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Canon PowerShot A520

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The 4-megapixel Canon PowerShot A520 offers full manual controls and takes very good images, but its handling is marred by poor design.

The body is too bulky to qualify as a pocket camera and, while its contoured grip makes it comfortable enough to hold, it feels slightly cheap. The tripod mount is plastic. The Playback/Camera switch is hard to move, and the mode dial clicks stiffly into place. The placement of the buttons and controller on the back of the camera is a bit awkward, requiring both thumbs for comfortable operation. There’s no live histogram, something I’d expect in a camera of this class. But like most Canon models, the PowerShot A520’s menus are easy to read and navigate in its bright, 1.8-inch LCD.

The A520 offers full manual controls, as well as being a flexible point-and-shooter. The mode dial is crammed with options, including an Auto mode and twelve additional modes, which are divided into two zones. The Creative Zone includes Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual exposure modes. The Image Zone includes Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Fast Shutter, Slow Shutter, Special Scene modes (eight modes for everything from Foliage to Fireworks, accessed via a menu), Stitch Assist (for creating panoramic pictures), and Movie mode.

The 4x optical zoom offers a bit more range than most cameras in this class (most offer 3x optical zooms), and is a fast f2.6 at the wide end, slowing to f5.5 at the telephoto end. Macro mode lets you focus as close as 2 inches, which is about average in this class. You can focus manually, or use 1-point autofocus (focusing on the center of the frame) or 9-point AiAF (artificial intelligence autofocus), which automatically attempts to find your subject in the frame, even if it is off-center. An AF-assist beam helps you focus in low light.

The PowerShot A520’s startup time is about average (a couple of seconds). In continuous shooting mode, I snapped eight shots at the highest quality in about six seconds before the camera started to stutter.

The images I shot with the PowerShot A520 had excellent, accurate color and very good detail. ISO ranges from 50 to 400, but noise became noticeable at 200 ISO.

The A520 can capture VGA quality video at 640-by-480 pixels), but only at a “Keystone Cops”-like 10fps, and clips are limited to 30 seconds.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

While I liked the Canon PowerShot A520’s images, its handling is disappointing. For a little more cash, I recommend the 5-megapixel Olympus C-5500 SportZoom (   ; July 2005 ), which offers great images, better ergonomics, and a 5x optical zoom.

Jury Tests

Color Quality—Accuracy Excellent
Clarity—Detail Very Good
Clarity—Artifacts, Noise Good

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable


Resolution 4.0 megapixels
Zoom/Focal Length 4.0x optical (35mm to 140mm)
Maximum Aperture f2.6-f5.5
Size (wxhxd) 3.57 inches x 2.52 inches x 1.51 inches
Weight 6.35 ounces

[ Robert Ellis is a photography enthusiast with a growing collection of digital cameras. He is a frequent contributor to Macworld.]

Canon PowerShot A520
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