Canon's 3-megapixel PowerShot A510 shares virtually every feature with the 4-megapixel PowerShot A520, except that its more expensive sibling offers a 3.6X digital zoom instead of this model's 3.2X faux zoom. Even Canon's specs rate the 3.2-megapixel version's burst mode as faster. Like the A520, this camera stands out from the competition by offering a broad selection of manual and automatic exposure modes.
Less than $200 buys you a chunky 8-ounce metal-and-plastic 3.6-by-2.5-by-1.5-inch box that lets you compose your shots through an optical finder or on a 1.8-inch LCD. Its 4X 35mm-to-140mm (35mm-camera equivalent) zoom lens focuses down to 2 inches and uses your choice of lamp-assisted one- or nine-point autofocus or manual focus.
The photo fan inside you will love the easy-to-use shutter- and aperture-priority modes--including exposure adjustments for both EV and electronic flash--as well as the full manual exposure mode, with shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/2,000 second and an aperture range from f/2.6 to f/8. Your inner klutz will appreciate the bounteous exposure options and scene modes, which include evaluative, center-weighted, or spot metering; full-auto or programmed exposure; and an assortment of modes such as Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Fast Shutter (sports), Slow Shutter, and Stitch Assist (panorama). Six special scene modes range from Foliage to Snow to Kids & Pets.
This budget shooter manages to outdo its more expensive sibling in most performance categories except shutter lag, which was still decent at 0.65 second under high-contrast lighting and a good 0.95 second under low-contrast illumination, thanks to the focus-assist lamp's aid. Its first-shot time and shot-to-shot clockings were marginally better at 3.6 and 2 seconds, respectively, but like the PowerShot A520, this camera required 6 seconds or more to recycle its flash between exposures.
Burst mode was significantly better. In a little more than 5 seconds, we got 11 frames at full resolution before the camera stumbled, compared to just 7 shots with the PowerShot A520. Both cameras did well in cranking off low-resolution bursts, but the PowerShot A510 did better, yielding 103 shots in 55 seconds.
When comparing shots taken seconds apart with the PowerShot A510 and the PowerShot A520, the less expensive model consistently came out on top. The PowerShot A510's images had better detail and significantly less purple fringing. Like the 4-megapixel version, this camera's exposure system tended to favor shadowy areas at the expense of highlights that easily washed out.
Flesh tones were more accurate and the colors quite saturated. However, flash exposures were still on the warm side, although the automatic white balance otherwise worked well. Noise levels were low at ISO 50 and acceptable at ISO 400.