Canon ELPH 300 HS Review
|Dimensions:||3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in.
(92 x 56 x 20 mm)
|Weight:||5.0 oz (141 g)
ELPH 300 HS Review Summary: Slim and user-friendly with a 24-120mm lens, we thought the Canon 300's images and Full HD video were just right for recording the fun wherever you go, ideal for the target market at this price.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS
Review by David Elrich and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 04/25/2011
Priced at US$250 -- the same as the SD1400 IS model it replaces -- the Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS design pairs a 12.1-megapixel backside illuminated CMOS image sensor with a 5x optical zoom lens that provides a 35mm-equivalent range of 24-120mm, a generous wide-angle to a moderate telephoto. Maximum aperture varies from f/2.7 to f/5.9 across the zoom range. Helpfully, Canon has included a true optical image stabilization system in the ELPH 300 HS, which combats blur from camera shake.
The Canon PowerShot 300 HS lacks any form of optical or electronic viewfinder, with all interaction taking place through its rear-panel PureColor II G LCD display. The PowerShot ELPH 300 HS's display measures 2.7 inches diagonally, and offers 230,000 dot resolution, which equates to roughly a 320 x 240 pixel array with three dots per color. LCD coverage is said to be approximately 100%. As well as still images at resolutions up to 4,000 x 3,000 pixels, the Canon ELPH 300 HS can record high definition movie clips at up to Full HD (aka 1080p, or 1,920 x 1,080 pixels) resolution, with a rate of 24 frames per second at the highest resolution, and 30 frames per second at 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels) or below. Movies are stored with H.264 compression in a .MOV container, and include stereo Linear PCM audio.
Exposures are calculated using the ELPH 300 HS's evaluative metering system, which also offers center-weighted average and spot modes. No manual control over the look of images is provided, with the Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS instead providing a choice of Smart Auto, Program Auto, and a selection of scene modes. Seven white balance modes are available, including Auto, five presets, and manual. The PowerShot 300 HS has a four-mode flash with a range of 50cm to 3.5m at wide-angle, or 90cm to 2m at telephoto.
The Canon ELPH 300 HS stores images and movies on Secure Digital, SDHC, or SDXC cards. Connectivity options include mini-HDMI high definition or NTSC/PAL standard-definition composite video, and USB 2.0 High Speed data. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary NB-4L lithium-ion rechargeable battery, rated as good for a battery life of 220 shots, down 10 shots from last year's model.
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS ships from March 2011 in the US market.
Canon ELPH 300 HS
by David Elrich
Digital cameras continue to shrink, including the Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS, which the company claims is the "world's thinnest 24mm camera with a 5x optical zoom." And while overall size is important, this new ELPH shaved the pixel count from its predecessor's 14MP CCD to a 12.1-megapixel BSI CMOS imager. The question is whether this incredible shrinking package lives up to the claims...
Look and Feel. The PowerShot ELPH 300 HS is one very thin digicam that puts a nice spin on the traditional circle and square ethos of the Canon ELPH. Available in red, black or silver -- our review sample was a vibrant red -- the company states this is the "thinnest yada yada." I don't have the specs of 350-plus digicams memorized so I'll trust the company's lawyers if they're making such a claim. Anyway it's 0.77 inches thick. For reference, Sony's very skinny T series are 0.72 inches thick but they only have 4x 25mm optical zooms, not the 5x 24mm of the ELPH. Whatever. No matter if this is a bit of Canon hyperbole, the 300 HS is so skinny and light you can carry around all of the time. It measures 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.77 inches (92.2 x 55.9 x 19.5mm) and weighs 4.97 ounces (141g) with battery and card per CIPA.
The very red Canon 300 HS is kind of morbidly fascinating, sort of like watching Charlie Sheen--a person screaming, "Look at me!"--so I can see its appeal for some. As for me, I wouldn't be caught owning one--black or silver is more my taste. That said, the Canon 300 HS has nicely rounded edges with just a few logos peppering the front. The extending 5x zoom adds about an inch to the depth when you power it up. Also on the front is the flash and a self-timer/AF Assist lamp.
On the top of the Canon 300 HS are the on/off button and the shutter button, which is surrounded by a zoom toggle, a tiny speaker, and two pinholes for the stereo mics. Yes, this diminutive digicam captures linear stereo soundtracks with its 1080p HD video, but you can only hear mono from the Canon 300's speaker.
The Canon 300 is clearly a point-and-shoot, so there is no mode dial on the back or anywhere else. There's simply a switch on the top right that lets you pick between Auto and P (Program). That's it, so if you want anything to do with aperture or shutter speed adjustments, move on to your next camera option. The key feature on the back is the 2.7-inch LCD screen, and although it's only 230K pixels, it has very good contrast and was quite usable even in direct sunlight. The other rear keys include a dedicated red-dot movie button, Playback and Menu buttons, along with a four-way controller with a center Function/Set button. The four points offer direct access to Flash, Display, Macro and Exposure Compensation adjustments.
On the right side is a compartment for USB/AV and mini HDMI ports. The door hinge looks and feels decidedly flimsy, so a gentle touch is in order. The bottom of this Made-in-Japan digicam has a metal tripod mount and compartment for the battery and card (it accepts newer SDXC media). The battery is rated 220 shots, per CIPA.
Lens. One trend I really appreciate is the proliferation of cameras with wide-angle lenses. The Canon 300 HS starts off at a very wide 24mm and tops out 120mm on the telephoto side. Forget birds in treetops but you'll capture nice group shots, building studies and landscape vistas. The lens has a range of f/2.7(W) - f/5.9(T) with 6 elements in 5 groups. It features three double-sided aspherical lenses (including one UA lens) and one single-sided aspherical lens (including one UA lens). Macro gets as close as 1.2 inches (3cm).
The ELPH 300 HS doesn't have the bulk of a mega-zoom nor does it offer a solid grip. You use the classic two-handed four-finger praying mantis hold on the corners. Even with the light weight, stabilization is important and this $250 camera has optical image stabilization, not electronic. This is one feature that truly separates the digicam wheat from the chaff.
Controls. This is about as basic as it gets for a digicam without a touchscreen panel (see photos). As stated, the 300 HS has very few manual adjustments other than exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, metering and overall image tone (11 My Colors options). Focus, aperture and shutter speed are all handled automatically although you can keep the shutter open for up to 15 seconds in Long Shutter mode. Your main control is the zoom toggle switch surrounding the shutter button. It moves through the 24-120mm range very smoothly.
Modes. The Canon 300 HS is an aim-and-forget camera with two main shooting options--Auto and Program. If I were a betting person I'd wager 90% of the Canon 300's owners will never move the switch from Auto to P other than by mistake. Fortunately Auto has some smarts, and in this case it recognizes 32 scenarios in front of it and adjusts accordingly. Last year's SD1400 recognized only 22. Good move, Canon. Adjustable options in Auto are still/movie resolution, compression, aspect ratio, and the self-timer. Your choices in Program are far greater but still a shadow of a DSLR or Canon's PowerShot S95 or G12. You can adjust metering, white balance (7 choices), ISO (100-3,200), burst, aspect ratio, resolution and compression. Under P are a wide variety of Scene modes, filters and tone enhancements. There's the usual Beach, Portrait along with Fish Eye, Miniature, Toy Camera and so on. You can even punch up the colors with Super Vivid, if that's your inclination. Since this ELPH is designated HS because it has a BSI CMOS sensor, DIGIC 4 processor and brighter lens, Canon added Handheld Night Scene and Low Light options. We'll see how these perform shortly.
Video is a given for a $250 digicam, but the Canon ELPH 300 HS can record Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 videos at 24 fps with stereo sound, thanks to its CMOS sensor. You can also shoot at lower resolutions, and there are some slow motion options that are shot at 120 or 240 frames per second but played back at 30.
Menus. When you hit the Menu and Function Set keys--depending on the mode you're in--you'll have access to adjustable parameters. You just use the four-way controller to step through the choices. Canon's touchscreen models are far more fun and of-the-moment. Unfortunately you have to spend another $50 for the ELPH 500 HS with its 3.2-inch touch LCD to get this. Similar to the 300 HS in many ways, it's thicker at about an inch and weighs more; turns out you get noticeably better image quality from the 500HS, which we'll get to soon.
Storage and Battery. The Canon ELPH 300 HS uses SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards as well as Eye-Fi and a variety of Multimedia card formats. Since the camera takes Full HD video at least a Class 6 high-speed card should be used; 4 or 8GB will do the trick.
The Canon 300 HS is supplied with an NB-4L lithium-ion battery and a plug-in charger (CB-2LV). Per CIPA standards it lasts for 220 shots in still mode. I shot video, still burst mode, and used the flash during the course of my tests. The battery lasted longer than stated. A spare battery still makes sense for anyone who expects to be shooting all day and is not within range of an outlet.
Playback. The ELPH 300 HS offers quite a few Playback options. Hit the Playback key and you can walk individually through images using left/right on the controller. Move the zoom toggle and you enlarge your photos up to 10x. If you push the toggle left you'll see different-sized thumbnails but there is no calendar view to search your shots by date, though you can use Filtered Playback to search for images marked as favorites, by shot date, by category or by type (still or movie). There is also a slideshow mode where you can select the transition effect and speed, and a Smart Shuffle mode is also available if more than 50 images are on a card. In Playback you have access to several of Canon's editing options which include i-Contrast and red-eye correction. i-Contrast is similar to Nikon's D-Lighting which helps even exposures and enhances detail.
Shooting with the Canon ELPH 300 HS
I used the Canon 300 HS over a period of several weeks traveling to Brooklyn's Coney Island, skyscraper-filled Manhattan, and nearby suburbs of New Jersey. Most of the shots were taken outdoors, but I performed my usual indoor tests in available light (flash off). One of the claims of BSI CMOS sensors is their ability to handle low-light situations. That's why Canon has the Handheld Night mode while competitors use variations on this theme. We'll see if it's worth dialing in soon enough.
Before getting into the results, I will state the Canon 300 HS nicely fits the old saying--the best camera is the one you have with you. You can take this baby anywhere and everywhere, so casual shutterbugs should consider it for that fact alone. It's smaller than my Droid cell phone and I won't even comment on comparable image quality (the Droid is really, really bad). The camera is so simple to operate, even Homer Simpson could master it in about 10 seconds--everyone else would be good to go as soon as they turn it on. The Smart Auto passed its SATs as photos taken in Auto were quite good--with some caveats, of course since I've yet to find the perfect digicam. All of my stills were taken at the 4,000 x 3,000-pixel Fine setting, starting in Auto, then switching to Program. Movie clips were shot at best Full HD resolution. Once finished I downloaded everything to my rapidly-filling PC, made many full-bleed 8x10 prints with no post processing and watched the videos on a 50-inch plasma HDTV via HDMI.
One of the true highlights of this camera is the 24mm equivalent opening focal length. I really like wide-angle photography and would gladly give up telephoto reach for it. The Canon 300 HS has a 5x optical zoom (24-120mm) so you're getting a bit more than the traditional point-and shoot (35-105mm). I loved standing on the Coney Island boardwalk taking in the slightly-distorted view of the historic red parachute jump against a cloud-spotted blue sky. Afterwards I zoomed in for more detail of the metal frame.
When I reviewed the Nikon S8100, I also took the Canon 300 HS along in order to make some apples-to-apples comparisons. One shot of a freaky sideshow sign told a big part of the story. The Nikon was much sharper, but the colors weren't as rich as the Canon 300 HS. I've always had a preference for Canon PowerShots' overall tone and I really liked the results of the 300 HS. And yet super sharpness just wasn't there with many of the images. This was a pity. Not to say the Canon didn't deliver some really crisp images, especially with a lot of sunlight, but still it was a bit of a mixed bag.
Given its small size and 24mm wide-angle lens, though, the Canon 300 HS does a lot in a small space, as you can see by some of the examples shown here. Some skyscraper views were solid, but details were a bit muddy in the corners. The negative impressions were confirmed not only by my eyes checking the prints, but in IR labs as well. It found corners were soft at telephoto on the left side but much sharper on the right.
Corners at wide-angle are not quite as bad, but marred by chromatic aberration and lens flare. As for CA, the lab found it was noticeable at wide-angle, extending well into the frame. It was better at telephoto, but still apparent. There was noticeable barrel distortion at wide-angle and moderate pincushion at telephoto. All of these things are worth reporting, but considering the size and cost of the Canon 300 HS, none of them are a surprise.
Now for some pleasant news--macro shots were good. I took some photos of crocuses and faded garden foliage and was happy with the results even when enlarged 100%. This too was confirmed by the lab. The Canon 300 HS gets very close and is very sharp in the center but loses focus and increases in chromatic aberration as it radiates out. This is a very common outcome though. The optical image stabilization system worked well in most instances but as expected, it couldn't salvage a few close-ups of flowers that were vibrating in the breeze. There were a lot more keepers than blurry images.
Handheld Night Scene mode is one of the benefits of a BSI CMOS chip. Sony T series Cyber-shots, for example, have a Hand-held Twilight setting that takes six frames and combines them for less noise-filled images in low light. The Canon 300 HS combines three. We took some shots of a closed storefront at night using this setting, then tried raising the ISO up to the maximum of 3,200 for comparison. We also shot some samples in Low Light Scene mode, which reduces the resolution to 3-megapixels.
Clearly low-light shooting with the Canon 300 HS is not only possible, but something you'll love experimenting with. Now don't expect miracles, such as getting a sharp image of a moving subject in low light--you can't fight physics or slow shutter speeds--but the HS system is a real plus.
Performance of the Canon 300 HS is mixed. Shutter lag is about average, 0.54 second at wide-angle, 0.68 telephoto. The prefocus shutter lag is faster at 0.078 second. It takes a shot about every 2.04 seconds in single-shot mode which is about average, though Canon claims 3.4 fps in full-resolution burst mode. The 3-megapixel high-speed HS burst setting manages 7.97 fps.
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS handles well-lit photos and noise well and it's reasonably successful with movies. The 1,920 x 1,080 videos at 24 fps are OK but a bit jerky, at least played back on a TV through an HDMI cable (they're better on a fast computer). I much prefer 30 fps or 1080i at 60 fps. The clips are relatively noise free with accurate colors even blown up on a 50-inch screen. Unlike low-cost competitors, you can use the optical zoom while recording plus it has stereo sound. As with all digicams, the small mics magnify wind noise and a breezy day at the shore sounded like the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Overall the Canon 300 HS packs a lot of imaging power into a small package. It suffers from the expected problems, but does a good job for the price and size.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Soft at upper left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Very strong blurring, upper left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS' zoom
shows some noticeable blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center,
though blurring doesn't extend far into the image area. At telephoto, however, blurring is very strong in both upper and lower left corners of the frame. Performance on the right is much better, with very little blurring present. Fair results at wide angle, but blurring is an issue at full telephoto.
Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; slightly noticeable
Tele: Moderate pincushion distortion; slightly noticeable
Geometric Distortion: The PowerShot ELPH 300 HS produced moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.5%), which is lower-than-average but still slightly noticeable. At full telephoto, there's a moderate amount of pincushion distortion (0.3%) which is a little higher-than-average. Though distortion isn't completely controlled, the 300 HS' processor certainly works to keep it down to lower levels for a wide-angle 5x lens.
Wide: High and bright
Tele: Also high, a little less bright
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is high
in terms of pixel count, and pixels are very bright. At telephoto, distortion is again fairly high, though coloration is a little darker. The effect is quite noticeable at both lens settings.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS' Macro mode captures sharp detail in the dollar bill and on the edges of the coins and brooch, though the entire left side of the frame is very soft. (Many consumer digital cameras produce soft corners
in macro mode, but results here are a little worse than average along the left side.) Minimum coverage area is 1.64 x 1.23 inches (42 x 31mm), which
is quite good. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens, resulting in a very strong shadow in the lower right and hot highlights in the upper left. Stick to external lighting for shots this close.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS Viewfinder Accuracy
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS' LCD monitor showed about 101% coverage accuracy at wide-angle and about 100% at telephoto. A little loose at wide angle, but still good.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS Image Quality
Color: Overall color looks good and natural, though bright reds and greens are a little oversaturated. Cyans are actually a little muted, as are some yellows. Some slight shifts in hue are also noticeable, such as in oranges, yellows and reds. Darker
skintones are slightly warm, as are lighter skin tones, which are nudged toward yellow and orange. Pretty good results overall though.
Good, though slightly cool
Horizontal: 2,000 lines
Vertical: 2,000 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct
line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height in both directions.
Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,400 lines per picture height.
Tele: Also bright
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at the rated distance of 11.5 feet, though the camera raised ISO to 640 to achieve this. At the rated telephoto distance of 6.6 feet, results are also bright, though ISO is again raised to 640.
Auto flash produced dark results with our Indoor Portrait scene when set to ISO 100, and the camera selected 1/60 second shutter speed. However, switching over to the Slow-Sync mode results in a much brighter exposure, though shutter speed is a very slow 1/4 second. You'll definitely need a tripod at this setting to prevent blurring from camera movement. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is fair at ISO 100, with
some visible softening beginning as early as ISO 200. Chroma (color) noise is moderate, but both luminance noise and noise suppression efforts cause trouble from ISO 400 on up.
Results at ISO 1,600 and 3,200 are quite soft and fuzzy, though the suggestion of fine detail is still visible in some areas. See Printed
Print Quality: ISO 100 images print with pretty good detail at 13x19 inches, but color is somewhat faded, and low contrast red areas are already blurrier than one would find on a CCD sensor. Corners are also noticeably soft at this size. Reducing to 11x14 inches reduces most of these issues.
ISO 200 shots still look good at 11x14 inches.
ISO 400 images are a little softer, but still usable at 11x14. Reduction to 8x10 makes them better.
ISO 800 shots also look good at 8x10.
ISO 1,600 files look better at 5x7.
ISO 3,200 shots are usable, but too soft on close inspection, looking better at 4x6 inches.
Hair also prints well compared to some other CMOS sensors, with our worst-case hair sample looking good at ISO 100 printed to 13x19 inches, and an ISO 400 sample printing fine at 11x14 inches.
Overall, it's a good performance from the Canon ELPH 300 HS, though not as good as we've seen from CCD sensor cameras from the last two years. Compared to other CMOS sensors, though, it's pretty decent, and you have to go CMOS to get Full HD video performance. In this small a package, we'd say the tradeoff is worth it, as 13x19 is still much bigger than most people will print from a small camera like this.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS Performance
Startup Time: The Canon 300 HS takes about 2 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's on the fast side of average for its class.
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is fair, at 0.54 second at wide angle and 0.68 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.078 second, not the fastest out there, but still pretty quick.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is also just okay, capturing a frame every 2.04 seconds in single-shot mode. Canon rates the 300 HS' full resolution continuous mode at 3.4 frames per second, and the 3-megapixel high-speed mode tested at 7.97 frames per second, which is very fast.
Flash Recycle: The Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS' flash recycles in about 4.7 seconds after a full-power discharge, about average.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, 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 ELPH 300 HS' download speeds are moderately fast. We measured 5,164 KBytes/sec.
In the BoxThe retail package contains the following items:
- Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS
- Wrist Strap
- Battery Charger CB-2LV
- Battery Pack NB-4L
- A/V and USB Cables
- 36-page Getting Started guide
- Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk Ver. 83.0 with software and full User Guide
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card. 4 to 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS Conclusion
The Canon PowerShot 300 HS is a very capable camera that captures 24mm wide-angle images, yet slips into a pocket with ease. Its 12-megapixel sensor doesn't quite deliver what last year's 12-megapixel CCDs did in terms of print size, but it still produces a big print, and captures Full HD video. You can spend more and get more from cameras like the Canon S95 or G12, but not at so wide an angle; and the image quality pretty well matches what you pay for the $250 Canon ELPH 300 HS. For the targeted consumer of this super-thin camera the Canon 300 HS performs well with its elevated Smart Auto option. Casual shooters will even love the excellent performance at high ISOs, especially if they venture into Handheld NightScene mode. The Canon PowerShot ELPH 300HS is a good quality everywhere camera for not a lot of money, and as such it's a Dave's Pick.
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