Canon Powershot A1100 IS Review
By Mike Flacy
To start out 2009, Canon has released the A1100 IS, upgrading the A1000 IS from last year. Two of the major upgrades to the A1100 IS are a 12.1-Megapixel sensor and the new DIGIC 4 processor. This new processor allows the camera to access information taken from thousands of images to correctly choose the proper shooting mode for the current scene or subject you are framing. It also helps improve focus speed, accuracy, exposure and white balance. Other new additions include Canon's i-Contrast technology as well as Face Self-Timer, which waits for an additional face to enter the frame before capturing the image. This allows the photographer to take his or her time getting into the frame after setting up the camera for a group photo including him or herself. Carrying over from the previous model are the major features like Optical image stabilization and 4x optical zoom.
Weighing exactly the same as the A1000 IS, Canon has found a way to pack even more features into an already astounding package. The hand grip on the right side and the zoom coupled around the shutter release allows for easy one-handed operation. On the back, the controls lay nicely under your thumb giving you total control. Using these well configured buttons to navigate the logically organized menu system is incredibly easy.
You have two choices when it comes to framing your images, either use the 2.5" LCD screen or the optical viewfinder. The LCD screen is bright and easy to see in all lighting conditions, even direct sunlight. On the down side, there are only 115,000 pixels of resolution, which is half of what comes on most current cameras. This gives you a pixelated, grainy image all the time. You also have the option of using the Real-image zoom viewfinder. This viewfinder does not show you all of the information that you will find on the LCD screen, but it does adjust what you see to the level of the zoom. It also does a good job of showing you close to 100% of the actual image that the camera will record.
Performance from the A1100 IS is good for an entry-level camera, but has not improved over the previous model like Canon claims. It took 2.1 seconds to capture the first image after pressing the power button. Shutter lag was less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused and between 4/10 and 5/10 of a second when allowing the autofocus system to work. Single shot mode is where we saw the only improvement, capturing 5 images in 7.1 seconds without the flash compared to the 8.9 of the A1000. With the flash it took 19.3 seconds to capture 5 images. Also featured on the camera is a continuous shooting mode, allowing it to capture 10 images in 7.4 seconds (1.35 fps: Canon claims 2fps) without the flash and 10 images in 14.6 seconds with it. All of our tests were completed using a 2GB RiDATA Pro 120x SD card, Program Auto, ISO Auto, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Outdoor image quality from the A1100 IS is excellent. Producing great exposures and vibrant colors, the camera captures exactly what the photographer sees. Aberrations are well controlled and there is very little edge softness in any of our sample images. The 4x (35mm equivalent of 35-140mm) optical zoom lens with gives you good amount of versatility for composing your shots. At the wide end you have will have no trouble capturing nice landscapes or small group portraits, while the telephoto range will allow you to get a little closer to distant objects as well as fill the frame with your subject for close-up portraits. As with all consumer models, we noticed an average amount of barrel distortion when shooting at the wide angle end of the zoom range.
Indoors, the A1100 IS performs as well as it did outside. Image noise is non-existent at ISO 80 - 100 and barely noticeable at 200. When you get to ISO 400 the amount of noise is acceptable, but anything higher is not. White balance is handled very well; producing very similar colors when shooting with or without the flash. Portrait mode combined with the face detection system does an excellent job of locating and focusing on all of the faces within the frame, while at the same time producing natural skin tones and outstanding exposures based on the faces. The flash has a range of 1.0 to 13 ft. at the wide end and 1.0 to 6.6 ft. at the telephoto end with the ISO set to auto. In our flash sample you can see that the flash had no problem from about 6 ft. away, and this was with the ISO set to 80 using the mid telephoto zoom capabilities.
Shooting portraits with the A1100 IS is a breeze thanks to the camera's face detection software. When the camera detects your subject's face, it automatically adjusts the exposure, focus point and white balance to it. If more than one subject is found, the camera then adjusts these settings to help produce the best possible exposure for all the faces within the frame. This feature also does an excellent job of quickly recognizing and following faces inside the frame. There's also a face selection option via the "Face Selection" button on the camera. This option allows you to select one face out of a group and the camera will automatically set that subject as the priority for focus and exposure, over all others around it. This is great when you have an active group of kids jumping in to get a snap shot with your child at any youth event. Without the red-eye reduction flash turned on, we did see some instances of this unwanted distortion in our people photos. However, this can be fixed easily by using the red-eye reduction flash mode or the removal tool in playback menu.
Capturing video with the A1100 IS is very simple. With both 640x480 and 320x240 resolutions at 15 or 30 fps, you have the perfect options for capturing video based on the playback method; either on a TV, for email or uploading to the internet. The video portion captured by the camera is excellent, providing you with a smooth and clear playback. In low light situations you will see some noise in the videos, but this very common with all consumer digicams. Sound on the other hand is not as good as the built-in mic has a little trouble picking up distant sounds. Instead, it will always pick up the sounds closest to the camera, as well as any background noises that you may not normally notice, as you can hear in our movie sample.
Powering the A1100 IS are two standard AA sized cells. We recommend using NiMH cells which will allow you to take roughly 2x as many pictures (approx. 350) as standard alkaline batteries (approx. 140) and provide roughly two more hours of continuous playback time. Using NiMH batteries, I was able to capture around 100 images, several videos and complete all of my tests without having to recharge. We still recommend keeping an extra set of batteries on hand at all times, though in a bind you can always pick up a set of alkaline batteries.
Bottom Line - the PowerShot A1100 IS is another excellent addition into an already fantastic line of digicams from Canon. This easy-to-use compact camera offers many high-end features, like the 12.1-Megapixel imaging sensor and Canons new DIGIC 4 processor, which combined help it provide good performance and capture beautiful images. With a MSRP of US$199.99, we fell this camera will make an excellent choice for the home or office user.
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