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Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS Review
by Andy Stanton -  2/24/2011

The Canon Powershot ELPH 300 HS (IXUS 220 HS) is one of several new compact digital cameras recently released by Canon with a new naming convention - "Powershot ELPH xxx HS" rather than "Powershot SDxxx IS." The ELPH 300 HS is the newest model of the line of compact cameras whose previous version was the SD1400 IS, a fine camera that I reviewed for this website (the earlier versions of the camera, the SD940 IS and SD780 IS, were also reviewed by this website). However, the ELPH 300 HS improves upon the SD1400 IS in several significant ways.

Canon PowerShot 300 HS


Most importantly, it has a different sensor, a 12.1 megapixel CMOS sensor compared to the 14.1 megapixel CCD sensor of the earlier version. The new sensor is designed to give the camera enhanced low light image quality and faster speed. The new camera also has a lens with a wider angle of view, 24mm compared to 28mm, and more optical zoom, 5x compared to 4x.

The ELPH 300 HS has a higher quality video mode, 1920 x 1080 resolution (full HD) at 24 frames per second, compared to 1280 x 720 (30 fps). It uses Canon's latest processor, the DIGIC 4. It also has several features that are absent in the older cameras, including a Super Slow Motion video mode, which can record video at up to 240 fps. With all these improvements I was eager to try out Canon's new camera.

BUILD AND DESIGN
The ultra-compact ELPH 300 HS looks very similar to the previous versions of the camera - very small and sleek with a metallic body. The camera feels solid and sturdy in the hand, despite its small size, 3.63 inches wide, 2.2 inches tall and 0.77 inches thick (92.2mm x 55.9mm x 19.5mm) and light weight, 4.97 oz. (141g) without battery or memory card. The camera has surprisingly large buttons, which will be greatly appreciated by those with large fingers. The camera I reviewed came in an attractive silver color. According to Canon's website, it is also available in red and black.

Canon PowerShot 300 HS

The ELPH 300 HS includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (NB-4L), a battery charger, a wrist strap, an audio-visual cable, a USB cable, a CD containing the User Guide and Canon's ZoomBrowser EX photo organizing software, and a short paper Getting Started guide. At this time, Canon's website shows a price of $249.99 but discounts should be obtainable once the camera has been out for a while.

Ergonomics and Controls
The ELPH 300 HS has a rectangular shape with subtly rounded corners. The front of the camera is dominated by the slightly off-center telescoping zoom lens. In the upper corner is a thin flash, under which is an auto focus assist lamp that doubles as a self-timer indicator. The location of the flash is a problem, as it can be blocked by the fingers of the left hand used to steady the camera.

Canon PowerShot 300 HS

The camera's top plate contains two holes for its stereo microphones, a power button, a shutter button with a zoom ring and a speaker. The buttons and zoom ring worked smoothly and efficiently. One side of the camera is featureless, the other side contains the wrist strap mount and a covered compartment for the USB and HDMI ports. The cover is rubber with a precarious tether that will probably not last long.

Canon PowerShot 300 HS

At the camera's rear is a 2.7-inch diameter LCD monitor with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Next to the monitor is a dedicated movie button, which makes starting and stopping movie recording much more convenient than searching for movie mode in the camera's menu. To the right of the movie button is a switch for choosing between Smart Auto and a camera icon which is essentially Program AE. The switch protrudes from the camera a bit and is a convenient place to put your thumb when holding the camera.

Canon PowerShot 300 HS

Underneath the movie button and switch is a large circular selector with a function/set button in the center. Pressing the selector at the top controls exposure compensation; the left controls distance settings as long as the camera is not in Smart Auto mode. The right portion of the selector controls flash and the bottom brings up a detailed display on the LCD monitor - these controls work with all modes.

Below the selector dial are buttons for playback and menu. The playback button allows access to stored photos and videos even when the camera is not turned on - a very useful feature that I have never seen before. All of the buttons are very accessible and function well.

The bottom plate has a centrally located metal tripod socket. I've noticed that in many new point and shoot cameras the tripod socket is made out of plastic, which is much less durable than metal. I'm glad to see the ELPH 300 HS has not given in to this trend. The combination battery and memory card compartment is offset, and the compartment cover is made of plastic, but is well-constructed.

Canon PowerShot 300 HS

Menus and Modes
As is the case with all of Canon's small cameras in recent years, the ELPH 300 HS uses a dual menu system with the main menu activated by pressing the menu button and the shortcut menu called up by pressing the function/set button. The menu options are very limited while in Smart Auto mode, but are much more comprehensive in Program AE mode. The camera has an option to turn on hints and tips, which gives a brief explanation of every menu item and makes it relatively easy to learn the camera's many functions.

The ELPH 300 HS has three basic shooting modes:

Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Vivid
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Neutral
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Sepia
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Black and White
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Positive Film

Display/Viewfinder
The ELPH 300 HS has an LCD monitor with a diameter of 2.7-inches in a 4 x 3 aspect ratio. The LCD has approximately 230,000 dots and can be adjusted to one of five different brightness levels. Canon claims LCD coverage of 100%. Like all small cameras these days, the LCD lacks a viewfinder.

Digital Camera Review has recently begun to test for LCD brightness, measuring for contrast ratio and a brightness unit called nits. The best LCD monitors typically have a contrast ratio above 500:1 and a peak brightness of at least 500 nits. The ELPH 300 HS LCD monitor was found to have a contrast ratio of 752:1, and to measure 760 nits for peak brightness and 1.01 for dark, which are very good scores. However, I still found viewing the LCD monitor in bright sunshine to be difficult. Shielding the screen with my hand helped to some degree.

PERFORMANCE
The performance of the ELPH 300 HS is good in some respects, average in others. Startup time is practically instantaneous, which is extremely useful when you want to take advantage of a picture taking opportunity that suddenly becomes available. Shot-to-shot time is not particularly snappy, at about three seconds, but adequate. Using the flash adds about another second. Menu operations are very responsive.

Shooting Performance
I found the ELPH 300 HS to be very reliable in acquiring focus and shooting. Even under low light, using the auto focus assist lamp, the camera was able to lock focus in almost all instances.

With regard to focus speed, lab tests show fairly good performance scores. Shutter lag, when pre-focused (when the shutter is pressed halfway down), was negligible at 0.01 second. Auto focus acquisition, the time it takes between pressing the shutter and taking the shot, was 0.48 second, the slowest in the sample group but in the middle of the pack compared to all point-and-shoot cameras. Continuous shooting tested at a relatively quick 3.5 frames per second for the first three seconds, but slowed down thereafter. However, the ELPH 300 HS can shoot a very quick 8 frames per second in high speed burst mode, though image size is limited to 3 megapixels.

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 0.01
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 0.01
Kodak EasyShare M590 0.03
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.05

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 0.19
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.26
Kodak EasyShare M590 0.30
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 0.48

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 3 3.5
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 4 1.6
Nikon Coolpix S8000 10 1.2
Kodak EasyShare M590 3 1.0

*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.

As far as battery life is concerned, Canon claims its NP-4L lithium ion battery can deliver up to 220 shots per charge, which seems reasonably accurate based on my experience with the camera. This is an average battery life for a small point and shoot camera, but if you plan to take a lot of movies or shoot all day, it would be worth investing in a backup battery.

Lens Performance
The ELPH 300 HS has a versatile 5x optical zoom lens with a focal length that ranges from a very wide 24mm through a useful 120mm (35mm film camera equivalent). This is somewhat longer compared to other cameras of a similar size.

Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Wide Angle, 24mm

Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Telephoto, 120mm

I was pleased with the lens performance of the ELPH 300 HS. The lens was consistently sharp throughout the frame and even at maximum zoom. I noticed no vignetting and minimal chromatic aberration (purple fringing). There was some barrel distortion at extreme wide angle, but this is understandable considering the wideness of the lens.

Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Wide Angle
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Telephoto

Video Quality
The ELPH 300 HS shoots very good movies in full HD in its highest resolution movie mode, 1920 x 1080 resolution at 24 frames per second, with good stereo sound. In addition, optical zoom can be used. Recording will automatically stop when either the file size reaches 4GB or the recording time reaches approximately 10 minutes (in HD mode) or 1 hour (in standard definition mode).

The movie shot below was taken at the highest resolution and I was able to zoom in smoothly. I was pleased that the subject remained in focus during the whole recording. The colors were as very similar to how they actually appeared.

Super Slow Motion is a very cool feature. In the video below the action is slowed by a factor of 8.

Image Quality
The ELPH 300 HS creates good looking images, with strong but realistic colors. As I've found with all Canon cameras I've tested, it can produce excellent macro photos.

Canon 300 HS Sample Image

I experienced occasional overexposure with the ELPH 300 HS, a common problem with cameras that have small sensors.

Canon 300 HS Sample Image

The camera has an i Contrast mode that evens out areas of high contrast, as demonstrated below.

Canon 300 HS Sample Image
i Contrast On
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
i Contrast Off

The ELPH 300 HS has white balance settings for auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, two types of fluorescent and custom. I mainly used auto white balance with very good results.

Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The flash has four settings, auto, always on, always off and slow synchro (which uses a slow shutter speed to brighten the background). Flash range is 50cm to 3.5m (1.6 ft. to 11.5 ft.) at wide angle and 90cm to 2m (3 ft. to 6.6 ft.) at telephoto.

According to the ISO table below, the ELPH 300 HS produces sharp, noise-free images with good color through 200 ISO, but the images grow progressively softer through 3200 ISO, though noise is not that evident and color remains strong.

Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 100
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 200
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 400
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 800
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 1600
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 3200
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Based on my own experience with the ELPH 300 HS, images produced in low light were better than with most point and shoot cameras. The three images that follow were taken at ISO 400, 800 and 1600, and they all appear to be of similar good quality, with minimal noise and good color.

Canon 300 HS Sample Image
400 ISO
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
800 ISO
Canon 300 HS Sample Image
1600 ISO

Additional Sample Images

Canon 300 HS Sample Image Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Canon 300 HS Sample Image Canon 300 HS Sample Image
Canon 300 HS Sample Image Canon 300 HS Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Canon Powershot ELPH 300 HS is a very good camera that is reasonably priced. It has solid build quality except for the occasional problem (poorly attached port cover, flash location). Its ergonomics are excellent and I found it to be a pleasure to use.


The camera's lens range, 24mm through 120mm, is very good for a small camera. The lens itself is of a high quality and generates very little distortion. I was quite pleased with the images the camera produced, indoors and outdoors and at both ends of the lens range, though I found that overexposure was sometimes a problem. Video quality is excellent.

The camera has many interesting features, some of which I've never seen before in any camera, such as its Movie Digest mode. There is really very little to complain about with the ELPH 300 HS and plenty to like.

Pros:

Cons: