The 12x12 (12x zoom & 12 megapixels) Canon Powershot ELPH 510 HS delivers more than adequate resolution and an impressive zoom range in a truly pocketable compact point and shoot digital camera with a capacitive touchscreen that replaces all but the most essential physical controls with virtual controls. The lack of dedicated physical controls made it possible for Canon to include a large 3.2-inch (8.13 cm) LCD that completely dominates the back deck of this miniscule digital camera.
In addition to the features listed above, the ELP 510 HS also records images/video to a 1/2.3" CMOS sensor, utilizes Canon's proven DIGIC4 Image Processor (rather than the newer DIGIC5), includes Canon's HS System for improved low-light performance (up to ISO 3200), features full HD 1080p video with stereo audio (via a virtual stop/start video button), and provides an HDMI output, an Intelligent IS system (which automatically chooses from six different IS modes to optimize image stabilization for the shooting situation), and finally an improved Smart AUTO mode that intelligently selects the most appropriate scene mode for the shooting situation from 32 included scene modes.
Build and Design
The Canon Powershot ELPH 510 HS bears a striking family resemblance to the rest of the ELPH tribe. Canon's ELPH line has a history of robust construction and impressive durability and the ELPH 510 HS could easily become the poster child for tough little cameras - its metal-alloy body gives it a much more solid feel than many of its polycarbonate bodied competitors. At 2.3 inches (58.42 mm) by 3.9 inches (99.06 mm) by 0.9 inches (22.86 mm) and weighing in at 7.3 ounces (207 grams) this digital camera is supremely pocketable. For the stylistas among us, the ELPH 510 HS is available in silver, red, and black versions.
Ergonomics and Controls
The ELPH 510 HS was obviously designed for space conscious casual users and while this is a very pocket friendly little point and shoot digital camera, purchasers are strongly encouraged to immediately attach (and consistently use) the included wrist strap - because small digital cameras are very easy to drop and complex miniature electronic devices don't suffer impacts well.
For dedicated physical controls, the ELPH 510 HS provides only an on/off button, a two-position camera mode switch, the shutter button, the zoom toggle, and the review button. This arrangement will probably be applauded by smart phone users, but might cause some post-purchase remorse for more traditional users. Dedicated knobs, buttons, and switches are mostly absent - which gives the 510 HS a minimalist look - in fact there is nothing on the back of the camera, except the 3.2 inch LCD, a long skinny thumb rest, and the review button.
Menus and Modes
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS features the classic two tab Canon digital camera menu system - The menu system is logical, easy to navigate, and very simple - since the 510 HS allows only minimal user input. Below are the shooting modes available.
Smart Auto: Automatic scene recognition program that instantly compares what's in front of the lens with an on-board image database and then matches that information with the subject's distance from the camera, white balance, contrast, dynamic range, lighting and color (just before the image is recorded) to determine the best scene mode for that specific shooting situation.
Program: Auto exposure with limited user input.
Movie: The 510 HS records HD video at a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080p @ 24fps with stereo audio.
Like the vast majority of P&S digital cameras, the ELPH 510 HS doesn't provide an optical viewfinder, so shooters must rely solely on the 3.2-inch PureColor II Touch TFT LCD monitor for all viewfinder chores, including framing/composition, captured image review, and menu navigation. The 510 HS's 3.2-inch (461K) touchscreen LCD provides direct access to controls, functions, menus and even offers touch-based autofocus - just tap the screen exactly where you want the camera to lock focus. Most modern shooters don't like (or use) optical viewfinders anyway and in some shooting scenarios (macro shots and portraits come to mind), it is generally quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through an optical viewfinder. LCD resolution has been steadily increasing over the last few years because consumers want larger, sharper, and quicker LCD screens. Several of Canon's competitor's P&S models provide 920k LCDs - twice the resolution of the 510 HS's 460k LCD.
The 510 HS's LCD monitor is noticeably coarser and slightly dimmer than some Nikon and Sony POINT AND SHOOT digital camera monitors, but it offers more than adequate resolution for the 510 HS's market demographic - it is hue accurate (what you see is what you get), fluid, automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, covers approximately 100% of the image frame, and provides all the information this digital camera's target audience is likely to need. The 510's LCD screen (like all LCD monitors) is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting - add to that the smudges and fingerprints that are unavoidable with touchscreen use and the LCD is often less than useful in bright outdoor lighting.
I love digital cameras, but I don't like touchscreens. Just because something works nicely on one type of product (smartphones) doesn't mean that it will work adequately with other (radically different) devices. Cameras need controls that respond immediately. Touchscreen controls on cameras lack the tactile assurance and confidence inspiring immediate response of traditional buttons, knobs, and switches. While touchscreens are undeniably getting better, they still often require multiple taps to access the feature or function sought, and that momentary delay could cost users a killer shot.
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.
Smartphones with ever better on-board cameras are ruthlessly encroaching on the point and shoot camera's territory, which goes a long way toward explaining why lots of digital cameras now come equipped with touchscreen LCD's and other smartphone features. If you use your camera ONLY for snapshots, recording impromptu video clips of your children and pets, and producing "selfies" to upload to Facebook and YouTube, then you'll probably be fine with just your phone cam. However, if you use your camera to record memories from those once in a lifetime trips or special family events - then your phone cam is going to come up short when compared to even auto-exposure only compact P&S digital cameras.
Phone cams lack the flexibility, ease of use, creative control, and better quality optics offered by even the simplest point and shoot camera. At just shy of an inch thick, the svelte Canon ELPH 510 HS is a truly pocketable camera, but the law of diminishing returns comes into play here. The Canon ELPH 510 HS was designed to appeal to casual photographers - it is not a camera that professionals or serious photographers would select for their own use. And while it will produce consistently better images than any currently available smartphone, those images won't be radically better. Whether you actually need a P&S camera in addition to your smartphone is an important question and consumers will have to answer that question based on their gadget budget and personal preferences.