The Bottom Line
Canon has always had specific market segments for its cameras. Its Rebel line of DSLR cameras is aimed at beginning and intermediate photographers. The company also has several high-end DSLR cameras aimed at professionals.
Then there are budget-priced PowerShot models, usually costing less than $200. These cameras typically have very limited features and performance levels. More advanced PowerShots exist, too, and this market segment has shown great promise in recent years, such as the PowerShot SX230 HS, combining great image quality strong features, but for a slightly higher price.
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS fits in with the last category, as it's a very strong PowerShot model that offers great image quality and one of the thinnest 12X optical zoom cameras around. This camera is one of the best point and shoot models for low light and flash photography that you'll find.
The ELPH 520's design might not appeal to everyone, and its price may be a little high for some, but this is easily one of my favorite small point and shoot cameras that I've reviewed.
If image quality is the primary concern you have with your camera, I think the Canon ELPH 520 HS will offer some of the nicest quality and most sharply focused photos that you're going to find in a sub-$300 camera.
The ELPH 520's macro mode creates some of the sharpest close-up photos you're going to find in a point and shoot style camera. You may get a few blurry photos of moving subjects in low light, but the ELPH 520 outshines most other point and shoot models in this category, too.
Don't let the 10.1 megapixels of resolution fool you, as this camera can shoot plenty of images worthy of large prints. It's CMOS image sensor creates very nice images. I really liked that Canon included four aspect ratios (1:1, 4:3, 16:9, and 3:2), as well as four different resolutions within each aspect ratio. That's a lot of versatility for a point and shoot camera. To save memory card space, you can select between two compression modes, too.
The ELPH 520 is especially strong when shooting low light images, where its small flash does a great job, and the autofocus assist lamp helps this camera achieve extremely accurate focus performances. The ELPH 520 does a good job of avoiding over-using the flash, meaning that it doesn't fire every time you're shooting indoors. If you're near a window or if the interior lighting is good, this camera won't automatically fire the flash, which is different from many point and shoot cameras. If the camera fires every time you're indoors, it leads to some washed out images with too much light.
The flash unit is in the upper right corner on the front of the camera, and it can be blocked with your left index finger, if you're not careful about how you're holding the camera. For a tiny built-in flash, though, it performs very well.
One slight problem I noticed is that the images seem to be a little dull at times, as colors don't seem to pop out of the image during certain types of lighting conditions, but you can adjust to this issue by using the ELPH 520's Vivid mode.
Overall, image quality is an extremely strong feature of the ELPH 520, thanks to great low light performance and a very sharp autofocus system.
For a sub-$300 camera, the ELPH 520 HS has outstanding response times. The autofocus mechanism with the ELPH 520 work very fast and accurately, which is great for a camera in this price range. Shot to shot delays are minimal, and the camera moves through its 12X optical zoom range very quickly.
This Canon camera's start-up times are only about average, but its other response times are great. The ELPH 520 recovers from a flash photo a little more quickly than average, at least compared to other point and shoot cameras. You may notice a little bit of shutter lag when using the flash, but, again, this camera performs better than most of its competitors.
Several special effect features are available with the ELPH 520, including vivid, sepia, black and white, positive film, blue vivid, red vivid, and green vivid. When shooting in Program mode, you can control the ISO, white balance, and exposure settings.
If you ever have problems figuring out a certain feature, Canon has included a "tips" button on the back of the camera, which provides helpful information while you're shooting. This is a great feature for beginners.
You'll have a limited ability to use the zoom when shooting video, which you can do through a dedicated button on the back of the ELPH 520.
The look of the PowerShot ELPH 520 HS is a bit different than other point and shoot cameras, as it has "sharp" edges and a very rectangular look. Most of today's point and shoot models have softer edges and more of a rounded look, but I liked the ELPH 520's different style. It also is one solid color, with a minimal trim color of black around the lens. Some people won't like the look of this camera, but it appealed to me.
This camera measures only 0.76 inches in thickness, but its sharp-edged design makes it look a bit larger than that. Finding a 12X optical zoom lens in a camera this thin is pretty rare. When the ELPH 520 is powered down, the lens fully retracts, which allows the camera to be as thin as possible when carrying it around, which is nice. Canon included both USB and HDMI slots with this model.
The ELPH 520 doesn't use a four-way button, as do many cameras, to work through menus. Instead, each directional button is separate, which is nice for people who have larger hands. The individual buttons are small, but they're easier to use than the tiny four-way button that is found with some other Canon models.
This button design is a good thing, as the ELPH 520 doesn't have a mode dial, so you have to work through the menus to set up various features. There is a toggle switch on the top panel of the camera, allowing you to switch between auto and Program modes, so that switch will save you some searching through menus.
The 3.0-inch LCD screen with the PowerShot ELPH 520 HS is extremely sharp and bright, and you can pick from five brightness settings.
One slight disadvantage to the ELPH 520 is that it requires a microSD memory card, so you might not have one of these around the house. Unlike most cameras, the rechargeable battery in the ELPH 520 is shaped somewhat like an AA battery, although this camera cannot accept off-the-shelf AA batteries.