Canon ELPH 520 HS review: Canon ELPH 520 HS

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The Good The Canon PowerShot Elph 520 HS is a good-looking camera that's remarkably compact for its 12x zoom lens.

The Bad The 520 HS' button layout takes some adjusting to, its battery life is relatively short, and its photo and movie quality are disappointing given the camera's price tag.

The Bottom Line 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.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 6

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
Price (MSRP) $299.99
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
Storage media microSD/microSDHC/microSDXC
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.

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