There's a debate raging in our household, and it centers on the appearance of the new Canon Powershot E1. I personally think this camera is adorable. To me, it looks like a KitchenAid blender, with a round, bubbly body and retro-style pastel paint job complete with silver trim. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is in the opposite camp. He says it looks too much like something Hello Kitty-related, or like something that should be called "My First Camera." I guess it's a matter of taste and because ease of use is one of the main selling points of the E1, he's not too far off with the second suggestion.
Regardless of how you feel about the unique design of this new member of the Powershot family, whatever you do, don't buy it based on looks alone. I confess that I was tempted to do exactly that as soon as I saw it. Then, luckily for me, I turned it on and tested it. To be honest, I'm kind of disappointed. I never thought I'd say that about a Canon.
Designed For Ease-of-Use
The E1 is designed to be, and is being marketed as, a sturdy, go-anywhere camera that's easy for all ages. Its design and operation are meant to be user-friendly, in an effort, no doubt, to get the segment of the camera-buying population that can't deal with the credit card-sized models that are becoming so popular. Let me go on record as saying that I think this is a brilliant idea. If you're looking for manual control, this isn't the camera for you, but I know plenty of people that complain about their cameras being too fragile, or too small to manipulate properly. I think the E1 could have offered a great solution to those types of problems. I just wish it worked a little better.
Image quality is not the problem. Here, at least, the E1 comes through like a Canon. Outdoors, it shows the same brilliant detail and saturated, realistic colors that I have come to expect from the Canon processor. Indoors, it handles low light capably; the high ISO mode is particularly impressive, with barely visible grain in situations that are so dark you'd expect an almost complete loss of the shot. The flash is capable and not obnoxiously bright, although red eye is sometimes a problem. Overall, the E1 performs like any other model in the Canon line when it comes to the actual images, and this in and of itself is a positive attribute.
The problems begin with operation.
Camera Operation Hiccups
First of all, shooting with flash with the E1 results in a surprisingly long recycle time (at least by today's standards). This is one area where I don't think Canons have ever let me down, but this camera does; if the flash fire required in a given situation is strong enough, then you wait for well over a one and a half seconds of "dark screen time" while the flash recharges. And that's not the only part that's slow. The zoom lens, while solid and reassuring, is fickle and seems reluctant to move in or out.
Another problem spot was the auto focus. It seemed to do fine in high-contrast situations, but once the scene got even slightly shadowed, the focus began to hunt. And hunt. And typically, even if you tried to center the subject of the photo where the focus point should be, it wouldn't catch the part you wanted to focus on and would try to focus somewhere else, resulting in a blurry photo. I've shot enough low light in my time and I can typically avoid blur in nearly any situation, but over half of my low light shots with the E1 were unusable due to blur. This, in spite of the fact that the camera is loaded with Image Stabilization.
Easy Mode vs. Auto Mode: What's The Difference?
As I mentioned, one of the major selling points of the E1 is its ease of use. In fact, it includes an Easy mode (indicated by a red heart on the Mode dial) that's designed for those who don't want to mess with any of the settings. Personally, I suspect Easy mode and Auto mode are the same thing, as I didn't find any differences between them, and I can't seem to find anyone else who has, either. But with or without an Easy mode, this camera is really no more simple or complicated than any other Powershot; the buttons are largely in the same places and the same menu options are offered, with a few extras like Face Detection (which turns itself off automatically if you are shooting something where it doesn't find any faces). A few things, by the way, are also missing, like Macro mode. I understand the removal of manual controls on a camera like this, but I think everyone loves to take close-ups and the removal of Macro was a misstep. I missed it.
What it really comes down to is that, considering the hardware inside and the cool design of the E1, I was expecting fast, smooth, impressive operation, just in a stylish new package. Don't get me wrong; compared to some competitors on the market like Kodak, who make awful point-and-shoots, this is a fantastic camera. But for someone who has handled quite a few Canons, I'm a little mystified by its moments of clunkiness.