Cameras

Canon PowerShot ELPH 530 HS Digital Camera Review

Canon's newest ELPH has some redeeming qualities, but they're obscured by a terrible touchscreen.

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Introduction

The Canon Powershot ELPH 530 HS (also known as the IXUS 510 HS outside of North America) is a brick-shaped, WiFi-enabled, touchscreen-equipped travel zoom, retailing for a smooth $349 and currently sitting atop the ELPH lineup.

Like the ELPH 510 HS and ELPH 500 HS before it, the ELPH 530 HS is an underwhelming, overpriced example of fashion over function. It does have a handful of redeeming qualities, but you should look elsewhere for a truly great travel zoom. Read on for the dirty details if you're so inclined.

The Canon PowerShot ELPH 530 HS is available now in glossy black and matte white for $349. The non-WiFi ELPH 520 HS is also available now, in black, blue, red, and silver for $279.

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

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Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

Contents of the ELPH 530 HS retail package (ours did not include a stylus as advertised).

• Canon PowerShot ELPH 530 HS digital camera

• wrist strap

• battery wall charger

• rechargeable lithium-ion battery (NB-9L)

• USB cable

• software CD-ROM

Lens & Sensor

The ELPH 530 HS packs a 12x optical zoom lens into its tiny body, a feat made even more impressive by how little the lens extends from the front panel even at the maximum telephoto setting. The focal range is a 28-336mm equivalent, with a mediocre maximum aperture of f/3.4-5.6.

The 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor has a total of 16.8 megapixels, but only uses 10.1 of them. Our guess is that Canon uses a relatively small area of the sensor so that it's like the camera actually has a smaller chip. Smaller chips mean smaller lens, and that's how they managed to make such a compact 12x zoom lens. It probably has a net-negative effect on image quality, but the overall results are pretty decent, and the tiny lens is a great feature.

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Display(s)

Touchscreens are supposed to make point-and-shoots feel modern and hip for the smartphone generation, but they usually get in their own way. The ELPH 530 HS is the worst example we've seen of that. The 3.2-inch, 461,000-pixel panel looks great, but it's laggy, inaccurate, and generally unresponsive. The entire user interface runs through the terrible touchscreen, and it makes using the ELPH 530 HS feel like a chore.

Great touchscreens work with almost no finger pressure; the ELPH 530 HS needs a fair amount of pressure, and even then, it's hit-or-miss. Changing settings or shooting modes on the fly is difficult, especially because the icons are near the edges of the screen, which appears to be even less sensitive than the center area. The most frustrating part is typing WiFi passwords on the virtual keyboard; we weren't always sure if we had typed the correct letter, because a) the input zones are inaccurate and b) every entry appears as an asterisk, even the last letter typed. Basically, the touchscreen ruins what could be an otherwise decent camera.

Flash

A small, low-powered flash is crammed into the upper-left corner of the front panel. Wandering fingers are bound to get in its way, though it's only effective to about 8 feet anyhow.

Flash Photo

Fingers find their way in front of the flash regularly, though it's only effective to 8.6 feet.

Connectivity

The ELPH 530 HS comes equipped with USB and mini-HDMI ports, just like most other cameras these days. It can also connect to web services, computers, smartphones, and other cameras via WiFi—or at least it should be able to. The WiFi system is poorly implemented; check out our Features section for more.

Durability

The ELPH 530 HS is not designed to withstand water or shocks. It feels generally well built, but not enough to withstand more than some light bumps that go along with regular usage.

Image Quality

Image quality is as strong as we've come to expect from Canon compacts equipped with CMOS sensors. Colors are lively but accurate. Viewed up close, shots have a smooth texture, but it translates well to regular viewing sizes—shots look mostly clean and consistent even in dim lighting, though as with most point-and-shoots, very dark settings are iffy. Other travel zooms are better performers, but the ELPH 530 HS is competitive with them.

Sharpness

Sharpness is pretty strong for a long-zoomer in a small body. We measured an overall average of about 1490 MTF50s (measurements of sharpness), which is a good result for a point-and-shoot. Predictably, results were strongest at the wide-angle setting in the center of the frame, where we measured as many as 2356 MTF50s. Performance remained strong in the middle of the focal range, but unsurprisingly dropped off at the telephoto setting.

Our crops show some moderate pixel sharpening along high-contrast borders, but that's always the base with compact cameras. The lens is inherently sharp, at least by the standards of the travel-zoom class. More on how we test sharpness.

Science Section 1 Images

Image Stabilization

Stabilization appeared to have a negative effect on image sharpness in our lab test; that is, we measured better average sharpness with IS turned off than turned on. The maximum sharpness was higher with IS on, but the minimum was much lower. We've seen results like this before in the travel-zoom class; sometimes the correction is too aggressive for our test, and it overcompensates for the shake we apply, making the photo muddier than it would have been.

Color

The ELPH 530 HS produces accurate yet punchy colors. The default (Off) color mode proved to be the most true-to-life, with near-perfect saturation and a color error of 2.92 (anything under 3.0 is excellent). Blues and reds are a bit exaggerated, greens are darker than ideal levels, and yellow has a bit of a green tint. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Color is very subjective, so take these numeric results with a grain of salt. But the Sony HX9V produced the most accurate colors of the group, while the Canon ELPH 510 HS, Casio ZR100, and Panasonic ZS20 all finish a step or two behind the ELPH 530 HS.

Color Modes

Tons of other color modes are available, including Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin, Darker Skin, Vivid Red, Vivid Blue, and Vivid Green. These profiles are fixed—that is, there's no way to adjust saturation, contrast, individual hues or anything of that nature. But there is one Custom profile, which allows users to tinker with contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue, and skin tone settings along sliders.

White Balance

On average, auto white balance on the ELPH 530 HS is more accurate than we typically see on compact cameras, though shots under incandescent lighting are still very jaundiced. Custom white balance improves the accuracy even more, but not as much as most custom white balance modes do.

White Balance Options

Aside from auto white balance, the ELPH 530 HS has white balance presets for daylight, cloudy settings, tungsten light, fluorescent light, fluorescent H lighting, and a custom white balance setting.

Noise Reduction

We measured strong but not standout noise performance from the ELPH 530 HS. The noise-to-signal ratio crosses 1 percent somewhere right above ISO 200, but remains under 2 percent up until the maximum ISO setting of 3200. Heavier noise reduction appears to kick in around ISO 800, based on the slight drop in noise levels compared to ISO 400. More on how we test noise.

Other Tests Images_7

ISO Options

The ELPH 530 HS's native ISO range stretches from 100 to 3200, selectable by the user in full stops. The Low Light scene mode can extend the range up to ISO 6400, but at just 2.5 megapixels.

Science Section 2 Images

Dynamic Range

Because it doesn't offer any manual exposure control, we weren't able to run our dynamic range test on the ELPH 530 HS. In general, point-and-shoots don't capture nearly as wide of a dynamic range as large-sensor cameras do, so we wouldn't expect this to perform much better or worse than similar models. More on how we test dynamic range.

Low Light Performance

Low-light performance is generally fine with the ELPH 530 HS, though we wouldn't recommend it as one of our top low-light compact shooters. Noise isn't a big problem, thanks to smart noise reduction and a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, though details are smudged and lighting often has an odd tint. Since the maximum aperture is a mediocre f/3.4, blurriness can be a problem because the shutter has to stay open longer than it should to gather the necessary amount of light. Focus is reasonably fast as well. The flash is weak, but can light up a small room to get a party portrait.

Noise Reduction

We measured strong but not standout noise performance from the ELPH 530 HS. The noise-to-signal ratio crosses 1 percent somewhere right above ISO 200, but remains under 2 percent up until the maximum ISO setting of 3200. Heavier noise reduction appears to kick in around ISO 800, based on the slight drop in noise levels compared to ISO 400. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The ELPH 530 HS's native ISO range stretches from 100 to 3200, selectable by the user in full stops. The Low Light scene mode can extend the range up to ISO 6400, but at just 2.5 megapixels.

Focus Performance

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

Low-light sensitivity was better than we expected, dropping below our acceptable threshold at a respectable 21 lux.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is below average, causing noticeable fringing in areas of high contrast. It's most obvious at the telephoto setting at the edges of the frame—check out the purple tinting in the crops below. This isn't uncommon for long-zoom compacts, and it certainly isn't the worst we've seen. But as the Sony HX9V proves, there's room for improvement here.

Distortion

Distortion is not a problem with the ELPH 530 HS. We measured 0.66 percent barrel distortion at the middle focal length, enough to be somewhat visible, but any warping is imperceptible at the wide angle and telephoto settings.

Motion

The ELPH 530 HS showed some noticeable flaws in our video motion test, but nothing out of the ordinary for a compact camera. We found noticeable trailing, significant color bleed, a bit of stuttering, and almost static-like artifacting in the background. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

We noted 325 horizontal and 350 vertical lw/ph in bright lighting while the camera was in motion—slightly below average for compact cameras, but fine. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

As expected, sharpness dropped off significantly in low light, down to 100 horizontal and 150 vertical lw/ph—still better than what standard-def cameras from a few years ago could pull off.

Low Light Sensitivity

Low-light sensitivity was better than we expected, dropping below our acceptable threshold at a respectable 21 lux.

Usability

Canon's menu system is one of the most user-friendly interfaces out there, but they've gone and messed it all up with a laggy, unresponsive, inconsistent touchscreen. We could forgive the awkward handling and limited control if the ELPH 530 HS was generally pleasant to deal with, but the frustrating touch-based interface ruins the entire user experience.

Automatic Features

The ELPH 530 HS is designed for automatic operation by casual photographers. The camera comes set to Auto mode by default, and all of the other available modes (scene presets, effects, and a program auto-exposure mode) are predominantly automated. Given the crummy touchscreen interface, it's probably best that it's as simple as pointing and shooting.

Buttons & Dials

There are only three physical buttons: a power button, a playback mode toggle, and a shutter release/zoom tilter combo. As friendly and approachable as that sounds, we wish there were more tactile controls because the touchscreen is atrocious. Interactive displays are great for beginners, but only when they work correctly.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The ELPH 530 HS offers a total of 23 shooting modes, including effects, scene presets, video modes, and a few oddballs that don't really fall into any category.

Canon's menu system is reliably user-friendly and intuitive. Anyone who has used a Canon camera in the past few years should feel right at home, and new users should be able to catch on to the scheme pretty quickly. There's a shooting mode quick menu, a quick Function menu in many shooting modes (and it's customizable, with 10 slots for your favorite controls, which is fantastic), and a typical, tiered main menu system. The downside is that it all gets filtered through a terrible, terrible touchscreen, so what should be easy and convenient becomes an exercise in patience.

Instruction Manual

The ELPH 530 HS ships with a basic user's manual, most of which is devoted to operating the WiFi feature. The camera part is fine, if a bit skimpy, but the WiFi section is a mess. First of all, it's a bad sign when nearly 60 pages are devoted to running a WiFi system in the year 2012. Even worse, the directions are unclear. Online support is tough to find and equally unhelpful. A full PDF version of the user's manual is available on the included CD-ROM.

Handling

The ELPH 530 HS's glossy, rectangular design might look cool (even that's up for debate), but the handling ain't pretty. It's small and light, so it's easy to carry in a purse (or pocket, but c'mon, purse), but there's no grip or texture at all, and the glossy surface is very slippery (and attracts fingerprints like a magnet).

Handling Photo 1

The brick-shaped, glossy body is difficult to handle as it is.

And then there's the awful touchscreen to make the handling even more awkward. It needs more finger pressure to trigger a response than an average touchscreen, and it's often inaccurate as well. It makes switching modes, adjusting settings, and looking through playback more frustrating than it needs to be.

Handling Photo 2

And the awful touchscreen only makes things worse.

Buttons & Dials

There are only three physical buttons: a power button, a playback mode toggle, and a shutter release/zoom tilter combo. As friendly and approachable as that sounds, we wish there were more tactile controls because the touchscreen is atrocious. Interactive displays are great for beginners, but only when they work correctly.

Buttons Photo 1

The only physical buttons on the ELPH 530 HS.

Display(s)

Touchscreens are supposed to make point-and-shoots feel modern and hip for the smartphone generation, but they usually get in their own way. The ELPH 530 HS is the worst example we've seen of that. The 3.2-inch, 461,000-pixel panel looks great, but it's laggy, inaccurate, and generally unresponsive. The entire user interface runs through the terrible touchscreen, and it makes using the ELPH 530 HS feel like a chore.

Great touchscreens work with almost no finger pressure; the ELPH 530 HS needs a fair amount of pressure, and even then, it's hit-or-miss. Changing settings or shooting modes on the fly is difficult, especially because the icons are near the edges of the screen, which appears to be even less sensitive than the center area. The most frustrating part is typing WiFi passwords on the virtual keyboard; we weren't always sure if we had typed the correct letter, because a) the input zones are inaccurate and b) every entry appears as an asterisk, even the last letter typed. Basically, the touchscreen ruins what could be an otherwise decent camera.

Image Stabilization

Stabilization appeared to have a negative effect on image sharpness in our lab test; that is, we measured better average sharpness with IS turned off than turned on. The maximum sharpness was higher with IS on, but the minimum was much lower. We've seen results like this before in the travel-zoom class; sometimes the correction is too aggressive for our test, and it overcompensates for the shake we apply, making the photo muddier than it would have been.

Shooting Modes

A total of 23 shooting modes are available, including Auto mode, a program auto-exposure mode, a slew of effects (Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Soft Focus, and Poster Effect, Color Accent, Color Swap, Super Vivid, and Monochrome), some scene presets (Portrait, Smooth Skin, Handheld NightScene, Low Light, Snow, Fireworks, and Long Shutter), and some odds and ends like Movie Digest, Smart Shutter, iFrame Movie, and Super Slow Motion Movie.

Focus

Recording Options

The ELPH 530 HS maxes out at 10.1 megapixels of resolution in a standard 4:3 aspect ratio. It can shoot 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1 ratios at four sizes each. Fine and Superfine quality options are available, but RAW capture is not.

Speed and Timing

Like most CMOS-based cameras, the ELPH 530 HS is a speedy shooter. Focus and shot-to-shot times are snappy, and continuous drive mode is a workhorse.

Two full-res burst modes are available: one with autofocus, and one without. Capacity is only limited by the size of your memory card, so they're both true continuous drive modes. The sans-AF mode is predictably faster. There's also a reduced-res high-speed burst mode available.

In continuous drive mode without autofocus, the ELPH 530 HS reliably cranks out about 2.4 frames per second—not the fastest we've seen, but there's no capacity, so it's arguably more useful than some of the "10fps for a half-second" modes we've seen on some cameras.

Regular 2-second and 10-second timers are available, as is a programmable interval timer. It allows the user to select the number of shots and the time between each shot. Canon usually includes this feature in their compacts, and we wish more manufacturers would follow suit.

Features

WiFi photo transfer is one the ELPH 530 HS's main selling points, but it's an unworkable mess. It's completely unintuitive, and even when we followed the instructions in the user manual, we could still barely get it to work. Everything from entering WPA passwords to searching for accessible devices is a hassle. Good thing that it still has a regular USB port.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The ELPH 530 HS offers a total of 23 shooting modes, including effects, scene presets, video modes, and a few oddballs that don't really fall into any category.

Other Features

WiFi

WiFi photo transfer is one the ELPH 530 HS's main selling points, but it's an unworkable mess. It's completely unintuitive, and even when we followed the instructions in the user manual, we could still barely get it to work.

For starters, there's no general menu for WiFi options. It can only be accessed through playback mode. There's no way to store your preferred WiFi networks and their respective passwords, so every time you want to access a network, you'll have to repeat the same painful process of entering your password on the awful touchscreen's virtual keyboard.

We had incorrectly assumed that when the camera connects to a WiFi network, it just becomes a device on the network, ready to be browsed by any computer or smartphone, or to push pictures and videos to computers or smartphones, or at least upload content directly to some popular social media sites. Not so.

The ELPH 530 HS can connect to social sharing sites, but there's a convoluted process involving a Canon.com account, registering the camera, and physically connecting the camera to your computer to set it all up. We continually ran into dead ends—info not being where it was supposed to be on Canon's website, the instructions not being clear, random disconnections from the WiFi network—so we eventually gave up (we're on deadline here). Good luck to you.

It can also connect to other WiFi-enabled cameras, but we don't have any of those sitting around the office, so we weren't able to test it. Seems pretty pointless anyway.

The most obvious use of WiFi is to wirelessly push photos to a home computer to back them up, but we whiffed on that one too. We got as far as installing Canon's proprietary Camera Window software and connecting the ELPH 530 HS to our local WiFi network, but the camera wouldn't recognize our MacBook on the network, even with the Camera Window software running.

The only WiFi feature we got to work was the smartphone connectivity. It's compatible with Apple iOS products only; no Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, etc. We downloaded the free Canon Camera Window app and hit the smartphone icon on the ELPH 530 HS. Rather than connecting to our WiFi network, the camera becomes an ad-hoc WiFi hotspot, to which we had to connect our iPhone to (including a password). The Camera Window app allowed us to browse the photos on the ELPH 530 HS and send them via email or up to social sharing sites.

Isn't that ironic? The ELPH 530 HS has WiFi so that it can share photos wirelessly, just like a smartphone, but the only way we could get it to work was through a smartphone.

If all that weren't enough, the ELPH 530 HS has a terrible battery, and monkeying with the WiFi settings basically drained it in three hours, without taking a picture.

So to be perfectly clear, the ELPH 530 HS's WiFi is a failure. The only thing it adds is about $70 to the price tag over the otherwise identical ELPH 520 HS.

Recording Options

Like most Canon compacts, the ELPH 530 HS records 1080p high-def video at a cinematic 24 frames per second in the h.264 compression standards. It also shoots iFrame-format clips (between standard-def and 720p). Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Auto Controls

The ELPH 530 HS has no manual controls in video mode, so it's all auto all the time. Scene modes and effects do work in video mode however.

Zoom

Optical zoom is available in video mode. It's much slower than in still mode, but the full range works.

Focus

Autofocus works fairly quickly on the ELPH 530 HS. It's completely hands off, so you'll have to trust the camera, but it works well.

Conclusion

The Canon ELPH series is usually a safe bet for a cool, quality camera at a decent price, but the top end of the lineup has been pretty wonky over the past few years. Image quality is generally strong, and the lenses are either bright or packed with zoom. But Canon insists on sticking them with a crummy touchscreen, which royally screws up the user experience and drives up the price.

Such is the case with the latest ELPH king, the ELPH 530 HS. It takes good-looking photos in pretty much any situation (at least by compact-camera standards), and the 12x zoom range is impressive for such a small body. Canon packed it full of fun filters and effects, including their popular Color Accent and Color Swap modes, and included a few settings that make it easier to shoot in poor lighting without the flash.

But all of those great features are overshadowed by the awful touchscreen. Everything great about Canon's menu system gets squelched by this unresponsive, inaccurate, laggy slab. It drags down the entire user experience into a frustrating mess. Everything from switching shooting modes to cycling through photos in playback mode is more difficult than it needs to be. This camera just can't stay out of its way.

Then there's the built-in WiFi. Users can wirelessly upload their photos to their computers, iPhones, or directly to social media services—at least that's how it's supposed to work. After hours of tinkering, with the user manual by our side, we could only get one WiFi-related feature to work. It isn't worth the hassle. If wireless connectivity and touchscreens are Canon's grand plan to stem the consumer exodus from the point-and-shoot market, they have to work as seamlessly as they do on smartphones.

The ELPH 530 HS earns a decent overall score on the merits of its image quality, but we can't recommend it. There are plenty of cameras for the same money with longer zooms, better image quality, and smarter interfaces. If you're sold on this camera for some reason, save $70 and buy the WiFi-free ELPH 520 HS instead. Better yet, buy a completely different camera.

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