on October 22, 2013
Canon PowerShot ELPH 330 HS Camera Review
The choices available today in digital cameras might seem bewildering. In many ways, they are, for cameras are often classified in random fashion. No one seems to know what a "pocket" camera is, what a long-zoom camera is, and what affordable might happen to be. There is no clear distinction from where "point and shoot" ends and "enthusiast" or prosumer-marketed cameras begin. It changes annually.
We hardly buy cameras based on image quality alone. As I write this, the #1 selling digital camera on Amazon is the Nikon Coolpix L820, a fairly large and heavy 30x unit powered by four AA batteries. On the same list, the #11 spot is held by the same L820 with a red case. While a lot of camera for the money (selling at the same $170 level as this Elph 330), the Nikon L820 wins no "best of the best" awards, but buyers think quite differently.
There are a lot of things to consider, if you want to be satisfied with your camera for the life of your use with it. Although volumes have been written about image quality, that isn't the main reason why folks are dissatisfied with cameras, much less the only reason. Here are a few of the most common concerns, interlaced with Elph 330 relevant comments.
Digital cameras with dead batteries don't work well. The current lithium-ion type of rechargeable battery isn't new technology at all. Batteries can be of most any capacity a manufacturer wants them to be, though few relish the prospect of running a digital camera with fork-lift batteries.
They are often small, for a battery enclosed inside the frame of a camera partly determines the envelope dimensions and weight of the camera. It is hard to get a light camera if it runs on four AA batteries, which at one time was common. Cameras are not totally redesigned annually, just re-marketed annually. Yet, when more features are added (better image stabilization, larger LCDs, etc.) battery drain goes up and life drops in concert. We don't want larger, bulkier cameras in general, and manufacturers like to build upon existing frames, so the quicker, more powerful zoom motors and bigger LCDs take their toll, as does advanced image stabilization arrays.
The Canon ELPH 330 HS (IXUS 255 HS in Europe) takes the NB-4L battery, and is good for about 220 still-image shots. For video, you'll do well to get 45 minutes or so, less in cold weather. As a rule of thumb, lithium-ion cells give 65 - 70% life at 32 degrees F. vs. 70 degrees F. Extra batteries are readily available and inexpensive: I always carry two fully-charged extras, in addition to the one in the camera.
You can't have too much usable zoom, but that of course comes with a price. The ELPH 330 has a 10x zoom (24mm - 240mm), something everyone will appreciate vs. the common 5x or 8x variety shirt-pocket cameras. Canon also has their "Zoom Plus" 20x mode, a digital zoom along the lines of Sony's Clear Image and Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom. All of these digital zooms do about the same thing. While they aren't as good as true optical zoom, they do produce far better results than older digital zoom attempts did. To say no loss of image quality isn't strictly true, but for 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 prints few could notice the difference.
Waiting for a camera to autofocus or to save images to file is no fun. Canon's compact cameras have been sluggish in times past, including the SX230 that I eventually quit using in favor of a Panasonic ZS-15. Autofocus time and lag time is significantly reduced in the ELPH 330, about one third faster than their previous 310 and other models. It is a readily noticeable and welcomed improvement. Autofocus does do some searching, particularly when using zoom in low-light.
Invariably, when small sensors are overpopulated with super-dinky photo-sites, image quality suffers. How much it suffers is contingent on the camera's software and processor, but it does suffer. Unfortunately, mega-pixels sells cameras, and if it doesn't make dollars it doesn't make sense. Fortunately, Canon has stayed with the 12MP sensor, while others have succumbed to the large file, but lower quality nonsense.
Within its range, the ELPH 330 takes far better than average stills. It handily out-shoots several similarly sized pocket cameras at ISO 800. With low noise images to ISO 1600, less than 1.5%, it does as good or better than many cameras at base ISO.
Few compact cameras are ideally suited to video for reasons of battery life and image stability when not using a tripod. Enclosed batteries in small chassis make for a very poor heat sink as well. This Canon does just average in the video quality department, very dark in low light and just average quality otherwise. It isn't a resolution issue.
FOX and Disney (ABC, ESPN) broadcast in 720p HD, the rest mostly use 1080i. The hyped 1080p capabilities of pocket cameras make little sense, including this Canon as the harder to edit 1080p is at 24 fps per second, or film rate. Unless you plan on burning Blu-rays, using anything other than 720p is a waste of file size editing time, rendering time, and upload time with footage captured with a small-sensored still camera. It makes even less sense if the video is viewed on a Smartphone with a 3.5 - 4 inch screen for example.
Though a recent, loudly touted "feature" in cameras, it is one of very little value as far as I'm concerned. Sending pictures to yourself makes little sense, nor does spamming social media direct from a camera. Images of interest that are sent along invariably benefit from a bit of thoughtful review, light cropping, and so forth. The grand benefit of frenetically rushing to send an image of a bowl of oatmeal straight to Facebook under the guise of "sharing" somehow escapes me. While perhaps theoretically useful for professional engagements where you'd like to show images to clients immediately, it serves mostly as yet another way to needlessly drain the battery of a compact camera.
Jim Fisher, using Imatest to determine the sharpness of the Elph 330 lens, found that it scored 2069 lines, well above the 1800 lines required for a sharp photo, and dramatically better than the Panasonic SZ-7's 1563 lines. Jim Fisher also found the noise levels held under 1.5% at ISO 1600, rising to a still quite respectable 1.9% at ISO 3200. The Nikon P510 bridge camera scored 1,865 lines, while the Canon SX40 HS scored 1,836 lines. The Panasonic FZ-200 scored 1811 lines; the Panasonic ZS-20 scored a weak 1662 lines per picture height.
The Elph 330 starts out at F/3.0 at the wide angle end, fairly bright for a compact, but drops off to a small F/6.9 at the 10x end. The Elph 330's lens is demonstrably sharp, better than many more expensive cameras from many brands, including other Canon product. It betters both the premium 5x compact Canon S120 that managed 1897 lines at 24mm / F/1.8 and edges out the latest Canon SX280 that managed 1957 lines. While lens sharpness isn't the exclusive barometer for grading a camera, the Elph 330 is class-leading in this regard, and produces sharper images than several "enthusiast" level compacts that sell for more than double the price.
The small flash unit of the Elph 330 is just average, not nearly as effective or as even (some vignetting) as the more substantial flashes found on larger footprint cameras. It is one of the compromises inherent in small, light cameras, and the Elph 330 is no exception. The best thing about the Elph 330's flash, as far as I'm concerned, is that don't need to use it as much as some super-compacts make you.
CONTROLS / HANDLING
This is a 5 ounce, very compact camera. With its diminutive form factor, less buttons, wheels, and smaller buttons in general are a consequence of retaining the small envelope dimensions. If you have moderately chubby fingers, you won't like this camera. I don't have chubby fingers, but the flush buttons and lack of a raised control wheel made using this camera in other than just full automatic, "hit the button mode" a chore.
This is a superb pocket camera, that does what a camera should do: take good images, and take them reliably. Its general no flash performance, for this super-compact class of camera, is good, despite its dark F.6.9 lens @ 10x. If you put a high priority on bulk and weight, and can live with the tiny flush button controls, it takes satisfying pictures for this light and small class of camera. If you can tolerate an extra few ounces, you'll be able to get far more out of the 7 oz. - 8 oz. class of pocket camera, though, with easier to use and more appropriately sized controls, along with longer focal lengths.
Copyright 2013 by Randy Wakeman and Randy Wakeman Outdoors.