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Canon PowerShot N100 review

Highs

  • Nice-looking photos
  • Unique storytelling mode
  • Bright touchscreen
  • Wide aperture lens

Rating

Our Score 6
User Score 0

Lows

  • Overly large and heavy
  • Stumbles at high ISOs
  • Rear-facing camera a bit gimmicky
  • LCD doesn’t fully tilt
While Canon should be commended for again thinking outside the box, the PowerShot N100 is packed with more tricks than actual must-have features.

The PowerShot N-series targets the fun-loving, creative, and connected crowd, to use Canon’s parlance. But if there’s one acronym we could use to describe the new PowerShot N100 ($350) it’d be, “WTF.”

It’s not that it takes bad photos – for a point-and-shoot, it takes good-looking stills and videos – and it’s not as awkward to use as its predecessor, the PowerShot N. The issue is that, with the N100, Canon continues to demonstrate some weird decision making. It’s bigger than necessary, making it seem like the beluga whale of compact cameras. And then there are the gimmicky features like a rear-facing camera and “storytelling” mode.

Where the original N is more youth-oriented, the N100 targets an older buyer, or those with families. But with so many other great compacts out there (including some from Canon), is the N100 truly offering something unique, or is it bloated, both physically and metaphorically? It really depends if you think the extra features are that cool. 

Features and design

Despite its unconventional looks, the N100 skews toward the higher-end in Canon’s entire range of PowerShot models. It uses a 1/1.7-inch, 12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor and the latest Digic 6 image processor; together, they make up what Canon calls its HS System, for achieving better low-light performance. The 5x optical zoom (24-120mm equivalent), wide-angle lens has an aperture range of f/1.8-5.7, with optical image stabilization to keep things steady; Canon’s OIS is generally very good in most situations. The 5x optical zoom is a step down from the previous PowerShot N’s 8x, but the N100 has a better-quality lens with an f/1.8 aperture (at the widest angle), which allows the camera to take images with nice background blur. ISO ranges from 80 to 6,400, and a shutter speed of 1 to 1/2,000th of a second (1 to 15 seconds for long exposure). The N100 is not a fast camera, as its continuous shooting speed is only about three shots per second. Movie capture is up to Full HD 1080 at 30p, not the newer 60p, but the onboard stereo mics do a decent job of capturing audio. These specs put it closer to the higher-end PowerShot S120 and PowerShot G16 models, which share the same parts but offer better performance. 

Canon N100 front

One unique feature to this PowerShot is the rear-facing camera, located just above the LCD on the back – it could be mistaken for a viewfinder. This secondary camera (Canon calls it the Story Camera) is used for the camera’s Dual Capture feature, and it isn’t as good as the main camera in front, of course. Anyone who has a modern smartphone knows how it works and what it’s used for, but with the N100, it’s used to shoot images and videos that embed a thumbnail of the photographer into the media (imagine the picture-in-picture feature on your television). Flip the mode switch to Dual Capture, and both cameras are activated simultaneously. As with all images and videos, the photographer is usually left out of the picture. The concept here is to somehow include both subject and photographer in the same image. Canon’s example is using it for the birth of a newborn, capturing mother and child, while at the same time catching the joyous look of the photographer’s face. OK, it is a bit hokey for photos, but it’s kind of fun when using it for videos. Unfortunately, the rear camera cannot be used on its own, which would have been great for taking the ever-popular selfie; like with the PowerShot N, we think Canon, again, missed an opportunity. 

While the N100 handles more like a traditional camera than the PowerShot N, it does have unique design cues that make it questionable, like its N-series sibling – which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Don’t let the product images fool you: When you hold it, you immediately notice that it’s really heavy and chunky, to the point that it’s uncomfortable to hold or put in your pocket (if it even fits). Even though it has the same components as the compact S120, it’s heavier and thicker than the PowerShot SX700 HS, a camera that packs a useful 30x zoom lens. We can’t understand what could be inside that requires this camera to be so big and hefty. It’s even heavier than the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II, a small compact that packs in way more features and performance than the N100.

The N100 is about putting creativity in your images – otherwise, it’s just your basic point-and-shoot.

If we don’t think about the size and weight (if you must know, it’s approximately 4.1 x 2.7 x 1.4 inches and 10 ounces), the N100 feels fine in the hand. The smooth, ceramic-like white plastic (it’s also available in black) makes holding the camera slippery, but there’s enough surface area on the front, plus the chunky depth, to give your hand a nice hold. The button-layout is typical of Canon compact cameras, all easily accessible from the right thumb – with a nice, soft thumb rest below the mode switch. There are, however, three buttons worth mentioning: Favorites, Mobile Device Connection, and Story Highlights. Favorites is a way to quickly tag and organize the photos you like, during playback – a nice touch. The Mobile button, which was introduced in the PowerShot N and is making its way into new Canon PowerShot models with Wi-Fi, is for connecting to frequently-used Wi-Fi pairings (smartphone, computer, network, etc.). 

Story Highlights is a feature unique to the N100, and it plays on the storytelling theme. Essentially, the camera automatically creates short, 3-minute highlight videos, or “stories,” that use the photos you have shot, based on date, event, or people; you can also hand-pick what you want in these short videos, and save them as a 720p movie file. Remember that newborn baby we mentioned? Well, imagine all those photos and videos shot during that moment, then combined into a highlight reel that you can show off to friends and relatives. Other scenarios: your kid’s first birthday or baseball game, a friend’s wedding, etc. Photography purists will scoff at this, but the feature is clearly targeted toward users who don’t care so much about quality, but capturing the moment. 

The N100 has a similar tilting LCD as the PowerShot N, but it only tilts 90-degrees upward, which really doesn’t do much for composition other than waist-level shots (a colleague referred to it as the “crotch shot”). It’s a complaint we had about the PowerShot N, and, again, another missed opportunity for Canon, considering the target audience the N100 was designed to go after. Many of Canon’s competitors are building in displays that can tilt 180 degrees, so you can take self-portraits or compose videos with yourself in them (this would have been better than the dual-camera function). Even if you deplore the popularity of selfies, a 180-degree-tilting display is great for group shots. But, we will say that the 3-inch, touch-capable display is very nice to look at. Images and colors look crisp, and it’s very responsive. At 922k dots, it’s bright enough, with good side-viewing angles.

We can’t fault Canon anymore for not getting onboard the wireless connectivity train, since nearly all its new models offer it. Like the recent SX700 HS, SX600 HS, and Elph 340 HS, the Wi-Fi works well here. It’s not as robust as Samsung or Sony’s, but you can do the usual photo and video transfers to a smart device (then upload them to the Web), connect to a network to upload content to social media (via Canon’s Image Gateway portal), and enable basic remote operation via smartphone or tablet. We had no issues connecting the camera to either an iPhone 5S or Galaxy S5, and because the N100 has near-field communication (NFC) built in, we could easily pair with the Galaxy S5 simply by tapping the two together. 

The battery is rated at 330 shots, which is fine, but with such a thick body, we would have expected a larger-capacity battery. You should get about two days of casual use before you should recharge. 

What’s in the box

The N100 box includes the camera, battery pack, battery charger, wrist strap, and a “getting started” guide. The full manual and any associating software can be downloaded from Canon’s website

Warranty

Like most of its products, Canon gives the N100 a one-year limited warranty. More details can be found here

Performance and use

At its most basic, the N100 functions like any point-and-shoot: Turn it on and snap away. But there really isn’t anything else you can do, since it lacks any advanced shooting modes other than Program (where you can adjust things like white balance, ISO, and exposure compensation), automatic, and scene/creative modes. There are some fun effects like fisheye, toy camera, and miniature (tilt-shift) modes, but we found modes like background defocus and soft focus to be quite nice and effective – something that’s doable, thanks to the wider aperture. There’s also Canon’s Creative Shot mode, which takes consecutive images of the same shot and applies some filters over them, but we don’t care for the results and have seen far better filters in smartphone photo apps. 

Disregard the tricks, and you’ll find that the N100 is very good at taking photos.

Like the PowerShot N, the N100 is about putting creativity in your images – otherwise, it’s just your basic point-and-shoot. The Story Highlights and rear-camera are interesting features, but as we’ve already said, they feel somewhat gimmicky and we wonder if anyone would actually want to use them. The rear-camera is a novel idea, but we don’t think it works well. You see, even though Canon’s pitch is that it puts the photographer into the moment – so that he or she can be part of the moment – the picture-in-picture resembles more like a FaceTime video chat; it gives the impression that the photographer is somewhere else, which makes it all kind of sad. Again, we think having a 180-degree tilting display would have been more effective. When used with videos, it’s a bit more fun, as there’s sound and motion. 

We’ve already discussed the Story Highlights mode.  It is an interesting feature, and there are users who would find this attractive. These short “instant video” clips would be great for posting to YouTube or Facebook. We prefer picking the photos ourselves, because if you have the camera do it, it has the tendency to pick similar photos, if you shot several of the same thing; you can also choose the type of color effect over the images. The Highlights can be saved as MOV videos (this process takes roughly a little less than a minute). Whether or not this feature is a must-have will depend on how useful it is for the particular user. 

The N100 has the same user interface as the recent PowerShot models we’ve reviewed. We’ve lamented how convoluted the menus can be, even if you’re trying to change some basic settings, as it requires you to drill through menus. But the touchscreen makes the process faster and smoother, so the UI isn’t as bad here. Plus, the touchscreen also makes it easy to enter passwords when logging onto wireless networks, for example. 

The camera is a relatively fast performer. It powers up in less than a second. Autofocus is quick, and with the touchscreen you can refocus on any point of the frame simply by touching on the screen. There’s a slight lag in shot-to-shot time, but it shouldn’t be an issue for casual users. 

Disregard the tricks, and you’ll find that the N100 is very good at taking photos. Under well-lit conditions, the colors in our test shots were accurate, albeit slightly on the under-saturated side – nothing you can’t fix in post-processing or by pumping up the exposure compensation a bit in Program mode. There’s a “vivid” auto mode you can use, but we find it turns up the color too much. When viewed up-close in full size, the camera does a good job with keeping details intact, especially around the lines and edges; it won’t matter if you’re sharing or printing your images at smaller sizes, but it won’t look bad if you need to enlarge them. 

The camera isn’t as strong in low-light situations. These photos look fine in smaller sizes, but when viewed at 100 percent, you’ll see the colors start to wash out. Edges aren’t as detailed, and it’s clearly noisy. Under a dark, foggy morning, photos we shot started to lose it at around ISO 1,600. Not great, but they’re also not awful. Again, if you use them at smaller sizes, most people won’t mind. We had better luck increasing the exposure, but when it’s completely dark, there’s only so much you can do. 

Movie quality is good. Colors look accurate (but could be bolder) and video is smooth, even when we panned and zoomed. It was hard to see any major imperfections with our eyes, and, unless we’re talking about discerning videographers, we doubt users would notice or find them bothersome. The stereo mics do a good job at capturing audio, and it never once recorded the sound of the lens zooming. However, it will record wind noise.

Conclusion

The N100 is more about the experience of photography – capturing the moment – beyond taking a good picture. It’s about getting back those casual photographers who have migrated to highly capable smartphones that are fun to use. Canon, which is a fairly conservative camera maker, gets an A for thinking outside the box, but its choices are real head-scratchers. What really bother us aren’t so much the extra features, but the weight and size, which makes it uncomfortable to use. We also think Canon, again, misses the point on value-added features, like a full-tilting display and more Internet-savvy functions. The saving grace about the N100 is that it takes very good images and videos, but if that’s what you want – and can do without the extras – consider something like the PowerShot S120 or PowerShot SX700. 

We do hope that the next N-series camera will take into consideration what today’s casual photographers are looking for, and make a camera that’s truly fun and not awkward – while retaining the great image quality we expect from Canon. As they say, third time’s the charm, right?

Highs

  • Nice-looking photos
  • Unique storytelling mode
  • Bright touchscreen
  • Wide aperture lens 

Lows

  • Overly large and heavy
  • Stumbles at high ISOs
  • Rear-facing camera a bit gimmicky
  • LCD doesn’t fully tilt

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