DigitalCameraReview.com
Canon PowerShot 320 HS Review
by Laura Hicks -  9/23/2012

Revenge is mine! At least that's what the Canon PowerShot Elph 320 HS believes when placed up against the increasingly popular smartphone cameras. Armed with Wi-Fi capabilities and a 5x zoom lens (24mm-120mm), Canon intends to show us that your current smartphone camera is no match for this handy little touchscreen point and shoot. With a street price of $199 it just might have what it takes to compete.


The 16.1 megapixel high-sensitivity CMOS sensor paired with a DIGIC 5 images processor is the all-star of this game; this one-two punch promises to deliver better images in low light situations. With ISO settings that range from 100 to 3,200, the Elph 320 offers greater flexibility when faced with various lighting conditions. The shutter speed ranges from 15 seconds to 1/2,000 second. While that doesn't mean much to the auto shooter, the Elph 320 will be able to respond whether photographing the landscape of northern Ireland or documenting your child's first dance recital.


Wide Angle, 24mm

Telephoto, 120mm

Build and Design

The Canon PowerShot Elph 320 HS measures only 2.2 by 3.7 by 0.8 inches and weighs just 5.1 ounces. It is lightweight, compact and easy to slip into your purse or pocket. And for those photographers with a need for style and flair, you will enjoy the multitude of color options that include blue, red, silver or black.

With a large 3.2 inch LCD touch screen that covers nearly the entire camera, viewing your images will be a breeze. The display is bright and crisp. A viewfinder is not available, however most point and shoot users are used to not having this option.

Ergonomics and Controls
The Elph 320 is designed for two handed shooters. The 3.2 inch LCD touch screen is a double-edged sword. Although it creates a great viewing situation, it requires the photographer use both hands if they want to use the touch screen shutter option.

In fact, almost all of the controls are housed in the touch screen. While in shooting and viewing mode, the controls are located on either side of the 4:3 image. I found the touch screen to be less responsive than I desired. I struggled with selecting the intended toggle. It would skip through the options in a sporadic manner. The screen required a firm touch.

The only physical buttons were the power button, the auto/program mode, zoom control and playback button.

Menus and Modes
The vast shooting options can all be found on the camera's touch screen menu. Depending on the options desired, they can be accessed by using the camera's auto mode or program mode. The fun shooting options are located in the program mode.

Smart Auto: In auto mode the camera selects the aperture and shutter speed. It also chooses the correct ISO for the situation.

Program:The camera does the work for you or you can choose your settings.

Creative Functions: You choose which creative function best suits your needs. The options are portrait, smooth skin, smart shutter, fish-eye, miniature effect, toy camera effect, soft focus, monochrome, super vivid, poster effect, color accent, color swap and snow. The optional filters are vivid, neutral, sepia, black and white, positive film, lighter skin, darker skin, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red and custom color.

Movie: A one-touch video button located on the touchscreen during the live view mode allows for video recording with the tap of a finger.

Wi-Fi: Pictures can be shared with little effort by accessing the upload option located on the touchscreen while in the image display mode.

In addition to the creative modes, the Elph 320 also allows users to manually operate their camera by adjusting the ISO, shutter speed and/or aperture.

Display/Viewfinder
An optical viewfinder is unavailable for the Elph 320 HS. However, 461,000 dots team up to make the 3.2 inch screen a delight to view. The LCD is large and very crisp. Even outdoors the LCD screen is relatively easy to see. In a dark room the screen looks great. Users can easily flip between the live viewing mode (to take pictures) to the image display mode (to view images already taken). Once in the display mode, you can upload your images to the social media website of your choice.

Performance

Overall, the camera is fun and easy to use. I took the camera out in the field to test it in various conditions. The camera's auto function handles nicely in almost every situation. The PowerShot Elph 320 HS is a great choice for those that love to shoot in the auto mode. Canon's Smart Auto mode identifies up to 58 different scenes. It is quite responsive and automatically adjusts as the scene changes.

In the program mode the camera allows you to easily scroll between soft focus, monochrome, color swap and toy camera effect (just to name a few). Although the camera has a multitude of shooting options located in the program mode my favorite was shooting macro in the Smart Auto function. I was very impressed with the Elph 320 HS's macro shooting capabilities. Whether indoors or outdoors, Canon's intuitive nature was an auto shooter's dream.

Shooting Performance
Canon's spontaneous face identification function enables you to quickly respond to a changing social environment. Six different image stabilization modes ensure optimal shooting no matter your environment. The auto focus responds quickly and accurately, overall. The flash is easily set to be automatic or off. My personal preference is for the flash to be set to off in most cases. Even in low light situations with the flash off the Elph 320 HS performed surprisingly well. Only in the dimmest of lighting did the image lose clarity. Images can be stored on an SD, SDHC or SDXC memory card and are saved as JPEG files. The battery life was decent. Canon stated I would get approximately 170 shutter fires. I actually got almost 200. Since photographing only 200 images is not very many (especially while traveling) I would recommend grabbing another battery just in case.

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

Digital Camera Score
Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS 0.24
Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS 0.02
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 0.01

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

Digital Camera Score
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 0.48
Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS 0.36
Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS 0.3
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS 0.21

Continuous Shooting (frames per second)

Digital Camera Score
Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS 3.8
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 3.5
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS 2.4
Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS 2


*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.

Lens Performance
The 320 hosts a genuine Canon lens. The lens is responsive and moves fluidly through wide angle to telephoto. With just a twist of your finger you can easily catch that perfect shot happening right in front of you or across the room. Grabbing that elusive picture of the Loch Ness Monster, on the other hand, might be a challenge.

With only a 5x zoom, the Canon Elph 320 leaves much to be desired in the telephoto department. With a minimum 24mm and maximum 120mm field of view this camera will out zoom any camera phone. However, if a zoom lens is what you crave, other point and shoots leave the Elph 320 a little short.

Video Quality
The 320 HS boasts 3 levels of video options: full HD video at 1080, HD video at 720 and standard video at 480. Also, the camera has several fun video functions such as video digest and super slow motion video. My children especially enjoyed the latter and found it quite enjoyable to watch themselves in slow motion. As a professional photographer I was not in love with the camera's video capability. The image quality from the video was very similar to that of the still images. Yet, the end result was a video that was rather choppy. My children, however, thought the slow motion video was a hoot to watch and could care less about the image quality and choppy playback.

Image Quality
Default images out of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 320HS are good, have nice color rendition and are generally sharp.

Overall I thought still image quality was good for a point and shoot camera.

Here is a look at the Creative Filters applied to a still scene:


Portrait

Smooth Skin

Fish-eye

Miniature

Toy Camera

Soft Focus


Monochrome

Super Vivid

Poster Effect

Color Accent

Color Swap

Snow

Image quality is where the Canon Elph 320 HS truly shines. Canon has gone to great lengths to perfect the photography experience. In the Smart Auto mode this camera does all the work for you. But if point and shoot creativity is your thing, the Elph 320 gives you that freedom. With a multitude of in-camera processing options, the sky's the limit. Literally. In the color select mode I was able to photograph the bright blue sky while keeping the tree black and white. While in the color swap mode I made my couch a bright pink instead of its actual color of yellow. The toy camera effect gives your image a vignette. The soft focus option gives the whole picture a dreamy feel. And if you feel the need to show off a "Jersey Shore" tan, the super vivid option is just for you. Admittedly, these images would not grace the halls of The Louvre, but they are fun to take and even more fun to post online.      

The auto white balance in the Smart Auto mode tested positively in the field. In general, it held true to the actual colors when photographing outdoors. When inside the camera took on a yellow cast, but that was due to the flash. When the flash was turned off indoors the white balance did a much better job at retaining the actual colors.

The Elph 320 HS is a perfect camera for standard shooting conditions. At the standard 400 ISO, the camera performs with clarity and great image quality. When taken to the limits of its ISO (800 and above) the images lose clarity and definition. This is also the case when the digital zoom is employed. Image grain is quite evident at ISO 3200.


ISO 100


ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600


ISO 3200

Additional Sample Images

Conclusion

In a world where uploading images to the world wide web can be done with a tap of a finger, point and shoot cameras would be as extinct as the dinosaurs if not for the emergence of wifi capabilities. The Canon Elph 320 HS has emerged from the ashes of former point and shoots with gusto. Because it is wireless, you can use Canon's iMAGE GATEWAY software to instantly upload images to Facebook, Youtube and Twitter.

The face identification is an amazing tool for such a small device. It can also come in handy when organizing your digital images. You can set the camera to detect up to 12 different faces. In addition, the Elph 320 can recognize scenes and react intuitively to the environment. For example, when photographing a sleeping baby the camera will disengage the flash and adjust the exposure accordingly. In a backlit situation while photographing a person against a beautiful blue sky, the camera will adjust the exposure on the face while retaining the blues of the brilliant sky.

For point and shooters this combination equals bliss, especially when this bliss comes in a stylish camera that will easily fit into a pocket or a purse.

As a professional photographer for the last 10 years I was skeptical that this camera could perform anywhere close to my expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the Elph 320's Smart Auto function. The highly intuitive nature of the camera was a huge bonus for me. It really did a lot of the thinking. I enjoyed the instinctive scene recognition and realized this could come in handy in casual situations such as a night on the town with friends, my child's classroom awards ceremony or Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt's. But, what really fed my creativity was the Elph's ability to spontaneous switch into macro mode. I am infatuated with macro photography. I am especially infatuated with a camera that weighs only ounces, can fit into my pocket and can take some pretty amazing macro images.

The biggest drawback for me was the lack of responsiveness and sensitivity in the touchscreen. No matter how hard I tried I was unable to regulate the pressure of my touch to the screen. It became more evident the longer I dabbled in the program and menu modes. As my frustration built I found myself using the auto mode more than I normally would.

No, this camera will never replace my DSLR, and I will not get rid of my smart phone. This camera is designed for those casual photographers who don't want to determine the settings for every image. It is designed for those that enjoy having fun with their images and like editing them in-camera. It is designed for those people who want a point and shoot that can handle itself in a multitude of situations with grace and speed. It is designed for those that crave more zoom than their smart phone could ever give them. It is designed for those that love to post their pictures on social media sites.