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.
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.
If you like to shoot close-ups, the 520 HS can focus as close as 0.4 inch from a subject. As long as you have plenty of light, you can get very good fine detail. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo.
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.
This is a 100 percent crop from the photo on the previous slide. Taken at ISO 160, there is good amount of noise, and details are soft and mushy, such as her hair and eyelashes, which in some places also looks crunchy from sharpening. Unless you're really looking for it, you'll need to view this image larger than our slideshows will allow to see the noise and the lack of detail. Basically, the 520 HS is fine for small prints and Web use as long as you don't enlarge and heavily crop its photos.
At ISO 1600, even at small sizes, subjects look very soft and colors are a bit off (I've seen worse, though). Viewing it on an HDTV or at larger sizes on a computer screen will reveal a significant lack of detail, lots of noise, and yellow blotching. The 520 HS just isn't a good choice if you're going to regularly take photos indoors or in low-light conditions.
The zoom range of the 520 HS goes from a wide-angle 28mm (top) to a long 336mm (bottom). That's impressive for such a small camera, but Canon does it by using the center of a 1/2.3-inch type sensor, basically turning it into a sensor size similar to what you'd find in a smartphone.
There is a bit of barrel distortion at the wide end of the 520 HS' lens (top), but no sign of pincushioning when the lens is extended (bottom). The lens has very good center sharpness and is consistent edge to edge. Fringing in high-contrast areas of photos is common, but for the most part only visible when photos are viewed at larger sizes on the screen.
The 520 HS has many creative options to experiment with for those who are addicted to the photo filters from a favorite smartphone app. Included are Toy Camera Effect, Miniature Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, and the newest, which is pictured here: Soft Focus. It also has several photo effect options with presets for subject and skin-tone color as well as individual adjustments for contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue, and skin tone. If that's not enough, Canon also includes its Color Swap (for example, change all blue to yellow) and Color Accent (you can pick one highlight color and make everything else monochrome) features.