Some VERY beginner questions here, I apologize!

My knowledge of cameras is limited to say the least. To give you an idea, I know things like:

  • SLRs are good. I can take a lot of pictures in a short amount of time.
  • My Canon S95 took really great photos in low light (before its buttons stopped working).
  • My iPhone's photos in daylight are pretty impressive, but it's horrible in low light or when using a flash
  • In general, more megapixels are better (but other things are more important)
  • Digital zoom = bad (because I can just zoom in later and make it more pixelized if I want)
  • The more optical zoom, the better.
  • Most cameras have 3X or 5X optical zoom. Anything higher is for professionals with telephoto lenses.

Apparently I'm wrong about the last point, because I stumbled on the Canon SX510 HS which has a 30X optical zoom. On top of that, it shoots 1080p video, has a wide-angle lens (I assume that's good), has built-in wifi, and excellent reviews (all of the negative reviews seem to be from people who thought they were getting a free memory card or something and didn't get it).

So what am I missing? Clearly I have a lot to learn, but this is one of the cheapest Canon cameras you can buy. I just don't understand how something with 12 megapixels and a 30X optical zoom, from a reputable manufacturer (not to mention all the other features) can be so inexpensive.

Why is it half the price of the S95, for example?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Slight aside: it's half the price of the S95 because that model's been discontinued, so any stock you're seeing is some funny leftovers. At least in the UK, the S110 (the equivalent of the S95, but two models later) is around the same price as the SX510). \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 21:19

1 Answer 1


First, let me start by saying that large zoom multipliers are specifically for consumers and NOT for professionals. No self-resepcting professional would be caught dead with a super-zoom on their camera. Superzooms are great for convenience, but they have to make major compromises in terms of image quality. If a professional needs to be able to rapidly switch between wide angle and telephoto, then they use two cameras. One with a wide angle lens and one with a telephoto.

As to how so many features can be included so cheaply, it really comes down to quality and speed. 1080p is really a pretty standard feature these days and 12 megapixels is not particularly high anymore in terms of megapixel count. It has a cheap lens that only reaches f/3.5 at the most open on the wide end and is only f/5.8 on the long end which is quite slow. The ISO range isn't all that great either, so it won't handle low light particularly well. It is limited to a relatively slow 1/1600 shutter speed.

It is also worth pointing out that when compared to your S95, the SX510 has a much smaller sensor. Smaller sensors are generally cheaper to manufacture since they have a smaller surface area (and thus less likely to get defects ruining a lot of material). They also allow usage of cheaper lenses because they don't need as large of an image circle (the area of light that is passed through to the sensor.) This also limits the camera since it runs in to issues with diffraction more quickly (occurs when you focus light on small spots) and also can't produce as shallow of a depth of field (background blur pretty much impossible, although that is still true of most point and shoots).

Is it a good camera, certainly for the price, but it is also far from the best around if you don't consider price. It is a jack of all trades camera that compromises a little bit in a lot of places. It lets it give a nice feature set at a relatively low price, but it limits the depth of capability in any one area.

Also, I noticed you mentioned SLRs in your question. Do note that this camera is NOT an SLR or a system camera. It is a super-zoom point and shoot. The lens is not removable and it goes directly to the sensor. You can only view what you are pointing at via the screen, not a view finder.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The other thing the SX510 has is a small sensor - that is to some extent the root of the limited ISO range, but also plays into stuff about lens size / cost etc. Worth adding to the answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 21:26

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