Cameras

Canon PowerShot A1300 Review

The PowerShot A1300 is a AA battery-powered compact, offered by Canon to appeal to old-fashioned shooters.

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Introduction

Canon's PowerShot A1300 is meant to appeal to old-fashioned (or well-prepared) shooters, yet many of its offerings should capture the interest of just about anyone. The A1300 is very inexpensive, very small, very light, and it even has a built-in optical viewfinder. We weren't expecting much from this little gadget, but a whirl through the lab produced some surprisingly happy results.

The A1300 is available now for $119.99, in black or silver.

Design & Usability

With a body designed to cut cost, the A1300's design is rather plain.

This is a cheap camera, but we found some unexpected perks, here and there. The small lens barrel feels sturdier than what usually comes with a price tag like this. It adjusts very quickly to user input and the entire assembly is surrounded by a thick chrome band that lends a more expensive look. A rarity for this price range, the A1300 also comes with an optical viewfinder. This certainly isn’t the highest quality implementation we’ve ever seen, but it zooms in along with the lens, and coverage is moderately close to the final image.

A weak flash bulb gets in the way of two-handed shooting.

Of course, the 2.7-inch rear display is low quality, with narrow viewing angles and poor previewing, not to mention it flickers under non-natural light. A weak flash bulb gets in the way of two-handed shooting and it delays capture because of its sluggish recycle time.

At least the buttons are large and legible, and we love Canon's current menu systems, too. A handy “Func. / Set” button connects to a fast, efficient quick menu, which allows easy adjustment to important shooting variables on the fly, and another key opens into the main menu, which is slightly slower, but more comprehensive. We love this menu system.

Features

The lower-end A1300 only has a handful of features, but they're intuitive and useful.

At this segment of the market, simplicity is king. The top spot on the A1300's directional pad controls shooting modes, swapping between fully automatic and everything else. The auto mode is a partial scene-selecting method, so its software can do such things as automatically adapting to macro shooting conditions when necessary. Users will have some control over Auto mode, though, such as access to flash, self-timer, and a few other settings. Many beginners will also love the traditional scene modes, which include Digital Image Stabilization, Face Self-Timer, Low Light, Fish-eye Effect, and many more.

Meanwhile, experienced shooters may resent the fact that Program mode locks shutter and aperture, but at least it relinquishes power over all other variables, such as ISO, white balance, self-timer, continuous shooting, exposure compensation, etc. We only wish burst mode was a little faster.

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Optical zoom is locked while a recording is in progress, a limitation that is becoming more and more dated.

As for video recording, all video shooting is essentially automatic, and it appears only two Scene modes are compatible with video: iFrame Movie and Miniature Effect, the latter of which severely limits frame rate. Optical zoom is locked while a recording is in progress, a limitation that is becoming more and more dated, and a tiny, mediocre mono microphone on the front panel is responsible for all audio recording. There are no internal audio options of any kind.

Performance

We were absolutely blown away by this camera’s color accuracy, but the remainder of our image quality test results were closer to our expectations.

To start, the A1300’s color accuracy is actually amazingly great, almost perfect, and any but the staunchest perfectionists will be more than pleased with how this camera handles colors. Expect subjects, especially human ones, to be rendered in an accurate and flattering way. After this point, the A1300 heads downhill.

Our advice: do most of your shooting outside, since this is not a strong device for low light.

Resolution of detail is rather impressive at the center of the frame, but falls off steeply as we move outward. In many tested regions, detail drops very low, which is indicative of a cheap lens—not entirely unexpected from this model. For best results, keep your most important subjects, like faces, in the center of the frame. Noise was another pest. We really didn’t need our lab tests to tell us this, since a mere look at our sample photos was enough to raise the red flag. Despite our results, noise is still passable at ISO 100 in practice, however, pixelation becomes more obvious at ISO 200, and increasingly worse from there. Our advice: do most of your shooting outside, since this is not a strong device for low light.

Conclusion

For those who absolutely must own a AA-powered camera, there are far worse buys than the Canon PowerShot A1300.

Let's consider the A1300 as a whole: We like the small optical viewfinder, especially how it actually magnifies along with optical zoom. The over-sized battery compartment doubles as a thick right hand grip, which compensates for the poorly-designed buttons on the rear panel. This Canon's color accuracy is quite amazing, with a score that could compete with models that are ten times the price of this one.

Image noise is also a severe problem, damaging shots at ISO 200 and beyond.

As for the rest of the performance metrics… well, they’re pretty much what we expected. After all, you do get what you pay for. Resolution is rather terrible at all focal lengths, despite the 16 megapixel sensor, and all zones fall victim to ugly fringing and distortion. Image noise is also a severe problem, damaging shots at ISO 200 and beyond. This camera is a slow shooter, too, and it lacks many secondary features.

But for many consumers, these drawback won’t matter. Plus, we have to admit, we did enjoy shooting the A1300, probably due to Canon’s excellent menu system. As long as you know what you’re buying, and as long as you don’t have any illusions about the capabilities of this 120-dollar camera, the A1300 will not disappoint.

Science Introduction

The Canon PowerShot A1300 (MSRP $119) showcased more downs than ups during testing. Its most notable and impressive performance feature was its spot-on color accuracy, but it did less to wow us in other categories—with notable problems in terms of sharpness and noise.

Color Accuracy

The color accuracy is outstanding for this price point.

We recorded an error value of 2.23 in our accuracy test (lower numbers are better here), and to put that in perspective, we recently tested the $3500 Canon 5D Mark III, which scored a 2.15. Saturation is also nearly perfect, coming in at 98.5%.

This essentially means that all of the millions of colors you capture in photographs are going to look exactly as they do in real life, excepting a margin of error of just 1.5%, which is excellent.

Image Stabilization & Sharpness

This lower-end Canon doesn't do the best job stabilizing while you snap photos, and sharpness is not where it should be toward the edge of the frame.

The A1300 is only capable of “digital” image stabilization, which simply increases shutter speed to reduce motion blur. Maximum resolution is also reduced in this mode, therefore we do not test it. For effective image stabilization, check out the slightly more expensive Canon A2400 IS, or last year’s Samsung PL120.

Resolution of detail is actually rather impressive at the center of the frame, but falls off steeply as we move outward. In many tested regions, detail dips below 500 MTF50s—that's very low, and indicative of a cheap lens. For best results, keep your most important subjects, like faces, in the center of the frame.

Noise & Lens Distortion

Fringing and noise are severe issues, and nothing improves as the lights go dim.

Near the edges of the frame, we see the dreaded double-fringing effect, in which high contrast areas are aberrated to both the left and right sides. This is further evidence of a low quality lens, and severely detracts from the visual appeal of photographs.

Barrel distortion is moderately severe throughout the A1300’s focal range, holding steady at around 0.9 to 1.0%. Usually, small cameras compensate for unavoidable distortion in software. This camera doesn’t use that technique, or doesn’t use it as rigorously, but distortion levels are still fairly low and shouldn’t distract too badly.

Additionally, this is a very noisy camera. All images, even at ISO 100, are polluted with at least 1.00% noise, and at the maximum ISO, that figure jumps to 1.97% on average. Our advice: do most of your shooting outside, this is not a strong device for low light.

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