You'd expect a digital camera with a list price of about $200 to be fairly basic. But while Canon's PowerShot A300 lacks some features found on pricier cameras--such as a zoom lens and manual exposure control--this compact 3.2-megapixel model takes clear, vibrant photos that don't come across as budget-quality. And although intended for point-and-shoot photography only, the feature set is far from bare-bones, offering snapshooters lots of useful and convenient tools. The A300 may not be the best choice for the style-conscious photographer, however: while its images look great, the same can't be said about the plain, somewhat bulky camera itself. Despite its rather thick and bulky plastic body, the A300 weighs a relatively light 8.4 ounces with AA batteries and a CompactFlash card installed. As a result of this large size and light weight, the camera doesn't feel very solid, although it held up fine in our testing. A small cover protects the A300's lens; sliding it open and closed turns the camera on and off.
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|The A300's four-way controller makes it easy to adjust flash, focus, and metering modes; the self-timer; and continuous-shooting settings.|
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|The Play On button enables you to play back pictures without sliding open the lens cover.|
We have two minor complaints about the camera's construction: The hatch of the battery/media compartment is hard to open. On the other hand, it's intelligently located on the camera's side, where it's accessible even when the A300 is on a tripod. We also question Canon's decision to place the microphone on the top left of the camera. In this position, the mike captures sound from both you and your subject, but your fingers are likely to rest on it when you're holding the camera two-handed.
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|The Function button provides quick access to exposure compensation, white-balance and ISO settings, resolution and compression selections, and color and sharpness modes.|
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|The simple mode switch on top of the camera lets you choose between shooting stills and video clips.|
The A300's controls are logically laid out for the most part, with single-level LCD menus and most functions no more than a button press or two away. Novices will need to spend a little time acquainting themselves with the numerous icons and labels on the camera back, and even experienced shooters will probably have to consult the manual to discover some features. For example, you get to the photo modes by pressing the Set button--not something you'd know unless you'd learned it by accident or read the manual. Once learned, the interface does an excellent job of making plenty of useful features quickly accessible.
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The A300 comes with a 16MB CompactFlash card; you'll probably want to buy a larger one.
The A300 has some extras you won't find on every entry-level camera: an autofocus-assist lamp for dim lighting, a panorama mode, and a continuous-shooting mode. You can capture AVI movies with sound: 30 seconds of video at 640x480 pixels and up to 3 minutes at lower resolutions. You can also attach 60-second voice memos to pictures while viewing them in Play mode.
The A300's main limitation is its lack of an optical zoom. The camera uses the equivalent of a 33mm wide-angle lens on a 35mm-film model. There's a 5.2X digital zoom, but as is typical with digital zooms, the loss of detail at anything greater than 2X makes for subpar photos. The A300 saves images as JPEG files only; you can select from three compression levels.
Note that the A300 doesn't have a composite-video output, so it's incapable of displaying your pictures on a television. On the other hand, you can connect it directly to a compatible Canon printer for computer-free printing.
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Unfortunately, Canon includes only alkaline batteries. We recommend you pick up a pair of AA nickel-metal-hydride cells and a charger.
The A300's autofocus is generally quick and decisive, and it's aided by a lamp in low light. The autofocus-assist lamp works best on subjects within 3 feet or so of the camera. While the 1.5-inch LCD provides a reasonably sharp view, it becomes unusably dark a little sooner than the displays on some other cameras as lighting conditions dim. Fortunately, the large and bright optical viewfinder offers a useful alternative. It doesn't show the entire frame though, giving you an 84 percent view.
With our own set of nickel-metal-hydride rechargeable batteries, the A300 shot nearly 300 images with the LCD on and the flash firing for half of the photos. Unfortunately, the camera doesn't do a very good job of warning you when you're low on juice. If you do run out while on the road, the A300's ability to use standard AA alkaline batteries means more power is available at the nearest grocery store. The A300 uses the same DIGIC processor as Canon's high-end G3 and EOS 10D, and it shows: the camera delivers very detailed pictures with excellent dynamic range and vibrant, true colors. Images shot at lower ISO settings, with sufficient light or the flash, showed no noise. At ISO 200 and 400, noise remained moderate. Overall, the A300 produces some of the best images we've seen from a camera in its class.
As is typical with Canon digicams, photos shot indoors under tungsten lighting with the automatic white balance had a strong golden cast; we cured this easily by using the Indoor white-balance preset or the manual white balance. Incidences of purple fringing at the borders of white objects were minimal. On the other hand, in outdoor shots, we did see some blooming of bright areas into darker ones; for example, a bright blue sky bled into dark tree branches.
Unfortunately, the lens produces very noticeable barrel distortion at the edges of the frame. Vertical lines, such as the edges of buildings and telephone poles, have a distinct curve when they're near a picture's side. This isn't the camera to bring along on your next tour of European architecture.
The A300's movie mode requires bright light. Outdoor movies look great for video from a still camera, but clips shot with typical indoor home lighting are somewhat noisy.