A replacement for the prior year's Canon A75, the 3.2-Megapixel Canon PowerShot A510 is currently available at rather low prices. I got mine for $161 after coupons including taxes and shipping at Dell. I also got the 4-Megapixel A520 to see the difference for only $20 more. Your mileage may vary.
The pictures of the Canon PowerShot A510 are available at the address below.
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.
The second version will contain the description of the more advanced aspects for those who are interested in them. By separating this information, I hope to avoid boring casual shooters to death with information about things they might not need. I will also provide a comparison between Canon A510 and Canon A520.
What is Canon PowerShot A510?
The Canon PowerShot A510 is a 3.2-Megapixel compact digital camera with a 4x optical zoom, 1.8-inch LCD screen, zooming optical viewfinder, acclaimed Canon DiG!C Image Processor, 9-area AiAF auto focus, 1-point auto focus and manual focus, 13 shooting modes including Full Auto, Program, Scene Modes, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual Mode.
The camera 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. It is an update on the last year's Canon A75.
The PowerShot A510 is an update to the popular 3.2-Megapixel Canon PowerShot A75. It upgrades the A75'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 (A75 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. A75) used. Canon claims similar amount of shots can be taken on 2 AA batteries that the previous camera provided with 4 AA batteries. Impressive stuff.
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. When opened in image-editing software (say Photoshop), the images will be rotated to proper orientation automatically.
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 A510 has a shutter speed range of 15-1/2,000 sec and selectable ISO of 50-400 as well as Auto ISO.
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. The available movie mode records movies with sound (the camera has a microphone and a speaker) at 640x480 for up to 30 seconds, 320x240 or 320x240 for up to 3 minutes.
The camera 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 body is not as compact or sturdy as metal bodies of Canon Digital Elph line, but it is much cheaper and features better optics.
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. There is also a mode for recording short video clips.
The bottom of the camera has a threaded tripod mount and a battery compartment lid as well as, slightly flimsy when opened, memory card door. 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 DC power input jack.
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 and images were recorded in Large Superfine mode). 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 less than two seconds and is responsive, but has less steps than I would like.
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 160 photos using my old 1600 mAh Panasonic batteries and the low battery warning has not appeared yet (the camera has no real battery status indicator since it is difficult to figure out what battery you are using and how long it will last, unlike using proprietary batteries with some other cameras).
The A510 can be used by any member of the family and by photographers of all levels of expertise from novices to advanced ones.
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 press the shutter release button halfway to make camera focus and the camera shows you (on the LCD screen) where it focused by displaying one or more green rectangles. Then you take the picture by pressing the shutter release button all the way.
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 7-10 seconds (depending on the subject distance and battery charge). It zooms (or rather varies the coverage) with the lens - an impressive feature, but some shots with subject too close to the camera were overexposed by the flash being too strong.
Unfortunately, while the flash is "charging", the LCD screen goes dark, which means for close to 10 seconds you cannot frame, focus, zoom or pretty much do anything.
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 SD Digital Elph series) that have noticeably softer edges of the frame, the photos taken with the A510 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 A510 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 strong 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 3.2-megapixel shots it produces, you can print your photos at up to 8x10 inches with good detail (ISO 50-200). If you need to print in larger size or need excellent detail level, you need a camera with higher resolution. Example: Canon PowerShot A520 with 4-Megapixel resolution.
Recommendation: I highly recommend Canon A510 if you need an inexpensive yet capable compact camera that produces excellent photos with print sizes of up 8x10 inches, has 4x zoom and uses AA batteries. Weather you want point-and-shoot simplicity or full manual control, the A510 will be a good choice. It can be used by any member of the family, by novices and advanced users alike.
More on Image Quality
The A510 produces contrasty photos that have a pleasing "Canon" color with slight oversaturation and a slight warm cast - 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. 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.
There is virtually no chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in the areas of high contrast. The lens of the Canon PowerShot A510 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.
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 2048x1536 pixels, the Fine JPEG can be of about 1.5- Megabyte size, the Normal JPEG - about 1 MB and Economy JPEG is less than 1 MB.
You can detect occasional JPEG artifacts 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.
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.
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 (scraping/scratching sounds).
The PowerShot A510 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 image and leave a pronounced shadow in the lower right corner.
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.
The camera has a plastic tripod mount that is offset. It is useful if you want to take macro pictures or pictures with long exposures (e.g. nighttime). The camera has a timer, which you should use to avoid blurry images when the camera is on the tripod. The A510 has noise reduction that is activated with exposures longer than 1.3 seconds and takes a picture with the shutter closed and then subtracts it from the original picture, thereby eliminating hot pixels.
I have not read the manual, yet was able to use the camera in all modes. I am not a big fan of Canon menus and the A510 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. The menus are self-explanatory, but they are arranged in a manner that slows you down.
LCD and Viewfinder
The A510 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. There is a strange click-like sound when you switch the LCD on and off. The LCD has good visibility and decent resolution.
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. The fast USB 2.0 Hi-Speed card reader will provide much better transfer speeds. But with relatively small files the camera produces, the speed is not a big issue.
I do not use the software that was provided with the camera since I have Adobe Photoshop CS2.
The camera can display a histogram in the review mode to show you if you have overexposed the highlights or underexposed the shadows. I useful feature when you don’t trust the LCD.
You can adjust both the aperture and shutter speed in the Manual mode, but you can adjust them one at a time, unlike my Panasonic FZ5, where you can adjust them simultaneously without having to jump from one to another. The camera shows you the under/overexposure as evaluated by the camera once the shutter button is half-pressed (e.g. -1EV means 1EV of underexposure).
You can also adjust the flash output (albeit only in three steps) in the manual mode.
How Does It Compare to Canon PowerShot A520?
So far the only difference I noticed is the resolution (Canon A520 has 4-Megapixel resolution) and the speed of writing images to the memory card (the A520 writes images slightly slower due to the smaller file size). If you need to print big enlargements and if 4-Megapixel resolution is required, the A520 is a good choice for only $25-35 more than the A510.
For people who like specifications in easy to read format:
- 4x optical 35-140mm f/2.6-5.5 zoom, 3.6x digital zoom
- Focusing range: NORMAL: 1.5 ft./45cm-Infinity, MACRO: 2 in.-1.5 ft./5-45cm (WIDE), 11.8 in.-1.5 ft./30-45cm(TELE)
- 3.2 Megapixel CCD imager for up to 2048x1536 pixel images
- Still image resolution: 2048x1536 (Large), 1600x1200 (Medium 1), 1024x768 (Medium 2), 640x480 (Small)
- Movie resolution: 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120
- Aperture: f/2.6-8.0 (W), f/5.5-8.0 (T)
- Shutter Speed: 15-1/2000 sec; can be set in 1/3-stop increments in Manual and Shutter-priority (Tv) Modes.
- Selectable ISO settings from 50 to 400
- 1.8" color LCD with up to 10x playback zoom (115,000 pixels)
- Real-image 4x optical zoom viewfinder
- Focusing: 9-point AiAF/1-point AF (Fixed to center)Manual Focus, AF Lock, AF-assist Beam ON/Off, MF magnified display function available
- Program AE, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority and Manual modes
- Pre-programmed creative scene modes for beginners
- Movie mode w/sound, 640x480 for up to 30secs, 320x240 and 160x120 up to 3 minutes
- 1.9fps Continuous burst capture of Large/Fine images
- Evaluative metering on focus point, Center-weighted or Spot options
- Stitch Assist mode for perfect panoramas
- Exposure compensation: /-2EV in 1/3-step increments
- White Balance: Auto, 5 presets or Custom
- Orientation sensor that automatically detects vertical or horizontal shooting
- Low-light focus assist illuminator
- Light-guide zoom flash, angle changes with focal length
- Optional High-Power Flash HF-DC1
- Voice memo (up to 60 sec.) can be attached to images
- Built-in microphone and speaker
- Powered by two standard AA-type batteries
- Direct print and PictBridge Compatible
- USB connectivity for PC and Mac
- Secure Digital memory cards, 16MB supplied
- Includes a USB cable, an A/V cable, wrist strap, 16MB MultiMedia Card (that's right, the provided card is not an SD card, but a slower MMC), two AA Alkaline batteries, Canon Digital Camera Solution Disc, featuring the latest versions of Canon software and ArcSoft PhotoStudio
Pros:Excellent optics for low price and compact size, uses 2 AA batteries, features, 4x zoom
Cons:Flash creates shadow in corner in Macro mode and overexposes unless you use ISO50/f8
I can highly recommend the Canon PowerShot A510 if you need an inexpensive yet capable compact camera that produces excellent photos with print sizes of up 8x10 inches, has 4x optical zoom and uses AA batteries. Weather you want point-and-shoot simplicity or full manual control, the A510 delivers. It can be used by any member of the family from novices to advanced shooters.