 520 HS' photo quality is good to very good, but overall disappointing compared with past HS-model Elphs. Even at its lowest ISO settings, subjects look soft and noisy when viewed at 100 percent. Unfortunately, that means the 10-megapixel resolution doesn't give you much room for enlarging and cropping. I usually have no problem recommending PowerShots for shooting indoors or in low light, but the 520 HS gets noticeably worse at and above ISO 400. The one positive is that colors remain consistently good up to ISO 800.
|Key specs||Canon PowerShot Elph 520 HS|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.4x2.1x0.78 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5.5 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS (10 megapixels effective)|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 461K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||12x, f3.4-5.6, 28-336mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||3,648x2,736 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 24fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li ion rechargeable, 190 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; external wall charger included|
|Bundled software||ImageBrowser EX 1, CameraWindow DC 8.7, PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows, Mac)|
At ISO 1600 and 3200, noise and noise reduction destroy fine detail, making things look soft and smeary, and you can see yellow blotching from noise. This camera is best for use outdoors in good lighting for those who just need good-quality images for small prints and online sharing. If you're after significantly better photos than your smartphone, you might want to give this one a pass. (Read more about the Elph 520 HS' photo quality in the sample photo slideshow.)
Video quality is OK, on par with a basic HD pocket video camera or smartphone; good enough for Web use, but not viewing on a large HDTV. Panning the camera will create judder that's typical of the video from most compact cameras and there is ghosting behind fast-moving subjects. The zoom lens does function while recording, but you will hear its movement, particularly in quiet scenes.
|General shooting options||Canon PowerShot Elph 520 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, Portrait, Smooth Skin, Smart Shutter, High-speed Burst, Best Image Selection, Handheld Night Scene, Low Light, Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Soft Focus, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Color Accent, Color Swap, Underwater, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter, Stitch Assist, Movie Digest, Movie (iFrame, Standard, Super Slow Motion, Miniature Effect)|
|Focus modes||Face Detection AF, Center AF, Tracking AF|
|Macro||0.4 inch 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 (sharpness, contrast, saturation, red, green, blue, skin tone)|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
The 520 HS has a fairly large assortment of shooting options, but almost all of them are automatic modes, meaning there's no full control over shutter speed and aperture. The shooting-mode switch on the camera's top has two options: one for Auto and one for all of its other modes. Canon pumped up its Smart Auto, which now recognizes 58 predefined shooting situations. This includes Canon's new Face ID feature, which allows you to program the camera to recognize up to 12 faces that it will then prioritize for focus and exposure. In my anecdotal testing it worked OK, but it's one of those features that most people probably won't bother to set up.
Taking the camera off Smart Auto gives you access to a Program Auto mode as well as all the scene modes, creative-effects modes, and miniature effect and slow-motion video recording. However, they're laid out in one long list, so if you're the type to change modes frequently, this can be a pain. Canon's Smart Shutter option is there, too; it includes a smile-activated shutter release and Wink and Face Detection self-timers.
The 520 HS has reasonably snappy performance. From off to first shot is 2.1 seconds, and shot-to-shot times average 1.9 seconds. Using the flash bumps that up to 3.2 seconds between shots. Shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is only 0.3 second in bright lighting and 0.6 second in dim conditions. Its continuous shooting speed hit 2.8 frames per second at full resolution in our tests. However, that's with focus and exposure set with the first shot, so not ideal for catching fast-moving subjects. It's an OK choice for regularly shooting active kids and pets or sports because its low shutter lag gives you a fighting chance of getting a shot, but it might not be the one you wanted.
As I said at the beginning of this review, the Elph 520 HS is a nice-looking camera. But being as small as it is, there is barely enough room for its controls. The buttons, zoom lever, and shooting-mode switch are all very tiny. For the most part they are easy to press and use, but they are close together so mispresses may happen.
What's worse, though, is that instead of a standard directional pad with a select button at the center, Canon squishes the buttons together so they don't immediately look like directionals for navigation, and puts the select button below them instead of at the center. If you shoot in auto all the time and never change settings, it's not a huge deal, but for anyone who likes to change shooting modes and adjust settings, it can be fairly frustrating to use.
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 behind separate sliding doors. The battery does not charge in-camera, and with this camera's short battery life, you'll probably find yourself opening the compartment quite a bit. It's only CIPA-rated for 190 shots, but using movie capture, burst shooting, or pumping up the screen brightness will shorten life. Also, the camera uses microSD cards, so if you had hopes of using an SD card you already owned or just aren't a fan of these tiny memory cards, this camera isn't for you.
The Canon PowerShot Elph 520 HS is a good choice for those already happy with their smartphone's photos and movie clips, but looking for a cute, little camera with a long zoom and faster performance. If you're after significantly better results, though, you'll need to go with a slightly larger camera, like Canon's PowerShot Elph 510 HS.
Find out more about how we test digital cameras.