At first glance Canon's new PowerShot A3300 IS doesn't look like the culmination of a century and a half of photographic progress, but it is. During the 19th century photographers captured images on large and very delicate glass plates loaded (one at a time) into very slow tripod mounted view cameras and viewed upside down under a dark hood before being manually exposed. When William Henry Jackson photographed Yellowstone National Park in the early 1870's he needed an enclosed wagon drawn by two mules to carry his photographic gear and portable darkroom.
In 1888 all that changed with the introduction of the inexpensive little Kodak "Brownie" roll film camera. The "Brownie" was simple to use, didn't have to be mounted on a tripod, and was (compared to what had come before) very compact. Automation made its first appearance in the sixties and auto focus in the eighties. The unrelenting march toward miniaturization and simplification continues to this day.
Today's pocket sized digital cameras like the A3300 IS can store hundreds of high resolution color images on an SD flash memory card the size of a postage stamp.
BUILD AND DESIGN
I've used just about every "A" series Canon digicam since the groundbreaking little A20's debut and I've been impressed with almost every one of them. Canon has been the overall U. S. digicam sales leader for almost a decade because they reliably deliver what consumers want in a point-and-shoot camera. Building cameras that are consistently usable, practical, functional, flexible, dependable, and durable constitutes a solid philosophy for success.
Rumors that the megapixel wars were finally over have evidently been greatly exaggerated. The Canon PowerShot A3300 IS is a 16 megapixel digital camera (1/2.3-inch sensor) giving it higher resolution, but with a smaller sensor than today's entry-level DSLRs. Continually crowding more pixels onto small sensors results in exponentially increasing image degrading noise. The A3300 IS is a tough looking (well, maybe not the pink one), durably built little camera. Fit and finish are impressive with good dust/moisture seals and the A3300 IS appears to be robust enough to go just about anywhere.
Ergonomics and Controls
Canon is well known for manufacturing tiny cameras that produce dependably first rate images with very little effort on the part of the photographer and the A3300 IS, like the other members of Canon's PowerShot tribe, continues that worthy tradition. The A3300 IS's shirt-pocket sized metal alloy body conveys confidence - this camera should easily stand up to the rigors of an active modern lifestyle, but the wrist strap should be used at all times - smooth contour cameras (with no handgrips) are easily dropped.
The A3300 IS's minimal user interface is uncomplicated and straightforward with reasonably sized and clearly marked controls. The control array is classic Canon; everything will be familiar to anyone who has ever used a PowerShot camera. Even first time digital camera users should be able to shoot decent images after a short hands-on familiarization with the camera and a quick scan of the user's manual.
The A3300 IS's shutter button is fairly large and surrounded by a standard back-and-forth zoom tab. While the zoom tab is small, zooming from wide-angle to telephoto and back is smooth, easy, and fairly precise. All controls are logically placed and easily accessed. The Compass (4-way) switch and the FUNC button provide direct access to the A3300 IS's most commonly changed/adjusted features and functions. Canon is, in my opinion, the absolute champion when it comes to digicam ergonomics and usability.
Menus and Modes
The Canon PowerShot A3300 IS is an auto-exposure only camera - no manual control over exposure is provided. The menus are simple, logical, and easily navigated. This little digicam offers a fairly basic selection of shooting modes including:
Like most currently available point-and-shoots, the A3300 IS doesn't feature an optical viewfinder and that obliges shooters to utilize the LCD screen for all framing/composition, captured image review and menu navigation chores. The A3300 IS's 3.0-inch LCD screen (230,000 pixel resolution) dominates the camera's rear deck.
The A3300 IS's TFT LCD screen is fairly bright, hue accurate, fluid, automatically boosts gain (brightens) in dim/low light and displays almost 100 percent of the image frame. The A3300's LCD screen performs adequately for captured image review and menu navigation, but it becomes almost unusable in bright outdoor light - note to Canon - this digicam's LCD needs a better anti-glare/anti-reflection coating.
Like all LCD screens, the A3300's LCD is subject to fading and glare in bright outdoor lighting. The DCR test lab objectively measures LCD peak brightness and contrast ratios to assist our readers in making more informed digital camera purchasing decisions. A decent LCD contrast ratio should fall somewhere between 500:1 and 800:1. An LCD with a contrast ratio within that range should be bright enough to use the LCD screen for framing and composition in outdoor lighting and it could also provide a better sense of real world color and contrast than would an LCD screen with a lower contrast ratio.
The A3300 weighs in on the low end of that range at 582:1 - for comparison purposes, Canon's most basic entry level point-and-shoot digicam scores in the mid 400's. Peak brightness for the A3300 IS (the panel's output of an all-white screen at full brightness) is 437 nits and on the dark side, the measurement is 0.75. For reference, anything above 500 nits will be fairly bright outdoors. The default info display provides all the data this camera's target audience is likely to want or need.
The A3300 IS doesn't look awfully fast when compared to its closest competitors, but words and numbers don't always tell the whole story. Everyone knows the old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" - check out the photo below. The A3300 IS is quick enough for anything its target audience is likely to try.
Performance (of which timing is a part) and Image Quality should be the major considerations when assessing digital camera performance. The A3300 IS comes in near the bottom when compared to its competition in terms of timing. Exposure is automatically managed by the camera's 1/2.3-inch 16 megapixel CCD sensor driven by Canon's touted DIGIC IV processor.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75||0.01|
|Casio Exilim EX-S200||0.01|
|Canon PowerShot A3300 IS||0.01|
|Nikon Coolpix S8000||0.05|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Casio Exilim EX-S200||0.17|
|Nikon Coolpix S8000||0.26|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75||0.28|
|Canon PowerShot A3300 IS||0.39|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75||3||2.6 fps
|Nikon Coolpix S8000||10||1.2 fps
|Canon PowerShot A3300 IS||∞||0.7 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.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
The A3300's default evaluative light measurement system is dependably accurate in most lighting. More experienced photographers can opt for either spot metering or center-weighted averaging metering for more demanding/creative compositions. Like all point-and-shoots, the A3300 has some dynamic range (the spread from deep shadows to bright highlights) shortcomings because the diminutive1/2.3-inch CCD sensor can't capture the full tonal range - so the A3300 IS's default evaluative metering system is calibrated to preserve shadow detail at the expense of highlight detail. That built-in exposure bias results in occasional clipping (burnt out highlights).
The A3300 IS features the same TTL Contrast Detection 9-point AiAF (Advanced Intelligent Auto Focus) system as its predecessor. Users can opt for 1 AF point (center) for classic portraits or traditional landscapes or Face AF or Tracking AF. In low light, a focus assist beam helps illuminate the subject for more accurate focusing.
The A3300's tiny built-in flash provides a minimal, but adequate selection of artificial lighting options - on/off, Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Slow Synchro and Smart Flash. Maximum flash range (according to Canon) is about 13 feet. Flash recycle time is between 4.0 and 5.0 seconds with a freshly charged battery.
The A3300 IS's Optical Image Stabilization feature reduces blur by quickly and precisely shifting a lens element in the 5x zoom to compensate for minor camera movement. IS allows users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three EVs (exposure values) slower than would have been possible without IS. Image stabilization can also be very useful when shooting dimly lit indoor venues where flash is inappropriate. Canon A3300 users have four image stabilization options - continuous IS, shoot only IS, Panning IS and IS off.
The A3300 is powered by a proprietary Canon NB-8L lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Canon says a fully charged NB-8L is good for approximately 230 exposures, which seems fairly accurate based on my use of the camera. The included plug-in style charger needs about two hours to charge the battery.
The Canon PowerShot A3300 IS supports SD, SDHC and SDXC flash memory media formats. No on-board storage is provided.
The A3300's f/2.8-5.9 5-25mm zoom starts at the equivalent of 28mm and goes to the equivalent of 140mm - a very useful range for a pocket sized camera. The f/2.8 maximum aperture at the wide end of the zoom is fast enough for almost anything this camera's target audience is likely to shoot, but the f/5.9 maximum aperture at the telephoto end of the zoom range is pretty slow - almost useless for anything other than shooting outdoors in decent light. Although corners are a tiny bit soft at the wide angle end of the zoom they are noticeably sharper at the telephoto end.
Zoom operation is fast, smooth, and fairly quiet. This zoom exhibits essentially no barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom and no visible pin cushioning (straight lines bow in toward the center) at full telephoto. Check out the photo below - shot at the wide angle end of the zoom - notice that this image of a late-deco factory building displays no visible distortion.
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.
Colors are bold, bright, slightly over-saturated and hue accurate, but native (default) contrast is a bit on the flat side. Here's a piece of advice for both casual shooters and photo enthusiasts alike who purchase the A3300 IS - enable i-Contrast when you set your initial preferences - and leave it on full time. I don't understand why Canon chose to have i-Contrast off as the default, but a major image quality problem with auto exposure only digicams is blown highlights and blocked-up shadow areas, both of which i-Contrast helps to ameliorate.
The PowerShot A3300's HD 1280 x 720p 30 fps movie mode can actually compete with a dedicated video camera and that opens up some interesting possibilities. Unlike many digicams, the A3300's optical zoom function can't be operated while in video capture mode. The video clip which accompanies this review was shot on our brightly lit riverfront. You know it is springtime in Louisville, Kentucky when city workers start sprucing the city up for the Kentucky Derby.
Colors (default Canon color interpolation) are bright, hue accurate and natural-looking though visibly over-saturated. Reds are warmer than they are in real life, blues are a bit too bright, greens are more vibrant than those seen by the naked eye, and purples tend toward blue. Most casual shooters won't consider these minor color intensity/shift variations as faults. Although there is a slight tendency toward overexposure, in bright outdoor light the A3300 IS produces reliably well-exposed, sharply focused, and almost noise-free images. Images are detailed and unexpectedly sharp. In bright contrasty lighting highlight detail was occasionally blown-out. Overall, the A3300's image quality is on the high side of average for cameras in this class.
The A3300 provides users with an acceptable selection of White Balance options, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and custom. The A3300 IS's Auto WB system does a remarkably good job across the board.
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light
The A3300 IS provides a reasonable range of sensitivity options, including Auto and user-set options for ISO 80 to ISO 1600. ISO 80 and ISO 100 images are indistinguishable - both show bright colors, slightly flat native contrast and very low noise levels. ISO 200 images also look very good, but with a little less pop.
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
At the ISO 400 setting noise levels are noticeably higher and there's a (barely) perceptible loss of minor detail. Higher sensitivity settings show flat colors, reduced contrast, lots of noise and fuzzy details. ISO 800 images are noisy, but not as noisy as expected - they should be OK for e-mail, Facebook, and 3 x 5 inch or 4 x 6 inch prints. I didn't shoot any ISO 1600 images.
The Canon PowerShot A3300 IS is a typical Canon point-and-shoot. It's very similar to its PowerShot siblings so there really isn't anything new here, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Canon's P&S digital cameras share more than a "look" and operating system similarities - they have earned an amazing level of customer loyalty because of their dependably excellent image quality, reliable performance, durability and ease of use. The new PowerShot A3300 IS doesn't deviate from that winning formula.
The A3300 IS lets users capture beautiful images and highly detailed HD video clips with very little effort - no matter his or her level of photographic competence. Portraits, landscapes, outdoor images in various lighting situations, night shots, and indoor pictures can all be captured easily when users shoot in the A3300 IS's Smart AUTO mode. Whether you're shooting macro close-ups of spring flowers, capturing a glowing sunset, photographing your kids playing T-ball, or nailing that dramatic vacation picture at Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon you can be confident that the A3300 IS will consistently produce the best pictures possible.
Canon's "Smart Auto" mode stands, in my opinion, head and shoulders above those of their competitors. If you want to take great pictures but you don't want to have to worry about anything technical, rush out and buy this one. The A3300 is an ideal first digital camera, an excellent choice as an "always in Mom's purse" family camera, and a very good choice for travelers who want a small, lightweight, relatively tough and fairly inexpensive "go anywhere" digicam.