Steve's Conclusion

Steve's SnapShot
  • 12-megapixel HS CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC 5 processor
  • 8x optical zoom lens
  • Stylish, compact, minimalistic body design
  • Full 1080p HD video capture
  • ISO up to 6400
  • New Eco mode
  • Built-in, advanced Wi-Fi
  • Unique control rings mounted around the lens to control zoom and capture
  • New Hybrid Auto mode
  • 2.8-inch, tilting, touch screen LCD
  • Li-ion battery pack
  • Pros
    • Interesting design gives the N a unique look
    • Image quality is better than many point-n-shoots
    • Response times are fast versus other beginner-level models
    • Touch screen LCD is very responsive
    • Can record images by touching the screen
    • LCD screen can tilt up to 90 degrees
    • PowerShot N is easy to use
    • Camera is very small
    • Built-in Wi-Fi capability has several different options for making a connection
    • Can use camera right-side up or upside down; screen orientation adjusts automatically
    • Price is too high
    • Images aren't sharp enough for creating large prints
    • Camera's operational design is awkward
    • Zoom ring design just doesn't work well for advancing 8x optical zoom
    • Shutter ring is too close to the camera body and too thin to use comfortably
    • On-screen menus should have been redesigned to take advantage of touch screen LCD
    • Included toggle switch isn't as useful as it could be
    • Battery life could be better
    • LCD is a little small at 2.8 inches
    • Tilt LCD would be more useful if it tilted full 180 degrees
    • Camera must use micro SD memory cards
    • Tiny built-in flash doesn't provide great results
    • Flash becomes almost useless if you're holding the camera upside down
    • Additional fun shooting modes or editing features would be nice to have
    Timing Test Results
    • Power up to first image captured = 3.8 seconds
    • Shutter lag when prefocused = less than 1/10 of a second
    • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.1 seconds
    • Shot to shot delay without flash = 2.8 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 2.3 seconds with review Off
    • Shot to shot delay with flash = 3.5 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 3.2 seconds with review Off
    • Continuous = 10 frames in 4.7 seconds @ 12M
    • All tests were taken using a SanDisk Class 10, 16 GB Micro SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
    Bottom Line
    While it's nice to see Canon take a chance with the PowerShot N's interesting camera design, the manufacturer seems to have missed the mark with this model. With its touch screen LCD, built-in Wi-Fi, and lack of control buttons, it needed a redesigned menu structure to make it a fun and efficient camera for the young photographers at which its aimed. That didn't happen. The tiny built-in flash and odd zoom ring control don't work well either. The N does have fast performance times and its image quality is good versus other point-n-shoots, but it has a much higher price tag than those models, too, which makes it tough to recommend this awkward camera.
    Pick This Up If...
    You're looking for a unique-looking camera that will cause your friends to take notice, and you don't mind that the attention-grabbing design makes the PowerShot N awkward to use.
    Developing a new camera design has its share of risks. Sometimes camera makers take a swing and a miss, such as with the four-lens Minox PX3D prototype from a few years ago. But sometimes camera makers hit a home run, such as the original designers of mirrorless ILC cameras did several years ago. ILC models have become a very popular option among photographers.

    So Canon's attempt at a hip, tiny camera that doesn't have an obvious shutter button or any traditional control buttons on the back of the camera is well worth the risk. The squarish Canon PowerShot N doesn't really look like any other camera on the market, and it's one of the smallest models currently available.

    However, Canon's attempt at creating a cool camera that will appeal to the smartphone generation falls short of the mark. While it looks great and it has a few fun features, the operational aspects of the camera are so awkward that the PowerShot N isn't enjoyable to use. Controlling the camera is far more work than it needs to be.

    Throw in the fact that the N has a starting price around $300, and it simply doesn't measure up as a whole package versus similarly priced models.

    The first thing you'll notice with the Canon PowerShot N is that there is no traditional shutter button. There's also no traditional looking zoom ring and no four-way button. The few control buttons that the camera does have are extremely small and are located on the sides of the camera body. All of these design elements give the N a unique look.

    You'll have two options for shooting photos, although most photographers will choose to use the 2.8-inch touch screen LCD. Just touch the screen, and the camera will record the photo. Simple enough.

    As you'll quickly find, though, it can be tough to hold the camera steady when you're recording photos by touching the LCD screen. If you touch it with too much force, you're going to bump the camera, which may cause a slight blurring of the image because of camera shake. After a bit of practice, however, you'll learn how to touch the screen with just the right amount of force.

    Although the N's LCD is a little smaller than the average sized screen that's on the market right now, it fits the camera's size well. The LCD occupies the entire back panel of the PowerShot N. It has a high resolution and displays sharp images. However, when you're using it in low light, you will notice a bit of a "jelly" effect, where the screen displays a lot of noise and has a hard time keeping up with moving subjects.

    The N has a tiltable LCD screen that can be swiveled up to 90 degrees away from the camera body. Although this can be handy for shooting odd angle photos, I wish Canon had just given the screen a full 180-degree tilt, which would have made it easier to shoot self-portraits. This especially would've been a nice feature in a camera aimed at younger photographers.

    Although the touch screen is very responsive, I think Canon missed another opportunity to really take advantage of its capabilities by not significantly redesigning the PowerShot N's menu structure. It could have perhaps created something like the really cool Samsung Galaxy Camera's menu structure, which is designed specifically for a touch screen input environment. Instead, Canon kept the same basic menu structure that all of its PowerShot cameras have -- most of which do not use a touch screen -- and this old-style menu structure just doesn't work as well as it could with a touch screen. It almost feels as if you could work through the menus faster with a four-way button instead of the touch screen.

    The other option for recording photos is to use the shutter ring, which is a very thin ring on the lens housing. You simply press the shutter ring downward to record a photo, similar to the manner in which you would press a shutter button. Because the shutter ring is so thin, though, you may have a tough time using this feature. It may be difficult for some people with large fingers to press the shutter ring properly or consistently.

    The shutter ring is just in front of the PowerShot N's zoom ring, through which you control the 8x optical zoom ring. For those who've used an old 35mm film camera or a DSLR camera with a zoom lens, having a zoom ring will feel like a natural way to advanced the telephoto setting. However, this ring isn't a manual way of advancing the zoom. Instead, the act of twisting the zoom ring about 1/4th of an inch will cause the zoom lens motor to advance the lens, just as would occur with a zoom ring around the shutter button on a point-n-shoot camera. The zoom ring doesn't advance beyond about 1/4th of an inch.

    Again, because the PowerShot N's zoom ring is so thin and so tight to the camera body, this is not an easy feature to use for those who have large fingers. When trying to record movies, for example, I often found my fingers inadvertently ending up in the shot as I tried to find and grip the zoom ring. The zoom ring makes a lot of noise as you use it while shooting video, which is a big disappointment.

    The PowerShot N's compartments that hold the USB port and the memory card slot are a bit oddly designed, too, as you must tilt the LCD screen before you're able to open the compartments.

    Outside of those somewhat awkward design features, the PowerShot N does do a pretty good job when it comes to creating images. It has above average image quality versus other cameras that have small 1/2.3-inch image sensors, but its image quality is a bit below other cameras in its price range.

    The CMOS image sensor gives the PowerShot N the ability to create pretty good low light photos. This camera also will have good results with little noise at ISO settings up to 1600, probably in large part because of the CMOS image sensor technology.

    The images will look great as small prints and when shared on social networking sites or by e-mail. However, you will notice a bit of noise when you magnify the images to try to make large prints. The autofocus is a little fuzzy when the prints are magnified, too. For a camera that's aimed at younger photographers who are looking to have fun or share photos immediately, having the ability to make large, sharp prints may not be all that important, though.

    Flash photos are of a hit and miss quality with the N. Because the flash is so small and because of its location, flash photos aren't always exposed as well as they should be. Vignetting will occur at times. Hot spots that wipe out the details in small parts of the photo will be common with the PowerShot N's flash photos. Worst of all, if you happen to be using the N upside down, which is something that can occur with regularity, the flash is basically useless.

    Even when shooting flash photos, the PowerShot N works very quickly. It has almost no shutter lag no matter what kind of shooting situation you have, and its shot to shot delays are minimal, especially compared to other thin point-n-shoot cameras. Canon has created a fast performing camera here, which is nice.

    The N is also very easy to use, which is common among point-n-shoot cameras with a touch screen. As you make various selections on the screen, the LCD will display brief explanations of the features, which is handy.

    Just don't expect to have a lot of manual control over the images with this camera, as your primary shooting modes with the N are Auto and Program, where you can manually set the ISO and white balance, but little else. Canon did include a few special effect shooting modes with this camera, but they're limited, at least versus some other PowerShot models. With a camera designed to be fun, it's strange that Canon chose not to include more "fun" shooting modes with the N.

    There is one unique shooting mode that you'll find with the PowerShot N, called Creative Shot, where you press the shutter button once, and the camera creates six photos, each with its own special effect applied. However, you cannot choose the applied effects, which makes this shooting mode a little less fun and a little less useful than it could be. As an even stranger decision, Canon chose to include this Creative Shot mode as one of the options on a two-way toggle switch on the side of the camera, giving you easy access to this mode, even though most photographers probably won't use it all that often. Why Canon didn't put Creative Shot inside the on-screen menus and use the toggle switch to give you easy access to both Auto and Program modes is a decision I don't understand.

    There is a Wi-Fi button on the side of the camera, and the N's wireless capabilities are useful in a variety of ways. You can control the camera with a Wi-Fi enabled smartphone or you can turn the N into a Wi-Fi hot spot, for example. The Wi-Fi options may be a little tricky to set up and understand for a photographer who has no wireless networking experience, but tech-savvy users will appreciate this feature.

    Bottom Line - At the time the Canon PowerShot N was announced, "unusual" was a common word used to describe this tiny camera. After testing this camera, I'd add "odd" and "awkward" to the list. The N does produce pretty good image quality in most circumstances and it has fast performance times versus other beginner-level point-n-shoot cameras. However, the steps you have to go through to achieve these results are awkward at best. While touch screen LCDs are almost always great for helping beginning photographers learn to use their cameras more quickly, Canon didn't take advantage of the N's touch screen or Wi-Fi capabilities by including newly designed menu screens and the ability to make use of apps. The tiltable LCD screen is nice, but Canon should've created a screen that could tilt 180 degrees for self-portraits, rather than stopping at a 90-degree tilt. For a camera that's aimed at younger photographers, Canon really missed a chance to make the PowerShot N a lot of fun to use by not improving these features. The decision to remove nearly all of the buttons from this camera may give the PowerShot N a unique look and allowed Canon to make this camera very small with a squarish design, but the steps you have to go through to move the zoom lens or to activate the shutter make it awkward to shoot photos. With all of those oddities, it's tough to justify the nearly $300 price tag on this model. At about two-thirds to one-half of that price, it'd be easier to put up with the N's awkward design.

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