Canon PowerShot N Preview
by Mike Tomkins
If you've been to your local camera store lately, or browsed the camera aisle of a big-box electronics chain, you'll have seen cameras offering just about every feature under the sun: long zooms, short zooms, or primes; tilting screens, fixed screens, or touch screens; minimalist designs or buttons and dials sprouting from every surface. No matter how wildly their designs differed, almost every camera shared a feature, though: one little button, primed and ready for you to catch a moment in time and save it for perpetuity. With the Canon PowerShot N, one of the biggest names in the business has finally taken a long, hard look at the humble shutter button, and subjected it to some out-of-the-box thinking.
One look at the unusual Canon PowerShot N, its front panel dominated by an image stabilized 8x optical zoom lens, is enough to tell you it's different from the average camera. Were it not for the strap lugs jutting from either side, it would actually look more like a network camera than your typical compact, thanks to its lack of a shutter button. In fact, the only obvious physical controls on the whole body are the power and mobile device connect buttons, found on the sides. Instead of the typical button and rocker for shutter and zoom control, both variables are controlled with rings around the lens. The outer ring controls lens zoom, while the inner ring doesn't actually control -- instead, it moves across the lens axis slightly. Pushing down on the top of the ring slightly from any angle -- even with the camera upside down -- is analogous to a shutter button being half-pressed. Push harder, and you take a photo. If you don't find this comfortable, you can also use a touch shutter function on the LCD monitor, which occupies almost the entire rear surface of the camera.
While its unusual interface defines it, on the inside the Canon N has much in common with other PowerShot models. There's a 12.1 megapixel CMOS image sensor, and a DIGIC V image processor. The lens has a 28mm wide angle and Intelligent IS image stabilization. On the rear, the 2.8-inch LCD has a top-mounted hinge allowing it to fold upwards for viewing from difficult angles or for self-portraits, rather than the side-mounted tilt/swivel design more common in Canon cameras. As noted previously, the screen is also an input device, thanks to a capacitive touch-sensitive overlay. Power comes from a proprietary lithium-ion battery, and the PowerShot N features in-camera USB charging, plus an unusual Eco mode that detects when the camera is stationary and puts it in sleep mode after ten seconds.
With almost all control happening through the smaller-than-average LCD monitor, ease of use is key, and Canon provides for this with a Hybrid Auto mode and Face ID functionality that allows the camera to recognize your most important subjects, then adjust the exposure and focus appropriately. There's also a Creative Shot mode which captures six separate exposures -- as opposed to some cameras which simply take a single exposure and then render it with different styles -- then applies six different Canon-selected filter effects to each image. As well as stills, you can also shoot 1080p high-def video clips.
And there's Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity too, helping you get your images off the camera and onto other devices or social networks. Press the Mobile Device Connect button, pair once with your Android or iOS smartphone / tablet, and the connection can be recreated with a simple two-step process in future. Images can be uploaded through the device's internet connection to Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, or sent via email, and instead of a generic message accompanying the images, you can add your own brief notes. You can also transfer images to your desktop or notebook computer through your mobile device without any fuss. Each image is temporarily uploaded to the Canon Image Gateway service, where it can reside for up to ten days. Simply switch your PC on in that time, let it connect, and the original images are pulled back down automatically. If you don't get online in time, the images will be deleted from Canon's server, but you'll get an email reminder after seven days to help you remember this.
Available from April 2013, the Canon PowerShot N is priced at US$300 or thereabouts. Two body color options will be available: white or black.