White Balance

The A510 has five white balance presets (sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, fluorescent H) in addition to the default auto white balance. There is also a 'custom' white balance setting, which allows you to point the camera at a white or gray object and set the white balance manually. The custom white balance setting is remembered even if you turn the camera off. In normal outdoor shooting the auto white balance works perfectly (as confirmed by our studio tests). Indoors it's a bit more hit and miss, as we've seen with most Canon PowerShots, fluorescent lighting doesn't cause much of a problem, whereas incandescent (tungsten) lighting causes a fairly strong orange color cast. Best to stick to the preset (or one-push custom WB) if you want more neutral colors.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red -0.0%, Blue 0.1%

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red -0.4%, Blue -0.1%
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 9.0%, Blue -13.0%

Flash Performance

The A510's built-in flash has a quoted working range of 0.45m - 3.4m (1.5 - 11.5 ft) at the wide end of the zoom and 0.45m - 2.2m (1.5 - 7.2 ft) at the tele end. It also works down to about 30cm (11.8 inches) in macro mode (in all cases assuming the ISO is set to auto). In our real-world tests the flash did a perfectly good job within its effective range, exposing perfectly in a wide range of situations and with virtually no color cast. My only complaint about the flash is that there is a noticeable delay between pressing the shutter and the picture being taken, due in part to the preflash burst used to calculate exposure. This can mean some of your social shots lack spontaneity, as you have to ask your subject to 'hold still for a minute'. Add to this the 7 seconds or so between shots when using flash and you've not got the best social camera in the world.

Skin tone
Excellent color, very slight underexposure
Color chart
Virtually no color cast, very slight underexposure

Macro Focus

As is common to most compact digital cameras the A510's macro mode is most effective at the wide end of the zoom, where you can get as close as 5cm. At the long end of the zoom the performance is less impressive - 25cm subject distance - but still pretty useful. There is inevitably some distortion when shooting very close up at the wide end, but it is not too strong, and certainly less so than many of its competitors.

Wide macro - 55 x 41 mm coverage
41 px/mm (1046 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
Tele macro - 81 x 61 mm coverage
28 px/mm (705 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness: Mild
Equiv. focal length: 140 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Barrel distortion is - at 1.2% - fairly low for a camera in this class, and certainly doesn't mar real world scenic shots. There is no measurable distortion at the long (140mm equiv.) end of the zoom.

Barrel distortion - 1.2% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 140 mm

Noise Comparison

Here for visual comparison are four identical shots taken at 50, 100, 200 and 400 ISO settings in our studio. The ISO 50 and 100 settings show very low visible noise, and the noise reduction is effective enough to make the ISO 200 setting perfectly usable. Noise at ISO 400 is inevitably higher (and visible), but the fairly low pixel-count means it's a lot less painful than most modern 5 megapixel cameras (and a lot easier on the eye than the A520's ISO 400 result).

ISO 50 100% crop ISO 100 100% crop
ISO 200 100% crop ISO 400 100% crop

Specific Image Quality Issues

It's hard not to be impressed with the results from the A510, which for the most part are sharp, well exposed and show excellent, natural color. They do benefit from a little post-processing (what camera's pictures don't?) - specifically some Unsharp Masking, but for output at up to about 8x10 inches you can quite happily get away with printing them as they come out of the camera.

Color is typical for a Canon consumer compact; bright and vivid, more saturated than could be considered totally natural, but very attractive and ideal for the typical user. We found very few exposure or focus problems and there is only the smallest amount of color fringing in everyday shots. The rather high default contrast produces punchy pictures, but can result in blown highlights when shooting scenes with a wide dynamic range, though we didn't find this to be a major issue in most circumstances. In fact it's actually very hard to get a really bad shot from the A510, and though we're not talking about ground-breaking image quality here, for the target market - or for anyone wanting fuss-free reliability - that's more important than anything.

Compared to the 4.0 megapixel A520, the images have (unsurprisingly) a very similar tonal quality and color. Obviously with a million less pixels, the A510 struggles to capture quite the same level of fine detail as the A520, but the loss is not huge - and unless you're printing at sizes over about 5x7 inches you're unlikely to see a significant difference between the results from the two cameras.

Color fringing

We found very little evidence of purple fringing in any of our real-world shots - where there is some it is only in overexposed areas, and is so soft as to be unnoticeable at normal print sizes. This is a real improvement over previous A series cameras (and many of the SD/IXUS models too).

100% crop 35 mm equiv., F4