The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS replaces the A2100 as the new top-of-the-range model in the affordable PowerShot range of digital cameras. Featuring a 12.1 megapixel image sensor, 4x optical zoom lens complete with image stabilizer and 2.7 inch LCD screen, the A3100 IS sports a slim and lightweight body in three different colours. Other highlights include 18 shooting modes including Smart Auto and Easy modes with Scene Detection Technology for point-and-shoot operation, Face Detection, Face Select & Track, FaceSelf-Timer, i-Contrast and Auto Red-Eye Correction technologies, the DIGIC III image processing engine and VGA movie recording. Available in red, silver and blue for $179.99 / £189 we find out if the Canon PowerShot A3100 IS deserves its place at the top of the Canon A-series range.
Ease of Use
The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS is outwardly very similar to the more expensive and better-specced A2100 IS camera, which has now been dropped from the range, and the cheaper and less-capable A1100 IS, which is still listed as an available model. Despite its budget price-tag, the A3100 a well-made and compact digital camera with a serious matt-blue plastic body and excellent overall finish. It's easily small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, mainly thanks to the new 4x optical zoom lens that's equivalent to a 35-140mm focal length and an excellent maximum aperture of f/2.7. Although the zoom range on offer is smaller than the 6x of the A2100, it does make the A3100 a slimmer and lighter camera, measuring 2.8cms thick when turned off and weighing 30gms less at 155gms without the battery or memory card fitted.
Every aspect of the Canon A3100 IS has a quality feel with nothing feeling flimsy or ill-thought out. The main criticism that we leveled at previous PowerShots, namely that the tripod mount was plastic instead of metal and positioned in the extreme left corner of the bottom of the camera, has been rectified by the A3100's central, metal mount, so kudos to Canon for listening to user feedback. One of the most significant changes to the A3100 is the use of a Lithium Ion battery rather than AA batteries, which virtually all previous A-series Canon cameras have used. This helps make the camera lighter and significantly improves the battery life to around 225 shots from a full charge, but it does take away the flexibility of using widely available AA batteries and makes it more expensive to buy spares.
The A3100 continues to lack any kind of hand-grip. Older PowerShot models were comfortable to hold thanks to a chunky, rubberised hand-grip, but this has been completely removed on the A3100 (and the previous A2100), replaced instead by a smooth, flat finish, embossed with the Canon logo. This makes it more difficult to hold the camera than it really should be, especially as there's only a tiny horizontal row of three raised dots on the rear of the camera to assist you. On a more positive note, the majority of the external controls are well-made and easy to operate, with the action of the shooting mode dial stiff enough to resist being inadvertently turned to the wrong mode when stored in a pocket or bag. There are no real innovative features here, but everything that the Canon Powershot A3100 IS does, it does well.
The Canon Powershot A3100 IS has relatively few external controls, just 11 in total, which reflects the fact that this is quite a simple camera in functionality terms with only limited photographic control on offer. Compared to older A-series models like the popular A720 IS, which offered a full range of creative shooting modes, this continues the more simplistic approach that Canon have taken at this price-point. It's not a big deal for the less-experienced snapper, who will get more use out of the point-and-shoot Easy and Smart Auto modes, but for many keen photographers looking for a second, pocket camera, there is no longer a cheap but capable compact in the Canon range. If you really want a fully-capable PowerShot, then the S90 or the G11 are much better but also much more expensive alternatives.
Looking from the rear from left to right, located on top of the A3100 IS are the microphone holes, On/Off button, small Shutter button and the Shooting Mode Dial. The latter is now rather inconveniently placed to the far-right of the top-plate, which is where the shutter button would more naturally be positioned. More annoyingly, the push/pull zoom lever of the previous A2100 / A1100 models has been replaced by thumb-operated zoom out / zoom in buttons, which are less precise and slower to operate. On the bottom of the A3100 are the tripod mount and the battery compartment, which also houses the SD memory card slot.
On the rear of the A3100 is a now standard 2.7 inch LCD screen which offers 100% scene coverage, an average resolution of 230k dots, a wide viewing angle from left to right, and is visible in all but the brightest of sunlit conditions. There is no optical viewfinder on this model. There are a number of controls positioned to the right. You can directly access the various focus and flash options by clicking left and right on the navigation pad, whilst up and down are respectively used to set the exposure compensation and timer options. There is no dedicated button for ISO speed, which is a commonly used feature - instead you have dip into and out of either the Function or Main menus. The Function/Set button in the middle of the navigation pad opens a vertical sub-menu of icons, which, depending on the selected shooting mode, allows you to set the ISO speed, white balance, colours, metering, continuous shooting and image size/quality settings. This system is a good compromise given the size of the camera's LCD screen and therefore the limited space for external controls.
If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and fairly easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Canon have chosen to cut costs and only supply the full manual as a PDF on a CD, rather than in printed format (there's just a short printed guide to the camera's basic features). Not much use if you're taking pictures and need to find out what a particular option does. There's no memory card supplied as standard and no internal memory either, so make sure that you buy an SD / SDHC card at the same time as the camera. The A3100 also usefully supports the brand new SDXC format which makes it more future-proof.
The menu system on the Canon Powershot A3100 IS is extremely straight-forward to use and is accessed by a dedicated button underneath the navigation pad. Quite a lot of the camera's main settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation and ISO speed, are accessed elsewhere, so the main menu system isn't actually that complicated. A row of 2 icons along the top of the LCD screen represents the Camera and Setup sub-menus, with most of the options being the kind that you set once and then forget about. Due to the large and bright LCD screen, the various options are easy to access and use, especially as only 5 are shown onscreen at one time. The A3100 IS offers an intuitive menu system for beginners thanks to the 'hints and tips' text bubbles that pop up when the user alights on a particular setting. More experienced users can also deactivate this feature via the menus should it start to prove tiresome.
The Canon Powershot A3100 IS offers the usual Program mode and a comprehensive range of different scene modes aimed at the user who just wants to point and shoot, making this camera particularly well-suited to the beginner. The A3100 IS' Smart Auto Mode is similar to Panasonic's Intelligent Auto, automatically determining the subject's brightness, contrast, distance and overall hue, then selecting the best scene setting from 18 possible modes, which is more than most competitors. The A3100 uncannily selected the right kind of scene mode for almost every environment that I tried it in. There's also the Easy Mode, where the camera automatically sets every shooting setting, preventing the inexperienced user from changing anything at all, apart from turning the flash on and off. In addition Easy Mode works in the same way as Smart Auto Mode - it really does turn the A3100 into a true point and shoot camera, perfect for use by children for example.
Unlike most mid-range compacts from the last 6 months, the A3100 IS doesn't offer HD movies. Instead it records video at 640x480 VGA at 30fps with mono sound. The Long Play mode lets you store roughly twice as much footage on the same sized memory card by applying more aggressive compression (with a subsequent drop in quality).
Memory Card Slot
The Canon Powershot A3100 IS has an anti-shake system called IS Mode - turn it on in the menu system and the A3100 IS automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds. There are three different modes. Continuous is on all the time including image composition, Shooting is only on when you press the shutter button, and Panning as the name suggests is best when using the camera to track a moving subject. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos.
The start-up time from turning the Canon Powershot A3100 IS on to being ready to take a photo is quite quick at around 1.5 seconds, and it takes about 3 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest. Focusing is quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus indoors or in low-light situations, helped by the focus-assist lamp. It takes about 0.5 second to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is a very quick LCD blackout between each image. In Continuous mode the camera takes a disappointing 0.8 frames per second at the highest image quality, which is slow for this class of camera, although the shooting rate is at least maintained until your memory card is full.
Once you have captured a photo, the Canon Powershot A3100 IS has a pretty good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can scroll through the images that you have taken, view up to 36 thumbnails, zoom in and out up to 10x magnification, view slideshows, delete, protect, trim, resize and rotate an image. You can also set the print order and the transfer order. The Red-eye Correction options fixes red eye after you have taken a photo (useful if you forgot to activate it before). The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and white balance, and there is a small histogram available during playback which is helpful in evaluating the exposure. A third press of the Display button shows the image alongside a small, magnified section, useful for quickly checking the sharpness.
In summary, the Canon Powershot A3100 IS is a compact and capable digital camera that is particularly well-suited to its beginner target audience.
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 3Mb.
The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS produced images of good quality during the review period. The 12 megapixel sensor produces noise-free images at ISO 80 - 200. ISO 400 exhibits some visible noise and loss of fine detail, and ISO 800 and 1600 are even noisier, softer and suffer from colour desaturation.
The A3100 IS dealt extremely well with chromatic aberrations, with limited purple fringing effects appearing only in high contrast situations. The built-in flash worked well indoors, with no red-eye and adequate exposure. The night photograph was good, with the maximum shutter speed of 15 seconds allowing you to capture enough light in most situations.
Anti-shake works very well when hand-holding the camera in low-light conditions or when using the telephoto end of the zoom range. Macro performance is good, allowing you to focus as close as 3cms away from the subject. The images were a little soft straight out of the camera at the default sharpening setting and ideally require further sharpening in an application like Adobe Photoshop, or you can change the in-camera setting if you don't like the default results.
There are 6 ISO settings available on the Canon Powershot A3100 IS. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:
ISO 80 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are just a little soft at the default setting ideally and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can also change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes via the My Colors menu option.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS's 4x zoom lens provides a focal length of 35-140mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.
The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS has 2 different image quality settings available, with Fine being the highest quality option. Here are some 100% crops which show the quality of the various options, with the file size shown in brackets.
12M Fine (2.8Mb) (100% Crop)
12M Normal (1.2Mb) (100% Crop)
The Canon Powershot A3100 IS handled chromatic aberrations excellently during the review, with very limited purple fringing present around the edges of objects in certain high-contrast situations, as shown in the example below.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
The Canon Powershot A3100 IS offers a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is 3cms away from the camera when the lens is set to wide-angle. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.
The flash settings on the Canon Powershot A3100 IS are Auto, Flash On, Slow Synchro, and Flash Off, with Red-eye Correction and Red-Eye Lamp settings available via the Flash Settings main menu option. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.
Flash Off - Wide Angle (35mm)
Auto Flash - Wide Angle (35mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (140mm)
Auto Flash - Telephoto (140mm)
And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, neither the Flash On setting or the Red-Eye Correction option caused any red-eye.
Flash On (100% Crop)
Red-eye Correction (100% Crop)
The Canon Powershot A3100 IS's maximum shutter speed is 15 seconds in the Long Shutter mode, which is good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 10 seconds at ISO 80. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like. The camera takes the same amount of time again to apply noise reduction, so for example at the 10 second setting the actual exposure takes 20 seconds.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
The Canon Powershot A3100 IS has an anti-shake mechanism, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, I took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with anti shake turned off, the second with it turned on. Here are some 100% crops of the images to show the results. As you can see, with anti shake turned on, the images are much sharper than with anti shake turned off. This feature really does seem to make a difference and could mean capturing a successful, sharp shot or missing the opportunity altogether.
Shutter Speed / Focal Length
Anti Shake Off (100% Crop)
Anti Shake On (100% Crop)
1/15th / 35mm
1/8th / 140mm
The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS offers 5 My Color preset effects that you can use to change the look of your images, and you can also create your own Custom Color.
This is a selection of sample images from the Canon PowerShot A3100 IS camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
The Canon Powershot A3100 IS is a sensible choice as a first digital camera. There's nothing here to get too excited about, but the combination of ease-of-use, advanced features for beginners and solid image quality is a compelling one.
The usual range of scene modes are accompanied by the ultimate point-and-shoot Smart Auto and Easy modes, which really take the guesswork out of using the A3100 and make it suitable for all the family. Other beginner-friendly features include Face Select & Track, a great way of focusing on who really matters in your photos, and FaceSelf-Timer which easily allows you to take part in those all-important family group shots. More advanced users will bemoan the lack of any creative controls as found on previous A-series PowerShot models, but the 3100 is a real newbie-friendly camera.
Although the A3100 suffers from less than stellar images in low-light due to obvious noise appearing at ISO 400 and faster, image quality is on the whole good, with little sign of unwanted chromatic aberrations, accurate colours, ability to make long exposures and an effective anti-shake system. The not-so-wide-angle 35mm lens looks a little out of place on a 2010 camera, though, as does the VGA movie mode - keen cinematographers should look elsewhere - and the slow burst shooting mode is disappointing too.
The A3100 is certainly reasonably priced at around £175 / $175, something that mid-range Canon compacts haven't been able to boast about too much before. So while this camera won't set the world on fire, it is a great introduction to the world of digital photography, making the Canon Powershot A3100 IS an easy Recommended choice.
Ratings (out of 5)
Value for money
Reviews of the Canon PowerShot A3100 IS from around the web.
The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS is an affordable 12.1 Megapixel compact with a stabilized 4x zoom lens and 2.7in LCD screen. Launched in January 2010 it replaces the best-selling PowerShot A1100 IS with a radical redesign of the body and controls. Most notably, it's the first PowerShot A Series to use a Lithium-Ion power pack.
Read the full review »
It just so happens that the Canon PowerShot A3100 IS arrived in our labs at just the same time as the Nikon Coolpix L22. Both have a similar resolution and a similar zoom range. Both also produce decent but not brilliant pictures (the L22's are actually a little better). And yet the A3100 costs twice as much. It's just not worth it
Read the full review »
Canon's A3100 IS is an affordable, compact entry-level model that provides you with excellent image quality and decent performance. Featuring a 12.1-Megapixel imaging sensor, 4x optical zoom with optical image stabilization, smart auto and face detection, you will be very happy with the large set of features that are included. With a MSRP of US $179.99, this is a great compact model for the home, office or as someone's first digicam.
Read the full review »
1/2.3 type CCD
Colour Filter Type
DIGIC III with iSAPS technology
6.2 – 24.8 mm (35mm equivalent: 35 – 140mm)
Optical 4x. Digital approx. 4x ¹ (with Digital Tele-Converter approx. 1.5x or 2.0x and Safety Zoom ²)¹. Combined approx. 16x
f/2.7 – f/5.6
7 elements in 5 groups
2 single sided aspherical lenses
Yes (lens shift-type), Approx. 3-stop
AF System/ Points
AiAF (Face Detection / 9-point), 1-point AF (fixed to centre or Face Select and Track)
Single, Continuous ¹
AF Point Selection
Size (Normal, Small)
AF Assist Beam
Closest Focusing Distance
3cm (W) from front of lens in macro
Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame), Centre-weighted average, Spot (centre)
+/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments.
i-Contrast for automatic dynamic range correction
AUTO, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
1 - 1/1600 sec (factory default)
15 - 1/1600 sec (total range - varies by shooting mode)
Auto (including Face Detection WB), Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
6.7cm (2.7") TFT, approx. 230,000 dots
Adjustable to one of five levels. Quick-bright LCD
Auto, Manual Flash On / Off, Slow Synchro
Slow Sync Speed
Yes. Fastest speed 1/1600 sec
Flash Exposure Compensation
Face Detection FE, Smart Flash Exposure
Flash Exposure Lock
Built-in Flash Range
30cm - 4.0m (W) / 2.0m (T)
Canon High Power Flash HF-DC1
Auto*, Easy*, P, Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, FaceSelf-Timer, Low Light (2.0MP) Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter, Movie
*with Scene Detection Technology and Motion Detection Technology
My Colors (My Colors Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Custom Color (limited))