Canon’s ELPH lineup began way back in 1996 with the launch of a sleek and stylish APS film camera of that very name. The camera went on to become the best selling APS camera ever made, and the branding quickly made the switch to digital with the launch of 2000’s Digital ELPH. Since then, Canon’s ELPH (also known as IXUS) lineup has become synonymous with minimalist style and a sleek portability. The cameras have consistently remained among the best sellers on the market, due in large part to their predictably competitive image quality. Last year’s model, the ELPH 100 HS, was actually our pick for best point and shoot in the $200-$300 price range.
The ELPH 110 HS digital camera, then, has a lot to live up to. The camera sports the latest 16 megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor paired with a 5x optical zoom. That zoom range may not seem like much in 2012’s market of oftentimes 10x and up, but the 110 HS makes up for this lack by being exceptionally small. The camera is ostensibly simplified for the point and shooters among us, blending simplified controls with a go-anywhere size. At a high price point of $230, though, has Canon been resting on their laurels with the latest ELPHs or will the 110 HS prove that the line still has what it takes to be top dog?
Body and Design
Canon has pulled away from the brushed metal designs that made the original ELPHs stand out, favoring instead lightweight plastic for the latest models. The 110 HS is an exceptionally small and light camera, weighing in at a nearly unnoticeable third of a pound. It may not be quite as thin as the thinnestinternal-lens cameras on the market, but it’s definitely shorter and squatter than most. The rounded edges on all sides also help keep the camera’s footprint down; honestly it’s easy to forget you even have it in a pants pocket. It’s oftentimes easy to equate sturdiness with weight, so while the 110 HS doesn’t exactly exude quality, it’s probably built well enough to last a few years. There aren’t any obvious weak points on the body, including the battery door, and the tripod mount is metal.
As previously mentioned, the lens on the 110 HS is only 5x
optical. While the obvious downside is that this makes it much less versatile
than a longer zoom range, it does start at a useful 24mm and f2.7. It doesn’t keep
that speed for long, and by the long end of the zoom reaches a slow f5.9, but it’s nice to see such faster
speed at all. The top of the body has the shutter button orbited by zoom
toggle, the On/Off button, and a switch to go between Program and full Auto
shooting modes. The back is dominated by a 3-inch screen with 461,000 dots,
next to which the Record button falls right under your thumb. There’s also a
4-way controller here, with quick access to Exposure Compensation, Macro, Flash
settings, and a Display cycle, in the middle of which is the Function/Set
button. Below this controller is a small Menu button and the Playback button.
Along the bottom of the camera rests the Battery/Card compartment and the metal
tripod mount, which is just off-center of the lens.
User Experience and Performance
The 110 HS is a very simple camera in operation, with only Auto and Program modes to choose from. Automatic mode leaves essentially everything up to the camera, as you’d expect, while Program gives you access to ISO, white balance, exposure compensation and metering modes. Program also allows you to use the My Colors menu for custom color controls (such as selective color or sepia) as well as all the built-in scene modes. Unfortunately the camera wont try to choose from the included scene modes automatically, but the usual array of Portrait, Miniature, Fisheye, Smooth Skin, Toy Camera, and Soft Focus make an appearance here. Canon has also included a Movie Digest mode, which takes a video clip with each photo, and a Slow Motion Video mode, albeit at very reduced resolution.
On the whole, camera operation is exceptionally quick and easy. The camera turns on and is ready to shoot in about a second and turns off just as quickly. This alone makes it the ultimate point and shoot, ready to go as soon as you are and then be slipped back into a pocket. There’s almost never a need to dive into the menus either, for all the settings are either one button press away on the four-way controller or just a couple using the Function button. The Menu button is therefore reserved for the more esoteric user and setup options that you’ll most likely set once and forget about. Autofocus never took longer than a second either, and is among the best in the point and shoot market. The camera attempts to track focus, too, although this was pretty easy to fool. The flash, too, was quick to charge and could usually keep up with normal single shot shooting without a hitch. For sheer ease of use and intuitiveness, the ELPH 110 HS is second to none.
Images from the 110 HS are vibrant and saturated without looking overly processed. In a wide range of shooting situations, from bright sunlit days to the darkness of a concert, the 110 HS was astoundingly consistent in its representation of a scene. Unlike many point and shoots, which may force you to take and then retake a photograph after fiddling with settings, the 110 HS got it right the first time almost every time.
Base ISO shows some of the haziness we’ve come to associate with a backlit CMOS sensor, but detail reproduction is still extremely good and competitive with cameras costing $100 more. As the lighting gets low and the ISOs go up, images get more and more smeared as severe noise reduction takes its toll. While photography buffs may balk at such heavy-handed processing, the result is pleasantly noise-free images that point-and-shooters will love. ISO 1600 should probably be your limit for reasonably detailed pictures, but colors don’t shift even at 3200, which is there if you really need the extra speed.
The 110 HS’ lens, albeit only 5x optical zoom, is sharp throughout the range and from edge to edge. The very far corners of the lens aren’t great, but that’s a small price to pay for such a portable package. The sensor and noise reduction are the detail limiters here, not the camera’s lens. Flare and chromatic aberration are both well controlled too, with neither becoming a problem throughout the review period.
Video was very good as well, although there’s no stereo sound. The sample is of a concert, which the on-board mic wasn’t able to handle very well. You’re able to zoom while filming too, albeit at a slower pace to avoid zoom noise.
We had a great time with the Canon ELPH 110 HS. As a simple point and shoot, it fulfills all the necessary check boxes that make it a perfect companion for those who don’t care to fiddle with aperture, shutter speed, or ISO. Whether shooting a late-night party or a well-lit landscape, the 110 HS will be able to keep up with your antics and give you well-exposed photographs with accurate, punchy colors. Put simply, this is a point and shoot that does exactly that quite well. If you’re looking for an ultra-portable camera that doesn’t sacrifice on image quality, the simple yet functional 110 HS is a great choice.
There are a few other cameras that have a similar mixture of great image quality and portability, most notably Sony's WX50, which offers better video and burst shooting. The ultracompact SZ7, too, is another good choice that includes an impressive 10x optical zoom. The Nikon S6300 also offers 10x optical zoom but does so in a larger yet less expensive package. Finally, Canon's own ELPH 320 HS is also worth a look, although if you can live without a touchscreen the 110 HS will save you some money.