DigitalCameraReview.com
Canon PowerShot E1 Review
by David Rasnake -  12/8/2008

To generalize a bit about corporate personalities, Canon isn't known for being very adventurous. It's become a widely shared aphorism in the imaging world that Canon takes the conservative approach, building cameras that are, for the most part, predictably good – but predictable just the same.

I'm betting dispensers of this nugget of general accepted wisdom (myself included) did a collective double take a few months ago when Canon announced that it was bringing a new sub-series of its PowerShot A line to market, embodied solely in its first generation by the Canon PowerShot E1.

Canon PowerShot E1


To call the E1 "surprising" in its unconventional visuals severely understates what a departure from Canon's gray-and-black styling norm this powder-blue oddity is. Built from the same components that power Canon's PowerShot A1000, a generous take on the E1 might be that it's an "alternative approach" to the A1000's basic concept – using the same basic tools, but assembled in a more aesthetically pleasing way. For those to whom the E1's pastel exterior (earning our test camera the nickname "PowderShot") and curved, faux-fifties visual touches just scream "chintzy," though, the camera is nothing more than an A1000 behind some poorly chosen window-dressing. While much of what we said about the A1000 can also be applied here, though, some interesting divergences in performance between the two models may have some potential E1 customers thinking twice about choosing form over function.

FEATURES OVERVIEW
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
PERFORMANCE
IMAGE QUALITY
CONCLUSIONS
SPECIFICATIONS

FEATURES OVERVIEW
The 10 megapixel Canon PowerShot E1 is designed to appeal to pre-teens and teenagers with its color options and retro styling, but offers a level of specification that promises the potential, at least, for better than average image quality.

A 4x (35-140mm) Canon zoom lens handles optical duties, backed up by a 2.5 inch LCD with 115,000 dot resolution. Unlike its more advanced PowerShot A series stablemates, the E1 provides an optical viewfinder as well. DIGIC III processing supports the E1's face detection system, complete with its own dedicated button on a back panel that shares much in common with the previous generation of PowerShot models.

Canon also wisely opted to include the A1000's optical image stabilization system on this variant as well, giving the E1 another clear advantage over the slew of cheap quasi-cameras for younger audience that have flooded the digicam market in recent years. As noted, while the exterior may make you think otherwise, the E1's generally high level of specification leaves no doubt about the fact that this is indeed a "real" camera capable of taking high-res pictures worth saving.

Speaking of that controversial exterior, styling closely resembles Canon's reshaped PowerShot A line, with smooth transitions and retro-inspired color schemes. Like its PowerShot A relatives, the E1 uses available-anywhere AA batteries for a convenient power solution that's traveler- and kid-friendly.

An Easy auto mode and several scene modes continue this accessibility theme, making the E1 unintimidating for those new to picture taking, but the camera also provides the full range of program auto options accessible to its A1000 sibling. The following shooting mode options are available:

The E1's target market of younger users may well hope for more playback options than the camera provides, however. Unlike some other stylish cameras that appeal to the teenage set (Sony's Cyber-shot models come to mind), the E1 doesn't provide much more than basic image review in its playback menu: no special effects, no fun filters (unless you count red-eye correction), no advanced image sort tools. If the E1 plays on an exterior that's more "fun" than your typical Canon, the camera's basic operation is fundamentally the same as the A1000. Canon has dressed up its menus with some cute icons and more visual appeal all around, but beneath this surface layer, there's really nothing else here in terms of features included specifically to add interest for kids and teens.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Styling and Build Quality
It really pains me to say it, as I know it will probably "poison the well" so to speak for every evaluation we make of the E1 from here on out, but there's just no way around it: the E1 looks and feels like a toy. And, unless you're eleven years old, not in a good way, either. In defense of Canon's concept with the E1, the camera is unequivocally designed for so-called "tweens" – that is, buyers (or, more likely, their parents) who are no longer kids but aren't yet teens. And its iPod-ish white, pale blue, and light pink color options suggest a female bias in this camera's market position as well.

Canon PowerShot E1

Being neither female nor a tween, I thought it best to get a second opinion on the E1's exterior from at least one of these demographics. Taking the E1 along for the ride over the Thanksgiving holiday, the camera managed to catch the eye of both my wife and my mother-in-law, who used words like "fun" and "trendy" to describe the device.

Even so, everyone who handled the camera – even those who didn't mind its pastel palette and bulbous body – came away less than impressed by the E1. Arguably garish styling aside, the build quality just isn't up to par for Canon; the E1 feels more like one of the budget A-series PowerShots of a few years ago, with lots of plastic and a cheap-looking high-gloss finish. The camera is solid enough, and the buttons and other controls feel alright, but stacked up against the new PowerShot A models, the E1's build just isn't quite there.

Canon PowerShot E1

Even with its less than impressive construction, does it seem like the E1 would be the kind of digital camera a twelve-year-old girl might think looked great? Absolutely, and on this count, it seems that Canon has hit their marketing target straight down the middle. The bigger question may be whether there are enough parents ready to shell out nearly $200 for the device on behalf of their kids – or enough potential customers from other market segments – to keep the concept afloat.

Ergonomics and Interface
As a subset of the PowerShot A cameras built on the same basic platform, the E1 features the same slight handgrip bump featured on the A1000, beneath which its two AA batteries are housed. This makes the E1, which is larger than your typical pocket camera, reasonably comfortable to use with those for average-sized hands, giving your fingers something to hold onto.

Canon PowerShot E1

Although it's dressed up slightly differently, the E1 also shares its fundamental button arrangement with the A1000.

Canon PowerShot E1

Canon PowerShot A1000 IS

A quick-access menu, called up by pressing the FUNC button, allows changes to the typical areas of adjustment (as allowed by the shooting mode): white balance, image size and quality, exposure compensation, and metering mode. Dedicated buttons on the four-way controller provide additional access to commonly changed parameters like ISO and drive mode, with the camera's more fundamental options housed in a multi-page settings menu.

Basically, in terms of menu layout and structure, the E1's system is a slightly cosmetically worked-over version of what Canon has been using for a long time on their digicams. It's an intuitive system that most users should have no trouble navigating almost immediately.

Display/Viewfinder
The E1's display, which it shares with the A1000, is a 2.5 inch/115,000 dot screen that feels – in this age of 3.5 inch LCDs with resolution numbers approaching a million dots – like it came out of the technological stone age. As we said in evaluating the A1000, the display is bright with accurate, vibrant colors, and handles gain boost for dark rooms automatically. What it lacks, though, is the kind of crispness most new digital camera screens provide, making difficult at times to confirm focus at a glance or accurately evaluate contrast. For a camera that tries to play up style, one might have asked for a little more substance on the display side as well.

Canon PowerShot E1

Carrying over the rest of the A1000's display technologies, the E1 is also one of the few remaining compact cameras that still includes an optical viewfinder. As before, the E1's linked viewfinder is dark, not particularly accurate, and will redefine the word "tiny" for you. For outdoor shooting in bright light or tracking a fast-moving subject, though, there's no denying that any viewfinder at all beats the absence of one that most cameras in this class leave you with hands down.


PERFORMANCE

Timings and Shutter Lag
From the initial announcement, we suspected that the E1 was, at its core, basically a window-dressing exercise using the A1000's internals. With that in mind, we weren't at all surprised to see the E1 turn in a basically identical performance to the recently evaluated A1000 in the shutter lag department.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 0.02
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS 0.03
Canon PowerShot E1 0.04
Canon PowerShot A1000 IS 0.04
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd 0.05

A slightly strange thing happened in the AF test, however.

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 0.23
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS 0.38
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd 0.42
Canon PowerShot A1000 IS 0.46
Canon PowerShot E1
0.68

Using the same test setup that we used with the A1000, we could never quite get the numbers we saw from that model out of the E1 when it came to focusing speed. At the end of the day, the E1 timed out around a quarter of a second slower – not a significant difference necessarily, but some extraneous clicking from the E1's lens that we didn't hear from the A1000 (we shot both devices in the studio on the same day) makes me wonder if something was slightly awry with our test unit, or if some manufacturing variance might be the explanation. In any event, the E1 performed acceptably, though if it's actually slightly slower, that does raise additional questions about why you'd choose it over the A1000.

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd 3 2.5 fps
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 10 1.6 fps
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS 5 1.6 fps
Canon PowerShot E1 5 1.4 fps
Canon PowerShot A1000 IS 5 1.4 fps

Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.), as tested in our studio. "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Canon claims the E1 is capable of continuous 1.3 fps shooting until the card is full with a sufficiently fast card. Using a Class 6 SDHC, we were actually able to achieve slightly better numbers initially, with the E1's first five frames ringing in at 1.4 fps before the camera settled slightly (but perceptibly) into its 1.3 fps gait.

Auto Focus
Powered by its previous-generation DIGIC III processor, the E1's contrast-detection auto focus system has been around the block in parade of recent PowerShot cameras. It provides a basic range of user-selectable options, including a 9-point auto multi-area setting (which Canon terms AiAF, for "Advanced Intelligent Auto Focus") and a single center-point AF option as well.

If you're taking people pictures, you can also opt for the E1's face detection AF system – quickly selected via a dedicated button above the four-way controller. As before, the system is among the most solid options for smooth tracking and correct recognition, and it even does better at identifying faces in semi-profile than most of the cameras we've tested. If taking casual snapshots is your thing, the ability to quickly toggle the camera back and forth between face detection and AiAF settings without any menu involvement is a nice touch.

Performance-wise, the E1 is generally as expected from a compact camera, with focusing coming in less than a second from press to capture in most every case (an AF assist lamp makes this possible in low light). That said, the E1 does seem a tad more clunky in terms of speed than other competitors in the sub-$200 compact space, often pushing right up to a second to lock focus and ocassionally erroring out altogether. I'd write this feeling off as subjective bias if it weren't for the fact that the numbers (and several different testers) confirm it – and there's still that pesky business of why the camera's best times came up well short of what we saw from the functionally identical (or so we thought) A1000 to consider.

Lens and Zoom
The E1 sports a 4x zoom with identical specs to those of the A1000's glass: a 35-140mm equivalent with a maximum aperture of f/2.7-5.6. Motion on the two-part retractable lens is fast (around 3 seconds from stop to stop) and relatively smooth, though a few more steps between full wide and full tele might have been nice.

The E1's lens barrel is, as before, an all plastic unit. It feels reasonably rugged, though like everything else on this camera, it's probably not going to vie for any build quality awards either. There's really very little else to say on the performance front: the E1's optic shows better range than the 3x class standard, but is otherwise a relatively pedestrian lens choice.

Flash
The E1's built-in multi mode flash provides an acceptable selection of additional lighting options, including Auto (fires when needed), On (fill flash), Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Correction, Slow Sync, and Off. Range is stated at around 13 feet with Auto ISO selected – about par for the course in the flash department.

Tested performance was as expected, with the E1 handling most flash shooting situations with slight underexposure and just a bit of warmth. Mixed lighting can throw the white balance system a curve ball when adding flash, but this certainly isn't unique to the E1.

Canon has improved flash recharge cycle times in its latest PowerShot A (and A-derived) models, and the E1 also benefits from the 3 to 4 second average recycle times between flash shots that we experienced with the A1000. When shooting with alkaline AAs, though, expect a full-power burst to still take just over 10 seconds to recharge.

Image Stabilization
If the E1 looks like a toy, the fact that Canon opted to include optical image stabilization in this camera should make it clear that they mean business when it comes to picture-taking with this odd duck of the PowerShot line. The system is, from all indications, the same one that graced the A1000, providing the same Continuous (IS on full time), Shoot Only (IS is only activated when the picture is taken), and Panning (only stabilizes up-and-down motion) modes as its parent camera.

The E1's lens-element shifting technology promises up to three stops of additional speed, meaning that if you are consistently able to get sharp shots of stationary subjects at shutter speeds of 1/60 (about where most of us feel comfortable working hand-held), you should be able to shoot at closer to 1/8 with IS enabled. While the "three stop" claim has never entirely panned out in our testing, I did find the E1's IS system to provide effective, reasonably consistent performance down to around 1/15 in my hands.

Battery
Battery life with the E1 is highly variable, depending on how you choose to power the camera. Drawing its juice from two AA-size cells, the E1 accepts traditional alkalines – giving it a versatility that will no doubt be appreciated by younger shooters and travelers – as well as NiMH rechargeables and high-power, non-rechargeable lithium AAs.

Canon PowerShot E1

In testing the very similar A1000, DCR reviewer Howard Creech estimated that the camera would be good for around 200 shots (somewhat below Canon's CIPA standard of 240) under the right conditions on alkaline power. My experience with the E1, however, was even less favorable, with our test unit racking up a mere 160-ish frames before the batteries gave up the ghost. NiMHs and lithium cells both promise to do significantly better – providing enough power for several days of shooting in both cases – and if you plan to do a lot of flash photography or spend longer-than-average time in image review, it would be wise to invest in one of these alternatives to traditional (and wasteful) alkaline AAs.


IMAGE QUALITY
No surprises here: the E1's images are basically identical to what we saw from the A1000 – vibrant, contrasty, with spot-on exposure and just a touch of oversaturation.

Canon PowerShot E1

In short, if you want a camera with nonstandard looks but don't want to lower your image quality standards to the level that so many cute, colorful cameras require, you may be just the customer Canon's hoping to connect with.

Exposure, Processing, and Color
Exposure control is handled via the E1's DIGIC III processor – an older spec imaging engine that has powered Canon's PowerShot A models for a couple of model cycles. On and off bad weather largely put a damper on my plans for outdoor shooting with the E1, but I was impressed with just how well the camera handled tough metering situations like the following snowy field in program mode using the default multi-area metering setting.

Canon PowerShot E1

If you need more metering control, you'll find center-weighted and spot metering options as well.

Color processing defaults and controls are all typical to current Canons, with the E1 showing off colors that punch strongly if bordering on oversaturation at times. Contrast can be just a bit harsh, with transitions to shadows that are less than smooth, and there are a few telltale marks of too much sharpening as well. But all of this seems like nitpicking for a sub-$200 camera that's clearly designed to take snapshots. For this purpose (and honestly, even for more serious photographic efforts), the E1's JPEGs are more than up to the task.

As always with Canon PowerShot models, if you don't like what you see from your images, the camera's "My Colors" options (part of the standard array of quick access functions in the camera's FUNC button sidebar menu) provide more possible adjustments than most users will ever need. The E1 doesn't have the huge list of presets that many PowerShots offer, eschewing settings for lightening or darkening skin tones for instance. But the basics are covered, and there's a custom mode for setting contrast, saturation, and sharpness to your liking if you're picky.

Canon PowerShot E1
Default

Canon PowerShot E1
Vivid

Canon PowerShot E1
Neutral

Sticking to the basic default, vivid, and neutral options, the E1 shows nice latitude, serving up distinctly different image looks under each of these three settings.

White Balance
With the same processor as a host of other PowerShot models running the E1 show, there was no reason to think that the E1 would handle incandescent light with auto white balance particularly well.

Canon PowerShot E1
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

As expected, results were as unimpressive as expected, with a lot of warmth imparted in pure incandescent light, and some shiftiness in fluorescent shooting as well. To effectively address these concerns, the E1 sports the A1000's full range of white balance presets, however.

Lens Faults
The E1's 4x lens uses the same 7 element/5 group construction as the A1000's optic. Hardly surprising, then, that performance between the two was essentially identical. We again noted some corner softness with the E1's glass, and some fringing present at the wider end of the zoom range when shooting at wider apertures.

Canon PowerShot E1
Wide Angle

Canon PowerShot E1
Telephoto

Barrel distortion is modest – certainly not as well-controlled as on some of Canon's higher-end point-and-shoot optics, but not terribly intrusive either. At the tele end of the zoom range, pincushioning was basically nonexistent.

Sensitivity and Noise
The Canon E1 provides a wide range of sensitivity options, including Auto and High ISO Auto (incorporating Motion Detection Technology) settings, as well as user-set options for ISO 80 to 1600 (and even an ISO 3200 low-res scene mode).

Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 80
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 80, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 100
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 200
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 400
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 800
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot E1
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Like other Canons using the same 10 megapixel sensor that backs the E1, the camera performs admirably at its lowest ISO settings. Even ISO 200 is relatively clean, though some pixel-level details begin to lose their edge, and solid patches can get extremely noisy in a hurry if you up the saturation (see the additional samples below for what I'm talking about). There's noticeably more noise at ISO 400, and beyond this setting solid areas start showing a speckled appearance. To the E1's credit, detail and color hold together surprisingly well through ISO 800, but ISO 1600 is flat, lifeless, and extremely soft.

Additional Sample Images

Canon PowerShot E1 Canon PowerShot E1
Canon PowerShot E1 Canon PowerShot E1
Canon PowerShot E1 Canon PowerShot E1


CONCLUSIONS
If you love the E1's looks, great! Because you'll find that beneath its controversial exterior, this is a fairly capable, fully functional camera – even if it doesn't look like it on the outside. What we're wondering at this point, though, is if the E1's $180-ish street price doesn't price it out of its own market. If the E1 were inexpensive ($50 cheaper, say), the E1's budget vibe might be forgivable. But the camera's price point, at just a hair higher than the inoffensively attractive A1000 IS, leaves the question of who the E1's potential market will be largely unanswered. And those speed and performance differences between our E1 and A1000 test units – both new-in-box samples when they arrived here – have left us scratching our heads about what's up with this odd looking little device.


So is the E1 worth $20 more than the A1000? Not to me: most adult readers would probably pass on it even if it cost less than the A1000. But for some people, the proposition may have appeal. If you've been shopping for an alternative to the 0.3 megapixel toy cameras currently marketed to kids and young teens, the E1 is a worthy contender and a very serviceable image maker. Just be prepared to pay "real" camera prices for the privilege.

Pros:

Cons:


SPECIFICATIONS

Sensor 10.0 megapixel (effective), 1/2.33" CCD
Zoom 4x (35-140mm) zoom, f/2.7-5.6
LCD/Viewfinder 2.5", 115K-pixel TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 80-1600 (3200 at lower resolution)
Shutter Speed 15-1/1600 seconds
Shooting Modes Easy, Auto, Program, Scene, Movie
Scene Presets Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, ISO 3200, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
Metering Modes Multi, Center, Spot
Focus Modes 9-Point AF, Face Detection AF
Drive Modes Normal, Continuous, Self-Timer
Flash Modes Auto, Forced On, Slow Synchro, FE Lock, Forced Off, Red-Eye Reduction
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
None
File Formats JPEG
Max. Image Size 3648 x 2736
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video No
Battery 2 AA batteries
Connections USB, AV output
Additional Features Face Detection, iSAPS, optical image stabilization, DIGIC III processor