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Canon PowerShot A review:

Canon PowerShot A

If you just want to point and shoot, there's Canon's Smart Auto, which determines the appropriate settings based on the scene you're shooting. An Easy mode works similarly, but heavily limits settings. There's a new Discreet mode, too, that shuts off all sound and and lights so you can shoot without accidentally disturbing the subject or those around you.

The Scene mode has all the usual suspects: Portrait, Landscape, Kids & Pets, Low Light, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Long Shutter (exposure settings from 1 to 15 seconds). Oddly, there's no panorama option, which is a pretty popular option these days. Canon does include its Smart Shutter option in the Scene mode, though, providing a smile-activated shutter release and Wink and Face Detection self-timers. Wink allows you to set off the shutter simply by winking at the camera and with the Face Detection option the camera will wait until it detects a new face in front of the camera before it fires off a shot. Both work well.

Canon's Creative Filters are now all located under a spot on the mode dial, where you can select Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Fish-eye Effect, and Miniature Effect. While some may find these to be a bit goofy, they can be a lot of fun to play with, if only to add some interest to what would otherwise be a boring shot. I particularly liked the results from the Toy Camera Effect, which has Standard, Warm, and Cool settings.

If you like to shoot close-ups, the A3300 IS can focus as close as 1.8 inches from a subject. Plus, the f2.8 aperture is larger than what many competing cameras have and does let you create a shallow depth of field. The 16-megapixel resolution allows you to inspect fine details, but they're still a little soft and could use some sharpening with photo-editing software.

Shooting performance is for the most part good for its class, with the exception of shot-to-shot times. From off to first shot is a reasonably quick 1.5 seconds. The wait between subsequent shots averaged 3.6 seconds for us; using the flash bumped it up to nearly 5 seconds. Shutter lag--the time from pressing the shutter release to capturing a photo--is 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.8 second in low-light conditions. The continuous shooting speed is pretty slow, too, at 0.5 frames per second with focus and exposure set with the first shot. If you're trying to capture active children and pets or sports, it'll be tricky with this camera.

Canon has greatly improved the fit and finish of the A-series cameras for 2011. Last year's top model, the A3100 IS, felt cheap, but that's not the case with the A3300 IS. It feels solidly built and looks good. The 3-inch LCD, despite being a typical 230K-dot resolution, is bright and sharp with good color. The controls and menus are straightforward, too. The only difficulty I had is with how flat the buttons are; the Func. Set button at the center of the control pad was particularly difficult for my large fingers to press accurately. But otherwise the design is fine.

On the right side is a Mini-USB port for connecting to a computer or TV. The battery and SD memory card compartment is in the bottom of the camera behind a sliding door. It doesn't lock and slides open a bit too easily if you're going to be keeping this in a bag unprotected. Battery life is average; you get about 200 shots per charge, less depending on your settings and use of the zoom lens and movie capture.

Cameras like the PowerShot A3300 IS are the ones being displaced by camera phones and smartphones. That's a shame because the photos (and video for that matter) from these cameras are so much better than photos from those devices. The addition of the Live View Control and Creative Filters modes means you can do some cool things to your images with little or no effort. And even though the PowerShot A3300 IS is fairly slow for its class, it's still faster than most phones.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W570
Canon PowerShot A3100 IS
Canon PowerShot A3300 IS
Nikon Coolpix S4000

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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