Canon Powershot A510 Review

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Canon Powershot A510

Steve's Conclusion

The PowerShot A510 is Canon's 2005 successor to the popular A75 that we reviewed in 2004. The A510 retains the A75's 3-megapixel resolution and family-friendly features, but offers a more powerful 4X optical zoom range, 35-140mm in 35mm-equivalence, and reduced size via the use of SD memory and only 2 AA batteries for power.

In 2005, a resolution of only 3-megapixels has become synonymous with entry-level, but the A510's build quality belies any notion of cheapness. Its hybrid metal/polycarbonate body is both durable and stylish, fitting in equally well at both your children's soccer games and social events. Because of its small size and retractable lens, it fits easily in your pocket or purse, encouraging you to take it everywhere.

In a market where 3X optical zoom lenses are the norm, Canon has set the A510 apart by equipping it with a 4X zoom. Its 35mm-equivalent zoom range of 35-140mm favors the telephoto end, providing a bit more magnification for distant subjects and allowing you to better fill the frame at your children's athletic events. It provides adequate field of view for most interior shots, but you'll find your back pressed against the wall in small rooms. The lens produced sharp results throughout its zoom range, with noticeable barrel distortion at full wide angle but no apparent distortion at telephoto. Chromatic aberrations were well controlled, with only a bit of purple fringing present in high contrast areas. While the A510 may be an entry level camera, the quality of its lens is far better than the cost of the camera implies.

The A510's performance is better than average in the point-n-shoot class. From power-on till the first image was captured measured 3 seconds, while waking the camera from sleep mode to image capture took only 1.5 seconds; you'll be able to capture most spontaneous moments with it. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing an image, was less than 1/10 second pre-focused, an impressive response for a point-n-shoot; lag grew to 3/10 second using flash when pre-focused. Autofocus was reasonably fast, taking 8/10 to focus on a high-contrast subject and capture the image. The recycle time of the internal flash was relatively slow, taking between 6 and 12 seconds depending on subject distance.

The A510's rapid shooting responsiveness was also good. In single advance mode, the camera was able to capture images at intervals of 1.8 seconds for a depth of 8 shots, then slowing to one image every 2.5 seconds for subsequent shots. Continuous mode captured 9 images in 4 seconds, with subsequent shots coming at intervals of about one second. It took 4 seconds to flush a full buffer of Large Superfine images to the A510's SD memory card. The A510's LCD viewfinder briefly displays the last captured image during continuous shooting; you'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder if you are shooting a moving subject. These results were obtained in Programmed Auto and Large Superfine image quality, using a fast SanDisk Ultra II SD memory card.

The A510's indoor results were good, but limited by the flash range (about 12 feet at wide angle, 7 feet at telephoto). This, coupled with the limited field of view at wide angle (35mm), limits its indoor shooting to small rooms and portraits of small groups. Despite its limited range, the flash portraits were excellent, with good exposure and color reproduction; its red eye reduction mode was effective. The A510's low light autofocus performance was good, but the range of its focus assist lamp is limited to about 3 feet in near darkness. The LCD viewfinder "gains-up" the live image only slightly in dim lighting; you'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder in those conditions. The A510 effectively squelches its flash output at close range; this, coupled with its macro focusing ability, would make it a good choice for producing images of small items for online auction listings.

The A510's outdoor results were excellent, with consistent exposures, rich color saturation and very good sharpness. The 35mm wide angle end of the zoom range is useful for scenic images, while its 140mm telephoto focal length will bring your distant subjects closer than most competing cameras. The LCD has no brightness control or anti-reflective coating, but was nevertheless useful as a viewfinder in most outdoor conditions. You will find the optical viewfinder preferable on the brightest of days, however.

The A510's imager gets high grades for image quality. Noise is absent from images taken at ISO 50. At ISO 100 noise can be detected in shadow areas, at ISO 200 it becomes noticable, and at ISO 400 noise can be seen in highlight areas. For exposures longer than 1.3 seconds, the A510 automatically eliminates noise by dark frame subtraction.

The A510's playback mode was very useful, although I would prefer the camera maintain shooting priority while reviewing images. It includes a histogram display, a feature not found on every entry-level digicam, and 10x magnification to field check focus and exposure. Playback performance is average, taking just over 1 second to display a Large Superfine image and 2.3 seconds to switch back to shooting mode.

Families will enjoy the A510's movie mode. It offers a choice of 640x480 at 10 frames per second, or 320x240 and 160x120 at 15 fps; 640x480 movies are limited to 30 seconds in length, while 320x240 and 160x120 resolutions have a limit of 3 minutes. Movies can be played back and edited in-camera. If you plan to shoot 640x480 movies, be sure to get a spacious SD memory card; about 700 kBytes of memory will be consumed per second of recording. 320x240 mode is more efficient, consuming only 334kBytes per second.

The A510 was remarkably power efficient. It captured 300 images in our testing without showing any sign of battery depletion, this using a pair of 2500mAh NiMH rechargables.

There's a lot to like about the Canon PowerShot A510. With automatic and scene modes for the beginner, and manual, shutter-priority and aperture-priority modes for the advanced user, it has appealing features for every member of your family. It is small and light enough that you'll want to have it with you all the time, never missing a photo op. The A510's image quality is excellent, with sufficient resolution for 8x10-inch prints. Fill out your kit with a 512MB SD memory card and two pair of AA NiMH batteries and you'll be good to go for shooting an all day family event. With an MSRP of $250, the A510 will make many families happy while making only a small dent in their bank account. If you like the A510's image quality and features but desire a bit more resolution, consider the Canon PowerShot A520; for only $50 more (MSRP), you'll get 4-megapixels of resolution with the same attractive body and features.

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