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Canon PowerShot A review: Canon PowerShot A

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The Good The Canon PowerShot A3300 IS 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.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 8

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.)

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.

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