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- Review Date: 06/12/2012
- Bottom line: The Canon PowerShot Elph 320 HS is a small shooter with a large touch-screen LCD and Wi-Fi. Its lens is sharp, but only covers a 5x zoom range, and the practicality of the touch screen is questionable.
- Pros: Compact, attractive design. Sharp lens. Integrated Wi-Fi. Good high ISO performance.
- Cons: Touch screen is difficult to use. No physical controls. Short zoom range. 1080p video limited to 24fps.
The Canon PowerShot Elph 320 HS ($279.99 direct) is a tiny point-and-shoot camera that uses a large touch screen display and built-in Wi-Fi to set itself apart from the crowded pack. The 16-megapixel Elph 320 HS has a sharp lens and does well in low light, but a lack of physical controls hurts usability. If you aren't the type to fiddle with controls, it will serve you well, but a frustrating touch screen prevents it from ousting the now discontinued PowerShot Elph 310 HS ($259.99, 4 stars) as our Editors' Choice midrange point-and-shoot
Design and Features
Measuring just 2.2 by 3.7 by 0.8 inches and weighing in at 5.1 ounces, the camera is quite compact, and is available in a rainbow of colors including blue, red, silver, or black. It's just about the same size as the Samsung MV800 ($279.99, 2.5 stars), a camera with a flip-out touch screen. The Samsung lags behind the Canon in image quality, but its screen is much more responsive to the touch.
Nobody is going to get excited about the camera's rather unambitious 5x zoom lens. It does cover a wide 24mm (35mm equivalent) field of view, but can only move in as far as 120mm. This is a very useful zoom range, but not longest on a Wi-Fi camera. If more zoom is what you're after and you're sold on Wi-Fi, consider the Samsung WB150F ($229.99, 3.5 stars)—it has an 18x lens that covers a 24-432mm range.
The rear LCD is 3.2 inches, and thanks to its 16:9 aspect ratio, occupies the bulk of the camera's rear façade. At 461k dots the display is sharp and bright—much nicer than the 230k-dot display found on the less-expensive Canon PowerShot A4000 ($199.99, 3.5 stars). The wide aspect allows for touch controls to be placed in black borders at the sides of the 4:3 live view image, and the screen does a good job recognizing presses, including the tap that fires a photo when the Touch Shutter is enabled. Where it falls short is in regards to swipes. I had a very hard time getting the screen to correctly scroll through options, which makes changing shooting settings a frustrating experience. It's no wonder that one of the few physical controls on the body is a toggle switch to change between Program and Automatic shooting—this is a camera that is made to be left on Auto.
The Wi-Fi features are pretty neat, although understanding how to use them takes a little bit of time. The camera can connect to an existing network or act as its own hotspot. The former is a great option when you're at home and want to beam photos to your phone or PC, while the latter is available so you can transfer shots to your phone while you're away from a hotspot. Photos do have to be sized down for transfer to your phone, and all transfers must be initiated manually. The upside to this is that the files move faster, and will be easier to Tweet or share on Facebook, but having an option to send a full-resolution version of an important shot would be nice.
Performance and Conclusions
The 320 HS can start and grab a shot in about 2.2 seconds, makes you wait 0.6 second between photos, and records a 0.2-second shutter lag. This is fairly par for the course for a compact point-and-shoot. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 ($199.99, 3 stars) starts in 2 seconds, matches the Canon's shutter lag, but requires only 0.14-second between shots in a four-shot burst mode, and 0.4 second in standard continuous drive mode.
According to Imatest, the Elph 320 HS has a very sharp lens. It records 2,247 lines per picture height, a score that is well in excess of the 1,800 lines required for a sharp photo. This is one area where it betters the performance of its sibling, the 310 HS—that Canon managed a good score of 1,857 lines.
I also used Imatest to measure the noise level in test photos. The Elph 320 HS is able to keep noise, which can hurt fine detail and make photos look grainy, under the 1.5 percent threshold through ISO 800. More importantly, there is a good amount of detail preserved at that setting, which is often a hurdle for small cameras. At ISO 1600 noise only hits 1.6 percent, but image detail starts to deteriorate quickly. This is an area where the Samsung MV800 struggled mightily in comparison—it only kept noise under control through ISO 200.
The movie mode is a bit limited in comparison to others. It records 1080p video, but only at 24 frames per second, which isn't as smooth as video with a faster frame rate. If you want to grab footage at the more typical 30fps you'll need to drop the resolution to 720p. You can zoom and focus while recording, and the sound of the lens moving is not a distraction on the audio track. Canon manages to squeeze standard mini USB and mini HDMI ports onto the small body, and the Elph 320 HS supports standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.
Adding Wi-Fi to cameras makes a lot of sense, where instant sharing of photos and videos has become commonplace. The Canon PowerShot Elph 320 HS uses the technology effectively, although it is a bit tedious to manually select and transfer files to your phone or PC. The fact that image quality is very good—much better than your run-of-the-mill smartphone—doesn't hurt either. If you aren't the type of shooter who adjusts camera settings and can live with the 5x zoom lens, the 320 HS is a great option. But the lack of physical controls coupled with the difficulty to scroll through touch menus, which makes it a chore to adjust basic shooting settings, keep this camera from being rated higher. If you're set on Wi-Fi, but turned off by touch controls, the Samsung WB150F is a viable alternative—it has a longer zoom lens and is less expensive, but its image quality isn't as good.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.