The Canon PowerShot A3300 IS is the flagship model in Canon’s “easy and fun” A-series. It's a budget-friendly camera, with an MSRP of $179 and street prices that are sure to plummet throughout the year. It's a replacement for last year's popular A3100, adding more resolution (16 megapixels) and a longer zoom range (5x). Consumers scooped up the A3100 in droves last year because it was affordable, easy to use, and almost equally as capable as the Canon SD1300, which cost a few extra dollars thanks to its slimmer, sleeker design. Read on to see how the A3300 IS fares in this current climate.
Body & Design
The A3300 has a typical compact design that keeps its profile thinner than a bar of soap. It has an attractive shimmery finish that comes in five colors (ours was a dark red) and, despite the $179 price tag, doesn’t feel cheap. This is an upgrade from the A3100's “cheap” and “hollow” feel, as we called it last year. The 28mm wide-angle, 5x-zoom lens is the longest in Canon’s A-series and has a reasonably bright f/2.8 maximum aperture, in line with most cameras of its ilk.
The back of the camera has a 3-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels. This is adequate resolution, especially at this price point, but it won’t inspire any “oohs” or “ahhs.” A multi-selector and four buttons are squished to the right of the LCD; Canon could have done without the dedicated face-detection button as the feature won’t need much tweaking.
The top of the camera has the typical cast of characters. The power button is small and recessed into the camera so as not to accidentally turn on in a pocket. The shutter release button is nicely sized, but flat (I’ll admit I’m partial to the more comfortable domed ones). It's surrounded by a zoom ring, which is made of a flimsy plastic and feels like it’ll be the first part to break (maybe in a tie with the flimsy battery compartment cover). There is a stiff mode dial on the right edge that is so tightly screwed in that a thumb alone could not possibly change it; you’ll need both hands on the camera and two fingers on the dial to switch modes.
Performance & User Experience
The A3300 has scores of automated modes ranging from Easy mode, which allows basic adjustments to only the flash and image size, up through Program mode, which automates the exposure but offers control over the white balance and ISO settings. Most of the other modes are variations on these: there's an Auto mode, 10 pre-set scene modes, and a Live Control mode that lets users to adjust settings, but simplifies the labels in menus and offers a live preview of how adjustments will affect the picture.
Canon's usual selection of Creative Filters are here as well, including Fish-eye, Miniature, Toy Camera, Monochrome, Super Vivid, and Poster Effect. They're fun features sure to be appreciated by kids and teens, or anyone who just wants to goof around a little bit, but they aren’t for creating any real masterpieces.
Performance speed is a mixed bag. Some A3300 owners have complained of long shutter lag in user reviews, and some of these concerns are valid. When the lens is at its wide angle, the face detection is turned off, the lighting is bright, and the flash is disabled, the Canon A3300 snaps fairly quickly, in about a half-second. This isn’t a problem if you’re shooting a portrait or landscape. If you have wiggly, impatient kids or are trying to photograph sports or other erratic subjects, consider a different camera. The half-second lag can drag on when the lens is zoomed out (and consequently, the aperture narrows), the autofocus has to track a moving object, and the flash has to warm up. I was trying to take a picture of my son indoors with all these factors present, and it was not working out well. After a few seconds he gave up on me and walked away. I never got my shot. Most of these features can be turned off to mitigate the slow performance, but for a camera that relies so heavily on automatic functions, it'd be nice to see more nimble performance.
Continuous shooting (with the flash disabled, that is) is much quicker. I don’t expect much from a $179 point-and-shoot, but the Canon A3300 snapped at a decent 0.8 fps pace. It didn’t stop to huff and puff either: it continuously snapped at that rate, though it does not autofocus between each shot -- not a problem if the scene is similar from frame to frame.
Like the A3100, the A3300 comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Some may curse Canon for departing from its AA battery roots (the A3100 was the first to go li-ion), but the included battery gets a decent 230 shots per charge and the wall-mount charger is very convenient (but it’s always my fear that I’ll leave it in a hotel room somewhere).
Image & Video Quality
The Canon A3300 is loaded with a 16-megapixel CCD image sensor that is the same size as its predecessor’s (and almost any compact camera) at 1/2.3 inches. That’s a lot of megapixels to pack onto a small CCD, and as we've been discovering in slow motion for the past few years, adding more resolution onto the same small sensor isn’t always a good thing. We can't say conclusively that it hurts the images from the A3300, but it's surely not necessary. 16-megapixel photos are huge files, weighing in at a meaty 5.6 megabytes per shot by our count -- 12-megapixel shots are usually a shade under 3 megs. There's really no reason to have such enormous shots, especially when the details often get lost or at least softened at a pixel level.
Canon made the upgrade to a Digic 4 processor on the A3300. It's the same processor that Canon uses in all of its high-end compacts and dSLRs, so if it's good enough for those models, it's good enough for the A series. While it doesn’t speed up performance, it does replicate accurate colors and reduces noise into smoothed details instead of sloppy, inaccurate flecks (though details still get hazy). The ISO settings range from 80 to 1600, and in the Auto mode it seems to favor 400 and 800 indoors even in good lighting. Don’t expect fantastic indoor shots, but the sunny outdoors are a free-fire zone.
The movie mode can record 720p high-def video, an upgrade from the A3100’s standard-def video. If standard-def/VGA (640 x 480) is your preference, the A3300 has that too -- it's quicker to upload to YouTube. Both options record at a smooth 30 fps. The A3300 allows 4x digital zoom, but no optical is available while recording.
For casual shooters who shy away from calling themselves “photographers,” the Canon PowerShot A3300 IS is a solid point-and-shoot. It won’t break the bank at $179, takes great pictures, and comes with decent features like high-def video, creative filters, accurate colors, and a 3-inch LCD screen. That said, the shutter lag may be problematic enough for some consumers to consider other cameras.
Last year's A3100 is still available, and it's a solid snapshooter, though it's not much cheaper than the A3300 at this point, and lacks HD video, while the zoom and LCD are both smaller. The little-sister Canon A2200 downgrades to digital image stabilization, but hangs on to 14.1 megapixels, a 2.7-inch LCD, and a 4x zoom. It retails for $139. Perhaps the best option is the Canon ELPH 100 HS; for an extra $20 (less than that in some cases), the performance is much faster, image quality (especially in poor lighting) is much clearer, and it bumps video resolution up to a full 1080p. Unlike last year, where the top-end A-series and low-end SD-series (now re-named ELPH) models were very evenly matched, this year's ELPH is clearly a better camera for not much more money.
Nikon’s S4100 is also worth a look, sporting a similar 5x lens and 3-inch LCD, but with greater screen resolution at 460,000 pixels and less CCD resolution at 14 megapixels. Bonus: it’s a touch screen. Sony has its version of the 16-megapixel, 5x lens, 720p video combo. The Sony W570 has a smaller 2.7-inch LCD and adds sweep panoramas.
All that considered, the A3300 is one of the cameras you should consider at this price point for its solid image quality and above-average zoom range, though if you need quick performance, you're better off looking elsewhere. The price is sure to drop throughout the year, which will make it more attractive as time goes on, but keep an eye on its competitors as well.