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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Canon PowerShot A520

Canon Digital Cameras


Canon PowerShot A520 Review

Review Date: June 25, 2005

Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur

Canon PowerShot A520

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2005 Award 


The Canon PowerShot A520 is a digital camera targeted to beginner (to serious) amateur photographers. It has 4.0 megapixel resolution on a 1/2.5 in. CCD image sensor.

We find the overall image quality of the Canon PowerShot A520 to be very good for its category, with excellent image detail and low noise at ISO 50.

4x Optical Zoom Range
35mm 140mm
5.8mm [35mm] 23.2mm [140mm]

In the above pictures, we show the coverage for 35mm and then 140mm (35mm equivalent). The Canon A520 provides 4x optical zoom compared to 3x for most cameras in this entry-level category.


The Canon A520 lens allows you to focus as close as 5cm (2 in.) at wide-angle and 30cm (11.8 in.) at max. telephoto. If you have AiAF on, the camera will select one of nine AF frames. If you find that the Canon A520 is selecting to focus on a different part of your macro subject than what you intended, we suggest that you turn AiAF off and use the center AF frame to ensure focus locks in the center of the frame.

Auto White Balance
AWB WB = Tungsten Custom (Manual) WB
AWB WB = Tungsten WB = Custom

As the above pictures show, the auto white balance gives warm colours indoors under tungsten light. Best results are obtained with Custom WB; being able to set White Balance manually guarantees true colour reproduction under artificial light. You won't find this feature in most entry-level models. Outdoors, under natural light, the AWB works very well.

ISO Comparisons
ISO 50
ISO 50
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400

The 100% crops above (area delimited by the white square) demonstrate the noise at the available ISO Speeds of 50, 100, 200 and 400. At ISO 50, as we would expect, noise is under control. At ISO 100 noise becomes visible but is still acceptable. Upward, noise is noticeably present.

Chromatic Aberrations
CA (Purple Fringing)

There is little to no CA in everyday shots. In the high contrast shot above, there is some CA at the corner delimited by the red square at top right (reproduced at 100% crop at bottom right).

Long Shutter Speed
Long Shutter Speed
16mm, Manual, Evaluative, 15 sec., F6.3, ISO 50
Custom WB, 2 sec. Self-Timer, Tripod Used, 100% Crop

The Canon A520 allows the use of a long shutter speed of up to 15 sec. but only in Shutter Priority (Tv) and Manual (M) modes. This allows you to take some nice night shots. Generally, with CCD image sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent at slow shutter speeds. The Canon A520 has special noise reduction (NR) algorithms that automatically kicks in at shutter speeds slower than 1.3 sec. and you'll notice a slightly longer processing time before the next picture can be taken.

To test this noise reduction algorithm, we decided to take a low-light indoors shot. As usual, Bamm-Bamm and I had to crawl under my desk to find a dark spot for a long enough shutter speed of 15 sec. The NR works quite well, though noise is slightly visible in the background.

We find that the AF will hunt quite a bit to lock focus in low-light, even with the use of the AF-assist Beam. You have to try a number of times, backing off a bit if necessary, before the AF frame turns green (green = successful AF lock; orange = no AF lock).

Flash Flash, -2/3EV
1/60, F2.6, ISO 50 1/60, F2.6, -2/3EV, ISO 50

The Canon A520 has a flash that zooms with the focal length of the lens. Depending on your personal preferences, you might want to dial in an exposure compensation of -1/3EV or -2/3EV when using the flash for portraits and close-ups.

The last feature we will mention is the histogram. The histogram is in Playback Mode only. You can see the histogram by pressing the DISPLAY button until the histogram displays. The histogram is invaluable to give an indication of under- and over-exposure (don't rely on the LCD/EVF since the brightness is adjustable and may be misleading).

Overall, very good image quality for a 4MP digital camera: sharp pictures, great image detail, vibrant colours, well-exposed. For an entry-level digital camera, the Canon PowerShot A520 rates very good in image quality and the flexible exposure control it provides.

The pictures in the Canon A520 Photo Gallery page provide a good sample of what the Canon A520 is capable of. I have provided samples at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100 in Photoshop Elements). Remember that this version is of slightly lesser quality than the original 2272x1704 version.

You can safely assume that most macro shots and slow shutter speed shots required the use of a tripod. Any image that is adjusted for levels in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended to the file name.

I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels. For those who have their monitor resolution set to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit and you should not have to scroll to see the whole image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels resolution, start the slide show and then scroll to the right to position the image within your screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode, and the image should fill your screen nicely. Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor display back to normal mode.

To return to this page from the Photo Gallery, click on the animated graphics of the camera.

Please open and download the original size version only if you need to and only once to your hard drive -- and save me some precious bandwidth. Thanks!


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