DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S300 Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, April 2, 2001
Last Updated: Thursday, June 21, 2001

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Looking back at my review of one of 2000's coolest cameras, the PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH, there wasn't much to complain about. I wished it had manual controls, and it was a little cheaper. Well, neither of those things happened with the new PowerShot S300 Digital ELPH ($699), also known as the Digital IXUS 300 abroad, but some other very nice improvements were made.

New to the S300 is a 3X optical zoom, up from 2X on the S100. There's also a new movie mode, with sound recording, which can record as large as 640 x 480. All this in the very small, metal camera that won a lot of people over last year. Is the latest Digital ELPH as good as its predecessor? Read on...

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S300 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 2.1 Mpixel Canon PowerShot S300 Digital ELPH camera
  • 8MB CompactFlash card
  • NB-1L Li-ion battery pack and charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions and ArcSoft Camera Suite
  • 100 page manual

I've got very little to comment on here, since Canon covers all the bases. My only wish would be for a larger CompactFlash card.

The S300 is a great travel camera, not only thanks to it's diminutive body, but also it's handy battery charger (shown above). You just pop the battery (shown in the middle here) into the slot, and plug the whole charger right into the wall socket (on the US model at least-- your mileage may vary). The battery takes 130 minutes to fully charge, and Canon claims that it can last between 120 and 270 shots, depending on LCD usage.

Since the lens retracts and safely closes, there's no lens cap worries on the S300.

Both Canon's software and manuals are top notch. I've covered the software previously in the PowerShot S10 review, and it hasn't changed significantly since then.

Look and Feel

The Digital ELPH is one of the few cameras that I'd consider "sexy". When the S100 transformed into the S300 reviewed here, it put on a little weight:

Camera Dimensions Weight
PowerShot S100 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 190 g
PowerShot S300 3.7 x 2.5 x 1.2 240 g

That doesn't mean the S300 is big or bulky -- not at all. It remains one of the smallest cameras out there, and almost certainly the smallest 3X zoom camera. The S300's metal body is what gives it the weight, but it also feels very sturdy. One downside to metal bodied cameras is that they scratch quite easily. My S300 review unit never fell or hit any walls but still managed to get a scratch.

The Digital ELPH is the same size as a deck of cards.

Although the camera is very small, it's not too hard to get both hands on it. You can try to use it with one hand, but it's hard to get to the zoom controls safely if you do.

The S300 has an all-new lens, as I mentioned. This F2.7-4.7 lens has a zoom range of 35-105mm (in 35mm terms), which is a nice improvement over the 2X zoom of the S100.

Continuing our tour now with the back of the camera. This is almost identical to the S100 with just minor changes. The 1.5" is bright and fluid. There is no way to adjust the LCD brightness on the Digital ELPH.

Below the LCD are five buttons:

  • Set (Menu) / Flash (Rec)
  • Drive (Rec) / Left (Play)
  • Macro & Landscape (Rec) / Right (Play)
  • Exposure compensation, white balance (Manual Rec)
  • Menu

Above the LCD you'll find a button for turning the LCD on and off.

Just right of that is the optical viewfinder. I found it to be a bit on the small side, and it lacks diopter correction for those of us with glasses. Nose (and likely finger) smudges are likely on this camera due to it's compact size.

To the far right, you can see the latch for the CompactFlash slot, as well as the zoom controls just above that. Several people who used the S300 wondered where the zoom controls were, and I had to point them out-- it's not that obvious unless you look at the top of the camera. The zoom mechanism, though noisy, is smooth and precise.

The top of the Digital ELPH is missing the LCD info display found on almost every camera (I guess there's no room for it). Thankfully, all that information can be found on the main LCD display on the back of the camera.

The items of note up here include the mode wheel / power switch, shutter release, and microphone. The choices on the mode wheel include:

  • Playback
  • Record
  • Manual Record
  • Panorama Helper
  • Movies

I'll describe these more in the next section. Right in the middle of the mode wheel is the power button. You have to hold it down for a few seconds before the camera will turn on.

Here's one side of the camera, with the I/O ports. Under the rubber cover, you'll find the A/V out port as well as the "digital out" for USB. Serial connections are not supported on the S300. You may have noticed there's no place to plug in the optional AC adapter. If you purchase the adapter, you get a "battery" that plugs into the AC adapter through a hole on the bottom of the camera.

And here's the other side of the camera, featuring the CompactFlash slot, and the included 8MB card. This is a Type I slot, so no Microdrive.

Last but not least, the bottom of the camera. That's a metal tripod mount on the left of the above photo, and the battery compartment on the right. When you use the AC adapter, you remove that rubber cover over the battery compartment.

Using the Canon PowerShot S300

Record Mode

The S300 is exceptionally fast at almost everything. It starts up and is ready to go in just under three seconds. There's a bit of focus and shutter lag, but nothing major. Shot-to-shot speed is about 3 seconds in "Superfine" mode, which is competitive with other two megapixel cameras.

The menu system on the S300 is very simple and intuitive. There aren't too many choices either, which is perfect for the "point and shooter". Here's what you'll find:

  • Resolution (L/M/S) - more below
  • Compression (Superfine, Fine, Normal) - more below
  • Review (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec) - how long the photo is shown on the LCD after it's taken -- you must keep the shutter release held down though
  • File Number Reset (On/off)
  • Beep (On/off)
  • Card Format
  • Setup (basic stuff like date, language)

In addition to the main menu, you can also change some addition options by using the buttons below the LCD. For exposure compensation, you can go between -2.0EV and +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments. In the white balance menu, you can choose between Auto, Daylight, Clouds, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Black & White (seems like a strange place for this). Continuous shooting mode will capture images at around 2.5 frames/second. There's also a self-timer (10 sacs), and macro/infinity modes as well.

Record Mode

These items are only available in manual mode. Yep, that's the extend of the manual controls on the S300, which is fine for the point and shoot crowd.

I promised some more information about the resolution and compression choices, so here they are, in this handy chart:

Quality (resolution) Compression # photos on included 8MB card
L (1600 x 1200) Superfine 7
Fine 11
Normal 24
M (1024 x 768) Superfine 16
Fine 24
Normal 46
Small (640 x 480) Superfine 35
Fine 50
Normal 87

Now onto the photo tests!

The macro test came out quite well, especially once I put set the white balance to Tungsten. There's almost no "grain" in this shot, and the colors are spot-on.

The night shot test did not fare as well as the macro test. While the objects in this photo are sharp enough, the camera just doesn't let enough light in to really show off this view (compare it with other reviews to see what I mean). If you could control the aperture or shutter speed, you might be able to do better, but unfortunately, you can't control either on the S300.

Overall, I was very pleased with the photos from the S300. There were a few cases when photos seemed a bit washed out. Check the gallery and decide for yourself.

Panorama Helper

I wanted to briefly mention the Panorama Helper feature found on the S300. When you take a shot (usually from left to right), the camera takes what was on the right, and moves it over to the left, and helps you align things for the next shot. It's hard to explain in words, but easier in practice. Once you've completed your panorama, you use Canon's excellent PhotoStitch software to merge it into one image. You'll get the best results if you use a tripod, of course -- good panoramas are rarely handheld.

Movie Mode

The PowerShot S300 is the second camera in a row I've tested that can record movies (with sound) at a resolution of 640 x 480. Unfortunately, you can only record four seconds at that size, so it's almost useless. You can do a lot better in 320 x 240 (10 sec) and 160 x 120 (30 sec) modes instead. All three sizes are recorded at a nice 20 frames/sec. You cannot use the zoom during filming (groan). Below is a very unexciting sample movie:

Click to play movie
(AVI format, 320 x 240, 6 seconds, 1.1MB)

Playback Mode

I've always been a big fan of the playback mode on the PowerShot cameras, and the S300 is no exception. Moving between photos seems to be instant, and the zoom & scroll feature is the best of any digital camera (it's smooth and fast). My only complaint is that it's hard to scroll around in an image without the usual four-way switch (which they couldn't fit on this model).

All the other playback mode stuff is here too - protection, rotation (which is rarely seen and very useful), slideshows, and DPOF print marking.

In playback mode, the S300 shows some basic information about each photo, but omits any exposure data. I suppose since there's no manual controls, they figure most people won't care. Thankfully, you can get to this information with the included software (just "Get Info" on a picture), or with any EXIF Tag Viewer.

You can play back movies on the S300, but there's no speaker, hence no sound.

How Does it Compare?

The latest revision of the Digital ELPH continues to impress. While it's still essentially a point-and-shoot camera (and an expensive one at that), the S300 is small on size, big on style, and really easy to use. And that makes it a winner in my book.

What I liked:

  • Did someone say it was small and stylish?
  • Very good photo quality
  • Super-fast processing speeds
  • New 3X zoom
  • Movie mode with sound, as large as 640 x 480
  • Good bundle included with camera

What I didn't care for:

  • Pricey for a 2 Megapixel camera
  • Movie recording times too short
  • No manual controls

There are a few other cameras worth looking at before you buy: First, there's the original PowerShot S100 - it's got a 2X zoom and no movie mode, but otherwise it's the same. There's also the zoom-less Casio QV-3EX, which can use the IBM Microdrive. Slightly larger cameras include the PowerShot S10 and S20, and the Fuji FinePix 4700, 4800, and 6800.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local reseller to try the PowerShot S300 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the PowerShot S300. Digital Photography Review took a look at the Digital IXUS 300 (the European name) as well.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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