I’ve always liked Canon’s Digital ELPH series of compact point and shoot digital cameras – they are small enough to drop in a shirt pocket, tough enough to go just about anywhere, dependably produce first-rate images with almost no effort on the part of the shooter, and they are un-intimidating to subjects – making them almost ideal for general photography, street/candid shots, and impromptu environmental portraits. The new Canon ELPH 510 HS meets all those criteria nicely and adds snappy AF and a 12x zoom to a genuinely pocketable point and shoot digital camera to create an especially impressive little imaging tool.
The Canon Powershot ELPH 510 HS is about average (for cameras in this class) in terms of speed. From camera on to first image capture is 2.0-2.5 seconds. AF lock is also about average for cameras in this class.
The Canon Powershot ELPH 510 HS features the same TTL Contrast Detection AiAF (Advanced intelligent Auto Focus) AF system as its predecessor. AF modes include – Multi-area, Center, Tracking, Single, Continuous, Touch, and Face Detection. In low light, a focus assist beam helps illuminate the subject for more accurate focusing. The 510 HS’s tiny built-in flash provides only five options – Auto, On, Off, Red-Eye, and Slow Sync. In Smart Auto mode the camera automatically enables Smart Flash Exposure mode. The Smart Flash Exposure system automatically adjusts flash exposure to balance flash output with the ambient light on the subject – to avoid dark facial shadows in outdoor portraits and provide more even lighting coverage in macro shooting. Maximum flash range (according to Canon) is just short of 9 feet. Flash recycle time is around 4.0 seconds. The Canon Powershot ELPH 510 HS saves images to SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory media.
The 510 is powered by a proprietary Canon Lithium-Ion NB-9L rechargeable battery. Canon says the 510 HS (with a freshly charged battery) is good for approximately 190 exposures, which is slightly below average power duration for cameras in this class. I rarely track numbers – since I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot, but that number seems a bit optimistic based on my experiences with the camera – I used the camera heavily for just over a week and charged the battery three times. The included charger needs about two hours to fully charge the battery.
The ELPH 510 HS features a 12x zoom. Compact digital camera zooms generally run in the 5x to 10x zoom range, so a truly tiny camera that can zoom from 28mm true wide-angle (great for group shots in tight indoor venues and traditional landscapes) to 336mm true telephoto (great for distant subjects, concerts, sports, and backyard wildlife) point of view gives the 510 HS a slight edge over much of its competition. Although corners are visibly soft at the wide-angle end of the zoom they are appreciably sharper at the telephoto end of the range.
The 510 HS’s f3.4 maximum aperture is fast enough for just about anything this camera’s target audience is likely to tackle outdoors, but even with its High Sensitivity capabilities, shooting at anything other than wide-angle focal lengths indoors is going to produce some muddy looking and fairly noisy images. Zoom operation is fast, smooth, and fairly quiet, but this lens exhibits noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom and noticeable pin cushioning (straight lines bow in toward the center) at telephoto. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is slightly higher than average, but very well controlled. Native contrast is a bit on the flat side.
The 510 HS features a 1920 x 1080p @ at 24fps HD movie mode, which is very impressive indeed when you consider that a camera small enough to be dropped in a shirt pocket is capable of shooting High Definition video that rivals the output of a consumer-level camcorder. The sample video that illustrates this review was shot in the late afternoon on a bright sunny autumn day at Louisville’s Extreme Park. Videos are hue accurate, fluid, and sharp. The only problem I had with the 510 HS, in video mode, was the virtual stop/start video button – which is imprecise. What I mean by that is that the video doesn’t always start (or stop) the first time you touch the virtual stop/start button. In addition – any serious photographer will tell you that tapping the screen to start/stop video capture causes the camera to move just as the capture process begins/ends and that dependably causes videos to look amateurish and shaky.
Image files produced by Canon’s ELPH series P&S digital cameras are optimized for the bold bright hues and slightly flat contrast that some veteran shooters refer to as Consumer Color and the 510 HS doesn’t stray far from that proven formula. Native colors (default color interpolation) are bright and hue accurate, but visibly over-saturated. Canon 510 HS reds are a little warmer than they are in real life, blues are a bit brighter, and greens/yellows are more vibrant than those seen by the naked eye, however consumers seem to like bright oversaturated images with flat contrast so most casual shooters won’t consider these minor color anomalies as faults. Outdoors in good light the 510 HS produces well-exposed, sharply focused, and almost noise-free images. Chromatic aberration is well controlled, but some minor color fringing is present, especially in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Here’s the bottom line – the Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS’s image quality is as good or better than any camera in its class.