Check out an examination of photo quality from the ultracompact Canon PowerShot Elph 300 HS featuring a 5x f2.7 ultrawide-angle 24mm-equivalent lens and a high-speed 12-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor.
The Elph 300 HS produces generally excellent snapshots. Photos do get softer and noisier above ISO 200--typical for point-and-shoots--but ISO 400 and 800 are still very usable. The noise and noise reduction are well balanced so you still get good color and detail at these higher sensitivities. Colors desaturate some at ISO 1,600 and 3,200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished. While you might not want to view them at larger sizes or heavily crop them, the high-ISO results should be satisfactory for Web or prints at small sizes.
Compared with a camera with a similar sensor and lens, the Sony Cyber-shot WX9, the Elph 300 HS may have a slight edge, but it really depends on your needs and expectations. Both drop off in quality at ISO 400. The Sony's noise is slightly better, but its reduction smears details; the Canon is noisier, but it retains more detail.
The high-ISO photos from the 300 HS are very good, but they are noisier. To help with that, Canon offers its Handheld NightScene mode that uses the camera's high-speed sensor and processing to shoot multiple images and overlay them to reduce noise and blur caused by hand shake. Here, the photo on the left was taken in Auto at ISO 800 with the one on the right using the aforementioned mode. Using Auto results in a sharper photo, but with more noise and slightly washed-out color. The NightScene mode improves color and reduces noise (which is more visible at larger sizes), but you get softer details.
If you like to shoot close-ups, the 300 HS can focus as close as 1.2 inches from your subject. This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo taken at ISO 100. Even at larger sizes and with heavy cropping, the photos are excellent, if a touch soft, for inspecting fine details. The f2.7 lens is even capable of creating a shallow depth of field in macro.
Color performance is excellent from the 300 HS: bright, vivid, and accurate. Exposure is also very good, though highlights will blow out on occasion. The auto white balance indoors is a little warm, but otherwise it's good and you can always take advantage of the presets or manual white balance if you're not happy with the results.
The 300 HS's lens goes from an ultrawide 24mm to 120mm (35mm equivalent), a 5x zoom. Mostly, it allows for better framing opportunities without adding bulk or cost or significantly affecting photo quality.
There is a fair amount of fringing/ghosting in high-contrast areas of photos, such as around these flower petals. It's most visible when photos are viewed at full size, so it's not a huge concern unless you do a lot of enlarging and/or heavily crop your photos.
The 300's burst mode is of capable of capturing at 3.2 frames per second, with focus and exposure set with the first shot. It can shoot until your memory card fills up, though, which is nice; competing cameras have a burst limit and make you wait while images are stored before you can shoot again.
The camera also has a high-speed burst mode that can shoot 3-megapixel photos at up to 8.2 frames per second. This is a 100 percent crop of the inset photo using this mode. The results are very good compared with similar modes on other cameras I've tested, suitable for small prints and definitely for Web use.
Canon's i-Contrast feature does a good job of rescuing shadow detail. The left photo is with it off, the right with it on Auto. However, you can also use it in playback and you actually get more control over the amount applied.
If you want to experiment even more with your photos, Canon's Creative Filters are mixed in with the camera's scene modes. These include a Toy Camera Effect (left from top to bottom: standard, warm, and cool), Monochrome, Super Vivid, and Poster Effect (right from top to bottom). You'll also find Color Accent (scene is monochrome except one user-selectable color), Color Swap (replace one color for another e.g. red for yellow), Fish-eye Effect, and Miniature Effect.