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Canon Powershot A520 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 30/05/05
Rating: Recommended!

Buy Now: £176 / $249
Read reviews on: Canon PowerShot A520

Introduction: The Canon Powershot A520, is available for £176 / $249 - and is a 4 megapixel digital camera, with a 4x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 35-140mm on a 35mm camera), and a 1.8" TFT screen. The camera is enclosed in a silver metal and plastic body. It records limited 640 x 480 / 10fps videos with sound. The camera takes two AA batteries. The camera's size is: 90.7 x 64 x 38.4mm. (without protruding parts), and weighs 1800g (without the battery and memory card)

Canon have this to say about the camera:

"A powerful 4x zoom is just the start of this affordable digital marvel. Easy enough for the whole family to use, and with manual functions and optional accessories for your creative side."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: It's fairly compact and made out of silver metal and plastic.
(Photos of the camera taken with a Panasonic Lumix FZ3)

Front - Camera off.

Front - Camera on, lens extended, microphone, focus-assist lamp, optical viewfinder, flash, and at the bottom left of the lens, the lens ring release button.

Back - the 1.8" TFT screen, optical viewfinder, photo/play mode, 4 way controller / Set button in the middle, display button, direct print, menu, function button, card opening, and on the right, the strap hole.

Top - on/off, mode dial, speaker, shutter, and zoom control.

Bottom, under the camera there is a plastic tripod mount, and the battery compartment.

Left Side (from back) AV/USB out, DC in, and backup battery compartment.

Nothing on this side apart from the strap hole (memory card cover open).

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic.

Size comparison.

Size comparison.

Size comparison next to the Sony Cybershot S60/S80 - the Canon is the same height as the Sony, but smaller in all other dimensions.

Specifications / Features:

  • 4.0 MP CCD
  • 4x optical zoom
  • 20 shooting modes
  • Canon Visionary Technology
  • 9-point AiAF
  • Up to 3-minute movie clips with sound
  • Large 1.8" LCD
  • PictBridge/Canon Direct Print compatible
  • Print/Share button
  • 5cm Macro mode

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Strap
  • 2 AA alkaline batteries
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • 16 MB SD Memory Card
  • CD-ROM
  • 161 page dnstruction manual

Average box contents - a larger memory card and a case would have been nice, as would some rechargable batteries. The 161 page printed manual is nice to see.

Battery usage: Up to 80 images with alkaline batteries and 300 images with fully charged Ni-Mh batteries according to Canon - as this camera takes AA batteries I would highly recommend you get some high power Ni-Mh rechargable batteries and a charger to go with this camera. Battery life seemed good.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the rotating dial, or the Play/Photo switch.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode (function menu shown) Photo Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen is a good decent resolution, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. There is no live histogram available but the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: The electronic viewfinder is a bit small for me as I wear glasses, although I've definitely seen smaller.

Photo menu options are: AiAF (on/off), Red-eye (on/off), Manual Focus point zoom (on/off), Auto Focus-assist lamp (on/off), Digital Zoom (on/off), Review, Date Stamp (available in Postcard mode).

Themes Setup Menu

The playback information can be changed by pressing the display button, it also displays a histogram.

Setup menu options: (shown on the right, above) Mute, Volume, Power saving, Date/Time, Format card, File number reset, Auto-rotate, Distance units (m/cm or ft/in), Language, Video system.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick. The zoom is fairly quick.

Playback menu options: Protect, Roates, Sound Memo, Erase all, Auto play, Print order, Transfer order.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 16mb memory provided with the camera:

Size / Quality: Number of Photos Stored
  SuperFine Fine Normal
4mp (2560x1920) 7 13 26
2mp (2048x1536) 14 26 50
2mp (Postcard) 26
1mp (1024x768) 25 45 80
VGA (640x480) 56 87 138
Video 640x480 10fps 22 seconds
Video 320x240 15fps 43 seconds

You can fit a small number of images on the 16mb memory card - a larger memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / higher compression options in order to fit more pictures in memory. There is a good choice of image sizes, and there is a very good choice regarding image compression.

A larger memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 128mb or 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Canon Powershot A520:

128mb SD memory card - £11.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
256mb SD memory card - £19.00 from Amazon.co.uk.
512mb SD memory card - £33.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
1gb (1000mb) SD memory card - £59.99 from Amazon.co.uk.

Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on - taking about 2 seconds - focus in darker indoor conditions is quite good thanks to the focus-assist lamp. The screen updates are quite quick and smooth (in good light). The playback mode is also fairly quick. Playback zoom and panning is quick. The camera has a fairly quick continuous shooting mode, at 1.9fps. The camera shutter response seemed fairly quick, although shot to shot time seemed quite slow.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, although the camera does have a lot of options and features. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use - the menus are fairly responsive and easy to read. The camera is compact and easy to hold. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple - there's a fully automatic mode as well as various scene modes for simple point and shoot operation.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel okay, the shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well. I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, and was the correct weight - it seemed a decent weight and felt solidly built. The play/photo switch makes it easy to know which mode you're in. The camer should fit into trouser pockets assuming you're not wearing tight jeans. I especially like the zoom control.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the new gallery!


Heather and Flower Group photo

Inside: The camera has very good colour. It has a powerful flash, and copes well with group photos. The camera did a good job at focusing the majority of the time, thanks to the focus-assist lamp. Red-eye didn't seem to be a problem.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO50, 100, 200, and 400) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings.

Noise test photo - flash on (area shown in red, top left)

ISO50 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels

Noise levels appear low at ISO50, and ISO100. At ISO200 noise is visible, and at ISO400 noise becomes much more noticable and in my test photos it was just about acceptable - although at ISO200 and ISO400 noise did seem quite high in the normal photos I took.


Shops Dark clouds, green Rover

Outside, the camera had very good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was good detail, although images were slightly soft. Noise seemed slightly higher than I would have hoped for. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images. The vivid setting on the camera made colours more saturated, and personally I prefered this setting.

Zoom: This camera has a 4x optical zoom lens and a built in 3.5x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 4x Optical zoom 14x total zoom

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is fairly quiet. The lens is quick at going from wide to telephoto - there are 7 steps between wide and telephoto. This gives you good control on how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: There was some purple fringing, but not a huge amount.

Macro: To use this camera in macro mode, you switch to macro mode - you can use the macro mode at wide angle, all the way to telephoto. You can use the flash in macro mode. The camera can be roughly as close as 5/6cm away from the subject from the front of the lens in Macro mode.

Macro Watch Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is good - the camera does a good job of toning down the flash (assuming your subject isn't too close, and you don't change the ISO setting), and colours and detail are good.

Movie: 640x480 / 10fps up to 30 seconds - 320x240 - 15fps up to 3 minutes - you can't use the optical zoom / digital zoom when recording. The movie is recorded as an .AVI file. The quality of the movie(s) is good - the VGA mode is also good, although frame rate and limits to the length of the videos is quite poor.


Image Quality: Image quality is very good, the images have very good colour, saturation, contrast and good detail with farly low purple fringing - however there is high noise at ISO200 and ISO400, and images are a bit soft. The camera did a good job focusing. There is a good range of image sizes and a very good choice of compression options. The macro mode is good. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be good. Red-eye was controlled well. The movie mode is good but oudated due to the limited length videos and low frame rate.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is compact and is designed well - the camera feels comfortable in my hands. The camera is fairly compact and has a good zoom range. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a fairly good layout of buttons and controls. There is a good choice of features and options to suit all levels of experience, manual focus, shutter/aperture control, scene modes, as well as manual white balance. The camera speed is okay, but slightly on the sluggish side.

Alternative 4 megapixel digital cameras: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS1 (£155), Kodak Easyshare DX7440 (£129 - 4x optical zoom - read my review), Canon Powershot A85 (£171), A520 (£183 - 4x optical zoom), Pentax Optio S40 (£149), Fuji FinePix A340 (155), Sony Cybershot S40 (£149), Sony Cybershot P73 (129), Olympus Camedia C-470 (£149 - read my review), Olympus Mju Stylus 410 (£159), Olympus Mju Mini Digital (£169 - read my review), Nikon Coolpix 4100 / 4200 / 4600 (read my review), HP Photosmart R507 (4mp, £163 - read my review).. Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices. See more suggestions sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Canon Powershot A520 is an excellent all round camera, with a decent 4x optical zoom lens, and features to suit every need, from basic point and shoot operation, to full manual controls. The camera takes AA batteries so can travel with you anywhere without any need to worry about running out of battery power or supplies. The camera is also expandable with optional lenses, and flash accessories, so will grow with you if you expand your requirements without the need to buy a replacement camera. Image quality is very good, the camera is capable of some excellent results - the only areas where this camera are let down is in the outdated movie modes, the slightly sluggish performance, and the slightly high price compared to some of the competition.

Canon Powershot A520 Rating: Recommended!
Buy Now from Amazon: £176 / $249

What I like:

  • Very good image quality - very good colour
  • 4x optical zoom lens
  • Quite compact
  • Manual controls (shutter, aperture, focus, custom white balance)
  • Take AA batteries
  • Focus-assist lamp
  • Auto-rotates images
  • Expandable with additional lenses / additional flash

What I don't like:

  • Plastic tripod mount (despite the metal body)
  • Sluggish (compared to the IXUS 30, and Sony S60/S80)
  • Outdated movie mode (limited to 30seconds, or 3minutes depending on size)
  • Slightly high noise at ISO200 and ISO400

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the new gallery.