Canon's "A" series digital cameras have enjoyed amazing popularity with consumers since the introduction of the pioneering little A20 almost ten years ago. That popularity is due in large part to the "A" series reputation for delivering excellent image quality, dependable performance, and impressive durability.
Last year's A2000 IS was a major design departure - Canon's new "A" series flagship was clearly targeted at casual photographers rather than the budget constrained photo enthusiasts who bought earlier "A" series cameras. It's been almost a year since the introduction of the A2000 IS and the verdict is in - the camera has sold very well and consumers obviously like the new design. The Canon PowerShot A2100 IS will very likely do even better in the marketplace than its predecessor.
BUILD AND DESIGN
While the A2000 IS was a revolutionary change in direction for "A" series cameras, the new A2100 IS that replaces it is more an evolutionary update. The A2100 IS features Canon's fourth generation DIGIC IV processor (the A2000 IS had a DIGIC III) coupled to a 1/2.3-inch 12.1 megapixel (the A2000 IS was a 10 megapixel camera) CCD image sensor.
Previous "A" series models were very popular with photo enthusiasts and more serious shooters because they provided a very useful range of manual exposure options (Aperture Priority mode, Shutter Priority mode, and a full Manual exposure mode), but The A2100 IS utilizes the same auto exposure only system as the A2000 IS.
Like the A2000 IS before it, the A2100 IS features a 3.0 inch TFT LCD, but like many current point-and-shoots the A2100 IS doesn't sport an optical viewfinder - earlier "A" series cameras featured optical viewfinders.
A friend who sells digital cameras used to tout earlier "A" series flagship models as the "Junior Gee" - a stripped down version of Canon's preeminent point and shoot cameras. He can't say that anymore, but he can (and does) point out that the new "A" series flagship models are substantially smaller, thinner, and lighter than earlier "A" series cameras - easily pocketable, which the previous "A" models definitely were not.
The A2100 IS features a very good 6x optical zoom (equivalent to 36-216mm) - while most ultra-compact/compact cameras provide only a 3 or 4x zoom - giving A2100 IS users a nice "extra reach" bonus.
Ergonomics and Controls
The A2100 IS is essentially identical to the A2000 IS. Like its predecessor (and unlike previous A models) the metal alloy clad polycarbonate body is wedge shaped with rounded ends. Despite its diminutive footprint, this camera is no lightweight. In fact, it is at the outer edge of compactness/pocketability - but it is pocketable and it also provides 12 megapixel resolution and a 6x zoom.
The integral handgrip that was a standard feature on earlier A-series cameras is absent on the A2100 IS, making this camera a bit less stable in the hand than earlier "A" models. The A2100 IS is approximately the same size as a deck of playing cards - 4.01x2.50x1.26 inches (101.9x63.5x31.9mm) and weighs 6.53 oz/185gr (body only - no batteries).
The A2100 IS's user interface is uncomplicated and straightforward with large, clearly marked buttons and simple near-intuitive operation. The A2100 IS's control array is standard Canon - meaning everything is familiar (to anyone who has ever used a Powershot camera), easily accessed, and logically placed.
The Compass Switch (four-way controller) and FUNC button provide direct access to the most commonly adjusted features and functions: exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, color modes, flash settings, and macro mode. Kudos to Canon for placing the exposure compensation button at the North (top) position on the compass switch - making minor exposure adjustments (incrementally lightening or darkening images) easy.
Using the camera is dead simple: all exposure options are minor variations on the auto mode theme. Canon clearly designed the A2100 IS to be usable by just about anyone. Most folks will have no problem using the camera right out of the box.
Menus and Modes
The PowerShot A2100 IS features Canon's classic menu system - the best in the business. The menu system (accessed via a small button beneath the compass switch) is logical, easy to navigate, and dead simple - since the camera permits only minimal user input. Push the menu button and the "Camera/Setup" sub-menus appear.
The A2100 IS provides an acceptable selection of shooting modes including Auto, Program, Easy, and video/movie modes and a small (but adequate) selection of automatic scene mode presets. Here's a complete listing of the A2100 IS's shooting modes:
Like many currently available point and shoots, the A2100 IS doesn't feature an optical viewfinder, relying instead on the 3.0 inch (230,000 pixel) LCD screen for framing/composition, captured image review, and menu navigation chores . Many casual shooters don't use optical viewfinders and in many commonplace shooting situations (macro, festivals/events, portraits) it is quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through the optical viewfinder.
LCD screens are TTL (through the lens) and function as very accurate framing tools, but for shooting in bright outdoor locales I prefer an optical viewfinder. The A2100 IS's LCD is (like most point and shoot LCDs) subject to fade and glare in bright outdoor light. The A2100's 3.0 inch TFT LCD screen is bright, hue accurate, relatively fluid, and automatically boosts gain in dim/low light. The user-enabled LCD grid-line display is a nice (and useful) touch as well.
Timing (operational speed) is one of the two most important considerations when assessing digital camera performance - the other is image quality. The A2100 IS comes in about the middle of the pack when compared to its competition, but does the A2100 IS's DIGIC IV processor make it faster than the DIGIC III equipped A2000 IS?
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|A2000 IS||0.03 seconds|
|A2100 IS||0.04 seconds|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|A2000 IS||0.38 seconds
|A2100 IS||0.60 seconds
|A2000 IS||1.6 fps|
|A2100 IS||1.1 fps|
Based on results from our own lab, the A2100 IS comes in slower than its predecessor. Some of that difference in performance might be attributable to the A2100 IS's twenty percent increase in image size over the A2000 IS. The camera needs about 2.5 - 3.0 seconds for the boot-up cycle (camera on to the first image capture).
Shot to shot times averaged out to around two seconds between shots (flash off). The A2100's built-in flash recycles in about 5.0 - 6.0 seconds (after a full-power discharge).
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Nikon Coolpix S230
|Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||0.22|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Nikon Coolpix S230||0.51|
|Canon PowerShot A2100 IS||0.60|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||1.15|
|Nikon Coolpix S230||2
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25||5||1.7 fps
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||10||1.6 fps|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150
|Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
* 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.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
The A2100 IS features the same TTL Contrast Detection 9-point AiAF (Advanced Intelligent Auto Focus) system as its predecessor. In all exposure modes the camera analyzes the scene in front of the lens and then calculates camera to subject distance to determine which of the 9 AF points is closest to the primary subject (closest subject priority) and then locks focus on that AF point. Users can also opt for the one AF point (center) AF for classic portraits or traditional landscapes. In low light a focus assist beam helps illuminate the subject for more accurate focusing.
The A2100 IS's built-in multi mode flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including Off, On (fill flash), Auto (fires when needed), Red-eye Reduction, Auto Red-eye Correction, FE lock, and Slow Synchro Canon claims the maximum flash range is between 11 feet and 12 feet which appears to be a fairly accurate claim - based on my very limited flash use.
The A2100 IS (like all A-series Canons) is powered by two alkaline, NiMH, or lithium AA cells. Battery life will depend on the type of AA batteries used.
I rarely keep track of the number of exposures shot before the batteries went belly up, but I'd say a more accurate "real world" assessment would be something like 150 to 180 exposures.
The A2100 IS features the same 6.4mm -38.4mmf/3.2-f5.9 (36mm-216mm equivalent) 6x zoom (9 elements in 7 groups with 1 aspherical element) that graced its predecessor. When the camera is powered up the zoom extends automatically, and when the camera is powered down the zoom is fully retracted into the camera body. A built-in iris style lens cover closes to protect the front element.
Zooming is fairly smooth and operation is relatively quiet. The A2100 IS's zoom is surprisingly good - the lens displays some very minor corner softness, but no vignetting (dark corners). Barrel distortion (at the wide-angle end of the zoom range) is minimal, which is impressive since barrel distortion is a common fault with small, highly complex camera zooms. Pincushion distortion is essentially invisible at the telephoto end of the zoom.
The A2100 IS's Optical Image Stabilization system reduces blur by quickly and precisely shifting a lens element in the zoom to compensate for minor camera movement. IS allows users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three f-stops slower than would have been possible without IS. Image stabilization can also be a very useful when shooting dimly lit indoor venues where flash is inappropriate. The A2100 IS provides three IS modes: Continuous (IS on full time), Shoot only (IS is only activated when the picture is taken), and Panning (only stabilizes up-and-down motion) for horizontally panned exposures.
Image stabilization is combined in the A2100 IS with Canon's Motion Detection technology, which automatically charts camera and subject movement and then utilizes the motion/movement data from both sources to determine how much to boost sensitivity (between ISO 80 and ISO 800) to help counter camera/subject movement.
Motion Detection works in concert with the A2100's OIS system and AiAF system to produce acceptable images under less than ideal conditions - the guitar player was shot after sunset (about 9:30 pm) at full telephoto. Without IS the image would have been too blurry to use. IS can't work miracles, but in addition to neutralizing camera shake it can make a big difference in low/dim light or in scenes with rapidly unfolding action.
The A2100 IS's 30 fps VGA (640X480) movie mode wasn't designed to compete with a dedicated video camera, but it will do nicely for generating e-mail video attachments for friends and family. Like most cameras, the A2100 IS can't be zoomed while in video capture mode. With the A2100 IS even video editing, which is usually complicated and unintuitive, is easy.
The image files produced by Canon's point and shoots are optimized for the bold bright hues and slightly hard contrast that many shooters refer to as Canon Color - the A2100 IS doesn't stray much from this "family" identity. Default color is fairly accurate with most colors coming close to neutral. Reds are a little warm, blues are a bit bright, and greens are very vibrant, but purples tend toward blue. Most casual shooters won't consider these minor variations from neutral color as faults.
Although there is a very slight tendency toward overexposure - outdoors in good light the A2100 IS produces dependably well-exposed, almost noise-free images. Chromatic aberration is remarkably well controlled, but some very minor color fringing is present, especially in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Images are highly detailed and surprisingly sharp.
The A2100 IS provides users with a decent selection of White Balance options, including Auto (including Face Detection WB), Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Fluorescent H, and custom.Overall the A2100 IS's Auto WB system does a good job, but like all of Canon's consumer cameras, the A2100's Auto WB setting produces colors that are noticeably warmer than real world colors under incandescent light.
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light
Sensitivity and Noise
The A2100 IS provides a nice range of sensitivity options, including Auto and High ISO Auto (incorporating Motion Detection Technology) settings, as well as manually user-set options for ISO 80 to 1600 (and even an ISO 3200 low-res scene mode).
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 80/100 images are indistinguishable - both show bright colors, slightly hard native contrast, and low noise levels. ISO 200 images were also very good, but show a bit less snap. At the ISO 400 setting noise is noticeable and there's a perceptible loss of minor detail. Fine detail is lost. ISO 800 and ISO 1600 images are noticeably noisy, but they should be OK for email, web use, and 3x5 or 4x6 prints.
Additional Sample Images
If iconic French candid/street photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau had carried Canon Powershot A2100 IS cameras, rather than Leica rangefinders with 50mm lenses, I doubt their images would have suffered much and their creative possibilities would have been increased exponentially.
The A2100 IS makes an almost ideal first digital camera and it is an excellent choice for the primary family camera. It is also a very good choice for travelers who want a tough, lightweight, "go anywhere" camera that runs on universally available AA batteries. I carried the A2100 IS with me (pretty much everywhere I went) for two weeks and I was consistently impressed - just like I have been with every other "A" series Canon camera I've used to date.