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Canon PowerShot A300 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 05/14/03
User Level
Novice to Advanced
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Automatic Exposure Control
Picture Quality
Good, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10 inches
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
$229

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion

The Canon name has been associated with high quality cameras and lenses for so long that nearly every photographer, regardless of skill level, is familiar with the brand. In the digital arena, Canon's continued their history of innovation with a broad line of products ranging from entry-level models all the way to no-holds-barred digital SLRs for professional photographers. Their consumer digicams are distinguished by superb design, sharp lenses, and excellent color.

Last year, Canon reached further into the entry-level end of the market with the introduction of the 2.1-megapixel A200 and its lower-resolution brother, the A100. The A100 and A200 were affordable cameras with surprisingly strong feature sets and the trademark Canon picture quality. This year, the A300 updates the line with a larger, 3.2-megapixel CCD, a few additional exposure options, and a slightly different body design (mainly a sliding lens cover as opposed to a rotating cover/switch). The extra exposure features include a manual white balance setting, more extensive metering options, and sound recording. The combination of features and image quality offered by the A300 is quite unusual for an entry-level camera, yet it retains excellent ease of use in full-auto mode, making it very suitable for novice users. While I'm not personally a fan of non-zoom cameras, I recognize that they have an important place in the market, and the A300 deserves a good look if you're shopping in that category. Read on for all the details.

Camera Overview

With exactly the same dimensions and weight as the previous PowerShot A200, the PowerShot A300 offers the same great Canon features in a very portable body. Boasting a larger CCD than the A200, the A300 features a full 3.2 megapixels of resolution, for a maximum image size of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels (suitable for printing as large as 8x10 inches). Trim enough to fit into a larger shirt pocket and most average purses, the A300 is reasonably lightweight as well. A new sliding lens cover replaces the rotating lens cover of the A200, for a sleeker front panel. Limited camera controls and full automatic exposure mean you can literally just point and shoot most of the time, without worrying over a lot of exposure decisions.

The A300 features a 5.0mm fixed focal length lens (equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera, a fairly wide angle), with a maximum aperture of f/3.6. The sliding lens cover powers on the camera, placing it into Record mode. A maximum 5.1x digital zoom is available, but keep in mind that digital zoom generally decreases the overall image quality, as it simply crops out and enlarges the center pixels of the CCD's raw image. Thus, detail will decrease and the image become softer in direct proportion to the amount of zoom you select. Focus is automatically controlled, and ranges from 7.9 inches (20 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode, and from 2.0 to 7.9 inches (5 to 20 centimeters) in Macro mode. (Producing surprisingly good macro performance for an entry-level model.) An Infinity fixed-focus mode is also available. The A300 employs the same sophisticated, five-point AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Autofocus) system used on the ELPH models to determine focus, which uses multiple points across a broad active area in the center of the image to calculate the focal distance. You can also switch to a spot AF mode, which judges focus from the center of the frame. I've always found the AiAF system to be very precise, especially with subjects that are slightly off center. Also built-in to the A300 is an AF assist light, which aids the focus mechanism in low lighting.

The A300 has a reverse Galilean-type optical viewfinder, as well as a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. I'm personally not terribly fond of viewfinders of this type because the field of view is strongly affected by lateral eye position, leading to framing errors if your eye is shifted one way or the other. They're the rule rather than the exception on entry-level cameras like the A300 though, so no marks off to Canon for using one here. The optical viewfinder is slightly less accurate than average, at 83% frame coverage, while the LCD viewfinder is 98% accurate. In capture mode, the LCD reports a fair amount of camera information, but excludes exposure information such as aperture and shutter speed.

While exposure control is mainly automatic, the A300 does offer several exposure features. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to one second, but are not reported to the user. The camera automatically employs a Noise Reduction system for exposures between one and 1/6-second. Two main exposure modes are available, Auto and Manual (both accessed by holding down the Set button until the mode menu appears). In straight Auto mode, the camera essentially controls everything about the exposure except for file size, flash mode, and digital zoom. Manual mode provides more hands-on control, with White Balance, Exposure Compensation, ISO, and several creative effects. Camera operation is straightforward and simple, with a familiar control layout to other Canon PowerShot models. Pressing the Shutter button halfway sets focus and exposure, and the small LEDs next to the optical viewfinder tell you when the camera is ready to take the picture.

The A300 uses an Evaluative metering system, which means that the camera divides the image area into zones and evaluates each zone to determine the best overall exposure. You can also opt for Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes, by pressing the up arrow of the Four-Way Arrow pad. Exposure Compensation increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, through the Function menu (accessed by pressing the Function button). The same menu enables the White Balance setting, which offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual) settings. A Photo Effects option adjusts sharpening, color, and saturation. In Auto mode, the camera automatically adjusts the ISO sensitivity setting, but in Manual mode, the available ISO range includes 50, 100, 200, and 400 values, in addition to an Auto setting. The A300's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction Auto, Forced On, Suppressed, and Slow-Syncro modes, and is effective to approximately 6.7 feet (2.0 meters).

A 10-second self-timer option counts down by flashing a small LED on the front of the camera before firing the shutter, giving you time to duck around the camera and get into the shot. (Through the Record menu, you can set the countdown to only two seconds.) Stitch-Assist mode is the A300's panoramic shooting mode, which lets you shoot as many as 26 consecutive images. The series of images can then be "stitched" together into one panoramic frame with the accompanying software. The A300 also has a Movie Record mode, which records moving images with sound for as long as 30 seconds per clip, depending on the resolution setting and amount of memory card space. (Movies are recorded at either 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels.) Finally, a Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of consecutive images (much like a motor drive on a traditional camera), at approximately 2.2 frames per second, for as long as the Shutter button is held down. The actual frame rate will vary with the resolution setting, and the total number of images will depend on the amount of memory card space and file size. The A300 also offers Canon's My Camera menu, which lets you customize camera operating sounds and display screens, even as far as letting you use your own image as a startup display.

The A300 stores images on CompactFlash Type I memory cards. A 16MB card accompanies the camera, but I recommend picking up a larger capacity card, which can be found in sizes as large as a gigabyte or more. (Memory cards are cheap enough these days that you should really consider a 64MB card as a minimum.) The camera utilizes two AA-type batteries or an optional AC adapter for power, and a set of single-use alkaline batteries comes with the camera. Battery life is surprisingly good for a camera powered by only two AA batteries, but as always, I strongly recommend purchasing a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set of batteries charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite. The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images. A USB cable and interface software are also packaged with the camera, for downloading images to a computer. Software is also included to operate the camera remotely over the USB connection, organize downloaded images, stitching panoramas together and print images. The A300 is DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible, with detailed print settings in the Playback menu. Canon offers a selection of direct-connect printers (no computer needed to print from the A300) as well, which simplifies printing even more.

Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.5-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
  • Fixed, 5.0mm lens, equivalent to a 33mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • 5.1x maximum digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to one second.
  • Maximum aperture of f/3.6.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • CompactFlash Type I memory card storage, 16MB card included.
  • Power supplied by two AA-type batteries or optional AC adapter.
  • Canon Digital Camera software, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with sound.
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Stitch-Assist panorama mode.
  • Infinity and Macro focus modes.
  • Ten-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Evaluative, Center-Weighted, and Spot exposure metering.
  • Intelligent AiAF focus control and AF assist lamp.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes.
  • Photo Effects menu for color and sharpness adjustment.
  • Adjustable ISO setting.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • Direct-print capability to a range of Canon photo printers.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).

Recommendation

Small and compact, with exactly the same dimensions as the A200, and only a little larger than the digital ELPH series, the PowerShot A300 offers a nice range of exposure features and excellent color at a very low price. Adjustable exposure settings such as ISO, white balance, and an adjustable focus area increase the camera's exposure versatility, and the ability to leave the camera under full Auto control enables hassle-free shooting. The 3.2-megapixel CCD means you can print as large as 8x10 inches with great detail, and lower resolutions are available for sending as email attachments. The uncomplicated user interface is perfect for novices who want to keep things simple, yet there's a moderate amount of available exposure control to grow into. Like the A200 and A100 models before it, the A300 is a great first-time digicam. It would also make an excellent "family" camera, with super-simple operation in full-auto mode for the kids (or any technophobe family members), yet enough sophistication to keep more advanced users interested as well.

 

Design

Similar in style and shape to the previous A200 digicam, the A300 is small and reasonably lightweight. The flat camera front lets you quickly stash it into a pocket or purse, and the sliding lens cover/power switch makes it quick on the draw. Measuring 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.4 inches (110 x 58 x 36.6 millimeters), the A300 is about right for larger shirt pockets and purses. The A300 has a slight heft when picked up, although is still fairly lightweight at approximately 8.5 ounces (241 grams) with batteries and memory card loaded.

 

 

The front of the A300 is nearly flat, thanks to the thin sliding lens cover. Slid open, the cover reveals the fixed-focal-length lens. Also on the front panel is the optical viewfinder window and flash unit (which also houses the AF assist lamp, Self-Timer lamp, and Red-Eye Reduction light emitter). A small, sculpted ridge along the far left side of the lens cover serves as a finger grip.

 

 

The Shutter button shares the top panel with the Mode switch and microphone. The Mode switch places the camera into Still or Movie Record modes.

 

 

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) is the CompactFlash and battery slot, covered by a plastic, sliding door. The compartment interior is divided into two sections, with a second plastic door protecting the actual battery slot and holding the batteries firmly in place. In the top left corner, just above the hinge of the compartment door, is an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap.

 

 

The opposite side of the camera features the USB and DC-In jacks, which are protected by a snug rubber cover that rotates out of the way. Also on this side is the date battery slot, which accommodates a CR2016 type lithium battery.

 

 

The remaining camera controls are on the back panel, along with the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor. Across the top of the back panel are the Display, Function / Erase, Zoom, and Replay buttons. A Multi-Controller in the center of the back panel controls menu navigation, as well as a variety of exposure options. (I always appreciate multi-functionality in external control buttons, as this greatly eliminates fishing through LCD menu screens to change settings.) Despite its point-and-shoot design, the A300 has an abundance of external controls, which makes camera operation much smoother. The Set and Menu buttons are on the left side of the Multi-Controller, and function in any mode. Two LED lamps next to the optical viewfinder report camera status, lighting to indicate when focus is set or the flash is fully charged. There's also a playback speaker on the back panel, on the far right side.

 

 

The A300 has a flat bottom panel, which holds the plastic threaded tripod mount. Because the memory card and battery compartment are accessed on the side, you can easily change both while working with a tripod. I always appreciate this, given the heavy amount of studio work I do with the cameras I test. (Although I doubt this will be a key consideration for most of the A300's target market.)


Camera Operation

I found the A300's user interface very straightforward, similar in design to previous PowerShot models. Most of the camera's functions are controlled by the control buttons on the back panel, and the Function menu makes several important exposure settings quick to access, overlaying the image display. The LCD menu system itself is fairly efficient, as you scroll through menu items on-screen instead of through a series of pages. Additionally, the Setup menu is always available, regardless of the camera mode. Even if the LCD monitor is switched off, pressing one of the control buttons on the back panel (such as the Function or Flash buttons) activates the display temporarily, so you can save battery power by switching off the LCD monitor. With the instruction manual in-hand, it should take less than half an hour to get comfortable with the camera.

Record-Mode Display
In record mode, the LCD monitor optionally displays just the subject, the subject an information overlay, or nothing at all. (That is, the LCD may be turned off.)


Playback-Mode Display
In playback mode, pressing the "W" side of the zoom lever takes you to a thumbnail index display of images on the memory card, making it easier to scroll through them quickly. Pressing the "T" side of the zoom toggle takes you back to a full-frame display, and continuing to press it zooms you in on the image, up to a maximum of 10x. When zoomed, the Multi-Controller lets you scroll around the expanded image. In the normal full-frame view, pressing the Disp. button cycles through options of no information, partial image information, and expanded image information. The screenshot above right shows all the available display options in playback mode.


 

External Controls


Shutter Button
: Located on the top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed. If the Self-Timer is activated, a full press of the Shutter button triggers the countdown.


Mode Switch
: Behind the Shutter button on the top panel, this sliding switch puts the camera into Still or Movie Record modes.


Lens Cover / Power Switch
: This sliding cover activates the camera when opened, placing it into Record mode.


Display
Button: Directly to the right of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this button controls the LCD monitor display, cycling through the image display, image and information display, and no display modes.


Function / Erase Button
: Adjacent to the Display button on the right side, this button displays the Function menu, with the following options. (Some options are not available in Auto mode.)

  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments.
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual setting).
  • ISO: Sets the sensitivity equivalent to 50, 100, 200, or 400, or to Auto.
  • Photo Effect: Enables a handful of creative image effects, including Vivid Color, Neutral Color, Low Sharpening, Sepia, or Black and White.
  • Compression: Sets the JPEG compression level to Superfine, Fine, or Normal.
  • Resolution: Sets image resolution to 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; or 640 x 480 pixels. In Movie mode, resolutions are 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120 pixels.

In Playback mode, this button controls the single image erase option. Pressing the button calls up the single-image erase screen, which offers an option to cancel.


Zoom Rocker Button (Index Display and Playback Zoom Control)
: Positioned near the top right corner of the camera's back panel, this rocker button controls the digital telephoto when the camera is in Record mode.

In Playback mode, the button brings up a nine image index display (when pushed to the wide angle end) and enlarges captured images (when pushed to the telephoto end).


Replay Button
: To the right of the zoom control, this button activates Playback mode. When the camera is powered off, pressing the button activates the camera and puts it into Playback mode.


Multi-Controller
: Located in the center of the rear panel, this four-way rocker button is a navigation tool for settings menus in any camera mode. In Record mode, each direction controls an exposure function. The up arrow accesses the Evaluative, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes. Press the left arrow cycles between normal AF mode, Macro, and Infinity focus modes. The down arrow enables Continuous Shooting or Self-Timer modes, and the right arrow cycles through the available flash modes.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images on the memory card. The four arrows navigate zoomed images, which also have a small navigator panel to show which part of the full image is visible.


Menu Button
: Adjacent to the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button accesses the LCD menu system in Record and Playback modes.


Set Button
: Below the Menu button, this button confirms menu selections and changes. Pressed and held down in Still Record mode, it displays the exposure mode menu, with options of Auto, Manual, and the two Stitch-Assist modes (one oriented toward the left and the other toward the right).


Camera Modes and Menus

Movie Mode: Accessed by sliding the Mode switch to the movie camera icon, this mode records short movie clips with sound. The actual amount of recording time varies with the resolution setting and amount of CompactFlash space, but the longest clip time is three minutes. A handful of exposure controls are available in this mode, although options like flash mode, Continuous Shooting, and digital zoom are disabled.

Still Record Mode: Sliding the Mode switch to the red camera icon accesses the Still image Record mode. Pressing and holding the Set menu displays the exposure mode menu, which offers two Stitch-Assist modes, as well as Auto and Manual exposure modes. The two Stitch-Assist modes are designated Right and Left, referring to the direction that the camera will move to create the panoramic sequence. Manual mode in this case refers to the availability of exposure options such as white balance, exposure compensation, etc.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you scroll through captured images and movies, write protect images, view a nine-image index display, zoom into a captured image, delete unwanted images, rotate images, record short sound captions, and set up images for printing on DPOF compatible devices.

Record Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Automatic, Manual, Stitch Assist, and Movie modes (some options are not available in all modes). Three menu tabs appear, one each for Record, Setup, and My Camera menus.

  • Record Menu
    • AiAF: Turns on the AiAF focus system. If switched off, the camera bases autofocus on the center of the frame.
    • Self-Timer: Sets the Self-Timer countdown time to two or 10 seconds.
    • AF Assist Beam: Turns the AF assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically activates in low lighting.
    • Digital Zoom: Enables the digital zoom function, which is engaged by pressing the zoom rocker button.
    • Review: Turns the instant review function on or off, or sets the amount of time that the captured image is displayed on the screen to anything from three to 10 seconds. (Still images only.)


  • Setup Menu
    • Beep: Turns on or off a beep noise that sounds when the Shutter button is pressed.
    • Auto Power Down: Turns on the automatic shut down, which turns the camera off after a period of inactivity.
    • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal date and time settings.
    • Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all images (even write protected ones).
    • Shutter Volume: Controls the volume of the shutter noise.
    • Playback Volume: Sets the volume for playback sounds.
    • Start-up Volume: Controls the volume of the camera's startup sounds.
    • Operation Volume: Adjusts the volume of operational noises.
    • Self-Timer Volume: Sets the volume of the Self-Timer beep.
    • File No. Reset: Activates or deactivates the file numbering reset. If activated, resets the file numbers with each new CompactFlash card. If left off, file numbering simply continues from card to card. (Mostly you will want to leave this off, to avoid overwriting files when downloading to the computer.)
    • Language: Changes the menu language to one of 12 languages.


  • My Camera Menu
    • Theme: Selects a common theme for each My Camera menu settings item. Four options are available, the first one being Off. When a theme is selected, all of the following settings automatically adjust to that theme.
    • Start-Up Image: Sets the startup image when you turn on the camera to: Black screen, Canon logo, Canon logo w / sunset, and nature scene. You can also apply your own image using the Canon software.
    • Start-Up Sound: Sets the startup sound when you turn on the camera to: No sound, Musical tone (1), Musical tone (2), or Birds chirping. You can also apply your own sounds using the Canon software.
    • Operation Sound: Sets the sound when any control or switch is use (except the Shutter button). Options include Beep, Loud beep, Boing, and Chirp.
    • Self-Timer Sound: Sets the sound that signals you when the shutter release is two seconds away. Options include Fast beeps (1), Fast beeps (2), Telephone ring, and Howling.
    • Shutter Sound: Sets the shutter sound that you hear when you depress the Shutter button (there is no shutter sound in Movie mode). Options include Beep, Shutter sound, Boing, and Bark.

Playback Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Playback mode, the Playback menu also has a subject tab for the Setup and My Camera menus described above. Following are the main Playback options:

  • Protect: Write protects the currently displayed image (except from card reformatting).
  • Rotate: Rotates captured images 90 or 270 degrees clockwise.
  • Sound Memo: Records a short sound clip to accompany a captured image.
  • Erase All: Deletes all images on the CompactFlash card, except for protected ones.
  • Auto Play: Automatically plays back each image on the CompactFlash card, one by one. You can also mark specific images to be played back in a show.
  • Print Order: Sets up individual images to print on DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible printers. Through this setting, you can set the number of prints to be made, turn on the date and time stamp, and setup the print style.
  • Transfer Order: Transfers the print order to an email program, so that small images can be sent via email.


In the Box

Included in the box are the following items:

  • Canon PowerShot A300 digital camera.
  • Wrist strap.
  • USB cable.
  • 16MB CompactFlash memory card.
  • Two AA alkaline batteries.
  • One CR2016 battery (in camera).
  • Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk software CD-ROM.
  • Operating manual and registration card.

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity CompactFlash memory card.
  • Rechargeable NiMH batteries and charger.
  • AC adapter kit.
  • Small camera case.


Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

User Reviews

 

Sample Pictures

See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Outdoor
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.


Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.


Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the PowerShot A300's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the A300's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: The A300 did a good job with color throughout my testing, with pleasing hue and saturation most of the time. I often found that the Auto, Daylight, and Manual white balance settings produced very similar results, all of which were nearly accurate. The camera handled both pastel tones and highly saturated colors very well, although at times strong additive primary colors (bright red, blue, and green) were a bit oversaturated. Skin tones were slightly pink, though still very good. Overall, the A300 delivered very good color.

  • Exposure: Exposure was typically very accurate, even with the harshly-lit outdoor portrait, which required only one notch of positive exposure compensation. Midtones showed good detail in high-contrast shots, though the camera's overall dynamic range was a bit limited (most notably in the outdoor house shot). On my "Davebox" test, the A300 had no trouble distinguishing the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target, though again, shadow detail was limited. Bottom line - Generally accurate exposure, but with a slightly limited dynamic range. Overall, very good.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: The A300 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 650 lines per picture height vertically, and around 600 lines horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,050 lines horizontally, and 950 lines vertically. (As is sometimes the case, the A300 is much more susceptible to producing artifacts in fine detail in the vertical direction than in the horizontal.) "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred around 1,200 lines. The A300's images were quite sharp across most of the frame, but the extreme corners of its images were consistently a little soft.

  • Closeups: The A300 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 2.41 x 1.81 inches (61 x 46 millimeters). Resolution is very high, with excellent detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. As with many of my other shots, there's some softness in the corners of this shot, but the effect isn't too pronounced. The A300's flash has trouble throttling down for the macro area, creating a hot spot in the top of the frame and a dark shadow at the bottom. Overall, a very good macro performance, but plan on using external illumination for the closest shots.

  • Night Shots: The A300 has a maximum shutter time of one second, which doesn't make for really excellent low-light shooting capabilities. However, combined with the adjustable sensitivity setting, the A300 can capture bright images in reasonably dark situations. In my testing, the camera captured bright images as low as 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux), which is about one f-stop darker than average city street lighting at night. However, at ISO 50, images were still dim even at the one foot-candle (11 lux) light level. Image noise was low at the ISO 50 setting, and increased only moderately at ISO 400. Color was pretty good, albeit a little understated, due to the dim lighting. (The camera seemed to underexpose slightly under very dim lighting, even at light levels where the combination of ISO and maximum exposure time could have produced a bright image.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: The A300's optical viewfinder is a little tight, showing approximately 83 percent of the image final image area. The LCD monitor is much more accurate, showing approximately 98 percent frame accuracy. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the A300's LCD monitor performs well in that regard, but I'd like to see a more accurate optical viewfinder.

  • Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the A300 is a little higher than average, as I measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion. There's quite a bit of softening in the extreme corners of the image (caused by the optical phenomena known as "coma"), but chromatic aberration is very low, as there's very little color to be found in the fringes around the target elements. (Chromatic aberration is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

  • Battery Life: The A300's battery life is surprisingly good for a camera powered by only two AA batteries, but as always, I strongly recommend purchasing a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a spare set of batteries charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite.

  • Performance: The PowerShot A300 is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of performance. Shutter lag is on the long side of average (1.13 seconds), but cycle times are very good for an entry-level model, and the camera sports enough buffer memory to hold 7 frames at the large/fine resolution setting. Continuous-mode performance is quite good as well. Overall, not the camera you'd choose for sports photography (you'd really want a zoom lens anyway), and you'll need to learn to use the prefocus mode when shooting fleeting subjects. (Half-press and hold the shutter button in advance of the exposure itself.) Apart from the long shutter delay though, a fairly responsive camera.

Conclusion

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Like the PowerShot A100 and A200, the A300 model combines Canon's great user interface and a nice sampling of exposure controls with a low price. As a very user-friendly point-and-shoot style digicam, the A300 is simple to operate and takes good quality pictures. The 3.2-megapixel CCD is suitable for printing full-resolution images as large as 8x10 inches, with great detail. While small, light, and inexpensive, Canon didn't skimp on the A300's feature set, as it incorporates many (!) features not normally associated with an entry-level camera, including a sophisticated autofocus system, manual white balance, expanded metering options, ISO, color, and sharpness adjustments. The combination of ease of use and a rich feature set make the A300 a great "starter" camera for those just getting started in digital photography. It's plenty easy for rank beginners to use, yet offers a lot of options that they can grow into as their skills develop. If you can afford the extra cost, your money would be well-spent stepping up to the Powershot A60 or A70, with their 3x optical zoom lenses. If you can't afford the extra expense though, the A300 is one of the very best non-zoom cameras currently on the market.

 

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