Canon PowerShot N is a pint-size powerhouse

Derrick Story, Macworld
30 July, 2013
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Canon PowerShot N

Canon, www.canon.com.au

Pros 

8X optical zoom lens; excellent image quality over a broad ISO range; tilting screen for creative compositions; solid movie mode with a dose of creativity; built-in WiFi with mobile companion app available for free; Digic 5 process for snappy performance

Cons 

US$299 price tag makes it an investment, not an impulse buy; low battery warning doesn’t provide much lead time; small size can make it difficult to hold securely; LCD controls most functions, very few buttons; Wi-Fi will disconnect quickly when pictures are not transferring

US$299

Reviews

The Canon PowerShot N will fit in your pocket – just about any pocket, in fact. But so will an iPhone. So why would you capture your next Facebook posting with the PowerShot N instead? That’s the US$300 question. And the answer may lie within its features.

Beneath the clean design of this diminutive point-and-shoot, Canon has packed a fair amount of horsepower. It has focused on areas where smartphones typically don’t excel, such as optical reach, video options and an articulating screen. Thanks to those features, combined with a large dose of creative functions, the PowerShot N carves out a niche in mobile photography. It’s hard to say at this point how wide its adoption will ultimately be. In the meantime, though, let’s take a closer look at the camera’s strengths and see where Canon has placed its bets.

Optics

Canon designed an 8X-optical-zoom lens that provides an equivalent focal range of 28mm to 224mm. The lens can focus as close as 0.39in, plus it’s stabilised with Canon’s excellent IS technology. When you push the zoom all the way out to maximum magnification, you can capture distant objects better than with an iPhone, or practically any other mobile device of this size. Optical magnification means clearer, sharper results compared with those from the digital-zooming function found on some mobile devices.

ISO sensitivity

Even though the image sensor is a small 1/2.3in CMOS, it’s coupled with Canon’s Digic 5 processor. One of the by-products of this tandem is a healthy ISO range, from 80 to 6400. Better yet, image noise remains well controlled up to ISO 1600. This is surprisingly good performance for a compact camera.

The PowerShot N offered excellent noise control at ISO 400 for this pre-game shot.

Tilting LCD

The 2.8in touchscreen LCD is the command centre, viewfinder and viewing screen for the PowerShot N. With 461,000 dots, it displays enough detail to meet all of those needs. The touchscreen has plenty of sensitivity, which allows for easy operation of the camera via finger taps.

The screen truly shines, however, for composing images at unique angles. Both the zooming control and the shutter release take the form of metal rings positioned around the zoom lens, thus enabling you to compose and fire from nearly any angle.

Hold the camera high over your head, place it on the ground or extend your arms out sideways; you can take pictures from any of those angles. And the variety of vantage points really spices things up.

The tilting LCD encourages unique compositional angles.

Creative Shot mode

Effects filters are not new to photography – we’ve been using them in photo apps such as Instagram and Flickr. Canon’s twist on this concept is that when you put the PowerShot N in Creative Shot mode, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get.

The camera provides you with five variations that shuffle elements such as exposure, point of focus, tints and white balance. You pick the ones you like and discard the rest. Shoot the scene again, and you’ll probably see a different set of images than before.

Purists may scoff while noting that it’s the camera being creative, not the photographer. And to some degree, that’s true. But, after a bit of experimentation, you begin to see shots that take advantage of this mode. At that point, creativity becomes more of a partnership.

Creative Shot mode can generate interesting portraits and scenics.

Wi-Fi connectivity with mobile devices

No camera can compete with a smartphone if it can’t quickly post images online. Once you pair the PowerShot N with a mobile device, such as an iPad mini, via the free Canon Camera Window app, it will connect to the device with just the push of a button on the side of the camera.

All of the images from the PowerShot N appear on the mobile device. Pick the shots you want and save them to the Camera Roll, where you can fine-tune and share them.

It’s still a two-step process. What would be even better is if the mobile device could read from the camera as if from Photo Stream, enabling users to see the camera’s images in their Instagram, Flickr or Facebook app. That’s easier said than done. But if you’re going to compete with a smartphone, these are the types of things you have to do.

What the PowerShot N does do is automatically look for local Wi-Fi networks. If one isn’t available, it will create its own access point. I tested this function in the busy Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. The free AT&T Wi-Fi network there was congested prior to a play-off game. After about 30 seconds of trying to connect, the PowerShot N automatically created its own network to complete the image transfer to my iPad mini.

The Canon Camera Window app itself is quite basic, but it handles transfers smoothly. And I anticipate that its feature set will expand in coming versions. It’s available for both iOS and Android.

The PowerShot N connected to an iPad mini for photo transfer.

Movie capture

If you like taking video too, this camera presents some interesting options. It features a variety of resolutions ranging from full HD to standard definition, including 1920 by 1080 (24 fps), 1280 by 720 (30 fps), 640 by 480 (30, 120 fps), and 320 by 240 (240 fps). The 240-fps capture is labelled Super Slow Motion Movie; by recording the footage at an accelerated frame rate and then playing it back at 30 fps, you end up with a true slow-motion effect. Don’t get too excited, however – remember that the resolution for this mode is only 320 by 240.

Another interesting video twist is Hybrid Auto mode. In this mode, the camera captures video bits during the course of a day’s shooting, and then builds a digest movie recapping all of the activity.

Much as with Creative Shot mode, you’re not exactly sure what you’re going to get. I’ve used it on two occasions, however, and I’ve been quite impressed with the results. The audio snippets are as interesting as the accompanying video.

Image with a creative filter applied.

Other features

The PowerShot N provides 12 megapixels of resolution, three metering patterns, exposure compensation, fast autofocusing, shutter speed from 15 seconds to 1/2000 of a second, an LED flash, a 2.3-fps burst rate and a self-timer. It saves images and video to a MicroSD card. And it has a built-in stereo microphone and a mono speaker.

Bottom line

Is the Canon PowerShot N worth carrying alongside your mobile device? At US$299, the PowerShot N is an investment, both in dollars and in additional pocket space. Many casual snapshooters will probably be happy sticking with their smartphone for their daily candids. And serious enthusiasts might be turned off by the PowerShot N’s lack of raw-image capture and limited manual controls.

The view from the back.

So who is this camera for? I think it’s for creative photographers who want a device that helps them produce uninhibited (and sometimes unpredictable) images that they can easily transfer to their mobile devices. Clearly, this isn’t a camera for everyone. In the right hands, though, it can breathe new life into everyday imagery. And for that reason alone, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

An itty-bitty camera.

by Derrick Story, Macworld

(Photos by Derrick Story. All rights reserved.)

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