Canon PowerShot 310 HS Review
by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: August 10, 2012
Canon hasn't blinked in the battle with smartphones, delivering exceptional image quality in a real camera as compact as a phone. By real camera we mean an 8x zoom lens with a flash and the smarts to go with it.
The smarts built into the Canon 310 give you options you just don't find on a cell phone. And I enjoyed dabbling with them to take some memorable shots in black and white, among other things.
There's a lot of hand-wringing over which small camera to slip into your pocket when a dSLR is too much. I suspect PowerShot owners don't wring their hands much. These little wonders have filled the bill pretty well for a long time -- and promise to continue doing so.
Look and Feel. The latest ELPH sports a few twists on the traditional ELPH package. First is the mode switch, residing as it does on the right side of the Canon 310, which is unfortunately difficult to use.
Then there's the Menu button, also on the right side of the camera, beneath the lanyard loop. Even the 300 HS had the Menu button on the back, in the traditional spot below the navigator. But for some reason, Canon has moved it to the short side panel of the Canon 310 HS. The Mode switch is on top and the Menu button on the bottom, separated by the wrist strap eyelet (which is not easy to navigate). Adjacent to them, toward the front of the Canon 310 is a port cover hiding the Mini HDMI terminal and the AV/USB port.
Otherwise this ELPH is pretty familiar territory.
On the top edge (it isn't really much of a panel), there are a couple of tiny holes for the stereo microphones near the middle. Just to the right is the Power button. And to the right of that is the large, comfortable Shutter button ringed with a Zoom lever, a very nice combination. At the very right edge there's a speaker grill of three small holes. On the black body all those holes are nearly invisible.
The back of the Canon 310 HS has just a few controls to the right of the large LCD. On top is the Movie button. I usually complain about this location but I found it worked very well on such a compact camera. On the bottom is the Playback button, which can also power the Canon 310 on and turn it off without bothering the lens. Between those two buttons is the four-way navigator with a Function/Set button in the middle. The arrow keys do double duty, as I'll detail below.
On the bottom of the camera a metal tripod socket sits right next to the hinge for the battery/memory card compartment.
The front of the Canon 310 is occupied mainly by the lens, although the flash is tucked into the one o'clock position and the AF assist/self-timer lamp is squeezed in just under it.
Pretty simple. One look around the the thing and you've got it figured out.
There isn't a grip to speak of, but the Canon 310 HS is small enough that a grip would be too much. As it is, the large "Canon" on the front is nicely raised to give you a little traction, and a little is all you really need. It's a very sweet design, comfortable to operate.
Controls. Part of that comfort is in the intelligent design of the controls.
The top of the Canon 310 HS is slightly curved so the small Power button stands out just enough to make it easy to find without getting in the way.
The large Shutter button and Zoom lever are a pleasure to use. The Zoom lever is single speed, a bit quick for stills (but better fast than slow). It is easy enough to precisely frame an image with the Zoom lever. Despite its quickness, it isn't jerky. In Movie mode, I was delighted to find it slows down considerably (better slow than fast).
Instead of a Mode dial on the Canon 310 HS, there's that Mode switch. Canon could have dispensed with it. The only options are Auto and Camera (or Manual). Auto puts the camera in robot mode where it makes all the decisions using all its mysterious tricks. Smart Auto, face detection focus, etc. Camera or Manual mode lets you set a few things (and is how you get to Program). It seems Canon could just have added Auto to the mode settings in the Function menu and have been done with it, but I suppose they were trying to emphasize how smart this little ELPH is.
The Menu button takes you to the more general Record, Playback and Setup options, while the Canon 310's Function menu presents more shot-to-shot options, as on other Canons.
The usual ELPH four-way navigator with a Func./Set button sits between the Movie and Playback buttons. The Up arrow also handles EV Compensation. The Right arrow toggles through Flash modes. The Down arrow goes through the Display options. And the Left button accesses focus modes like Macro, Normal, and Infinity.
The Canon 310's 3.0-inch LCD is a wide-viewing angle screen with about 461,000 dots and five brightness levels.
Lens. One issue with ELPHs has been the rather short zoom range compared to other compacts. For a long time, Canon was content with 3x zooms. So I was pretty happy to find an 8x zoom on this ELPH.
The zoom range starts from a pretty wide 28mm before stretching to a fairly long 224mm in 35mm equivalents. So you can capture the whole room and get close enough to landmarks. The Canon 310 will also do Macro, getting as close in wide angle as 0.4 inch. I have a few macro shots in the Gallery.
The Canon 310's lens also enjoys optical image stabilization. Not only is image stabilization a boon for those 224mm shots, but it's also just the ticket for low light shooting, helping to avoid the flash. And perhaps even more importantly, it's particularly well implemented in video. You probably aren't going to shoot video on a tripod, but you really do need a stabilized image to keep your audience happy.
As you might expect on a small camera, the Canon 310's lens isn't very fast, offering an f/3.0 aperture in wide angle (going to f/9.0) and an f/5.9 aperture in telephoto (going to f/18). Another reason to applaud the image stabilization.
The shutter speed range is 15 to 1/2,000 second, but that includes Scene and Long Shutter modes. The normal range is one to 1/2,000 second.
Modes. The Canon 310 HS keeps shooting modes fairly simple. Either the camera's in charge (Auto) or you are (Camera/Manual). But you aren't in much control, as is usually the case with a small consumer camera.
The manual nicely divides the issue into three options after asking, "What do you want to do?" Take good people shots? Shoot various other scenes? Shoot with special effects? To its credit the Canon 310 HS can handle all that.
AUTO. On the Canon 310 HS, Auto mode is one option on the Mode switch. Unlike the ordinary Auto of years past, this one is Smart. It analyzes the scene and sets the camera accordingly for either stills or video.
Canon doesn't divulge much about Smart Auto, except to say, "Detected scenes are analyzed using 32 predefined shooting situations. The camera then makes optimal settings to ensure the best possible image capture, whether you're shooting stills or video. Smart Auto also includes Advanced Subject Detection, which allows the camera to detect and track non-human moving subjects like animals and vehicles."
I didn't spend much time with it, though, because the shooting options are very limited. You can change the aspect ratio, image size and compression -- and that's about it.
PROGRAM. To gain a few more options, the Canon 310's Program mode comes to the rescue. You don't have the full control of the camera you might in a true Manual mode, nor even in a full-blown Program mode (where you could select among a set of equivalent aperture/shutter speed combinations). But you do get control of ISO, white balance and a few other options.
You access Program mode by setting the Mode dial to Camera/Manual and using the Function/Set button to select the Recording mode. Program is just one of the options.
SCENE. Scene modes are also hidden away in the Recording mode option. The full list includes Movie Digest, Portrait, Kids&Pets, Smart Shutter (which uses Face Detection), High-Speed Burst, Best Images Selection, Handheld NightScene, Low Light, Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Color Accent, Color Swap, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter, Stitch Assist, iFrame Movie, and Super Slow Motion Movie. A few of these record a smaller image than normal.
I suppose lumping all those options under Recording mode makes sense (you only have one place to look) but I also suspect it will confuse anyone who has previously owned a PowerShot.
MOVIE. Not on that list is Movie mode. That's because it's always available via the Movie Record button. You can set options like the Quality (1,920 x 1,080, 1,280 x 720 or 640 x 480) from the Function/Set menu. Options like the Wind filter are set from the Main Menu for Recording using the Menu button.
Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 1080p) is recorded at 24fps, while HD (1,280 x 720 or 720p) and standard definition (640 x 480 or VGA) are 30fps. Videos are recorded in MOV format with H.264 video encoding and Linear PCM stereo audio. Optical zoom during recording is supported.
You can also shoot in an editing friendly iFrame Movie mode (1,280 x 720 @30fps) and Super Slow Motion Movie mode (records either 640 x 480 at 120fps or 320 x 240 at 240fps, plays back at 30fps). Miniature Effect is also supported for movies, at 1,280 x 720 or 640 x 480. Recording is at 6, 3, or 1.5fps, and playback is at 30fps.
Menu System. Canon can't help tinkering with the Menu system on every new model it seems, and the Canon 310 is no exception.
However the company tinkers with it, though, the Canon controls and menu system are comfortable to use once you learn how to play the game. After you pick a Record mode, just hit the Function button to see your shooting options. Hit the Menu button for general camera setup options any time.
Storage & Battery. There's no internal memory on the Canon 310 and no memory card is included with the camera. You'll want to buy a fast SD card (Speed Class 6 or higher) to keep up with the HD video recording. The Canon 310 HS is aware of Eye-Fi cards (although Canon says the 310 HS "is not guaranteed to support" them) and compatible with SD/SDHC/SDXC formats.
Canon estimates a 4GB card will hold about 1,231 large images with fine compression or 14 minutes, 34 seconds of Full HD video (1,080 at 24 fps). Clips are restricted to 4GB or 10 minutes.
The Canon 310 HS is powered by a 3.7 volt, 760 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which can be fully charged about 300 times. Canon estimates about 210 shots per charge or 40 minutes of movie recording using CIPA standards.
Two things are missing from this package. First, you'll want an SD card (a fast one to handle HD video). Second, you may want a video cable to interface with your TV; neither is provided in the box.
Shooting with the Canon 310 HS
by Mike Pasini
There's a difference between a simple camera that takes photos and a phone that takes snapshots. You grab your phone to take snapshots at a party when the fun starts. A simple camera is what you want on a desert island. I'd take an ELPH like the 310 HS if I were stuck on a desert island. It would work just as well if I threw a party for the natives, too.
The desert island test is really a measure of how much of a camera the device is. Can you capture that sunset? Can you lock exposure? Can you shoot a coconut on the white sand in black and white? Can you slow the shutter down to make the stream seem to flow softly over the rocks on its way to the beach?
You can see in the gallery that the Canon 310 HS can do a lot. I had a lot of photographic rather than snapshot fun with it. So much fun I nearly got run over by a train. Fortunately the train must have been off schedule a bit.
One bit of fun was shooting macro. The fabric shot in the first frame with available light is at ISO 800 and 1/30 second. At f/3.0 there isn't a lot of depth of field but you aren't rubbing your eyes to focus the image better either.
The coins are also a macro shot with the lens so close it was actually casting a shadow over the image as I composed it. I swiveled a bit out of the light path and still got an intimate image. Seeing the world that close is fun and the 310 HS doesn't blink doing it.
There are also some late afternoon shots that are almost eerie in their color cast. The roses and piano keyboard are among them. They're tough shots for any camera. Reds are notorious and wash them in the orange light of a late winter afternoon and forget it. But the 310 HS took an artful shot.
Color, in general, was delightful. Under the same sky the stone wall and ground cover were taken only a few minutes before the ship in the bay. The first is vibrant and punchy while the other is staid and subtle.
I had some fun with special effects too. On a walk downtown I caught a cable car in Miniature mode then turned around and caught an intersection on the hill it had just climbed. They're both fun pictures of a common scene.
But by far the most fun I had with the Canon 310 HS was when I set it to capture Monochrome on a day that the fog drifted in like a thief in broad daylight. There's a good selection of those images in the gallery but I shot a lot more.
The Bay Bridge was still lit by the sun as the fog swirled in along the Embarcadero. The effects were stunning. And the Canon 310 HS caught the subtle tonal graduations that fascinated me.
Oddly, the one shoot where the Canon 310 HS disappointed me was a birthday party in one of those modern apartments where no thought was given to sunlight and which is inevitably inhabited by beginner furniture collectors who have not given much consideration to artificial light.
So I shot with the ISO cranked up, but it wasn't enough to stop the movement of little kids running around (or even turning their heads). I ended up resorting to video, which wasn't a bad move.
Fortunately you don't need a desert island to enjoy the Canon 310 HS. You just need a little sunlight.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS Lens Quality
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS features an 8x zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent of 28-224mm.
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Soft at upper left
Tele: Sharper at center
Tele: Also quite soft, upper left
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS' zoom shows noticeable blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, and blurring extends a little far into the image area. At telephoto, performance is similar, with slightly less crisp results at the center of the frame.
Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; noticeable
Tele: Small amount of pincushion, slightly noticeable
Geometric Distortion: The PowerShot ELPH 310 HS shows moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.5%), and a small amount of pincushion distortion at telephoto (0.3%). Distortion is noticeable in both images, though it isn't overly high.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, though the reddish and cyan pixels are a little bright. At telephoto, distortion is a little stronger, this time with very bright purplish and yellow pixels on either side of the target lines.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS' Macro mode has a little trouble this close, though it captures a small minimum area measuring 0.86 x 0.64 inches (22 x 16mm). Blurring in the corners, a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode, is much stronger than average and greatly interferes with detail here. Only the dead center of the frame is sharp. The Canon 310 HS' flash actually performs well here, producing a good enough exposure to see detail, though with a bright hot spot in the top left corner of the frame. If strong detail is important in macro shots, definitely back off a little with the Canon 310 HS.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS Viewfinder Accuracy
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS' LCD monitor showed just over 100% coverage at wide-angle and close to 101% at telephoto, which is good, if a touch loose.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS Image Quality
Color: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS produced good color, with the usual oversaturation in strong reds, blues and greens. Yellows are a little muted, though. Hue is also off for colors like yellow, orange and cyan. Dark skintones are pushed toward orange, while lighter skin tones show a smaller shift toward red. Overall performance is slightly better than average here.
Good, though slightly warm
Incandescent: Both the Manual and Auto white balance settings handled our incandescent lighting pretty well, though the Auto image is just a hint warm. Incandescent produced a strong pink cast.
Horizontal: 1,700 lines
Vertical: 1,800 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,700 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,800 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,600 lines per picture height.
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at the rated wide-angle distance of 13 feet, though the camera increased ISO to 500. The telephoto test also showed bright results at its rated distance of 6.6 feet, though ISO was boosted to 640.
Auto flash produced dim results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining very little ambient light at 1/60 second, ISO 100. Adjusting the exposure compensation had no effect on exposure here, though using Auto ISO would have helped. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced brighter results at 1/10 second, ISO 100, though the exposure is still a tad dim overall. Again, adjusting the exposure compensation had practically no effect. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is good at ISO 100 and 200, with visible softening of the finer details beginning at ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise remains fairly well controlled at all ISOs, though luminance noise visibly increases. Noise suppression efforts also blur details as the sensitivity increases. However, results at ISO 3,200 are better than average. See Printed section below for more on how this affects prints.
Print Quality: ISO 100 shots look good at 16 x 20 in terms of fine, high-contrast detail, but low-contrast detail, especially reds, appear quite soft at this size, and the upper right corner is pretty soft. Reducing to 13 x 19 helps a bit with both of these elements.
ISO 200 shots also look good at 13 x 19.
ISO 400 images have too much shadow noise at 13 x 19 inches, but look pretty good at 11 x 14 inches.
ISO 800 shots are soft and noisy at 11 x 14, but better at 8x10.
ISO 1,600 images look good at 5 x 7.
ISO 3,200 images look better at 4 x 6 inches.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS Performance
Startup Time: The Canon PowerShot 310 HS takes about 1.9 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's on the faster side of average for its class.
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.38 second at wide angle and 0.46 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.119 second, not the fastest out there, but still reasonably quick.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is a little slower, capturing a frame every 2.06 seconds in single-shot mode. Full resolution continuous mode is rated at 3.5 fps, which isn't bad for its class. High-Speed Burst mode raises that to a fast 8.7 fps, though resolution is limited to about 3 megapixels.
Flash Recycle: The Canon PowerShot 310 HS' flash recycles in about 3.7 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is quite good.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Canon PowerShot 310 HS' download speeds are pretty fast. We measured 7,434 KBytes/sec.
Battery Life: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS' battery life has a CIPA rating of 210 shots per charge, which is a little lower than average for a subcompact.
In the Box
The Canon 310 HS retail package includes:
- The PowerShot 310 HS camera
- NB-4L battery pack with terminal cover
- CB-2LV battery charger
- USB cable
- Wrist strap
- Software CD
- Getting Started booklet and warranty card
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card, with a 4GB to 8GB card a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
Canon 310 HS Conclusion
The Canon PowerShot 310 HS is compact and cute. But there's a lot of photographic goodness packed into its sleek shell. And not just for still photography but for video too.
Some of the special shooting modes are noteworthy additions to the old standbys. Handheld Night Scene is one, combining several handheld images into one with lower noise. But there are also some fun modes that aren't just novelties like Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect and Monochrome.
Smart Auto will make even a beginner look good whether shooting stills or video. Not just because the camera will be optimized for the scene but because the Canon 310 HS takes some pretty nice images.
I had no complaint about image quality, resolution, color fidelity, tonal capture or any other measure I could think up to judge the images. They were delightful to review. Technically, there are a few issues, including corner softness and chromatic aberration, but these issues didn't affect my day-to-day shooting.
And that can only inspire you to take more pictures and push this little camera in new directions. It has a lot of places it can go, and that makes it an easy Dave's Pick.