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Canon PowerShot A3100 IS review: Canon PowerShot A3100 IS

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The Good Optical image stabilization; excellent photo quality for its class.

The Bad Weak feature set; cheap feel for its price.

The Bottom Line The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS is a very good simple point-and-shoot, even though it doesn't do much beyond that.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 8

Canon's 12-megapixel PowerShot A3100 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 10-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 more compact build than is typical of this model series. And that's really what you get with the A3100 IS.

If you're trying to decide between the A3000 and A3100, for $30 extra the latter has a higher resolution, comes in three color choices, and its effective ISOs start at ISO 80 (the A3000's start at ISO 100). The photos appear slightly better than those from the A3000 as well. Because the higher resolution is actually usable for printing and cropping, the A3100 has a higher overall rating than the A3000.

Key specs Canon PowerShot A3100 IS
Price (MSRP) $179.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.8 x 2.3 x 1.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 5.5 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 4x, f2.7-5.6, 35-140mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG (.AVI)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/ 640x480 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 240 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD, SDHC, and SDXC
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)

The size of the A3100 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 available in three color choices--silver, blue, and red--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, and 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.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot A3100 IS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Easy, Program, Portrait, Landscape, Night, Kids&Pets, Indoor, Scene, Movie
Focus modes Normal AF (Face, Center), Macro, Infinity
Metering modes Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Custom
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

The A3100 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 the new Super Vivid and Poster Effect modes.(They're appropriately named, and you can see a sample of them in use in the slideshow in this review.)

Shooting performance is average for its class and it's actually faster than the very similar A3000. From powering on to capturing its first shot is 1.8 seconds, which is OK. Its shot-to-shot times are decent, too: 2.3 seconds without the flash and 3.9 seconds with. The shutter lag in bright lighting conditions is average at 0.5 second; in dim conditions it does well, though, at 0.7 second. Lastly, the continuous shooting speed from the A3100 IS is middle-of-the-road at 0.8 frames per second. These speeds are by no means fast, though, making it best for motionless subjects.

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