Canon PowerShot SX520 HS camera
This camera packs a 24-1008mm zoom lens for serious close-ups
With a 42x optical zoom lens, Canon's PowerShot SX520 HS is greatly capable of bringing distance objects very close. Consider it if you want a camera to take on holidays, or simply if you just want a versatile everyday camera to capture moments with family, friends, pets and wildlife.
The lens goes from a wide angle of 24mm all the way up to a telephoto angle of 1008mm, meaning there is great diversity in terms of the types of photos you can capture. It's a camera that can handle landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, macros, and, of course, far away objects such as wildlife. Best of all, you don't have to be an expert to use it; there is an auto mode as well as scene modes, and the controls and on-screen menu are simplistic.
A relatively bulky body means that you can't just put this 16-megapixel camera in your pocket and forget about it. The large lens barrel, which sits about 55mm out from the body when the camera is off, means that you'll need a bag of some sort to carry it around with you when you're done shooting. That said, it's still a relatively compact camera considering what it can do.
Some things have been left off the camera in order to save space and weight. You don't get an electronic viewfinder, which means you have to use the 3in LCD screen on the back to frame your photos, and that screen doesn't have a hinge, meaning you can't easily shoot from up-high or low-down angles.
As well, you don't get a glut of buttons or dials on the body. It's very clean in this respect, giving you only an essential interface for accessing quick settings and getting into the menu. There is plenty of space to rest your thumb, and lots of room on the handgrip so that you can hold the camera firmly.
Holding the camera firmly is imperative when you use the extremities of the zoom, as camera shake will be exacerbated, even though there is built-in image stabilisation. You should also know that the aperture closes to f/6.0 when the lens is zoomed all the way in (it's f/3.4 at its largest) , which means you'll have to compensate for any lost light by using a higher ISO sensitivity or slower shutter speed. (The shutter goes from 15sec to 1/2000th of a second.)
For those reasons, you should attempt to only use the maximum zoom when there is enough to light to allow you to take well-let shots without having to use too high an ISO or too slow a shutter. Don't expect images taken at full zoom to be as sharp as images taken with a wide angles, and don't crop them too closely, as this will show softness or slight blurring in the image. You should consider carrying around a tripod for the times you plan on using the full zoom, though that will only be useful for static shots where you are preparing for a shot like a sniper.
When hand-holding the camera and shooting at the maximum zoom, it can be hard to keep your subject in the frame. Depending on how closely you are framing your subject, the frame could slightly move off the mark as you press the shutter. There is an aid built in to the camera that allows you to shake the camera to make it zoom out a little so that you can find and frame your subject again, but we found it easier to just do this manually. Another feature allows you to press a button to zoom out of an image so you can see your subject in context to its surroundings.
We found the zoom especially useful for taking photos of subjects such as spiders on their web, birds dwelling on the ground, and fine details on buildings that could otherwise not easily be seen. The focus of the camera was accurate for the most part, and with a little bit of effort, it allowed us to focus on things such as the aforementioned spiders and their webs (sample photos are below); it was a little difficult to find such small details while performing the zoom operation, and we had to find something a little bigger to zoom in on at the same focal plane before moving the frame over to the smaller subject. The focus then picked up the smaller detail surprisingly easily.
You can't just zoom all the way in on any subject and have the camera focus on it. Sometimes you will need to zoom out a bit before the camera will focus, but it all depends on how far away you are from the subject. We could use maximum zoom on objects that were a minimum of about 1.4m away from us. Sometimes subjects that were a little further away couldn't be focused on until we zoomed out a couple of levels. Conversely, macros could be shot with the lens touching the subject (at the wide angle).
Using the camera in a bright outdoor environment was difficult without an electronic viewfinder or hinged LCD screen, and it meant that in some instances we had to shoot blind and then check out shot on the screen afterwards. It's something we found frustrating while shooting outdoors on a sunny day, though we also found the lack of a hinge to be an impediment to creativity, as we couldn't easily do things such as shoot from the hip or from close to the ground (actually, we still did those things, but without proper framing before shooting).
As for image quality, the PowerShot SX520 HS has a 16-megapixel backside illuminated CMOS sensor that's capable of capturing vibrant images by default, and definition is generally clear, especially when shooting wide angles or macros. It's a camera that was swift in operation, and focusing was mostly accurate throughout our tests. Some chromatic aberration was noticeable in high-contrast shots, but wasn't too bad.
Give this camera a go if you are after an easy-to-use model with a versatile lens that can let you go from wide angle to super-zoom photography simply by pulling back on a lever (but stay out of the digital zoom range that doubles to 84x, as the shots will be poorly defined). It's especially useful as a travel camera, though it will need to be transported in a bag, rather than a pocket.
If you want even more reach, then you can consider the PowerShot SX530 HS instead, which has a 50x optical zoom lens.
All of the following sample images are JPEGs straight out of the camera unless otherwise noted in the caption. They have only been resized to fit this page.
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