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Canon Powershot A300 - Mini Review

This digital camera is a 3.2MP camera, with a no zoom auto-focus lens, 5cm-20cm macro mode, 20cm-infinity normal mode and records videos at 15fps with sound, in resolutions of 640x480 or 320x240. The camera has a 5.1X Digital zoom, although this basically enlarges an area of the image, rather than giving you the extra detail a real optical zoom lens would give.

It can be bought for around £100 including vat. (check latest price on Amazon.co.uk) It includes just the basics as standard, eg: Camera, Manual, CD, connection cable to connect to USB on the computer, 2 AA batteries, a 16mb Compact Flash card, and a wrist strap. This is better than getting an 8mb card, but the 16mb card will only hold about 14 - 20 x 3MP Fine images, so if you plan on going out for a day, you're likely to need a larger card - it's a shame the camera doesn't come with one as standard. Digital camera's that take AA batteries are normally best with rechargable batteries, so again it's a shame the camera doesn't come with any rechargable batteries and a charger, as you will need to buy these seperately.

Useful links:
Canon Powershot A300 Website (specs, info, sample shots)
dcviews page with links etc
steves-digicams review with sample pics etc.
imaging resource review give it the thumbs up
dpreview's page with user reviews etc

The camera:


Front (taken with a Fuji 2800)
The front lens cover is used as an on/off button.


Back (taken with a Fuji 2800)
Shows 1.5" TFT, controls etc, and speaker. Also shows the decent size optical viewfinder which is good for people who wear glasses, or for conserving battery life by switching the LCD off. etc.


Top - on the top is the shutter, photo/video mode selector and the microphone. Note the two tone colour scheme.


Canon Autofocus 5mm 1:3.6 lens in detail - why didn't they put it in the centre of the circle?

Compared to a 35mm Pentax - on the side at the bottom is the plastic cover, covering the usb connection and ac adapter socket - I wonder how long till the cover falls off never to be seen again?

About the camera:

There are 2 main modes, Taking a picture (which has 2 sub-modes, Record a video, or Take a still picture), and Viewing your pictures / videos. If you want to just view your pictures you can use the top right button on the back to switch the camera on to view the pictures, without having to slide the front lens cover over. Getting used to the different menus and settings is a bit confusing, and I suspect it'll take a while before I figure it all out, it's definitely more confusing than a Fuji, Minolta, Casio that I have used.


The camera has an AF-Assist light - shown above, which shines a light on the subject to help the camera focus in low light, this also helps to reduce red-eye.

If you use flash a lot, then expect to go through a lot of batteries, this is why rechargable high power Ni-Mh batteries are a must. Changing the batteries position when the camera thinks they need replacing seems to give the camera a bit of extra life. One neat thing this camera does, is when you format or delete images that are numbered for example 1-16 - this camera continues from 16 onwards, so all your images have a unique number - unlike the Minolta E223, which started from 1 again, everytime you cleared the old photos.

Camera modes: Automatic, Manual, and Panoramic 1 or 2 - This enables you to take a picture and then shows you the first picture whilst you arrange the next picture so that the images are lined up. You can do this with any number of pictures to produce a massive panoramic picture. When you are in the ZoomBrowser EX (Canon software) simply select your images, and then use the PhotoStitch software (provided by Canon) to stitch the photos together - it does this automatically - so you don't have to line them up yourself!! Here's one I took earlier in Sefton Park, Liverpool, using 6 photos:


(Click for a medium 100k sized version of this panoramic shot - click for large version 565k - 50% of original)

Image Quality:

Have a look at these sample images / videos - photos were taken at 3MP (2048x1536) camera setting "FINE".
Nb. you can view the majority of these images (the full size) in the photo gallery

Macro: Superb - It's possible to get very close to an object without even switching it to macro mode, as it'll allow you to get as close as 20cm without turning on macro. When you turn on macro, you can go as close as 5cm - 20cm, and you are not fixed to a certain amount like some cameras, eg 10cm only. In the macro mode it's possible to see details that I'm unable to clearly see with my own eyes!

Close-up (without using macro mode) Close-up (actual pixels)
Macro mode. (thumb) Macro mode. (actual pixels)
Taking a macro picture of my monitor (Trinitron) shows the lines, even at a high resolution - something my eyes can't make out. Another macro picture.

Inside: Very Good - again it lets you get very close to people without the image blurring, although too close and you'll notice a fish-eye type effect. The camera comes with some kind of clever AiAF system that means your subject doesn't have to be in the centre of the image in order for the camera to know what to focus on. I'm not sure how it works but it should mean you get more photos that are focused correctly.

Good at close indoor photos. Decent enough results when the subjects are further away too.

Outside: Very Good - the camera pics up detail really well, colours are good etc, even in these low-light weather conditions.

Good colours, good clarity. Actual Pixels, detail of these wires picked up well, which the Minolta E223 did not pic up, neither did the CASIO EX-S2.
The only problem seems to be some kind of distortion on the corner(s) of the picture, although this is only noticable when there is detail in the corner of the picture. Good colour, and good clarity in this picture.

Videos: Good - Inside it's best under good lighting conditions, otherwise the video may end up too dark, as the example inside video below did. Another inside video with good lighting turned out fine. It also lets you edit the video and cut the video just using the camera which is very useful if you run out of memory or don't have the ability to do that on your computer. It's very easy to accidentally cover up the Mic holes with your fingers when holding the camera with two hands, although the sound quality seems decent enough.

Inside (320x240) 3mb, 16seconds
(download / save target as. 3mb vid)*
Outside (640x480) 6.62mb, 9seconds
(view 640x480 still image taken from vid)
(download / save target as. 6.62mb vid)*

Conclusion:

It's very impressive how much detail the camera pics up, especially considering the size of the lens - which to look at, looks tiny! The Macro mode is EXCELLENT. The camera is fairly easy to use, once you've got used to the way it works. It does take a little bit of time for the flash to charge when taking indoor shots which can slow you down a bit. It seems a shame it doesn't have the facility to output the display / video to a TV, especially as it's able to record video quality. The plastic / rubber connection cover seems as though it'll fall off soon, and if it does, I don't think it'll be possible to re-attach it. Also - it takes a button size battery to remember the time and date settings - this seems a little odd, as other digital cameras I have used haven't needed this.

Battery usage is pretty bad, I've taken about 70 images and 4 videos and gone through 4 Alkaline batteries so far - So that works out about 30 photos per 2 Alkaline batteries. Rechargable NIMH batteries are a must. My only other niggles: is that there are effectively 2 on/off buttons, the front slider, and then the on/off at the back - this can be a bit confusing to start with. The shutter is a two-stage shutter, whereby you press it half way down and it focuses etc, then you press it all the way day to take the photo - because of this and because it takes a while for the flash to get ready there is a slight delay before you get to take the photo - it's not as instant as some more basic digital cameras.

So just to recap my main points: This camera is brilliant - it's only £100 from amazon.co.uk including vat, it's 3.2MP, image quality is brilliant - it's good at indoor pictures, outdoor pictures, EXCELLENT at macro, brilliant at videos including sound (shame that it is only limited to 3min long however). Right now, I don't think there is any better digital camera at this price point / quality, with the ability to record sound with videos. The only comparable cameras (that do sound with video) around this price are the Minolta E223 (between £99-£150) which has video and 3x optical lens, but lower quality pictures and video, and the more expensive SONY P32 from £137 inc vat from amazon.co.uk. (update 1st March 04: The Sony P32 is now £99 inc vat, and the cheapest A300 is £118, see dealtime.co.uk or kelkoo.co.uk) Check latest price on Amazon.co.uk

What I like:

  • Very sharp clear pictures - good focusing (5 point clever stuff)
  • Excellent macro mode
  • Great movie mode with sound, 640x480/15fps is quite rare for this price range.
  • Good size optical viewfinder
  • Compression levels are not too harsh, and there's a good choice of compression levels (superfine, fine, normal)
  • Good manual controls and options, eg: ISO 50/100/200/400, +/- exposure +2 -2, 6 white balance settings, including custom, want to change the image? select vivid, or neutral, low sharpening (if the image isn't sharp enough already!), sepia, b&w
  • Takes compact flash 1 which is readily available up to 512mb - works with my 512mb PQI card. Also a compact flash card reader is built in to the new VIA EPIA M2-10000 motherboard.

What I don't like:

  • The back of the camera is blacky/grey which looks pretty old-fashioned for a digital camera (old Kodak cameras - even new ones? - are like this)
  • Fairly complicated controls / buttons
  • Limited length videos (3min at 320x240 or 30seconds at 640x480!)
  • Poor battery life (luckily the batteries can still be used by other things)
  • Does not come with a case :(

* Movies saved as Zip files.