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Canon PowerShot N100 review: Clunky enthusiast compact for creative snapshooters

While the N100's photos and performance are a step in the right direction for point-and-shoots, the N100 needs a bit more work and fewer novelties.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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7 min read

The Canon PowerShot N100 is an odd camera, but in completely different ways than the first N series model .

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7.6

Canon PowerShot N100

The Good

The Canon PowerShot N100 packs a larger-than-usual sensor and a lens that starts at a bright f1.8 aperture, a combination that gets you better photo quality in low-light conditions than you'd get from a typical point-and-shoot. Shooting performance is excellent, too, and there's built-in Wi-Fi for on-the-go sharing and remotely controlling the camera, among other things.

The Bad

It's heavier and bigger than the similarly spec'ed PowerShot S120; the design overall isn't great; the rear-facing camera is sort of a waste; NFC is underutilized.

The Bottom Line

The Canon PowerShot N100's photos and performance are a step in the right direction for point-and-shoots, but the N100 design needs a bit more work and perhaps fewer novelties.

It has a 1/1.7-inch sensor, which is larger than the typical 1/2.3-inch sensor found in much of Canon's PowerShot lineup -- including the PowerShot N -- and is the same sensor size and resolution as the PowerShot S120. It also as the same optics as that camera: a 5x, f1.8-5.7 24-120mm lens.

The N100 diverges from the S120 and enthusiast compacts in general by offering a bunch of automatic shooting options and no semimanual or manual modes and no raw capture. And instead of an assignable function button, you get a button to tag favorite images.

So, basically, Canon took the best parts of one of its enthusiast compacts and piled in features aimed at snapshooters. It's a smart move -- however, Canon maybe went a little overboard trying to be new and different with the N100.

Photo quality

The larger sensor and bright lens really pay off compared to its small-sensor compacts like the PowerShot SX700 HS. The N100 does very well with noise and detail up to ISO 200. At ISO 400 and 800 some noise reduction kicks in softening detail some, but there's still plenty of fine detail.

Even at ISO 1600 detail is still good, as is color. So as long as you don't need to enlarge and heavily crop, you should be pretty good in low-light conditions, especially for sharing online at small sizes.

Canon PowerShot N100 sample pictures

See all photos

At its highest sensitivities, the noise reduction really kicks in so subjects do look noticeably soft, and colors start to desaturate, too. I would avoid using ISO 3200 and 6400 unless you have no other option.

This is where that bright f1.8 lens comes in handy. As long as you're not using the zoom lens, you can easily stay below ISO 1600 for indoor/low-light shots (but, as always, the more light you have, the better off you'll be).

The camera's HD video is very good, too, but like its photos, video gets visibly softer and noisier in low light. The zoom does work while recording, and it moves quietly so it doesn't get picked up by the stereo mics just above the lens.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Shooting performance

The N100 is a quick camera, too; flash photos are really the only time it noticeably gets slower. From "off" to first shot is only 1.3 seconds, and the lag between shots is 1.1 seconds. Turn on the flash, though, and that shot-to-shot time extends to 2.7 seconds.

Shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is brief at less than 0.2-second in bright conditions. It gets a little longer in low-light and with the lens fully zoomed in at 0.5-second.

There is no burst-shooting mode, but the camera can continuously shoot at 3.7 frames per second. That's with focus and exposure set with the first shot. There is also the option to continuously shoot with autofocus, but it's slower at about 2.5fps. Still, most cameras in this class don't have this option at all.

Design and features

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

The original PowerShot N , while not perfect, was a cool little boxy camera that you could toss in a bag or slip in a pocket when you wanted something more than the fixed focal length lens of your smartphone.

The N100, on the other hand, looks pretty much like a regular compact camera -- but a clunky one that's not the most fun to use.

For starters, the flat power, shutter release, and movie record buttons on top are close together and in line with each other so it's a little too easy to hit the wrong one.

It's on the heavy side (about 2.5 ounces heavier than the S120), and the body is so slick and slippery that I felt like I was going to drop it every time I picked it up. There is a thumb rest on back (and for some reason Canon made it beige on the white model), but it seems like the only reason it's there is so Canon had someplace to put a speaker; it doesn't make the camera much easier to hold.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

The camera does have a touchscreen, and a pretty nice one to boot. Usually I like having physical controls instead of only a touchscreen, but in this case I wish Canon had just ditched the buttons on back. They're all crowded together and a little tough to press accurately. I would rather have a larger touch screen.

The touchscreen tilts up 90 degrees, which is nice for shooting from below and above eye level. But I don't understand why Canon didn't design it to go all the way up 180 degrees so people could take easier self-portraits.

There is no mode dial, but instead you have a switch for dropping between three modes: Auto (and other modes), Hybrid Auto (more on this later), and Dual Capture .

What may at first look like a viewfinder on the back is actually a secondary camera for the Dual Capture mode. It takes a picture or movie clip of the photographer when the shutter release is pressed and embeds it in the main photo or video for a picture-in-picture effect. But that's all it does. You can pick what corner you want to be in, but you can't enlarge the size, use it as a standalone camera, or even do a split screen between the front and back cameras. Hell, you can't even put a silly frame around yourself.

Canon PowerShot N100 Key specs

Price (MSRP) $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.1 x 2.7 x 1.4 inches (104.5 x 67.5 x 35.8 mm)
Weight (with battery and media) 10.2 ounces (289 g)
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/1.7-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch tilt touchscreen LCD, 920K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 5x, f1.8-5.7 24-120mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 330 shots (460 shots in Eco mode)
Battery charged in camera No
Wi-Fi/GPS Yes with NFC/No (geotagging available via Wi-Fi)
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC

The camera's Wi-Fi is relatively easy to set up and use, but I recommend reading the manual first. Canon gives you a good selection of wireless features, but there's a chance you may want to use only one or two of them.

For example, it allows you to share straight from the camera via Wi-Fi to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Drive, and Flickr. However, Canon requires you to sign up and register all the social-networking accounts you plan to share to with its Canon Image Gateway service. You might just be better off sending shots straight to an iOS or Android device via Canon's CameraWindow app and sharing from one of those instead.

Canon's Mobile Device Connect button lets you specify a smartphone or computer in advance that you'll connect to at the push of a button. Press it and it turns on the camera's Wi-Fi, at which point you have to open your mobile device's wireless settings and select the camera. Opening the Camera Window app completes the process.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Along with sending photos and movies directly to mobile devices for viewing, editing, and uploading, you can use the Wi-Fi to sync your mobile's GPS to geotag your photos, which is nice because this camera does not have built-in GPS. You can also wirelessly send images directly to a photo printer or back them up to a PC on the same network that the camera is connected to.

Lastly, the app can be used as a remote viewfinder and shutter release. It doesn't give you much control -- just zoom, self-timer, shutter release, and flash (assuming you've popped it up) -- but it's nice to have for shooting wildlife and group portraits. It can't be used to start and stop video, however.

Canon includes NFC on the N100 for use with supported Android devices, but it isn't used for much. If you haven't installed the CameraWindow app, you can tap your smartphone against the camera and it will launch the Google Play store so you can download it. After that, it's used only to launch the app. You'll still have to turn on the camera's Wi-Fi and connect your device to the camera by selecting it in your wireless settings.

Other cameras featuring NFC from Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung will launch the app and handle the connection process, making shooting and sharing that much easier. They also use NFC to quickly send single photos to your phone with a simple tap between the camera and device.

Canon PowerShot N100 General shooting options

ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Multi-area, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Program, Hybrid Auto, Dual Capture, Creative Shot, Portrait, Face Self-timer, Handheld Night Scene, Fisheye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Background Defocus, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter, iFrame Movie
Focus modes Face AF, Center AF, Macro, Normal, Infinity, Manual
Macro 1.2 in. to 1.6 ft. (3-50 cm) (Wide)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Custom (adjustment of contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue, and skin tone are available)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

Again, if you're looking for direct control over aperture and shutter speed or raw capture, you'll want to go with the S120. What you'll find on the N100 is Canon's solid Smart Auto (it sometimes doesn't pick the most obvious target to focus on); a Program Auto for a bit more manual control; and a smattering of scene modes along with filters and effects.

Then there are a couple of novelty modes that join the aforementioned Dual Capture mode. There's the Creative Shot mode that automatically creates five different versions of a single shot using different color and tone settings, crops, and styles in addition to saving the original photo. The N100's Creative Shot gives you some control over the results, letting you choose a category of filters -- Retro, Monochrome, Special, or Natural -- for the camera to use with a total of 46 filters available.

Then there's Canon's Hybrid Auto mode that captures a few seconds of video before each picture you take. At the end of a day of shooting, the camera automatically gathers up all the little clips and your photos -- taken using the Smart Auto mode -- and puts them into a movie.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Building on that is a Story Highlights option (the little photo album button above the LCD), which creates a 2- or 5-minute highlight reel of photos and movie clips that you can individually select or have the camera automatically select based on events, date, or person. Though not exactly a shooting mode, you'll probably want to keep the option in mind when you're shooting.

Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot N100 is a step in the right direction for Canon's point-and-shoot lineup. One of the reasons to still get a compact camera is for image quality and a larger, higher-quality lens. The N100's photos and shooting performance easily beat a smartphone's camera. However, it seems like Canon's desire to deliver a camera that's new and different resulted in a bit of a mess.

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7.6

Canon PowerShot N100

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8
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