Canon’s new PowerShot A520 point-&-shoot compact upgrades last year’s A85 and, budget-wise, slots just below the same company’s more covet-worthy IXUS models. Its market is – on the face of it – the digital-camera virgin, offering the essentials of a four million pixel resolution to maintain sharp photo detail for prints up to A4 in size (baby sister the A510 is almost identical but offers 3mp), plus a 4x optical zoom to get closer to the action.
Maintaining the pared down, user-friendly feel, the A520’s power comes courtesy of two bog-standard AA batteries (housed neatly in a rounded grip). There are 20 hand-holding shooting modes (optimized pre-sets) for a variety of subject matter – including pets and kids – while a thumbnail-sized 16MB MultiMedia card is supplied for storing up to 13 maximum-resolution (2,272-x-1,704 pixel) shots, or, 87 Web-friendly 640-x-480 pixel ones.
While the camera may not be the smallest or most slender digital compact, the build quality is surprisingly sturdy given the price point, while Canon’s propriety DIGIC image processor ensures swift response times and sure-footed operation. The camera powers up ready for action in a couple of seconds, and any shutter delay is almost imperceptible.
Unusually for a compact at this price, there’s a range of creative photographic options for those who want to venture beyond ‘happy snapper’ level. The familiar bottle top-like mode dial atop the camera has a plethora of shooting modes, normally found on higher end models – allowing hands-on adjustment of shutter speed, aperture, exposure and more. Other manual features include the ability to select the usual white balance settings (the gamut from daylight to tungsten) and light sensitivity in staggered increments from ISO50 to 400. You also have a choice of three metering modes – evaluative, centre weighted or spot – though fully auto (locked when the shutter is pressed halfway) makes a decent fist of it.
Though blue-sky conditions produce the best results, interiors without flash being inevitably prone to camera shake, resultant images are for the most part razor sharp – thanks to a nine-point automatic focus system with a helpful AF assist beam. As you’d expect from Canon, the A520 is PictBridge-compatible – it can be used directly (via USB cable) with the current range of portable Selphy and Pixma photo printers; there’s even a dedicated ‘Print/Share’ button beneath the camera’s LCD. With seven-megapixel compacts now appearing for around the £300 mark, all these little ‘extras’ should help Canon stave off the competition for those who don’t need, or want, to make poster-sized prints.
While there’s little here that’s particularly newsworthy, there are enough manual features on what is, on the surface, just another entry-level model, to keep the user interested beyond the fully automatic stage. With a street price around the £200 mark, the A520 also offers fair – though falling short of spectacular – value. It would serve well as a second camera for those who already own a digital SLR and want something more pocketable for occasional snapshots. For those looking to make a splash this coming summer, there’s even a waterproof casing available.