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Canon PowerShot A3100 IS review: Canon PowerShot A3100 IS

Canon PowerShot A3100 IS

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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6 min read

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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.

7.0

Canon PowerShot A3100 IS

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.

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.

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.

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.

Though the A3100 IS might not have much in the way of features, it does have excellent photo quality for the money. Like many compacts in its class, there's a noticeable shift in quality at ISO 400, so the A3100 IS performs its best below this sensitivity. In other words, the more light you have the better off you'll be. Compared to the A3000, this camera has less visible noise when photos are viewed at 100 percent, especially in darker areas of photos. Combined with its higher resolution, you get a little more flexibility when it comes to larger prints and cropping. Photo taken at higher ISOs, despite being noisier and softer from noise suppression, are good enough for small prints and Web use.

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, however. Purple fringing is at normal amounts with high-contrast subjects. It's visible when photos are viewed at 100 percent, but not at the picture-destroying levels seen from competitive models. Colors are not always accurate, but they sure look great. With rare exception, subjects turned out bright and vibrant. Exposure is good, too, though highlights have a tendency to blow out--typical of its class.

Video quality is decent, 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 A3100 IS while recording.

The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS is a solid compact camera for the money and in my opinion is worth the $30 premium over the A3000 IS. There's not a lot here to get excited about beyond its ability to take an excellent snapshot and optical image stabilization. But if all you're looking to do is point and shoot, it will likely be enough camera for you.

Shooting speed
(Shorter 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-W330
1.8 
3.4 
2.6 
0.7 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot A3100 IS
1.8 
3.9 
2.3 
0.7 
0.5 
Canon PowerShot A3000 IS
1.7 
6.4 
4 
0.7 
0.6 
Nikon Coolpix S570
2 
3.8 
2.2 
0.8 
0.6 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS15
2 
3.3 
3.1 
1 
0.7 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

7.0

Canon PowerShot A3100 IS

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7Image quality 8