Review and Pictures of Canon PowerShot A520 4.0 Megapixel Digital Camera by Dkozin from Epinions.com

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When I saw that using some coupons I had available at the time, I could get a Canon PowerShot A520 for only $180, I immediately ordered it. And now I can report my findings about the performance, feel and features of the A520.

Pictures

The pictures of the Canon PowerShot A520 as well as sample photos I took using it are available at the address below (more sample photos will be added shortly).

Click here to see the sample photos I took with this Canon A520 camera and photos of the camera

Canon PowerShot A520 4.0 Megapixel Digital Camera


Two Reviews

I will provide two reviews below. The first one (short version) will be targeted to people who don't want to read through multiple pages of text to figure out if the camera has what they want and if it performs well. It is targeted to a casual user rather than somebody who cares about the small details and features.

The second version will contain the description of the more advanced aspects for those who are interested in them. By separating this information into a second, larger review, I hope to avoid boring casual shooters to death with information about things they might not need.

What is Canon PowerShot A520?

The Canon PowerShot A520 is a 4-Megapixle compact digital camera with a 4x optical zoom, 1.8-inch LCD screen, zooming optical viewfinder, acclaimed Canon DiG!C Image Processor, 9-point AiAF auto focus, 1-point auto focus and manual focus, 13 shooting modes including Full Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual Mode, Scene modes. It stores pictures on SD (Secure Digital) or MultiMedia memory cards (16 MB MMC supplied) and features USB connection to PC and Mac computers. It also supports direct printing (without computer) with PictBridge compatible printers

Features

The A520 is an update to the popular 4-Megapixel Canon PowerShot A85. It upgrades the A85's 3x optical zoom to newly designed sharp 4x optical zoom (35-140 mm in 35mm equivalent with maximum apertures f/2.6-f/5.5), which is also slightly faster (A85 had f/2.8 at wide angle). The minimum aperture is f/8.0 at both wide angle and telephoto.

The camera uses 2 AA-type batteries instead of four batteries that the previous cameras (e.g. A85) used. Canon claims the same 300 shots on 2 AA batteries that the previous cameras provided with 4 AA batteries.

The camera has a low-light focus assist illuminator that helps it focus in low light. The orientation sensor detects if the camera is held horizontally or vertically and saves the pictures appropriately.

The camera features selectable Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes. The camera has a built-in flash that zooms with the camera's lens. The A520 has a shutter speed range of 15-1/2,000 sec and selectable ISO of 50-400.

The available movie mode records movies with sound at 640x480 for up to 30 seconds, 320x240 or 320x240 for up to 3 minutes (the camera has a microphone and a speaker).

The camera also has a Macro mode where it can focus as close as 2 inches (5 cm) at wide angle or 11.8 inches (30 cm) at telephoto.

Short Review

The Canon PoweShot A520 has a nice looking and durable metal/polycarbonate body that is compact and convenient to hold. The camera has a retractable lens that extends and has a lens cover that opens when the camera is powered on. When the camera is powered off, the lens retracts and the lens cover closes.

The camera has an on/off button on the top deck as well as a zoom rocker, large shutter release button and a large rotating mode dial. The mode dial can be set to Auto mode, Program mode, multiple scene modes as well as, more advanced, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual mode.

The bottom of the camera has a threaded tripod mount and a battery compartment lid. The rear houses a 1.8-inch LCD monitor, an optical zooming viewfinder, a review/shoot switch and control buttons. The side has a cover, underneath which you can find a USB jack, A/V jack and a CD power input.

The camera takes about 2 seconds to power on and can capture images at about two-second intervals (I used Kingston Elite Pro SD memory card). The focusing takes about a second and the shutter lag, when pre-focused, is almost unnoticeable. The zooming from wide angle to telephoto (or back) takes about two seconds and is smooth and responsive.

The camera can take more than 300 pictures on one charge of high-capacity NiMH batteries (I recommend at least 2000 mAh). I was able to take 150 photos using my old 1600 mAh batteries and the battery indicator still stayed on the full mark.

The camera can be used in full auto mode (by rotating the mode dial to Auto position), where it is extremely easy to use. In this mode the camera sets all parameters automatically and you only have to point and shoot.

You can go one step further and select an appropriate scene mode (e.g. Portrait, Landscape, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Kids & Pets, etc.) to let camera know what effect you want. For example, in the Portrait mode the camera will try to keep the subject sharp while keeping the background blurry, but will try to keep both foreground and background sharp in the Landscape mode.

And if or when you are ready to take control, you can use the Aperture Priority mode (to control how much of your picture will be in focus) or Shutter Priority mode (to freeze fast motion or, on contrary, create motion blur) or even full Manual mode to control both the Aperture and Shutter Speed.

In most modes you can use Exposure Compensation to make pictures the camera takes brighter or darker.

The flash has an effective red-eye reduction mode and is sufficient at up to 10-12 feet away. It has a recycle time of about 5-10 seconds (depending on the subject distance). It zooms (or rather varies the coverage) with the lens - an impressive feature.

The camera produces excellent results with well-exposed, sharp, contrasty and richly-colored photos. The skin colors are true to life and pleasing. Unlike some other cameras (including Canon SD200) that have noticeably softer edges of the frame, the photos taken with the A520 are sharp at the edges of the frame as well as at the center.

Usually, the smaller the camera and the higher the optical zoom it can provide, the softer the image becomes, especially at the corners of the frame as it is difficult to produce compact optics with high zoom levels. Surprisingly, the lens on the A520 is very good, despite its compact dimensions and the 4x optical zoom. The lens has impressive 4x optical zoom range and produces sharp results at all zoom levels.

The image noise is absent at ISO 50 and cannot be found even in the shadows. It appears (slightly) at the ISO 100 in the shadows, gets more pronounced at ISO 200 and gets rather bad at ISO 400. Still, if you are printing 6x4 or 5x7 pictures, the noise should not be visible up to (and including) ISO 200 and barely visible at ISO 400. And with 4-megapixel shots it produces, you can print your photos at up to 8x10 or even 11x14 inches with good detail (ISO 50-200).

You can see sample photos I took with the A520 as well as photos of the camera at the address below:

Click here for the sample photos taken with Canon PowerShot A520 and photos of it

You can copy and paste the above address into your browser's address area.

Recommendation: Highly recommended if you need an inexpensive yet capable compact camera that produces excellent photos with print sizes of up 8x10 or even 11x14 inches, has 4x zoom and uses AA batteries. Weather you want point-and-shoot simplicity or full manual control, the A520 delivers.



Full Review

More on Image Quality

The camera produces contrasty photos that have a pleasing "Canon" color with slight oversaturation, slight warm cast and cyan shifted towards blue - the kind of color consumers like.

The dynamic range of the photos seems to be limited (as in other consumer-level digicams), but seems to be slightly wider than average for consimer-level digital cameras. In harsh lighting conditions, the highlights can be blown out, but the shadow detail is rather good (see the sample photo I took in the shaded area below - click for full-size image). Overall, the dynamic range is very good, comparing to other compact camera of similar price.



The complete absence of noise at ISO 50 was a pleasant surprise as was very minimal amount of noise in the shadows at ISO 100. But the noise at ISO 400 makes the ISO 400 all but unusable at any size over 6x4 inches.

The lens of the Canon PowerShot A520 exhibits slight barrel distortion at wide angle (straight lines bow out at the edges of the frame) that is virtually unnoticeable and can only be detected if you take pictures of buildings and really pay attention.

There is virtually no chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in the areas of high contrast. You can see the sample photos I took to see the results for yourself.

Macro

The PowerShot A520 can take good macro pictures. It can capture (with no flash) a minimum area of about 2x1.5-inch and features a sharp image with only slight blurring in corners of the frame. A very good macro performance, considering the size and price of the camera.

You need light to illuminate the shooting area and/or a tripod, however: the flash when engaged at such a close distance can overexpose the upper left portion of the image. For example, see a sample photo I took below that shows that the image is too bright and there is a shadow in the lower left part of the image (click to see the full-size image):



LCD and Viewfinder

The A520 has a 1.8-inch non-articulated (fixed) LCD screen and an optical zooming viewfinder. The LCD coverage as about 100% - you can see exactly what will be recorded. The viewfinder, however, cover only about 80% of what will be recorded.

Computer Connectivity

The camera uses USB connection to transfer pictures to a computer. You can also remove the SD memory card and use a memory card reader (if you have one), but I use the camera with the USB cable supplied.

The file transfer is rather slow at about 500 KB/s. With file size of about 2 MB in 2272x1704 (4 Megapixel) Fine mode, the transfer takes about 4 seconds per photo. Not very impressive.

Color Effects

You can adjust color saturation by selecting Vivid or Neutral color in addition to the standard setting. In Vivid mode, the saturation is increased and I find that it provides too much saturation. I don't use this mode.

In the Neutral mode, the saturation is decreased. I find it useful mainly in the low light conditions to reduce noise and make images more true-to-life.

Also available Black and White, Sepia and Low Sharpening effects. The former two are nothing to write home about - just regular modes that are quite useful if you want to give your photos an old look. The Low Sharpening effect reduces in-camera sharpening and lets you sharpen your photos later, in software (e.g. Photoshop). This gives you more control over sharpening.

Image Quality Settings

The camera lets you select between Fine, Normal and Economy compression levels (regardless of resolution). At the highest resolution of 2272x1704 pixels, the Fine JPEG can be of about 2-2.5- Megabyte size, the Normal JPEG - 1-1.5 MB and Economy JPEG is about 0.7-0.9 MB.

In the Economy mode, some fine detail is lost. I would only use Fine mode for high-resolution pictures intended for printing or post processing. But for web/email or conserving space on the memory card, other modes are viable options.

White Balance

The camera's automatic white balance is usually quite accurate with the exception of the incandescent lighting, where you are better off either selecting Incandescent white balance setting or using the available manual white balance.

Build Quality and Ergonomics

The camera has a solid feel and good build quality. The rotating mode dial and the sliding review/shoot switch require too much effort for my taste, but that gives this camera an impression of very solid build. The memory card door is slightly flimsy, however.

The camera is convenient to hold and its compact size lets you put it in a jacket pocket or a purse easily. The major controls are within easy reach and the tactile response is good.

Menu System

I am not a big fan of Canon menus and the A520 is no exception. Not only I find the menus less easy to use than Panasonic's (e.g. my Panasonic DMC-FZ5), the menu takes about 1 second to appear after you call upon it. Not a huge delay but still annoying, especially considering how responsive the rest of the camera operation is.

Focusing

You can let camera focus using its AiAF 9-area focusing system and the camera will show you green rectangles over the areas where it focused so that you can confirm the focus areas. You can also switch to the 1-point focusing or use the manual focus.

The arrow down button switches the camera to Macro mode when pushed once, and to the manual mode when pushed again. The camera shows you a scale in your chosen units (cm or inches) and magnifies the central portion of the screen to let you confirm the focus. Cumbersome but it works, aside from the fact that the camera makes weird sounds while focusing.

How Does It Compare to Canon PowerShot A510?

So far the only difference I noticed is the resolution (Canon PowerShot A510 has 3.2-Megapixel resolution) and the speed of writing images to the memory card (the A510 writes images slightly faster due to the smaller file size). If you don't need to print big enlargements and if 3.2-Megapixel resolution is sufficient for you, the A510 may be a good choice for $25-35 less than A520. It is the same camera with the same features and performance but with slightly lower resolution.

Specifications

For people who like specifications in easy to read format:

Bottom Line

I highly recommend the Canon PowerShot A520 if you need an inexpensive yet capable compact camera that produces excellent photos with print sizes of up 8x10 or even 11x14 inches, has 4x optical zoom and uses AA batteries. Weather you want point-and-shoot simplicity or full manual control, the Canon PowerShot A520 delivers.

Recommended
Yes

Product Rating
Excellent (Excellent)

This review is also available at Epinions.com: Canon PowerShot A520 Digital Camera Review on Epinions.com

           

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My Reviews of Other Digital Cameras

Canon:
Canon Powershot S2 IS Digital Camera Review
Canon Powershot S1 IS Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot A520 4-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot A510 3.2-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot S500 5-Megapixel Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot S410 / Digital IXUS 430 Digital Camera Review
Canon PowerShot SD400 5-Megapixel Digital Camera Review

Kodak:
Kodak EasyShare Z740 5-Megapixel Digital Camera Review

Olympus:
Olympus Camedia D-595 Zoom 5-Megapixel Digital Camera Review

Panasonic:
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 5-Megapixel Digital Camera with 12x Optical Stabilized Zoom Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 5-Megapixel Digital Camera with 12x Optical Stabilized Zoom Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ4 4-Megapixel Digital Camera with 12x Optical Stabilized Zoom Review
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1 4-Megapixel Digital Camera with 6x Optical Stabilized Zoom Review

Sony:
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-T1 Digital Camera Review
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-T33 Digital Camera Review
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-T7 Digital Camera Review