Canon’s ELPH line has existed now for years with nary a hiccup in image or build quality. The lineup took a turn in 2011 with the advent of Canon’s HS, or high sensitivity, system. These newer cameras boast CMOS sensors for improved low-light imaging and faster readout speeds for high definition video. The Canon 310 HS currently sits below the newly announced 530 HS as the entry-level ELPH. With 1080p video, a backside-illuminated 12 megapixel CMOS sensor, an impressive 28-224mm 8x zoom, and weighing in at only 140g, how has the 310 been critically received?
Body and Design
The almost all-metal body inspires confidence in a way cheap plastic never can, and Canon even switched out the plastic tripod mount for a real metal one. Do note that the lens barrel does not quite sit flush with the front of the camera body (presumably the sacrifice of fitting an 8x zoom in an ultra-compact body), yet it really does not protrude enough to matter. Fashionistas can choose from one of six colors: blue, purple, silver, pink, black, and green.
The 310’s controls and buttons sit just where you’d expect them to. The top of the camera features the shutter button ringed by a minuscule plastic zoom toggle. It’s finicky yet effective, and doesn’t take much time to get used to. The back of the camera sports a very nice 3” LCD, next to which the usual array of record, playback, function, and directional keys sit conveniently under your thumb. This layout is simple yet effective, and reviews make clear just how intuitive the 310 is in use.
Performance and User Experience
Performance seems to be the selling-point with the Canon 310 HS, and it delivers in droves. Reviews note a very speedy start-up time of only a couple seconds, and autofocus is zippy as well. The drive mode shoots at a modest 3.4 fps, yet this can be boosted to nearly 7fps at reduced resolution. As with all ELPH models, the 310 has a fully automatic mode, scene modes, and a “manual” mode that allows basic control over saturation and exposure compensation.
Image and Video Quality
Reviews are positive on the 310’s image quality across the board. The backside-illuminated CMOS sensor does a fantastic job of keeping noise low at higher sensitivities, and photographs are passable up to ISO 800 and even 1600. 3200 is probably best avoided, yet this performance is really quite good for a compact camera. The 310 is prone to red-eye, yet there’s an easy red-eye remove function you can apply in-camera afterward.
While this all sounds great, the 310 suffers the same problems seen in other cameras with BSI sensors. Low-light image quality gets a big boost at the expense of low-contrast detail in good light. Foliage gets a bit muddy, even at base ISO, and the photos can lack a certain punch. The alternatives at this price-point don’t do any better, but just be aware that viewed at 100% these files do not look pretty.
Recording at a sweet 1080p HD at 24 fps, the high definition video from the 310 looks great. The output from the sensor is truly impressive, and Canon even included high speed options at lowered resolutions: 120fps at 640x480 and 240 fps at a tiny 320x240. While the 240 fps resolution is too small for anything serious, it looks like great fun to play around with. The one problem reviewers are finding with the video is that the autofocus continuously refocuses, producing a small yet audible clicking throughout. And, while you can zoom while recording, the motor can be clearly heard.
For the money, the Canon 310 HS is a fantastic little point and shoot that, with its 8x zoom, makes for a perfect travel companion. Operation is quick and intuitive, the design is close to faultless, and image quality is as competitive as one would expect from Canon. Before buying, I’d suggest also taking a look at the Canon 530 HS, which was announced this year and sports a longer zoom range and is, in fact, a wee bit smaller. It also comes in at a higher price point, of course, and it hasn’t yet been extensively reviewed.
There are a number of other pocketable models with long zoom ranges out there as well. Check out the Sony WX10, Nikon S6300, Panasonic FH-25, and Casio ZR-10 before you jump.