Canon PowerShot SX510 HS £289.99
24th Dec 2013 | 09:45
A compact bridge camera with 30x optical zoom and full manual control
Last year's Canon PowerShot SX500 IS was hailed as the smallest 30x optical zoom camera on the market, and it was certainly impossible to deny that it packed a whopping lens and the pixels to support it. While it was generally well received, there were a few areas where quality fell foul of quantity. That being the case, we were excited to get our hands on the Canon SX510 HS, contender to the tiny-but-mighty crown.
The two cameras are outwardly similar and share the same great 30x optical zoom, with a maximum effective focal length of 720mm. Further expandable to 60x with Canon's ZoomPlus digital zoom technology, the equivalent of 1440mm, you shouldn't find any problems snapping long range subjects. While it can't boast the same 50x reach as the range-leading Canon SX50 HS, it offers more than enough reach for most situations in a package almost half the size.
There are a number of major improvements under the SX510's hood, and the foremost of these is the new 12.1 million pixel CMOS sensor. The Canon SX500 IS featured a 16 million pixel CCD sensor and this change hopefully reveals a major shift towards better image quality. The new sensor has Canon's HS (short for High Sensitivity) system, which should make it far better at handling low light photography. Although the included DIGIC 4 processor is now two generations old, we know it to be a good performer in other cameras.
The SX510 also features the same three-inch, 461k-dot LCD screen as its forebear, which is starting to lag behind the competition in terms of resolution, with many compacts now packing 920k-dot or higher displays.
As with its predecessor, the Canon SX510 features Canon's Intelligent IS technology, which has proven itself to be equal to the task of keeping images stable, even with the long focal length offered by this lens. As well as a powerful IS system, the camera also features a raft of autofocus options including full manual focusing. Tracking options including automatic face detection allow you to keep moving subjects in focus while continuous and servo options help save time spent refocusing.
A wide range of imaging modes are included, with aperture and shutter priority modes as well as full manual control. Scene Mode includes options for low light shooting and portraits, while a range of creative filters provide imitation toy camera and fisheye effects. Flexible tools such as reduced resolution high speed shooting and face triggering give you plenty of options for any situation.
One of the hardest parts of telephoto photography is maintaining framing, especially when shooting moving subjects. The Zoom Framing Assist function, accessed via an easy to reach button on the size of the lens, aims to make reframing as easy as possible by enabling you to quickly zoom in and out. One press while zoomed in will quickly zoom out to a wide view, with a handy framing window that matches the approximate telephoto view. Let go of the button and the lens will zoom right back to your initial range, allowing you to quickly search for subjects. What's more, when a subject is detected, the camera will attempt to keep it relatively the same size in the frame at all times, which is great for moving subjects.
With most modern compacts featuring full HD movie recording; the Canon SX500 offered a disappointing maximum resolution of 720p. Thankfully, this upgraded model has received a much-needed boost, bringing it in line with what is quickly becoming the industry standard. Although there are no options to adjust frame rates at HD resolutions, a high-speed mode is offered, with up to 240 frames per second available, at the cost of a cut to resolution.
A welcome addition to this model is wireless connectivity, something that is becoming more and more common in modern compact and bridge cameras, making transferring files and printing entirely computer free. The wireless connection also allows you to share GPS information from a mobile device in order to automatically tag images with location information, which adds even more attraction to an already traveller-friendly camera.
Build quality and handling
As diminutive as the SX510's frame is, it doesn't for one second feel toy-like. As we've become accustomed to with Canon's compact line up, high quality materials are paired with tasteful and understated design. From the rubber grip to the metal lens ring, the choice of materials shows consideration to both form and function.
You might expect a camera this small to feel fragile or fiddly in the hand, but the reality is pleasantly quite the opposite. Even in large hands, the carefully contoured grip gives you plenty of purchase and you never feel as if you're in danger of losing hold. Being so light, the camera sits gently in the hand and the weight, or lack thereof, makes it easy to maintain framing for long periods.
The grip and controls are all located on the right hand side, which makes one-handed operation simple. While the controls are all well placed, it can be a little bit cramped and some may have to perform thumb gymnastics in order to reach all the controls without shifting grip. Likewise, the zoom control switch may prove a little small to some digits.
Button placement is the standard Canon fare, centered on the scroll dial/directional pad combination that has become common in recent models. The scroll dial, which surrounds the directional pad, allows quick scrolling through menu options as well as the changing of settings such as aperture and shutter speed – depending on mode.
Directional pad shortcuts offer quick access to focusing modes, sensitivity, flash and timer options, while the central function button gives access to more detailed settings such as white balance, metering and resolution. The focal point of the top panel is a mode selection dial, which manages to squeeze in all 11 of the SX510's operation modes.
If you've used any recent Canon compacts, you'll find the menu system familiar and it's relatively simple to access all the camera's options. That being said, there are so many different mini-menus that it can be a little hard to locate exactly the one you're looking for on the first try. You'll also find that it takes a fair bit of scrolling to get to some of the lower options. It would have been nice to see the menus sub-divided a little more, as seen in Canon's DSLR lines.
It takes a little intuition to find the Wi-Fi settings for the first time, doing so requires you to switch to playback mode, which isn't instantly apparent. Once you get there, set-up is quick and relatively painless however and allows you to quickly name the camera and connect to a local network. It's a quick and easy process to connect to a mobile device on the same network in order to view and transfer image. Connecting to a device with GPS also allows you to tag images with location information while the two remain linked. Although thumbnails render quickly, it can take a little longer than we'd like to load full size previews.
In what is a pretty clear concession towards keeping size down, the flash has no automatic pop up and upon switching the flash on, you'll receive an on-screen reminder to raise it yourself. The mechanism itself is solidly constructed though and it requires very little force to raise the flash; it's entirely possible to do so with your index finger while holding the camera one handed. It lowers just as easily with a satisfying snap.
We've come to expect good all-round image quality from Canon, and the new 12.1 million pixel CMOS sensor certainly doesn't disappoint. In our test shots, we found the SX510 HS capable of automatically handling a wide range of light conditions as well as offering full manual flexibility.
Evaluative metering generally provided good results, except in extreme lighting conditions, while spot metering gives good control. The metering system managed to handle complex lighting situations such as dappled sunlight and it felt equally stable in low light situations. White balance provides solid, true to life, colour reproduction on automatic, while a full range of lighting specific options and custom setting allow for full control.
The sensitivity may be capped at the ISO 3200 mark, but this proves to be a good thing, as quality within this range is generally good. The new High Sensitivity system appears to do a great job of preventing loss of detail at high sensitivity settings. You can still expect to see some colour speckling as you pass the ISO 1600 mark, but the quality is very solid compared to other compact cameras.
Although it's not possible to manually select it, the Low Light scene mode offers sensitivity up to ISO 6400, at the cost of resolution. In this way, it's possible to get stable shots even in low light conditions, although you do suffer the same noise you'd expect when increasing sensitivity manually.
Images are sharp across most of the centre frame, and subjects appear crisp overall. There is some understandable chromatic aberration and colour fringing at the very edges of the frame, especially when at the telephoto end of the lens, but it doesn't detract from an overall good image quality. There is a small amount of distortion at the wide end of the lens, which is natural given the focal length.
Autofocus is responsive and fast, even in low light, a fact most likely attributed to a bright and clear focus assist light. In tracking modes, the AF was responsive at following the subject and in Zoom Framing Assist mode, faces were tracked fast and zooming occurred smoothly. Overall, the autofocus is very capable and should be able to cope with almost any situation.
Even though the star feature of this model is the long focal range, it's equally capable at macro photography. A 0cm focusing range means that you can literally press the lens up to the subject and still manage to focus - provided there's enough light, of course. Tracking options work just as well at macro distance as they do in normal conditions and overall it's very easy to focus on just about anything.
The Intelligent Stabilization system is extremely capable and it's possible to get some very clear pictures at surprisingly low shutter speeds – provided you have a steady hand. This is an area where the camera's weight pays off, being so light means that your hand isn't strained and shakes less. The system makes it entirely possible to hold a subject steady at telephoto distances, which makes a big difference with a lens this size.
The 3-inch LCD screen is bright and gives good image previews and field of view is as good as we'd expect. The screen suffers from glare in bright conditions and it can become hard to accurately judge exposure and colours when in direct sunlight. The lack of an optical or electronic viewfinder can make this a problem, but in general, we managed to cope just fine and it certainly isn't a deal breaker. Sadly the screen is neither touch sensitive nor articulated, but we consider this easy to accept given the size of the camera.
The 28mm-equivalent wide-angle end of the zoom offers plenty of detail across the entire frame.
Colours are acute and realistic, with detail in highlight and shadow areas.
At the wide end of the lens, it's possible to take in a wide vista.
While at the telephoto end, you can zoom right into details.
The ZoomPlus option allows you to get even closer, but noise is clearly visible and detail is lost.
Colours are bright and crisp, even in difficult lighting conditions.
Lighting and colour reproduction are even across the entire frame.
Shallow depth of field can be captured, and the new sensor manages to stop bright areas from being blown out.
The 0cm macro focusing distance makes it possible to get some really interesting perspectives.
Canon's aim with the original SX500 IS was clear; create the smallest and lightest long-range shooter possible. They succeeded in that goal, but in pushing for sensational numbers sacrificed some quality. With this successor, they've managed to maintain what was great about the original while correcting some of the omissions of the original.
While we can't in all honesty describe the size as 'pocketable' (unless you have particularly large pockets), it's certainly small enough to be tucked into a handbag or satchel. Being so lightweight, it's never a burden to take it with you and the included strap lets you carry it comfortably. Whether you're trekking across mountain ranges or just walking around the park, it's a great companion.
The new 12.1 million pixel CMOS sensor is a significant improvement over the previous generation, and while the effective pixel count has been reduced, the image quality itself is boosted. The built in High Sensitivity system does a great job of boosting low light performance, and images don't suffer anywhere near as much from muted lighting.
The new Eco Mode setting, which is popping up on many new PowerShot releases, offers an effective way to save battery life. Rapidly dimming the screen when it isn't being used right-that-second helps you last longer between charges. This feature alone makes this model attractive to travel and holiday photographers.
While the lens and stabilization system haven't been updated, it's still worth commenting on their overall quality. The full 30x optical zoom is more than enough range for almost any conceivable situation, and when coupled with the capable digital zoom you'll never worry about needing to move closer to a subject. The stabilization system is more than up to the task of reducing those nasty telephoto shakes and does a great job of keeping low light shots sharp.
With the addition of wireless connectivity and full HD video recording, the SX510 HS has been successfully brought up to date and fares well against other recent releases. While we would have liked to see features offered by competing models in the same price range, such as the Nikon Coolpix P520's high resolution screen, we can understand the limitation.
Overall however, the SX510HS compares very favourably to other models in the same bracket and if you're choosing this model, you can feel comfortable in getting a very capable camera. Whether it's right for all users is a matter of preference, while size and weight are important to some, others might prefer to spend a little bit more money on a longer lens and articulating screen, as seen on its big brother, the Canon SX50 HS.
If you don't necessarily need the full reach of this monster lens, you might be just as happy with Canon's ultimately more pocketable SX280HS, which offers the same sensor HS sensor technology in an even smaller and lighter package. While it doesn't give you quite the same 30x zoom, it's still got a pretty good reach and if you're not specifically looking for a bridge style camera, you can pick it up at a similar price.
You get a well rounded and most of all compact camera for your money and it offers the kind of focal range and stabilization which make it perfect for travel photography. You'll find it just as capable for every day photographer, with new sensor and range of scene and metering options make it flexible enough for most situations.
There's a lot to like about the Canon SX510 HS, from the wonderful focal range to it's lower power options and full manual options. The much lauded stabilization system does a great job of keeping images sharp and blur-free.
As understandable as the omissions are, it's still disappointing not to see a touchscreen on this device or an articulated screen. While the autofocus system is snappy, it's sadly not possible to move the focus point, even if it is easy to zoom in and out to reframe.
The 30x optical zoom gives you as great flexibility for a camera this size and, while it can't claim to be the smallest on the market any more - the Sony HX50V has stolen that title - it manages to provide the range without costing the earth. It also offers a range of flexibility that matches or exceeds that of the Sony contender at a lower price point.
Even though the zoom range is the clear star of the show, what really shines about the Canon SX510 HS is its flexibility. Pictures are of generally good quality and although images get a little noisy at higher sensitivity settings, details are retained fairly well. The image stabilization system is very capable and we didn't experience any trouble getting shake-free pictures at low shutter speeds. Overall, you'll find the SX510 comfortable and easy to use and offers plenty of room to expand your ability.