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Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS review: Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS

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The Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS is sort of a misfit camera. Its 8x zoom lens isn't quite long enough to attract people looking to improve on an older ultracompact camera, and the lens' other qualities aren't good enough for photographers who value a wider lens and larger maximum aperture. It seems to serve as an easy way to upsell from the older 5x zoom 300 HS: The 310 HS is only slightly larger, but has higher zoom for only $30 more. The 310 also has a larger, higher-resolution screen, making the deal look sweeter.

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7.6

Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS

The Good

The <b>Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS</b>' photo quality is excellent for its class and it has a good assortment of shooting options.

The Bad

The 310 HS has a relatively short battery life and its autofocus in Smart Auto mode can be hit or miss.

The Bottom Line

Snapshooters wanting better photo quality than their smartphone and an 8x zoom lens in a tiny package should certainly consider the Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS.

The 310 HS, when it was released in October 2011, was not an update to the 300 HS from February 2011--despite the serial naming. The 300 HS instead will be refreshed as the Elph 320 HS in March 2012 for $279.99, and will have the same lens as its predecessor--5x, f2.7-5.9, 24-120mm--but gets a new sensor and processor, Wi-Fi, and a touch-screen LCD. This, in turn, will probably make the 310's longer zoom and now lower price look attractive to people looking to save money because they don't need Wi-Fi or a touch screen.

Yes, it seems the 310 HS exists mainly to fill a hole for retailers, which shouldn't matter, I guess, as long as the camera is good. And it is good, by the way.

Key specs Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS
Price (MSRP) $259.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.8x2.2x0.9 inches
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, 461K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 8x, f3.0-5.9, 28-224mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 24fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 210 shots
Battery charged in camera No; wall charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac); Map Utility 1.0 (Windows/Mac)

The Elph 310 HS produces generally excellent snapshots. Photos do get softer and noisier above ISO 200--typical for point-and-shoots--but ISO 400 and 800 are still very usable. The noise and noise reduction are well balanced, so you still get good color and detail at these higher sensitivities without things looking overly smeary or blurry. Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished. You may also notice yellow blotches of color noise. While you might not want to view them at larger sizes or heavily crop them, the high-ISO results should be satisfactory for Web use at small sizes.

Video quality is on par with a very good HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. The full HD video records at 24fps. Panning the camera will create judder and there is visible trailing on fast-moving subjects. Those things are typical of the video from most compact cameras, and less noticeable at small sizes. Some viewers, including myself, may still find it too distracting. The zoom lens does work while recording; it moves very slowly, though, likely to prevent the movement from being picked up by the stereo mics on top. In quiet scenes, you'll likely still hear it. Audio in general sounds somewhat muffled, which can make even close subjects difficult to hear.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot Elph 310 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, Movie Digest, 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, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter, Stitch Assist, iFrame Movie, Super Slow Motion Movie
Focus modes Face Detection AF, Center AF, Tracking AF
Macro 0.4 inch 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 (adjustment of contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue and skin tone available)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

The 310 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 right side has two options: one for Smart Auto and one for everything else, designated by a picture of a camera. Leaving Auto gives you access to a Program 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. If you want to do more than just take snapshots, there is certainly a lot to play with on the 310 HS--for both movies and photos.

One of the biggest benefits of CMOS sensors is their fast speed compared with CCD sensors. The camera goes from off to first shot in 1.4 seconds, with shot-to-shot times averaging a slightly lengthy 2.2 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, which is good for its class.

The camera's regular, full-resolution continuous shooting option is capable of capturing at 3.6fps, 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. There is just a brief delay while the buffer empties some before you can snap again. The camera also has a high-speed burst mode that can shoot 3-megapixel photos at up to 8.7fps. 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 can be frustrating, and if you generally don't prefocus before you shoot, you may end up with your subject out of focus.

Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS
Canon moved the shooting mode switch and menu button to the right side of the camera. It doesn't improve functionality.

The overall design of the 310 HS is very good, especially for those just looking for more zoom in an ultracompact body. 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. The camera's menu button and shooting-mode switch are on the right side, which is unusual. It doesn't improve use in any way, though I guess it keeps the back from being cluttered. 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 panel 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 210, 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 regularly go out shooting all day, you'll want to pick up a second battery.

Conclusion
The Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS is certainly a recommendable camera. It takes nice photos, it's relatively simple to operate, and it's well priced for what you're getting. Snapshooters looking to improve on the photo quality of their smartphones and actually have an optical zoom without feeling weighed down should check it out.

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7.6

Canon PowerShot Elph 310 HS

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Image quality 8