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Canon Powershot SX520 HS Review

Ben Andrews reviews the new Canon Powershot SX520 HS with 42x optical zoom lens and image stabilisation.

|  Canon Powershot SX520 HS in Compact Cameras
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Canon Powershot SX520HS (2)

The SX520 HS is Canon’s latest bridge camera and is set to replace the old SX510 HS. The new camera sports a 42x optical zoom range with Image Stabilization, a 16.0 megapixel sensor and an updated DIGIC 4+ processor. You also get full manual control along with aperture and shutter priority modes, plus plenty of fun creative effects, making the SX520 HS well suited to both experienced and novice photographers.

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Features

Canon Powershot SX520HS (3)

The SX520 HS has received a host of upgrades over the old SX510 HS, most noticeably in the optics department. The 42x optical zoom lens is a welcome increase over the previous 30x unit and gives a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 24-1008mm.

Lens shift Image Stabilization is incorporated to help iron out camera shake, and there’s also Canon’s new Zoom Framing Assist feature to play with. This lets you zoom out and back in again at the touch of a button should a distant subject get lost off the edge of frame when you’re shooting at very long focal lengths.

A new 16.0 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor replaces the 12.1MP device in the SX510 HS and has a maximum sensitivity of ISO3200 for low light shooting. It’s paired with an updated DIGIC 4+ image processor, which isn’t Canon’s latest tech, but promises significantly boosted processing speed over the older DIGIC 4 chip.

Although the camera lacks features like Wi-Fi or GPS, you do get plenty of creative control, including aperture and shutter priority modes, as well as a full-on manual mode. A control dial enables quick and easy settings adjustment, plus there’s a clever Creative Shot mode which automatically captures six images of your subject, with each given a different aspect ratio and filter effect.

The SX520 HS also boasts Full HD video capture with stereo sound, up to 10fps continuous shooting (at 4MP) and a nifty Hybrid Auto mode that records a couple of seconds of video with each still and compiles everything into a funky presentation.

Canon Powershot SX520HS (5)

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Key Features:

  • 16.0 megapixel CMOS sensor
  • 42x optical zoom lens, 24-1008mm equivalent, f/3.4-6.0
  • Optical image stabilisation
  • Zoom Framing Assist
  • 3.0-inch touch-screen, 461k-dot
  • Full HD video with stereo sound
  • ISO100 to ISO3200
  • Manual control
  • Creative Shot & Hybrid Auto modes

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Handling

Canon Powershot SX520HS (8)

From a distance (and if you squint a bit) the Canon SX520 HS appears to be a baby DSLR, though up close it’s noticeably smaller and lighter. It’s also fairly compact by bridge camera standards, although at 120.0 x 81.7 x 91.9mm, you’ll still need a camera bag or very large coat pocket to carry it in.

Material quality is nothing special as it’s just a sea of textured black plastic, but it’s well assembled with no flex or squeaks. Generous rubberised thumb and finger grips make this a very comfortable camera to use and reduce the chance of a dreaded drop. The metal tripod mount is another nice touch, though the battery/memory card access door is directly alongside it and can’t be opened when the camera is tied down.

The 3.0” LCD monitor follows the same average-but-adequate theme. Colour reproduction is good and the 461k-dot resolution is clear enough for accurate focus assessment. Horizontal viewing angles are also reasonable, but tilt the camera up or down and the contrast becomes very inaccurate. This is a common trait for a camera in this price range though, but such cost-cutting also means the monitor isn’t touch-sensitive.

Control-wise there’s little to fault. Even the smallest buttons are easy to press, whilst the mode dial and control wheel spin easily but click positively into place. The two-speed zoom ring makes subtle and quick focal length changes a breeze, and Canon’s Zoom Framing Assist button on the lens barrel also works well. Press it whilst zoomed in and the lens automatically retracts, letting you find a subject that’s disappeared out of frame. Release the button and the lens zooms back to its original position. Below this is the Framing Assist Lock button which is supposed to further-reduce camera shake at long focal lengths, however we found it to have little effect.

Canon Powershot SX520HS (7)

The SX520 HS uses Canon’s tried and tested menu system. Its monochrome colour scheme with orange highlights is clear and fast to navigate, whilst the monitor resolution is high enough to differentiate between smaller menu icons.

The main menu button accesses general camera settings, but press the FUNC/SET button and a quick-access menu pops up for making fast adjustments to common photographic settings. The menu options do change depending on which mode you’re in, which can be sometimes be confusing.

Canon Powershot SX520HS (9)

Battery life - The same NB-6LH 1060mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery from the SX510 HS powers its replacement. However with a CIPA-rated battery life of 210 shots, the SX520 HS falls some way short of the 250-shot lifespan of its predecessor. Shifting more megapixels, a faster processor and bigger zoom range are all possible culprits for the reduced battery performance. At least the battery life can be boosted to around 290 shots by activating the camera’s ECO mode.

Speed - We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

Shutter Response 0.15secs
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.35secs
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response 0.35secs
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 1.4secs
Shot to Shot without Flash 2.1secs
Shot to Shot with Flash 2.3secs
Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
Continuous Shooting - Flash 1.2fps
Continuous Shooting - 4mp 7.6fps (117 shots)

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Performance

The performance section is where we look at the image quality performance of the camera. Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Sample Photos

Sample Photos - Images immediately impress thanks to faithful yet punchy colour reproduction and good levels of detail. Exposure metering is invariably accurate, though if you’d rather bias it towards highlight or shadow detail, holding the exposure compensation button whilst turning the control wheel makes light work of exposure tweaks.

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Lens test images

Lens Performance - Despite having such a large focal range, the SX520 HS produces only a trace of barrel distortion at wide angle and no noticeable telephoto distortion. Sharpness at the corners of frame is slightly lower than the centre, though it’s rarely an issue. High-contrast scenes can produce some chromatic aberration, but again, it’s only distracting if you pixel-peep. Macro focussing is excellent and the camera will focus with the lens touching your subject.

Canon Powershot SX520 HS ISO test images

ISO Noise Performance - The SX520 HS produces clean images at ISO 800 and below. Some fine grain is visible if you view at 100%, but it’s consistent with most small-sensor cameras. ISO 1600 shots are marginally softer with slight colour speckling, and it’s more of the same at ISO 3200. This is the cut-off for acceptable image quality, as grain and colour speckling can be distracting when viewing at over 50% image size. ISO 6400 images are downsized to 4MP, yet even that can’t hide the poor image quality at this sensitivity.

Canon Powershot SX520 HS White-balance test images

White Balance Performance - White balance performance is a mixed bag, with the auto setting generating a distinct colour cast under tungsten lighting. Switching to the tungsten white balance preset does produce natural colours, however the manual fluorescent setting doesn’t do such a good job under fluorescent light. In these conditions the auto white balance comes good.

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Digital filters

Digital Filters - The SX520 HS has numerous effects which are split into three categories. The My Colors effects can be accessed in Program Auto, Manual and Shutter / Aperture priority modes and include: Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, B/W, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color options. Switch to the Creative Shot mode and the camera will automatically record six variations of a shot with a themed effect applied to each. Chose from: Retro, Monochrome, Special, Natural and Auto (uses all available effects). Alternatively, the Creative Filters mode reveals Fish-eye, Miniature, Toy Camera, Monochrome, Super Vivid and Poster effects

Video - Videos are captured at a maximum Full HD 1920x1080 resolution. Detail is slightly soft though and wind noise can be an issue.

Value For Money

The Canon SX520 HS is a mid-range ultra zoom bridge camera available for around £259. Cameras with a similar zoom range include the Fujifilm FinePix SL1000 (50x optical zoom, £185), Nikon Coolpix P530 (42x optical zoom, £260), Panasonic Lumix LZ40 (42x optical zoom, £179) and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H400 (63x optical zoom, £229).

You'll also need to buy a memory card and a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags.

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Verdict

There’s a lot to like about the SX520 HS. It’s relatively compact and light for a bridge camera and is a doddle to use. That said, if you fancy getting creative, the extensive manual options and DSLR-like control wheel are welcome features. Whatever mode you choose, you’ll be rewarded with fast and accurate autofocussing and reliable exposure metering.

The new 16-megapixel CMOS sensor also puts in a great performance and produces impressively low levels of image noise without resorting to overzealous noise reduction processing. Consequently, detail levels are high, even when resolving distant subjects.

Whilst the camera certainly nails the basics, it falls shot on features. Sure, there are plenty of effects to play with and the Hybrid Auto mode is another nice touch, but it’s a pity there’s no HDR or panorama functions. Neither do you get Wi-Fi, GPS, or an electronic viewfinder, and even the upgraded 42x zoom lens is outclassed by cameras like Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-H400 which can be had for less money yet packs a 63x optic.

It’s this lack of value which is currently the SX520 HS’ biggest problem, as at this price point you can easily pick up a camera with a bigger zoom range and many more features. However, assuming the SX520 HS’ price drops over the coming months, then it’ll be a smart buy for novice and enthusiast photographers who value performance over frills.

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Pros

Decent image quality
Fast, reliable performance
42x optical zoom
Manual control
Plenty of effects modes
Relatively compact

Canon Powershot SX520 HS Cons

No panorama or HDR modes
No EVF, GPS or Wi-Fi
Average screen quality
Mediocre battery life



Canon Powershot SX520 HS Specifications

Max Aperturef/3.4 - f/6
35mm equivalent24mm - 1008mm
Optical Zoom42x
Image Sensor
Pixels16Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)4608
Pixels (H)3456
Sensor TypeBack-lit CMOS (B.S.I.)
Sensor Size1/2.3 inch
Sensor Size (width)No Data
Sensor Size (height)No Data
Aspect Ratio
  • 4:3
  • 3:2
  • 16:9
  • 1:1
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution461k dots
Touch ScreenNo
Min Focus0cm
Focusing modes
  • Manual
  • Face Detection
  • AF Tracking
  • Multi
  • Centre
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/2000sec
Shutter speeds longest15sec
Bulb modeNo Data
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • Multi Pattern
  • Centre Spot
ISO sensitivity100 - 3200
White balance
  • Auto
  • Manual
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
Exposure Comp+/-2
Shooting Options
Continuous shootingNo Data
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
Video FPS30fps
Stereo SoundYes
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationYes
Wi-FiNo Data
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
File Type
  • JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeLithium Ion Battery (NB-6LH)
Battery Life (CIPA rating)210shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsPowerShot SX520 HS, Neck Strap NS-DC11, Lens Cap, Battery Pack NB-6LH, Battery Charger CB-2LYE, AC Cable, User Manual Kit

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Photographs taken using the Canon Powershot SX520 HS

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