There are dozens of compact cameras on the market to choose from. The Canon IXUS 510 HS sets out to grab your attention with its built-in Wi-Fi, touchscreen and 12x optical zoom. There are plenty of features here to gawp at, but at close to the £300 mark is the IXUS 510 able to offer performance power to match the price?
The IXUS 510’s design is, well, it’s angular. It looks rather like the IXUS models from several years back. Not that this is a problem - it sure does gives the camera a distinctive look.
But the most striking thing about the design is the almost button-free layout. On top of the camera is an on/off button next to a playback button - which, by the way, are far too close together and easily confused - as well as the shutter button and zoom toggle surround. That’s it. Everything else functions through the camera’s touchscreen.
If the idea of a touchscreen doesn’t appeal or you already know that such technology isn’t your thing then walk away now - you won’t enjoy the IXUS 510 HS experience.
A little open-mindedness, however, and the overall experience isn’t too bad. Though let’s not kid anyone: it’s nothing like the level of response from a decent mobile phone - the Canon just isn’t up to scratch by comparison.
Scrolling through menus using your fingertips can be a little slow, and it’s this that confounds. Why the necessity for the touchscreen? It’s great when it comes to pressing a subject to focus on, but it doesn’t make the menu process any quicker, in fact it makes it slower and, therefore, worse than a conventional camera. Furthermore the menus use up a lot of the screen’s real estate which makes the preview image far smaller than the 3.2-inch screen size.
More tech than sense? Possibly. But there are the obvious advantages. No buttons around the side of the screen means the camera is barely bigger than its screen size; the touchscreen is ideal for one-touch focusing or it can even fire the shutter. There are enough benefits to be had.
The camera uses microSD rather than standard SD - worth bearing in mind if you already own an SD card or two.
Small body, sizable lens
Despite the IXUS 510 HS’s small size - though it’s not the thinnest camera of its type - it manages to pack in a 12x optical zoom lens. In old money terms that’s a 28mm wide-angle that extends through to a long 336mm equivalent. It’s a little less wide than some 25mm competitors, but the added focal length at the other end will be a draw for many.
As well as lens-based stabilisation to keep shots extra crisp, the lens barrel folds right back into the body when the camera is switched off, maintaining the small overall size.
In use the IXUS 510 HS is suitably quick off the mark, the previously mentioned focus is helped along by a finger press should you wish to track a subject. A focus check - where the camera shows a magnified area to the centre of the screen - can also come in handy.
Macro, too, will focus very close up to the lens when set to its widest-angle setting for dramatic shots.
However the finger-shaped battery is able to snap only around 190 shots per charge before it needs to be re-juiced. For a £300 camera that’s a low figure: competitors can snap around one third more than that.
Image quality is a high point. The IXUS 510 has an ISO range that can be set from 100-3200, or left to Auto where the camera will calculate the best setting.
The 10.1-megapixel sensor might sound lower resolution than many competitors - and it is - but this helps the camera towards crisper, better quality shots.
ISO 100-400 are the best for overall detail, though ISO 800 is still of decent quality. Colour slips into a more muted palette above this, and by ISO 3200 shots are softer - but they’re not awful by any means, in particular when compared to many competitors’ compact camera models.
Exposures are accurate and the inclusion of exposure compensation and exposure area types permits more control should it be required.
This is an example of how a compact camera should approach image quality: put quality ahead of resolution and the results speak for themselves.
Part of the 510 HS’s impressive features list is its inclusion of Wi-Fi. Some may get excited at this prospect, while others may shrug at its importance.
The ability to share pictures to a phone, computer or other device via a wireless network sure sounds fun. But as much as it works well enough, connectivity is at the cost of battery life.
Wi-Fi in cameras is also often clunky to use at best. No one manufacturer has managed to simplify the process to make for a natural, computer-like sharing experience. The IXUS 510’s touchscreen can speed up typing in passwords to access networks, and the interface is decent, but whether it’s a feature that will be frequently used, we’re less sure.
The Canon IXUS 510 HS is a belter in the image quality department, but it’s the camera’s design and price that holds it back from better things.
The touchscreen technology just isn’t up to speed in today’s smartphone world, which will make the transition between one and the next tricky.
The lack of many buttons to control the camera may sound like a grand idea, but in reality this merely slows down use and makes menu digging tiresome.
Then of course there’s that price. It’s almost £300. That’s pricier than the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 which has a far more significant 20x optical zoom, includes the touchscreen but has a better and eminently more usable design.
The IXUS 510 HS has some strong plus points on its side, including Wi-Fi, but its just too pricey for this market level.