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Canon PowerShot SX510 HS review: Feature tweaks add up to a big zoom bargain

A change in sensor brings this 30x zoom camera's photo and movie quality as well as its shooting performance up a notch.

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
8 min read

Editors' note: Much of the design, features, and shooting options are identical between the Canon PowerShot SX510 HS and the SX500 IS we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.


Canon PowerShot SX510 HS

The Good

The <b>Canon PowerShot SX510 HS</b> is a very good value thanks to a new sensor, offering up excellent image quality and performance for its budget-friendly price. It also has built-in Wi-Fi for easier on-the-go sharing, among other things.

The Bad

Despite the updated sensor, the SX510 HS' shooting performance might still be too slow for action shots, especially indoors. With no viewfinder, you have to use the LCD for framing all your shots.

The Bottom Line

A change in sensor brings the 30x zoom Canon PowerShot SX510 HS' photo and movie quality as well as its shooting performance up a notch.

The Canon PowerShot SX510 HS packs the same 30x zoom lens as its predecessor, the SX500 IS, and has the same look and feel. But, as the suffix implies, Canon updated the sensor from a lower-end CCD-type sensor to one of its high-sensitivity 12-megapixel BSI CMOS sensors.

The sensor, along with giving it better low-light performance, enables the camera to record video at 1080p at 24fps as well as high-speed video for slow-motion clips. It also seems to have boosted shooting performance, shaving off some of the lag between shots.

That's not all this camera has to offer, either, which means for its street price of less than $230, this is a pretty good deal if you can live with its limitations.

Photo quality
There is no doubt about it: The SX510 HS produces better photos than the SX500 IS. Color performance is very good and colors don't get muddy or washed-out-looking until you get up to ISO 1600. Overall, this is a fine camera if you're looking to share photos online and make prints up to 8x10 (or slightly larger if your conditions are good).

Canon PowerShot SX510 HS sample pictures

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Still, the 12-megapixel resolution isn't much help when it comes to enlarging and heavy cropping or poster-size prints. With the exception of close-ups taken at ISO 80, there's a bit too much in the way of noise and artifacts visible when photos are viewed at 100 percent. This is the case with most small-sensor point-and-shoots, though, so if full-size quality is important to you, you'll want to move up to a large-sensor compact or a digital SLR.

Given the size of the camera, it's very easy to get carried away when using the zoom lens. However, unless you're very steady and in bright lighting it can be difficult to get a sharp shot with this or most other megazoom cameras. Just something to keep in mind if you're considering this for its 720mm focal length to use indoors or at night with moving subjects.

Movie quality is very good and, again, much better than the SX500 IS. The camera is reasonably quick to refocus should your subject move or if you use the zoom lens. The zoom moves slowly while recording and you will hear the lens motor in your videos, particularly in quieter scenes. The camera does record in full HD at 24fps, but there's also a high-speed setting for recording slow-motion clips at 240fps (QVGA resolution) and 120fps (VGA resolution). Also, while there is no manual control over shutter speed and aperture, you can chose to manually focus.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance
In our lab tests, from off to first capture took on average 1.6 seconds, while shot-to-shot times averaged 0.7 second (about a second less than its predecessor). Turning on the flash slowed that down to 2.1 seconds. Shutter lag -- the time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- took 0.3 second in bright lighting; in low light it was slightly longer at 0.5 second. Zooming in extends that wait to about 0.8 second.

The camera does have two continuous-shooting modes, one with autofocus and one without, where it sets exposure and focus with the first shot. The former is capable of up to 1 frame per second, while the latter can get up to 2.8fps. Basically, if you're good at anticipating action and can learn to live within these limitations, you can get shots of kids, pets, and sports. On the whole, though, I wouldn't recommend it for regularly capturing fast-moving subjects, especially indoors and/or when using the zoom lens.

Canon PowerShot SX510 HS design and features (pictures)

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Design and features
Considering its 30x, f3.4-5.8, 24-720mm lens, the camera is remarkably compact. At least part of the reason for that is the lack of an electronic viewfinder (EVF). This is a deal breaker for some people, though with its large 3-inch LCD that gets bright enough to see in daylight it's a little easier to forgive.

The body might be compact, but there's still room for large, easy-to-press buttons. You get a one-touch movie record button in addition to display, menu, and exposure compensation buttons above and below the navigational scroll wheel. The wheel surrounds a Func./Set button and has top, bottom, left, and right pressure points for ISO sensitivity, focus (manual, normal, and macro), flash, and timer. The wheel is responsive with tactile stops to it, so you will not easily overshoot what you're trying to select. Its operation is overall easy to pick up, but even seasoned Canon users will want to examine the full manual included on the software disc bundled with the camera.

Canon PowerShot SX510 HS Nikon Coolpix L820
Price (MSRP) $249.99 $199.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.1x2.7x3.2 inches 4.4x3.1x3.4 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 12 ounces 17 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None 3-inch LCD, 920K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 30x, f3.4-5.8, 24-720mm (35mm equivalent) 30x, f3.0-5.8, 22.5-675mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 pixels at 25fps (progressive) 4,608x3,456 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 pixels at 30fps (progressive)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 250 shots AA size (4, alkaline included), 320 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external wall charger supplied No
Built-in Wi-Fi/GPS Yes/no No

The camera has excellent optical image stabilization and the ergonomics of the grip allow you to get a firm hold on it, with plenty of room between it and the lens barrel. Though the body is plastic, the camera still feels sturdy. There's little lens rattle, which is common on lower-end megazooms, and the weight of the lens keeps it from floating away entirely while you're trying to shoot. Also, Canon put a framing assist button on the lens barrel that pulls the lens back so you can find your subjects should they go out of frame. Release the button and it zooms back in to where you started.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Cameras in this class use AA-size batteries for power; the SX510 HS does not. Instead you get a small rechargeable lithium ion battery, which saves on space and weight and gives you good, if not great, battery life. Although it's rated for 250 shots, keep in mind that using the zoom lens a lot, raising the screen brightness, continuously shooting, or recording movies, among other things, will eat into that battery life.

Speaking of things that use up your battery, the camera's flash does not pop up on its own; you have to lift it. That's probably not a big deal for many people, but if you're used to a camera that does everything for you, this might result in some missed shots. On the upside, the camera at least warns you to raise the flash when it's needed.

Along with a new sensor, the other big feature update for the SX510 HS is Wi-Fi. The camera's Wi-Fi is fairly straightforward to operate and allows you to share straight from the camera over Wi-Fi to Facebook, Twitter, and now Flickr. However, Canon requires you to sign up and register all the social-networking accounts you plan to share to with its Canon Image Gateway service. Fortunately, you no longer need to install CIG on a computer to do this and, instead, can set up everything from a smartphone or tablet.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Setting up an intermediary account like CIG is annoyingly common, so if you have an issue with giving Canon your social-network info, you can instead use the CameraWindow app for iOS or Android to send photos and movies directly to mobile devices for viewing, editing, and uploading. Doing this does not require set up an account on CIG, since you're not sharing directly to sites, but to your mobile device. It also means you can share on the go instead of only when the camera is connected to the Internet. You can also use the connection to your mobile device to geotag your photos, which is nice because this camera does not have built-in GPS.

Lastly, the Wi-Fi can also be used to send images directly to a photo printer or to back them up to a PC on the same network that the camera is connected.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX510 HS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Program, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority, Manual, Scene, Live View Control, Movie Digest, Creative Filters, Discreet, Movie
Focus modes Face AF, Center AF, Macro, Normal, Infinity, Manual
Macro 0.4 inch to 1.6 feet (Wide)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Custom (adjustment of contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue and skin tone are available)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

One of the SX500 IS' advantages is that it's made for more than fully automatic shooting. Among the many shooting options on the camera's mode dial are shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and manual. Available apertures at the wide end are f3.4, f4.0, f4.5, f5.0, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0; at telephoto you get f5.8, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0. Shutter speeds go from 15 seconds down to 1/1,600 second (sensitivity is limited to ISO 80 for shutter speeds longer than 1 second). If that's too much control for you, you can switch to Program and control everything but shutter speed and aperture.

You'll also find Canon's reliable Smart Auto, which analyzes your subject and automatically selects an appropriate scene setting from 32 defined settings; some standard scene modes like Portrait, Landscape, and Fireworks; a Discreet mode that shuts off all noise and lights while shooting; and a Movie mode for capturing clips at resolutions up to 1080p at 25fps in MOV format.

For those who are addicted to the photo filters from a favorite smartphone app, Canon includes several of its high-quality Creative Filters: Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, and Poster Effect. Another mode, Live View Control, lets you easily experiment with exposure and color while seeing your results onscreen before you shoot (the same goes for the filters). While some may consider these gimmicks that can be done with separate software, they can be fun to play with if you're looking to do something different and can actually help you set up your shot appropriately for the effect you're after.

Like most megazoom cameras, the Canon PowerShot SX510 HS is best suited for outdoor daylight use. Canon's switch to a BSI CMOS sensor, however, makes it a bit more useful in low-light conditions than last year's model. That, along with its beefed-up feature set, including built-in Wi-Fi, makes it a solid buy.


Canon PowerShot SX510 HS

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 8