The Canon PowerShot 110 HS was obviously designed for casual users and snap-shooters. It's easy to use, compact and just about anybody can operate it after a brief scan of the quick-start guide. Does it improve on the popular PowerShot ELPH model? Find out how it fared in our lab testing and on-the-street analysis.
Canon has been the top selling P&S digicam manufacturer in the U. S. market for more than a decade and also sells more entry-level DSLRs than any of their competition. Photojournalists, sports shooters, wedding photographers, and others who make their living with a camera often carry one of Canon’s Pro DSLRs. There are some very compelling reasons for this amazing marketing success, but primary among them is that Canon gives consumers what they want. The new Canon Powershot ELPH 110 HS is a prime example of this winning corporate philosophy.
I like compact point-and-shoots because they are small enough to drop in a shirt pocket, tough enough to go just about anywhere, dependably produce first rate images with almost no effort on the part of the shooter and they are un-intimidating to subjects. Consumers have favored Canon’s brand of point-and-shoots because they are not only first rate general-use cameras, but they have the additional benefit of nicely meeting the needs of anyone who wants to take good pictures and isn’t interested in learning anything about photography.
Build & Design
The new PowerShot ELPH 110 HS replaces last year’s very popular Canon 300 HS. On the surface, the two cameras don’t appear to be much different, but Canon has made a few interesting and useful changes under the hood. The most significant difference between the two cameras is the dramatic leap in resolution – from 12 megapixels (300 HS) to 16 megapixels (110 HS) aside from that 35% increase in resolution the 110 HS is a relatively straightforward and mostly cosmetic update of one of Canon’s most popular shirt pocket digicams. The 110 HS has a decent assortment of the latest bells and whistles and features a full complement of consumer tested hardware.
Changes include a new face recognition mode called “face ID” which permits the camera to remember up to twelve specific people with up to five different facial shots saved in-camera for each selected subject. Once the function is programmed the shooter can enter the name and birth date of their friend/loved one and the 110 HS will automatically lock focus on that individual in a group shot. The face ID function can also be programmed to prioritize focus on one of three age groups – baby/infant, child, or adult. If all that isn’t enough the 110 HS’s Smart Auto mode (which is actually an automatic scene recognition mode) now features 58 different scene types. The 110 HS’s shirt pocket-sized lozenge shaped (rectangular) metal alloy body conveys an aura of toughness and durability - the camera should easily stand up to the rigors of an active modern lifestyle, but the wrist strap should be used at all times – small cameras are easily dropped.
The HS in 110 HS stands for High Sensitivity – a relatively new Canon exposure system (introduced on the SX230 HS) which was designed to produce better low light images. Canon claims their new HS system reduces image degrading noise by up to 60% (when compared to cameras not equipped with HS) at all ISO sensitivities.
Canon replaced the 300 HS’s 12 megapixel CMOS sensor with a 16 megapixel CMOS sensor in the 110 HS. Clearly reports that the megapixel wars were finally over have been greatly exaggerated, but CMOS sensors generally do exhibit better low-light performance than the CCD sensors that powered earlier ELPH models. Obviously typical digicam consumers remain convinced that more megapixels make for better pictures, even though in fact more megapixels just make for bigger pictures. The 110 HS retails for about $250.00 and is available in black, silver, red, blue, green, and pink. The Canon Powershot ELPH 110 HS saves images to SD, SDHC, & SDXC memory media.
Ergonomics and Controls
Canon is well known for making tiny cameras that produce dependably excellent images with very little effort on the part of the photographer and the 110 HS continues that worthy tradition. The 110 HS is an attractive lozenge shaped (rectangular) ultra-compact P&S auto exposure only digicam. The 110 HS features an uncluttered and rather minimalist design - the camera's top deck is almost Spartan featuring only the shutter button (with zoom toggle surround), the on/off button, and the mode selector (auto or program) switch.
The camera’s rear deck features an absolutely classic control array consisting of the one touch video button, the compass switch, a review mode button, and the menu button. All buttons are clearly marked, logically placed, and easily accessed by right handed shooters, however all buttons and switches are quite small with the exception of the shutter button which is oversized.
Menus and Modes
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS features a simplified two tab version of Canon's classic digicam menu system – The menu system (accessed via a dedicated button beneath the compass switch) is logical, easy to navigate, and dead simple – since the camera permits only minimal user input.
The 110 HS provides a very basic selection of shooting modes including only Program, Smart Auto, and HD video mode. Here's a complete listing of the A3100 IS's shooting modes:
Like the vast majority of currently available P&S digicams the 110 HS doesn't provide an optical viewfinder, so shooters must rely on the 3.0-inch LCD for all framing/composition, captured image review, and menu navigation chores. Most casual shooters (this digicam’s target audience) don’t like or use optical viewfinders anyway and in some shooting scenarios it is actually easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through an optical viewfinder.
LCD resolution has been steadily increasing because consumers continue to demand larger and sharper LCD screens. The 300 HS’s coarse and somewhat dull 2.7-inch 230k-dot LCD screen was its most glaring shortcoming. The 110 HS’s slightly larger 3.0-inch LCD screen dominates the back of this tiny camera and boasts 461k-dot resolution, more than double the resolution of its predecessor.
The 110 HS’s LCD monitor is sharp, color accurate, fluid, and covers approximately 100% of the image frame. The LCD info display provides all the data the 110 HS’s target audience is likely to need. The 110 HS's LCD screen (like all LCD monitors) is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting. The 110 HS’s LCD screen utilizes the standard 4:3 aspect ratio when shooting/reviewing still images, but users automatically get the widescreen 16:9 display when shooting/reviewing in movie mode.
The 110 HS doesn’t allow much user input into the image capture process and that lack of input limits this camera’s potential usefulness for more serious shooters. Overall, the PowerShot 110 HS’s performance is a bit better than average for cameras in this class and 110 HS users should have no difficulty capturing the decisive moment in most lighting situations.
I found the 110 HS to consistently and dependably be very quick when acquiring focus, even in low light proving the efficacy of Canon’s relatively new HS (High Sensitivity) system. AF acquisition (the time between pressing the shutter half-way and when the camera locks focus on your subject) was 0.19 seconds, the fastest in the 110 HS’s sample group.
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Canon PowerShot 110 HS||0.19|
|Panasonic Lumix FX90||0.24|
|Sony Cyber-shot TX100||0.32|
|Nikon Coolpix AW100||0.50|
|Sony Cyber-shot TX100||10||11.4 fps|
|Nikon Coolpix AW100||3||8.5 fps|
|Panasonic Lumix FX90||7||3.0 fps|
|Canon PowerShot 110 HS||∞||1.9 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.
110 HS features the same TTL Contrast Detection 10-point AiAF (Advanced intelligent Auto Focus) plus 1-point center 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 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 1 point (center) AF for classic portraits or traditional landscapes. In low light, a focus assist beam helps illuminate the subject for more accurate focusing.
Shutter lag shouldn’t be a problem in most shooting scenarios likely to be tackled by this camera’s target audience, however the 110 HS didn’t do particularly well at capturing skateboarders in mid-air (my sole action test with this camera) unless you were able to anticipate the decisive moment and trip the shutter about ½ a second before the decisive moment occurred. The 110 HS features a slightly improved version of the same Intelligent IS image stabilization system first seen on the 300 HS, which provides six distinct IS modes to cover different shooting scenarios like handheld macro shots, panning to follow the action as it unfolds, and shooting with the camera mounted on a tripod.
Improvements seem to be limited mostly to the greater range of correction when shooting video. The 110 HS’s optical image stabilization system reduces blur by rapidly and precisely shifting a lens element in the 5x zoom to compensate for involuntary camera movement. Image stabilization allows users to shoot at faster shutter speeds than would have been possible without IS. Image stabilization can also be useful when shooting in dimly lit indoor venues where flash is prohibited or inappropriate.
The 110 HS's tiny built-in flash provides only four settings – Auto, on, slo-synch, and off. In Auto mode the flash system automatically controls selection of Smart Flash Exposure. The Smart Flash Exposure mode automatically adjusts flash exposure to balance flash output and the ambient light on the subject - to avoid dark facial shadows in outdoor portraits and provide more even lighting coverage in macro shooting. Maximum flash range (according to Canon) is just over 11 feet. Flash recycle times are between 3.0 and 4.0 seconds.
The 110 HS is powered by a proprietary Canon NB-4L lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Canon says a fully charged NB4L is good for approximately 220 exposures. I rarely track numbers - since I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot, but that number seems fairly accurate based on my experiences with the camera. I used the camera heavily for just over two weeks and only charged the battery twice. I shot around 400 exposures and half a dozen short video clips with the camera during the course of my tests. The included charger needs about two hours to fully charge the battery. This is about average battery life for an ultra-compact P&S digicam. Heavy users should seriously consider whether it would be worth investing in a backup battery.
The 110 HS’s 5x f2.7-f5.9 optical zoom provides a (35mm-equivalent) range of 24mm-120mm and is the same wide-angle to a short telephoto optic that graced its predecessor. Compact zoom lenses generally start at around (the equivalent of) 28mm, so a true wide angle (great for group shots in tight indoor venues and also for expansive landscapes) point of view gives the 110 HS a slight edge over some of its competition. Although corners are slightly soft at the wide angle end of the zoom they are appreciably sharper at the telephoto end of the range.
The 110 HS’s f/2.7 maximum aperture (at the wide end of the zoom) is fast enough for just about anything this camera’s target audience is likely to shoot - outdoors or in, but the f/5.9 maximum aperture at the long end of the zoom range is pretty slow. Even with the 110 HS’s High Sensitivity capabilities, shooting at maximum telephoto indoors is going to produce some rather muddy looking and fairly noisy images. They may be a bit less noisy than similar images generated by earlier ELPH models, but the difference is marginal at best. Zoom operation is fast, smooth, and fairly precise, but the lens motor seems a bit noisier than average. The PowerShot 110 HS’s zoom exhibits noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom and very minor pin cushioning (straight lines bow in toward the center) at the telephoto end of the zoom range. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is slightly higher than average, but very well controlled. Native (default) contrast is a bit on the flat side.
Digicams today must not only be competent still picture takers, they must also be competent video cameras. The 110 HS's HD video mode is about as good as it gets at this point in time – and that is pretty impressive when you consider that a camera small enough to be dropped in a shirt pocket is capable of shooting High Definition video that rivals a dedicated camcorder.
The 110 HS may be small in stature, but it doesn’t skimp on large scale usability. Like its predecessor, the 110 HS can record video at up to Full HD (1920 x 1080p at 24fps) resolution with stereo audio and the ability to use the 5x optical zoom during video capture. In addition, for those who want to document their photographic adventures, the 110 HS features an upgraded version of Canon's nifty Movie Digest function, which automatically saves a short video clip (up to four seconds) from just before the shooter snaps each picture. The 110 HS automatically combines those short clips to create a sequential video record of the days shooting. Video digest clips are limited to 720p resolution, but that is a substantial improvement over the VGA movie digest clips captured by the 300 HS. The sample video clip nicely demonstrates just how versatile the 110 HS is in HD video capture mode.
Image files generated by Canon's point-and-shoots have always been optimized for the sharp focus, bold bright hues, and the slightly flat contrast that some veteran shooters refer to as “the Canon look” and the new 110 HS doesn't stray from that formula. Native colors (default color interpolation) are bright, hue accurate, and natural-looking, but visibly over-saturated. Reds are a bit warm, blues are a little bright and greens/yellows are more vibrant than those seen by the naked eye. Consumers seem to like bright oversaturated images with relatively flat contrast so most casual shooters won't consider these minor color anomalies as faults.
Although there is a very slight tendency toward overexposure - outdoors in good light the 110 HS produces dependably well-exposed and almost noise-free images. Chromatic aberration is well controlled, but some minor color fringing is present, especially in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Canon’s new CMOS sensor driven HS (High Sensitivity) system consistently produces very good to excellent images with impressively low noise levels. I doubt Canon’s claim that HS system cameras produce 60% less noise than earlier (non HS) models, but low light performance has been improved and there is less visible noise. The differences are subtle, but noticeable.
The 110 HS’s dependable and very accurate White Balance system is identical to the one used in the 300 HS, featuring user selected WB settings for auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, two types of fluorescent lighting and a custom mode. I primarily used the auto white balance setting for my tests with the camera with reliably very good to excellent results.
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light
The 110 HS’s sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to a maximum of ISO 3200, unchanged from the 300 HS. Detail capture is excellent at ISO 100, and despite some very minor softening is also quite good at ISO 400.
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
More visible softening begins at ISO 800. Chroma (color) noise is controlled very nicely, but luminance noise and the camera’s built-in noise suppression efforts noticeably increase the loss of fine details from ISO 800 up.
Additional Sample Images
I encouraged a friend who knows absolutely nothing about photography (and has no interest in correcting that glaring deficiency) to take pictures outdoors with the 110 HS (in auto mode) for about an hour with no interference, advice, or suggestions from me. Each shot was properly exposed and sharply focused, and all of them displayed accurate colors. The bottom line here is that absolutely anybody can take decent pictures with the Canon Powershot ELPH 110 HS.
Potential 110 HS purchasers should be aware that the Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS is available for only $10.00 more and features an almost identical design, very similar features, and an 8x zoom – for those who want a little extra reach. Either camera will very nicely meet the needs of casual shooters, family photographers and travelers.