Canon Powershot A520 Review

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Canon Powershot A520

Steve's Conclusion

The PowerShot A520 is the 4-megapixel big brother of Canon's A510 and logically the 2005 successor to the popular A85 that we reviewed in 2004. The A520 retains the A85's 4-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.

The A520's body is identical to its A510 sibling. The 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.

The most significant improvement Canon made to the A520 over the A85 was the 4X optical zoom range of its lens. 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. The A520's lens is a quality piece of glass, identical to that of the A510.

The A520'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 1.7 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 9/10 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 A520's rapid shooting responsiveness was also good, although a bit slower than the A510 due to the increased image size. In single advance mode, the camera was able to capture images at intervals of 2.2 seconds for a depth of 5 shots, then slowing to one image every 3 seconds for subsequent shots. Continuous mode captured 5 images in 2.5 seconds, with subsequent shots coming at intervals of about 1.4 seconds. It took 4 seconds to flush a full buffer of Large Superfine images to the A520's SD memory card. The A520'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 A520'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 A520'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 A520 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 A520'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 A520's 4-megapixel imager produces good results, but it is noisier than the 3-megapixel counterpart of the A510. Noise is essentially absent from images taken at ISO 50. At ISO 100 noise is noticeable in shadow areas, at ISO 200 it becomes noticeable in highlight areas, and at ISO 400 noise becomes objectionable throughout the image.. For exposures longer than 1.3 seconds, the A520 automatically eliminates noise by dark frame subtraction.

The A520's playback mode was very useful, although I would prefer the camera maintain shooting priority while reviewing images. It includes a histogram display, and 10x magnification to field check focus and exposure. Playback performance is average, taking just about 1.5 seconds to display a Large Superfine image and 2.5 seconds to switch back to shooting mode.

Families will enjoy the A520'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 A520 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 A520. 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 A520's image quality is very good, with sufficient resolution for 8x10-inch prints even after a moderate amount of cropping. 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 $300, the A520 will make many families happy while making only a small dent in their bank account. If you like the A520's image quality and features but need only 3-megapixel resolution, consider the Canon PowerShot A510; for $50 less (MSRP), you'll get 3-megapixels of resolution with the same attractive body and features.

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Want a second opinion?

Imaging-Resource's A520 review

LetsGoDigital's A520 review

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