Canon has taken the IXUS back to its roots with the 510 HS. Over the years, the company's ultra-pocketable digital cameras have become decidedly less friendly towards tight jeans-wearing hipsters. But with the 510 HS, the once expanding girth has been significantly trimmed.
It's smaller than a pack of cards or cigarettes -- the traditional benchmarks -- at just 85mm by 53mm by 20mm, and it tips the scales at just 163g, including the battery and memory card. That's not much, but in this compact a body, it feels surprisingly weighty.
The Canon IXUS 510 HS retails for £350 but is available online for around £285.
Features and build
Despite its diminutive size, this camera, which is available in either white or black high-gloss finish, is absolutely packed with features. The whole of the back of the case is given over to a generous 3.2-inch screen. This is touch-sensitive, allowing you to swipe through the menus and review your pictures by sliding a digit across the screen.
The native image resolution is a respectable 10.1 megapixels, and the optical zoom is an impressive -- considering its size -- 12x. That's equivalent to 28-336mm in a 35mm camera at f/3.4 to f/5.6. The ZoomPlus feature extends this to 21x with pretty impressive results. This is one of the few cameras with which I'd be happy using non-optical magnification.
The 10.1-megapixel resolution equates to images of 3,648x2,736 pixels, which it writes to a microSD, microSDHC or microSDXC card that fits into a tiny covered slot at the front of the base. Despite their growing popularity, these are still comparatively rare formats for digital cameras (to date they've been more popular in mobile phones). If you're upgrading from a regular SD-based camera, you should budget to buy some extra memory. Shopping around will net you a fast (class 6) 16GB microSD card for £14.
Sensitivity runs through the range from ISO 100 to ISO 3,200, with compensation of +/-2EV in 1/3EV steps. That's pretty much par for the course, as are the shutter speeds, which range from 1/4,000 to 15 seconds.
The big surprise with this camera is the built-in Wi-Fi -- a feature it shares with the IXUS 240 HS. This lets you send your photos to another Wi-Fi-enabled Canon camera, an iPad or iPhone, Facebook, YouTube or email. It worked flawlessly in my tests, allowing me to download images direct to an iPad using the free companion app from Apple's App Store.
My only complaint where the physical aspects of this camera is concerned is the battery life. On a full charge, I managed to shoot 142 photos and 1 minute 45 seconds of video before the three-part battery icon was flashing to warn me that it was in its last segment. While it was still working, this is the point where I would normally be looking to recharge. So if it happened at the start of a day's holiday, I wouldn't be happy. If you think I'm being harsh, it would be easy to take 140-odd shots of your kids in a theme park in just one day now that the cost of film isn't a factor.
My stills tests produced very good results. Colours were vivid, images were sharp, and thanks to the tap-to-focus feature on the touchscreen (and tap to fire if you choose), it was easy to focus on precisely the part of the frame I wanted.
Macro performance was impressive. It takes you to within 1cm of your subject and it does a great job of separating the focal point from the rest of the frame, throwing those points outside of it into soft focus.
At less close quarters, it certainly didn't skimp when it came to splashing about the colours. On a bright, cloudless day, the shot of the sky was particularly vivid, with a rich, deep blue and smooth, unstepped transitions between tones.
Green foliage was very well handled and flowers posed no problem when they dominated the scene. But when the camera occasionally had to compensate for particularly bright flowers in shot with more muted tones, it did lose some detail.
In this scene of a walled garden, the wisteria lacks some detail, most likely because the 510 HS had to balance it with the fairly dull doorway beside it. This was only evident when the image was zoomed to 100 per cent. When viewed at full screen, it wasn't apparent, so it's unlikely to be an issue.
This is surprising, as the 510 HS generally did an excellent job of balancing such sharp contrasts, without losing detail in either the highlight or shadow areas.
The shot of a duck below is composed of tones from both ends of the spectrum. The enameled bowl from which it's drinking is at the highlight end and its plumage is in the shadows (the darker plumage is a shadow tone despite not being in shadow). Results are excellent, with feathers clearly rendered and even the drops of water on the outside of the bowl cleanly reproduced.
With more balanced tones, there was no problem either. The window below fell in full shadow and there's plenty of detail in the brickwork and the lead around the panes. Reflection is well handled and detail is sharp right into the corners.
There was no evidence of any vignetting in my test results. This means a darkening of the corners -- and sometimes edges -- of a frame that can manifest at longer zooms. Even at 18.1mm (equivalent to 127mm in a 35mm camera), the corners of the frame below are unaffected and there's plenty of sharp detail on the beach and the buildings behind.
Focus was sharp and there was no evidence of chromatic aberration in my tests. This appears when the lens fails to perfectly focus all of the tones that make up the visible spectrum in the same point on the sensor, resulting in coloured fringes in areas of fine detail. The IXUS 510 HS handled sharp contrasts well and produced clean, accurate edges.
Indeed, the lens performed very well throughout. Photographing this grid pattern showed only very minor evidence of barrel distortion.
Video performance is on a par with the IXUS 510 HS's stills. Colours remained vivid and there was plenty of detail in the results. Compensation for changing light levels was unstepped, smooth and swift.
Best quality movies are shot at 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution at 24 frames per second, or 1,280x720 at 30fps. If you don't need such high quality -- perhaps because you'll be publishing the results online -- you can instead shoot at 640x480 pixels at 30fps. There are also two high-speed modes filming at 120fps and 240fps at 640x480 and 320x240 pixels respectively.
As with all movie tests where the camera offers the feature, I switched on wind noise reduction, which was very effective, with a passing breeze making a quiet low rumble on the occasions when it was audible. The noise of the zoom motor was also well suppressed.
The IXUS 510 HS is a great little camera. It's pleasing to see it returning to its roots as a stylish, chunky little block of a snapper. It's even better to have so many features built in, with a long zoom, fair resolution and excellent smart phone integration.
Where it really matters -- image quality -- it puts in a very good showing to provide the best of all worlds: good looks, great features and first-class performance.