With so many cameras announced last year, I sort of overlooked reviewing the Canon PowerShot Elph 100 HS. And that's kind of a shame.
When it was released in the first half of 2011, it was Canon's least expensive camera with a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, which gives better low-light photos and shooting performance than the CCD sensors Canon used previously for its Elphs. It was priced at $199.99, which was a great deal at the time for a BSI CMOS camera. Now, almost a year later, it's nearly $100 less, making it an outstanding bargain for its features and performance.
If you're unhappy with your smartphone camera or just want a simple point-and-shoot to jam in your pocket for a day trip, the Elph 100 HS is a very good choice--even with its issues. Canon tells me it won't be around much longer, though, so if you're interested, you might want to pick one up soon. (And in case you're curious how it stacks up against the iPhone 4S, check out our head-to-head shootout.)
|Key specs||Canon PowerShot Elph 100 HS|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.7 inches by 2.2 inches by 0.8 inch|
|Weight (with battery and media)||4.9 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||4x, f2.8-5.9, 28-112mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 pixels at 24fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; external charger supplied|
|Bundled software||ZoomBrowser EX 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac); Map Utility 1.0 (Windows/Mac)|
I thought the photo quality from the Canon Elph 300 HS and 100 HS might be about the same, considering both have a 12-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and Canon's Digic 4 processor. But while they have the same pluses and minuses, the 100 HS for some reason just isn't as good as the 300 HS.
Photos from the 100 HS look soft even at its lowest ISOs, but get noticeably softer at ISO 400 and higher. However, if you're using them at small sizes, you can safely use up to ISO 800. Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished. While you might not want to view them at larger sizes or enlarge and heavily crop them, the high-ISO results should be satisfactory for Web use. They are about as good as you're going to get for this price and a little post-shoot sharpening with basic editing software will improve things.
The 100 HS' color performance is excellent: bright, vivid, and accurate. Exposure is also very good, though highlights will blow out on occasion. There is a slight amount of barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens (top), but no pincushioning when the lens is extended. Fringing around high-contrast subjects was minimal and only really visible when photos were viewed onscreen and at 100 percent. The lens is fairly sharp at the center and consistent edge to edge--something I usually can't say about cameras at this price.
Video quality is on par with a good HD pocket video camera, good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. The full HD video records at 24 frames per second, and though panning the camera will create judder and there is visible trailing on moving subjects, the video is watchable. Those things are typical of the video from most compact cameras, too. The zoom lens does not work while recording; digital zoom is available, but I don't recommend using it as the results are terrible.
|General shooting options||Canon PowerShot Elph 100 HS|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom|
|Recording modes||Auto, Program, Portrait, Kids & Pets, Smart Shutter, High-speed Burst, Best Image Selection, Handheld Night Scene, Low Light, Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Color Accent, Color Swap, Beach, Underwater, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter, Stitch Assist, Movie Digest, Movie (Standard, Super Slow Motion, Miniature Effect)|
|Focus modes||Face Detection AF, Center AF, Tracking AF|
|Macro||1.2 inches to 1.6 feet (Wide)|
|Metering modes||Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Color effects||Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin, Darker Skin, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color (sharpness, contrast, saturation, red, green, blue, skin tone)|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
The 100 HS has a fairly large assortment of shooting options, but almost all of them are automatic modes, meaning there's no full control over shutter speed and aperture. The shooting-mode switch on the camera's top has two options: one for Auto and one for a mode designated by a picture of a camera, which I'll call camera mode. -The camera mode gives you access to a Program Auto mode as well as all the scene modes, creative effects modes, and miniature effect and slow-motion video recording. However, they're laid out in one long list, so if you're the type to change modes frequently, this can be a pain. Canon's Smart Shutter option is there, too, which includes 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 the Face Detection option will wait till the camera detects a new face in front of the camera before it fires off a shot. Both work well.
One of the biggest benefits of CMOS sensors is their fast speed compared with CCD sensors. That's certainly true of the 100 HS, which shows a noticeable performance jump from its predecessor, the CCD-based Canon PowerShot SD1300 IS. On the other hand, it is slightly slower than CMOS-based ultracompacts from other manufacturers. The camera goes from off to first shot in 1.4 seconds, with shot-to-shot times averaging 1.9 seconds without flash and 3.4 seconds with flash. Its shutter lag--the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capturing a photo--is 0.3 second in bright lighting and 0.6 second in low-light conditions.
The camera's regular continuous shooting option is capable of capturing at 3.3fps, with focus and exposure set with the first shot. It can shoot until your memory card fills up, though, which is nice, as competing cameras have a burst limit and make you wait while images are stored before you can shoot again. The camera also has a high-speed burst mode that can shoot 3-megapixel photos at up to 8.2fps. The results are very good compared with similar modes on other cameras I've tested, suitable for small prints and definitely for Web use.
More of issue for me is the camera's autofocus performance. When shooting in Smart Auto, it frequently locked onto the wrong subjects, forcing me to prefocus with a half-press of the shutter release again and again. Most of the time that wouldn't work and I'd end up switching to using the tracking AF option, which helped but only really with stationary subjects. Or you can switch to Program mode and select center focus, which is how I shoot most of the time anyway for this reason. It is frustrating, and if you generally don't prefocus before you shoot, you may end up with your subject frequently out of focus.
The look and design of the 100 HS has changed slightly from its predecessor, the SD1300 IS. It's fractionally smaller, but has a larger LCD--3 inches rather than 2.7 inches. The shooting-mode switch is now on top and in its place is a one-touch record button for movies. All of the controls are flat and flush with the body. It gives the camera a very smooth appearance, but using the four-way directional pad and center Func/Set button can be a little difficult. They do feel easier to press than on past models, though. Also, while I had no problems using them, the buttons, shooting-mode switch, and zoom rocker are tiny, which might be a problem for some; it would be an excellent idea to lay hands on one before you buy it.
Regardless of their shape and size, the controls are easy to master. The menu system can take some getting used to depending on how quickly you can remember to hit the Func/Set button for shooting-mode specific settings and the Menu button for everything else. You also have the option to turn on a help system with hints and tips for choosing the appropriate settings or simply telling you what the shooting mode you're in is going to do. It's not uncommon to find, but Canon does a nice job of it. The next step would be to put a full, searchable user manual on it since there's no printed manual included.
For connecting to a computer, monitor, or HDTV there are Mini-USB/AV and Mini-HDMI outputs underneath a small door on the right side of the body. The battery and memory card compartment is on the bottom under a nonlocking door. The battery does not charge in camera, and the shot life is rated at 230, so you'll probably find yourself opening the compartment quite a bit if you shoot regularly. Keep in mind, too, that using the zoom or burst shooting a lot, shooting full HD movies, and keeping the screen brightness high will all cut into your battery life.
If you're looking for an inexpensive, simple, but still feature-filled ultracompact, the Canon PowerShot 100 HS is a safe bet. That's in spite of its autofocus issues and somewhat soft photos.
Find out more about how we test digital cameras.