There’s a compelling argument to be made for the demise of point-and-shoot cameras. It goes something like this: You’ve got a pretty good camera on your smartphone anyway, so why do you need a second device that doesn’t offer much more? Canon surely knows that some people think that way, and the 12.1-megapixel Canon PowerShot Elph 300 HS ($249.99 direct) hints at the company’s response. The 300 HS offers speed, low-light performance, and ease of use that few, if any, phone cameras can match. The 300 HS packs a lot of features into a small body, with good performance on all fronts and specs a step above many entry-level pocket cameras. Overall, it’s a solid, simple, and affordable digital camera.
Design and Features
The very definition of pocket-friendly, the 300 HS measures 2.2 by 3.6 by 0.8 inches (HWD) and weighs just 4.3 ounces, you’ll hardly even notice it. It’s available in red, black, and silver, and looks almost exactly like its younger brother, the Canon PowerShot Elph 100 HS ($199.99, 3.5 stars). The biggest cosmetic difference between the two is the feel of the 300 HS—its finish is very coarse, almost like sandpaper. It makes the camera easier to grip, but it feels strange; the first reaction of everyone I handed the 300 HS to immediately ran their hands over it curiously.
On the front of the camera are the lens and the built-in flash. The lens, the 300 HS’s primary upgrade from the less-expensive 100 HS, has a focal length of 24-120mm (35mm equivalent), with corresponding aperture of f/2.7-f/5.9; it’s both brighter and wider than average. It packs 5x optical zoom, a nice upgrade from the 4x on many compact cameras.
On top are the Power and Shutter buttons, the latter surrounded by the zoom trigger. A small cover on the left side hides the camera’s connectivity ports: HDMI and USB. On the back are the rest of the controls including dedicated playback, Menu and Video Record buttons, a rocker to switch between Auto and Program shooting modes, and a five-way directional pad that toggles functions like macro and flash.
35-mm Equivalent (Wide)
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)
Also around back is the LCD, a 2.7-inch display filled with 230,000 dots. The screen is adequate, and it’s clearly the largest display that could fit on such a small body, but it feels small next to the 3-inch LCD on a camera like the Editors’ Choice Kodak EasyShare M580 ($199.95, 4 stars).
Canon’s interface doesn’t vary much across models, so the 300 HS will be instantly familiar to Canon users. It’s heavily icon-based, with helpful explanations whenever you scroll over an icon. Some options are buried in several menus, but the most common functions either have dedicated buttons or are easily surfaced. Most standard features are available—scene modes, artistic effects and the like—plus one feature you won’t find often: a Movie Digest Mode that shoots a brief video before each of your photos, and at the end of the day combines all the clips into a single video.
The name of the game, at least according to Canon, is speed. The Elph 300 HS is extremely fast, in almost every operation. It takes an average of 2.03 seconds to turn on and capture an image, which is nearly a second and a half faster than the Kodak M580. The recycle time between shots averages 2.18 seconds, also extremely fast: the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-T110 ($219.99, 4 stars) took an average of 3.5 seconds between shots, and the Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS ($229.99, 4 stars) took 3.6. The shutter lag score was closer to average at 0.5 seconds.
At PCMag we use the Imatest suite to objectively analyze image quality. It analyzes 50 spots throughout an image, and gives a center-weighted average of lines per picture height, an indication of the image’s sharpness. The PowerShot Elph 300 HS scored an average of 1,861 lines per picture height, a solid sharpness score especially for a compact camera. That number’s not as good as the Kodak M580’s 2,127, but it’s still an indication that the 300 HS will deliver adequately sharp images.
Imatest also measures the noise levels within an image, to test low-light performance. If Imatest measures more than 1.5 percent noise in an image, it will likely be visibly grainy. The 300 HS could shoot photos up to ISO 800 without breaking Imatest’s threshold, scoring 1.27 percent noise at ISO 800. At ISO 1600, Imatest measured 1.60 percent noise. The 300 HS certainly won’t match up to D-SLR image quality in low-light scenarios, but it scored well for a compact camera.
Videos can be recorded in two high-definition resolutions: 1080p24 and 720p30. 1080p video sounds better than it is, especially at 24 frames per second—there’s some jerkiness that doesn’t exist at 30 frames per second. The camera is able to both autofocus and zoom while recording video, which makes for a much more camcorder-like experience. That’s a rare feature, and a nice one. Videos are recorded as .MOV files, which can be natively uploaded to sites like YouTube and Facebook.
Canon’s connectivity options are an example of what all camera manufacturers should offer: universal mini-USB and mini-HDMI ports. Both cables are widely available and inexpensive, and allow you to connect your camera to your computer and HDTV respectively. The camera accepts SD, SDHC, or SDXC cards.
If you’re looking for a small, fast camera that takes good pictures thanks to its upgraded lens, the Canon PowerShot Elph 300 HS is an excellent choice. If you don’t need such a small body, you’ll get better images for less money from the larger, but still-pocketable Kodak M580. If you can live with 4x zoom and without the brightness and width of the lens, the Elph 100 HS will save you $50 and still give you solid performance.