Canon Powershot N Review

3.5
May 29, 2013 | Mark Goldstein |

Introduction

A cursory glance reveals that the new Canon Powershot N is no ordinary compact camera. Designed to compete with the ever more ubiquitous smartphone, the PowerShot N takes a radically different approach to every other compact that we've tested before, with a unique square design and innovative control system. Can it take on the mighty smart phone though? Find out in our in-depth Canon Powershot N review...

The PowerShot N camera is Canon’s answer to the growing threat of smartphones. With an innovative square design, tilting touch screen and zoom and shoot operation lens rings, the Canon PowerShot N is quite unlike any other compact camera on the market. Billed as the “perfect smartphone companion”, other key features of the PowerShot N include a 12.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, 8x optical zoom lens, DIGIC 5 image processor, 2.8-inch touch-screen LCD, Wi-Fi connectivity, Creative Shot and Hybrid Auto modes, and GPS via mobile. The Canon PowerShot N is available now priced at £269 / $299.99 in white or black.

Ease of Use

The new Canon PowerShot N is quite unlike any other digital camera that we've ever reviewed, thanks largely to its square design that easily slips inside a trouser or jacket pocket. We say square - measuring 78.6 x 60.2mm, the PowerShot N is still strictly rectangular - but to all intents and purposes from the front it looks like a regular compact with both sides trimmed off. At 195g, it's actually not the lightest compact that's ever sat on our test-bench, with Canon making sure that the overall build quality is up to their usual high standards.

The other unusual aspect of the Canon PowerShot N's design are the dual control rings that surround the 8x lens. Used to control the zoom and take a photo, these two lens rings are something of an acquired taste. First of all, they're quite thin and close together, which makes it difficult to locate the right one in a hurry, especially the shooting ring which lacks the ridged area of the zoom ring.

Secondly, the shooting ring is a little over-sensitive. You have to half-press it to focus and fully press it to take the picture, but we frequently pressed it in all the way accidentally before focusing, resulting in a lot of blurred images. Note that you can actually operate the rings from the top or the bottom of the camera. In the end, we preferred to use the touch-screen LCD to focus and shoot with a single press, something that's very similar to a lot of smartphones and which we think a lot of this camera's owners will end up doing in preference to using the rather awkward dual control rings.

On the back is the third distinctive design choice - a tilting LCD screen. This is hinged at the top and moves through 90 degrees from flat against the back of the camera to the top, which is useful for waist-level shots and also for holding the camera above your head by turning the camera upside down. Sadly it can't be tilted out to the side or fully to the front for self-portraits, limiting its overall usefulness. Hidden away underneath the screen is a decorative grille for the stereo speakers.

Canon PowerShot N Canon PowerShot N
Front Rear

The capacitive touch screen allows you to control essential camera functions with a simple touch, such as focus or the shutter, and review images with familiar, intuitive smartphone-esque gestures such as pinching to zoom and swiping from side to side to browse through your collection. Some of the icons are a little on the small side, but given the camera's lack of physical controls and therefore its greater dependency on the touchscreen (for example, movie recording can only be activated via the LCD screen), we feel that the PowerShot N gets most things right in this vital area.

Changing modes and features on the N is a simple task thanks to a friendly user interface (UI) and straightforward menu system. Of the two menus, arguably the one you will use the most is the Function menu, activated by the Func soft button in the bottom left of the screen. This gives you quick access to the most used functions of the camera, and everything is labelled clearly so you can understand what is what - the same goes for the Main menu system too, accessed via the Menu button on the right of the screen.

The PowerShot N's modest dimensions still manage to fit in an 8x built-in zoom, although the lens does extend an ungainly 2-inches from the body when using the maximum telephoto setting. Still, having the equivalent of a 28-224mm zoom lens in such a relatively small body is no mean feat, although perhaps inevitably the maximum apertures at either end of the range are pretty slow (f/3.0 and f/5.9 respectively).

As you'd expect, the front of the PowerShot N is rather sparse, housing just the lens and a small porthole for the rather underpowered built-in LED flash. The top of the camera is even more pared back, with just three holes for the built-in microphone and wi-fi and product logos - there's no conventional shutter-release button on this camera.

Canon PowerShot N Canon PowerShot N
Front Tilting LCD Screen

On the left-hand side of the camera, when viewed from the rear, is the small On/Off button, with a prominent lug for the supplied strap underneath, mirrored by a second lug on the right-hand side. Below that is a Playback button and an HDMI port underneath a plastic flap, and above are two controls that you won't have seen before on a Canon camera.

The first is the Mobile Device Connect button, which provides quick quick pairing to your smartphone or tablet. Simply enter a nickname for the camera and you can then connect the PowerShot N to a smartphone, a computer, a printer and the internet. Setup is relatively straight-forward for each scenario, although you'll need a basic understanding of the protocols involved. Note that you need to install the dedicated and free Canon CameraWindow app to connect the PowerShot N to the world's most popular smartphone, or the Apple iPad, iPad 2 and fourth-generation iPod Touch), or an Android device.

The PowerShot N's wi-fi functionality is also employed to tag your images with GPS data recorded by your smartphone (latitude, longitude, altitude and shooting time) via the Canon CameraWindow app, which effectively replaces a more conventional built-in GPS system. We actually prefer having GPS built-in to the camera rather than having to sync it with an additional device, so in this regard the PowerShot N doesn't compare well with rivals that offer this feature, although it does side-step the issue of negatively affecting battery life.

The second control is for the Creative Shot shooting mode, which is actually the default mode when the camera is first turned on. This innovative mode actually takes 6 different versions of the scene in front of you, intelligently assessing the subject and varying the composition, exposure, point of focus, white balance, gradation and contrast. Think of it like a random picture generator that creates one true image and five more creative versions. Sometimes you'll wonder what on earth the camera was thinking of, sometimes you'll marvel at one of the alternatives that it has produced, making this new mode well worth using.

Canon PowerShot N Canon PowerShot N
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The PowerShot N's other shooting modes include Hybrid Auto, Smart Auto, Program and an array of 7 creative filters to help spice up your shots even further. Hybrid Auto captures up to 4 seconds of the action before a still shot is taken, then joins all the clips together from the same day into a single 720p movie, which creates a time-lapse movie overview.

The N powers up in just over a second, rear LCD bursting into life and zoom extending to maximum wideangle setting so the camera is ready for action. With a half press of the shutter release ring the camera takes a further second to determine focus and exposure, AF point/s highlighted in green with the customary beep of confirmation that focus and exposure has been determined and the user is free to pursue the shot. Go on to fire the shutter and a full resolution 12 megapixel image is committed to memory in a couple of seconds, the screen briefly blanking out before returning to the real-time scene before the lens. The amount of time the captured image appears on screen as a means of review can be altered via the menu folders.

The excellent High-speed Burst mode shoots at 2.3fps at full 12 megapixel resolution, while the Super Slow Motion Movie mode offers a great way to dramatically slow down fast-moving subjects, shooting at either 240fps at 320x240 pixel resolution or 120fps at 640x480 pixels.

The bottom of the PowerShot N houses a lozenge shaped battery that's good for around 200 shots, a metal tripod mount, and the love-it-or-loathe-it tiny microSD slot, almost inevitable given the tiny dimensions of the camera.

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