Canon's PowerShot A3000 IS continues the A series' trajectory toward "easy and fun" photography by abandoning a feature the line was known for in the past: AA-size batteries. This camera as well as its 12-megapixel linemate, the A3100 IS, uses a rechargeable lithium ion battery for power. Manual controls and optical viewfinders started disappearing as A-series features in 2008 and this change completes the transformation to a less expensive, larger version of the company's Digital Elphs. Canon hasn't dumped AA batteries entirely from A-series models, but with these additions the numbers dwindle.
That doesn't mean it's not a good budget-friendly camera, though, and surely there's no shortage of people after Canon photo quality at a lower cost with a thinner build. And that's really what you get with the A3000 IS.
The size of the A3000 IS falls between the ultracompact bodies of the SD-series Digital Elphs and chubby A-series models that use AA-size batteries. Made of plastic and only available in silver with black accents, the camera is small enough to fit in a pants pocket or small handbag. It looks better than its price, but pick it up and it feels like a lower end compact camera. The lens, though not wide-angle, starts at a wider aperture than a lot of the budget competition and zooms out a touch farther, too. The 2.7-inch LCD is better than most as well, getting bright enough to use in direct light despite reflections from the screen. Also, the inclusion of optical image stabilization is a definite plus.
Controls are basic point-and-shoot. On top are the power button, shutter release, and a shooting mode dial. They're all flush with the top but well-spaced, so after a little use you shouldn't accidentally turn off the camera when you go to take a picture. The mode dial is a bit stiff and because of how it sits in the body, rotating it can be difficult. The back panel controls and markings are slightly larger than you'd find on a Digital Elph. At the top is a zoom rocker followed down by buttons for Canon's Face Select feature; playback; four-way control pad with select button; and Display and Menu buttons. Face Select works with the camera's face detection, letting you choose the person you want to focus on in a group of people. The Menu button pulls up two tabs of general settings whereas the select button (labeled Func. Set) opens shooting mode-specific options. Overall, it's easy to control and should be simple enough for beginners after some use.
On the right side below the Mode dial is a small door covering a Mini-USB/AV port. Again, the battery is a small rechargeable pack with an average shot count. It can't be charged in camera and the battery door doesn't lock and feels like it'll easily snap off; something to keep in mind if you're rough on your electronics.
The A3000 IS's shallow shooting options are not unexpected, but that really doesn't make what's offered anymore exciting. Going around the Mode dial you have P (for Program), which gives you the most control over results; Auto, which automatically detects the shooting scene; Easy (auto without options); and Movie that maxes out at a resolution of 640x480 pixels at 30 frames per second. Canon also puts five popular scene selections--Portrait, Landscape, Night, Kids&Pets, and Indoor--and a SCN choice for accessing lesser used scene settings like Beach, Long Shutter, and Fireworks. Canon renamed its High ISO mode to Low Light, but it's otherwise the same, capturing 2-megapixel shots at ISOs from 500 to 3,200. The only highlights (if you can call them that) are new Super Vivid and Poster Effect modes. (They're appropriately named and you can see a sample of them in use in the slideshow further on in this review.)
The A3000 IS is overall a slow shooter. Most compacts in its price range are slow, so you won't really get better from another camera. However, this model feels slow across the board. It starts up in just less than 2 seconds, which is decent. But the shot-to-shot times are long: 4 seconds without the flash and 6.4 seconds with. The shutter lag in bright lighting conditions is long at 0.6 second; in dim conditions it does well, though, at 0.7 second. The continuous shooting speed from the A3000 IS is a lowly 0.4 frames per second.
The photo quality is very good for a sub-$150 camera. Like many compacts there's a noticeable shift in quality above ISO 200, so the A3000 IS performs its best at and below this sensitivity. In other words, the more light you have, the better off you'll be. However, color noise was present at all ISOs, mostly visible in darker areas of pictures when viewed at 100 percent. Photos at ISO 400 are still very good, but a little softer with less fine detail. At ISOs above 400, noise is visible even when photos are viewed at small sizes and are softened from noise reduction. All in all, though, the results are nice if not usable for much more than online sharing and small prints.
The lens has good sharpness edge to edge, but there is some barrel distortion at its widest position. There's no discernible pincushioning with the lens fully extended, and there was little purple fringing in test shots. Colors are generally accurate, pleasing, and vibrant. Exposure is good, too, as is white balance performance.
Video quality is pretty mediocre, suitable for Web use and on par with a standard-definition pocket camcorder. And like those devices, you cannot use the optical zoom on the A3000 IS while recording.