Pros: Ultra-compact, 12x zoom, 1080p HD video, and excellent image quality
Smartphones with ever better built-in cameras are relentlessly invading the P&S digicam’s domain, which goes a long way toward explaining why lots of new digital cameras now come equipped with touch screen LCD’s, Wi-Fi, micro-SD memory media, and built-inGPSreceivers. The obvious question is - can camera phones actually replace traditional cameras? Will users be able to get by with just the camera feature on their phones? The answer to that question depends on just how demanding you are as a photographer. If you use your camera ONLY for snapshots and uploading images and videos to Facebook and YouTube then you’ll probably be fine with just a phone cam. However, if you use your camera to express your artistic view of the world, to document the growth of your children, or to record memories from those once in a lifetime trips - then your phone cam is going to come up short. Phone cams lack the flexibility, highly efficient sensors, camera ergonomics, photography features, ease of use, creative control, and better quality optics offered by even the simplest P&S digital camera. At just over three quarters of an inch thick the tiny (3.4in x 2.1 in x 0.78 in/86mm x 54mm x 20 mm) new Canon ELPH 530 HS is a truly pocketable P&S digicam that weighs in at a svelte, almost anorexic 5.7oz/163grms – meaning it won’t be too onerous to carry it, in addition to your phone.
NUTS & BOLTS
I’ve always liked Canon’s Digital Elph series ultra-compact P&S digicams - they are small enough to drop in a shirt pocket, tough enough to go just about anywhere, dependably produce first rate images with almost no effort on the part of the shooter, and they are un-intimidating to subjects. The new Canon ELPH 530 HS meets all those criteria nicely and adds a 12x zoom to a genuinely tiny P&S digicam to create an especially impressive little imaging tool.
The Canon ELPH 530 HS features a 10-megapixel CMOS sensor paired with Canon’s 5th generation DIGIC 5 processor and the High Sensitivity exposure system (introduced on the Canon SX230HS) which was designed specifically to reduce noise and provide better low light performance. Canon claims their new HS system reduces image degrading noise by up to 60% (when compared to cameras not equipped with HS) at all ISO sensitivities. CMOS sensors generally exhibit better low-light performance than CCD sensors and (all else being equal) lower resolution sensors have better light gathering capability than higher resolution sensors because each individual pixel is larger. I didn’t see a 60% reduction in noise over the Canon SD1400 IS (a roughly comparable camera with a CCD sensor that I had reviewed) when I compared similar images (from both cameras) side by side, but Canon’s new 530 HS consistently produces very good to excellent images with noticeably lower noise levels than the CCD sensors in Canon’s earlier ELPH models. The 530 HS also features a 3.2-inch (461k) Touch-Screen LCD, a 12x (28mm-336mm equivalent) optical zoom, and 1080p @ 24fps HD video capture.
The 530 HS also features what I consider the best Smart Auto mode in the business. Select Smart Auto mode and the 530 HS will automatically choose a capture mode for you (from a database of 58 predefined shooting situations) based on the subject, ambient lighting, and camera to subject distance. An advanced Face ID system will store up to 12 faces for instant recognition via face priority shooting. Finally, the Canon 530 HS's Intelligent Image Stabilization system analyzes camera movement and automatically chooses one of six different stabilization methods (based on prevalent conditions) for capturing the best image possible. The 530 HS's 28mm-336mm (equivalent) zoom provides a really remarkable focal length range for such a tiny camera – truly impressive reach for a camera small enough to easily slip into a pocket. The 530 HS’s 3.2-inch (461K) Touch-Screen LCD provides direct access to controls, functions, menus and even offers touch-based autofocus – just tap the screen exactly where you want the camera to lock focus. The ELPH 530 HS is available in either black or white and the MSRP is US$350 ($260-$280 street price).
Like the vast majority of P&S digicams the ELPH 530 HS doesn't provide an optical viewfinder, so shooters must rely solely on the PureColor II Touch TFT LCD monitor for all touch-screen options, framing/composition, captured image review, and menu navigation chores. Most casual shooters don’t like (or use) optical viewfinders anyway and in some shooting scenarios (macro shots and portraits come to mind) it is generally quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through an optical viewfinder.
LCD resolution has been steadily increasing because consumers keep demanding larger, sharper, and quicker (faster refresh rates) LCD screens. The ELPH 300 HS’s 230K LCD screen was one of it’s most glaring shortcomings. I am not at all surprised that Canon boosted screen resolution for the ELPH 530 HS. Several of Nikon’s compact P&S models provide 920k LCDs – four times the resolution of the 300 HS’s 230k LCD and Sony’s new TX66 features an amazing 1.29 megapixel (129k) LCD – almost six times the resolution of the 300 HS’s 230k LCD screen.
The 530 HS’s LCD monitor is noticeably coarser and dimmer than some Nikon and Sony P&S digicam monitors, but it offers twice the resolution of its predecessors, it is hue accurate, relatively fluid, automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, covers approximately 100% of the image frame, and provides all the information this digicams target audience is likely to need. The 530's LCD screen (like all LCD monitors) is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting and lower resolution LCD’s exacerbate this common problem.
I love digital cameras, but I don’t like touch-screens on cameras. Just because something works nicely on one type of product (cell phones) doesn’t mean that it will work adequately with other devices. Cameras need controls that respond immediately. Touch screen controls on cameras lack the tactile assurance and confidence inspiring immediate response of traditional buttons, knobs, and switches. While Touch-Screens are undeniably getting better, they still occasionally require multiple taps to access the feature or function sought, and that delay could cost you a killer shot. Panasonic’s touch screens (GF3 and FH7) are the best I’ve used to date – dependably more responsive than Canon’s.
The ELPH 300 HS featured a 5X (24mm-120mm) zoom so the 530 HS’s 12x zoom more than doubles the reach of its predecessor without any noticeable increase in size or weight. Ultra-compact digicam zooms generally run in the 3x to 5x range, so a truly tiny camera that can zoom from 28mm true wide-angle (great for group shots in tight indoor venues and traditional landscapes) to 336mm true telephoto (great for distant subjects, concerts, sports, and backyard wildlife) point of view gives the 530 HS a substantial edge over much of its competition. Although corners are slightly soft at the wide angle end of the zoom they are appreciably sharper at the telephoto end of the range.
The 530 HS’s f3.4 maximum aperture is fast enough for just about anything this camera’s target audience is likely to shoot – outdoors, but even with it’s High Sensitivity capabilities, shooting at telephoto focal lengths indoors is going to produce some muddy looking and fairly noisy images. They may be a bit less noisy than similar images generated by earlier ELPH models, but that marginal improvement in image quality won’t produce miracles. Zoom operation is fast, smooth, and fairly quiet, but this lens exhibits noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom and very minor pin cushioning (straight lines bow in toward the center) at telephoto. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is slightly higher than average, but very well controlled. Native (default) contrast is a bit on the flat side.
Image Stabilization (IS)
The 530 HS’s optical image stabilization system reduces involuntary camera movement caused blur by rapidly and precisely shifting a lens element in the 5x zoom to compensate for involuntary camera movement. The Canon 530 HS's Intelligent Image Stabilization system analyzes camera movement and automatically selects one of six different stabilization methods to capture the sharpest image possible. Image stabilization allows users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three f-stops slower than would have been possible without IS. Image stabilization can also be useful when shooting in dimly lit indoor venues where flash is prohibited or inappropriate.
Auto Focus (AF)
The 530 HS features the same TTL Contrast Detection 10-point AiAF (Advanced intelligent Auto Focus) plus 1-point center AF system as its predecessor. AF modes include - Contrast Detection, Multi-area, Center, Tracking, Single, Continuous, Touch, and Face Detection. In all exposure modes (except touch AF) the camera analyzes the scene in front of the lens and then calculates camera to subject distance to determine which of the AF points is closest to the primary subject (closest subject priority) and then locks focus on that AF point. Users can also opt for the 1 point (center) AF for classic portraits or traditional landscapes. In low light, a focus assist beam helps illuminate the subject for more accurate focusing.
The 530 HS's tiny built-in flash provides only five options – Auto, On, Off, Red-Eye, and Slow Sync. In Auto mode the camera automatically enables Smart Flash Exposure mode. The Smart Flash Exposure system automatically adjusts flash exposure to balance flash output with the ambient light on the subject - to avoid dark facial shadows in outdoor portraits and provide more even lighting coverage in macro shooting. Maximum flash range (according to Canon) is just short of 9 feet. Flash recycle time is around 4.0 seconds.
The Canon Powershot ELPH 530 HS saves images to microSD/microSDHC/microSDXC memory media. Note to Canon – micro SD is a cell phone memory media format – and marketing to a specific demographic (cell phone users) risks alienating your core customer base, who may pass on this nifty little digicam simply because they don’t want to buy new memory media when they already have an on hand supply of SD cards.
The 530 is powered by a proprietary Canon Lithium-Ion NB-9L rechargeable battery. Canon says the 530 HS (with a freshly charged battery) is good for approximately 190 exposures, which is about 30 exposures less than Canon claimed for the 300 HS. I rarely track numbers - since I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot, but that number seems fairly accurate based on my experiences with the camera – I used the camera heavily for just over a week and only charged the battery once. The included charger needs about two hours to fully charge the battery.
Menus and Modes
The PowerShot ELPH 530 HS features the classic two-tier Canon digicam menu system – The menu system is logical, easy to navigate, and very simple – since the 530 HS allows only minimal user input.
DESIGN, ENGINEERING, BUILD QUALITY, CONTROLS, & ERGONOMICS
The ultra-compact Canon Powershot ELPH 530 HS bears a striking family resemblance to the rest of the ELPH tribe. The user interface is logical and uncomplicated. Traditional controls are mostly absent which gives the 530 HS a minimalist look with absolutely no clutter – in fact there is nothing on the back of the camera, except the 3.2 inch LCD.
The 530 HS’s metal alloy body seems easily tough enough to stand up to the rigors of a busy modern lifestyle, plus it feels nice and solid in your hands. However, while the 530 HS is a very pocket friendly little P&S digicam, purchasers are strongly encouraged to immediately attach (and consistently use) the wrist strap because small digicams are very easy to drop and complex electronic devices don’t suffer impacts well.
The 530 HS was obviously designed for casual users. Experienced digicam shooters will have no difficulty using the 300 HS right out of the box and even neophytes, Luddites, and technophobes should be able to capture decent images after a cursory scan of the quick start guide.
In the Field/Handling & Operation
Reviewing digital cameras (and other electronic devices) is a lot fun, but it has drawbacks, too. Firstly, you very rarely get to choose what you are going to review. I write reviews for several sites and I have no ability to coordinate what I will be sent to review and when it will be sent, so occasionally I end up involuntarily biting off more than I can chew. Secondly, I occasionally get sent something that is well outside my area of expertise. Over the last five years I’ve reviewed 3 DVD players (including one portable DVD player with screen), 3 MP3 units, 2 digital photo frames, 2 universal remote controls, 2 photo printers, 1 IPOD charging dock with speakers, and assorted audio/video components – not to mention almost 100 digital cameras. I always like a challenge, so usually I don’t mind short trips outside my comfort zone. However the month of July has been a real challenge for me. Everything started out simply enough. My neighbors wanted to buy a new P&S digicam for their two week trip to Puerto Rico and asked for my advice. I invited them over so that we could sit down and discuss the matter. I asked a few pertinent questions to narrow down their options. What is your budget? How much photography experience do you have? What kind of pictures do you take mostly? Is camera size an important consideration? Do you want/need HD video? After listening to their answers I agreed to take them to Louisville’s premier camera shop and help them choose the best camera for their needs.
As soon as we got to the camera shop, I asked the dude behind the counter to show us the newest Canon ELPH and he brought out the 530 HS. Both of them loved it and they bought it almost immediately without even looking at anything else. We had agreed in advance that I would get to use the camera for a week or two and then review it. The following day I received a Sony Tablet “S” (16GB) to review for the Epinions Review It program, which seemed propitious since I had wanted a tablet for some time to take along on my camera testing adventures - so I could plug the SD card from the camera into the Tablet and see the pictures I had just taken on a much larger (9.5 inch vs 3.2 inch) screen than the LCD monitor on the 530 HS and so I could start a file on each camera that I reviewed and keep my notes on the tablet as they occurred to me, rather than trying to reconcile my written notes with the review camera file on my PC at home. Unfortunately, I had to buy a microSD to SD converter before I could use the two separate devices together, since 530 HS stored images to microSD memory media and the Sony Tablet only had an SD card slot. I was midway through my reviews of the 530 HS and tablet when Fed Ex darkened my door once again to deliver a brand new 18 megapixel (touch-screen) Sony TX66 P&S digicam (with a two week review turn around) from another website. The good news was that the TX66 also stores images to microSD. So the last three weeks have been hectic to say the least.
For most of that three week period I lugged a black canvas shoulder bag (which one sarcastic friend calls my “murse” – man purse) large enough for my Sony tablet, the 530 HS, and the TX66. I’ve always loved small cameras, even back in the day when serious photographers wouldn’t go anywhere without a heavy photo bag filled with SLR bodies and multiple lenses, I always had a Rollei 35S, or a Contax T, or an Olympus Stylus along for those spontaneous “grab” shots that come and go quicker than most folks can deploy and react with an SLR.
I carried both cameras to the Louisville Extreme Park, to Cave Hill Cemetery, to Iroquois Park, to the Douglas Loop Farmer’s Market, and to a couple of small festivals. I carried both cameras (both units are ultra compact) one in each hand (like an old west gunslinger) ready to shoot from the hip - on a “street” shooting expedition in the colorful oldHighlandsneighborhood.
I really enjoyed using both cameras. The TX66 (with a surprisingly good Carl Zeiss badged periscope style zoom) produced excellent highly saturated (very intense colors) 18 megapixel images with reasonably low noise levels outdoors, but the 530 HS’s outdoor images were very nearly as good (with less noise) and indoors the 530 HS did a noticeably better job than its rival, generating sharp, hue accurate images with very good detail capture and noticeably lower noise levels than the little Sony TX66.
Image files produced by Canon's P&S digicams are optimized for the bold bright hues and slightly flat contrast that some veteran shooters refer to as Canon Color and the new 530HS doesn't stray from that formula. Native colors (default color interpolation) are bright, hue accurate, and natural-looking, but visibly over-saturated – although not as visibly oversaturated as the images produced by the TX66. Standard Sony color interpolation was roughly equivalent to the 530 HS in “Vivid Color” mode. I tried the Sony in Vivid Color mode and the images looked liked circus posters. Canon 530 HS reds are a little warm, blues are a bit bright, and greens/yellows are more vibrant than those seen by the naked eye, however consumers seem to like bright oversaturated images with flat contrast so most casual shooters won't consider these minor color anomalies as faults. Outdoors in good light the 530 HS produces well-exposed, sharply focused, and almost noise-free images. Chromatic aberration is well controlled, but some minor color fringing is present, especially in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds.
The Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS’s image quality was as good as any camera in its class and the 530 HS’s image files are perceptibly sharper (due primarily to lower noise levels) than those generated by its predecessor. The differences are subtle, but clearly visible. Obviously, lowering the resolution of Canon’s new CMOS sensor (in conjunction with the HS technology) was an effective strategy for producing marginally sharper images with perceptibly lower noise levels.
The 530 HS features a 1920 x 1080p @ at 24 HD movie mode, which is about as good as it gets right now – and that is very impressive indeed when you consider that a camera small enough to be dropped in a shirt pocket is capable of shooting High Definition video that rivals a dedicated camcorder. If all that isn’t enough, the 530 HS’s 12x zoom, unlike some digicam zooms, can be used during video capture.
White Balance (WB)
The 530 HS provides users with an acceptable selection of White Balance options, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and custom. The 530 HS's Auto WB mode does a remarkably good job across the board – simply one of the most accurate and dependable WB systems available.
The 530 HS provides a reasonable range of sensitivity options, including Auto and user-set options for ISO 100 to ISO 3200. Detail capture is quite good at ISO 100, and despite some visible but very minor softening is also quite good at ISO 400. More visible image softening is obvious at sensitivity settings higher than ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise is controlled very nicely, but luminance noise and the camera’s built-in noise suppression efforts greatly increase blur and the loss of fine details from ISO 800 up.
Timing (operational speed) is a major consideration, second only to image quality in importance, when assessing digital camera performance. Most of Canon’s Point & Shoot digicams come in somewhere near the middle of the pack (in their class) in terms of quickness – and the 530 HS is no exception – it isn’t the fastest camera in its class, but it isn’t the slowest either. The bottom line here is that the 530 HS is more than quick enough to capture the decisive moment in all but the most extreme shooting scenarios
Buying a digital camera is not as easy as it was in the early days of the digital imaging revolution and that’s a good thing for consumers. Today’s digital cameras offer shutterbugs at every experience level more choices than they’ve ever had before, but sorting through the flood of available products can be daunting. The new 530 HS could be the poster child for Point & Shoot digicams, but there are lots of people who won’t buy a P&S digicam because they feel they’ve already got a pretty good camera on their smartphone - so why buy another toy that just duplicates capabilities they already have. The new Canon PowerShot ELPH 530 HS won’t help much if you need to text someone or order a pizza telephonically, but it does provide operational speed, low-light performance, image quality, and ease of use that no currently available camera phone even comes close to matching. If all that isn’t enough - the Canon Powershot ELPH 530 HS is a nearly perfect choice for casual users and snap-shooters who want more camera than their cell phone is capable of providing, but don’t want to make any photographic decisions except for what to take pictures of and when to push the shutter button.
Serious photographers know that continuously jamming more pixels onto tiny sensors has consequences; the most obvious of which is an exponential increase in image degrading noise. Props to Canon for offering a camera that provides more than adequate resolution for anything this unit’s target audience is likely to try and a quick slap up side the head to the product development folks at Sony for boosting digicam resolution yet again. For those of you who don’t know – more resolution (megapixels) doesn’t make better pictures, it only makes bigger pictures.