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Canon PowerShot A review: Canon PowerShot A

Canon PowerShot A

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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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7 min read

Canon's A-series PowerShot lineup for 2011 consists of four models priced from $89.99 up to $179.99. Unlike with the 2010 A-series cameras, the feature mix is much better, giving you solid reasons to pick one model over another. The A3300 IS, for example, is the only model with optical image stabilization, a 5x zoom lens, and a 3-inch LCD. (It's also the only one with a 16-megapixel resolution, but that's debatably useful.)

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7.6

Canon PowerShot A

The Good

The <b>Canon PowerShot A3300 IS</b> has a nice feature set for the money as well as excellent photo quality.

The Bad

The camera has long shot-to-shot times and its flat buttons can be tricky to press.

The Bottom Line

The Canon PowerShot A3300 IS offers up nice features and excellent photos while staying simple and affordable.

The A3300 IS, given its price, is a very nice camera. The biggest problem is that its shooting performance is slow. More specifically it has long shot-to-shot times, possibly due to the 16-megapixel resolution. Pixel peepers may notice more noise, but overall the photo quality is excellent for its class. And, true to its branding, the A3300 IS is easy and fun to use.

Key specs Canon PowerShot A3300 IS
Price (MSRP) $179.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.7 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.9 inch
Weight (with battery and media) 5.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 5x, f2.8-5.9, 28-140mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels / 1,280x720 pixels at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical Mechanical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger included
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus Card, HC MMCplus Card
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); CameraWindow DC 8.4 transfer utility; ImageBrowser 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)

For its sub-$180 price, the A3300 IS is capable of turning out some excellent photos. But, as with most compacts, this really depends on how much light you have--the more, the better. Fine detail and sharpness are very good up to ISO 200 (though a little sharpening with photo-editing software improves things). Photos get noticeably softer at ISO 400 due to heavier noise reduction. Pixel peepers will see there's image noise at all ISO sensitivities, but it's really not visible at reduced sizes until you get to ISO 800. As long as you don't mind increased softness and noise--including faint yellow blotching--ISO 800 is usable for small prints and Web sharing. The camera's highest full-resolution sensitivity is ISO 1600 and I'd stay clear of it unless you really need to take a low-light photo. On the other hand, because of consistent color at higher ISOs, the photos are better than those of other cameras at this price; they just get slightly washed out at and above ISO 400.

As for the A3300's 16-megapixel resolution, it's only useful at and below ISO 100 for cropping and enlarging. It doesn't help the overall photo quality, and it seems to slow down the camera between shots.

There is slight barrel distortion at the wide end of the A3300's lens and maybe a little with the lens in telephoto, too. Center sharpness is good, but there is softening at the top, bottom, and sides and, at least on my review camera, the bottom corners were visibly smeary. There is a fair amount of fringing in high-contrast areas of photos. It's most visible when photos are viewed at full size, so it's not a huge concern unless you plan to enlarge and heavily crop your photos.

Color performance is excellent from the A3300--bright, vivid, and accurate. Exposure is also very good. Highlights will blow out on occasion, but frankly I expected it to be much worse. The auto white balance indoors is a little warm, but otherwise it's good and you can always take advantage of the presets or manual white balance if you're not happy with the results.

Video quality is on par with a basic HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. Panning the camera will create judder that's typical of the video from most compact cameras, and you'll notice motion trailing on fast-moving subjects. The zoom lens does not function while recording, but you do have a digital zoom; I suggest not using it, as the results are not pleasant.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot A3300 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 Program, Live View Control, Auto, Easy, SCN, Creative Filters, Discreet, Movie
Focus modes Normal AF (Face, Tracking, Center), Macro, Infinity
Macro 1.8 inches (Wide); 1.6 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Custom (contrast, sharpness, and saturation)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

Shooting modes are geared for point-and-shoot use. The most control you get over settings is in Program mode, letting you select things like white balance, ISO, and metering. It's also the only mode with access to the camera's My Color options like Vivid and Sepia, as well as a Custom option with adjustments for contrast, sharpness, and saturation. On the other hand, you have the new Live View Control mode, which enables you to adjust brightness, color, and tone with onscreen sliders and see what the photo will look like as you make the changes.

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.

Conclusions
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
2.3
5.1
4.6
0.7
0.4
Canon PowerShot A3100 IS
1.8
3.9
2.3
0.7
0.5
Canon PowerShot A3300 IS
1.5
4.9
3.6
0.8
0.4
Nikon Coolpix S4000
2.9
4.1
2.5
1
0.6

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

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

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7.6

Canon PowerShot A

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 6Image quality 8