Cameras

Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS Review

The 100 HS lacks some of its pricier siblings' hot-ticket extra features, but it's one heck of a camera for the money.

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Introduction

Attention-hogging point-and-shoots tend to wrap themselves in extra features. Touchscreens, long zoom-ranges, share buttons, and special effects are all well and dandy, but the Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS (MSRP $199) goes after what actually matters: excellent image quality, a breezy user experience, and a very reasonable price.

The 100 HS (IXUS 115 HS in some territories) is the entry-level model in Canon’s 2011 ELPH lineup. It’s also the market’s most affordable camera built around a CMOS sensor, which means that it’s fast, and that it can shoot great pictures in most settings. This little camera lacks some of its pricier siblings’ hot-ticket extra features, but if it successfully achieves its aims, this will be one heck of a camera—especially for the MSRP of $199. Street prices have fallen even further. The 100 HS comes in silver, gray, orange, blue, and pink

Design & Usability

Simple handling could benefit from more texture and tactility, but navigation is extremely approachable nonetheless.

As a pocket-sized, rectangular shooter, the 100 HS handles like the majority of budget point-and-shoots: not particularly well. It has soft corners but no grip, so one-handed use is uncomfortable. Annoyingly, it misses the mark on a few no-brainer aspects as well. The chrome shutter is flush with the top panel, which looks cool, but it lacks texture. The tiny nub of a zoom tilter could be bigger, too. The rear panel button layout is standard, with a four-way pad and sizable, well-labeled keys, but the spacing is cramped and the buttons are too mushy. Up top, the Auto/not-Auto switch keeps basic operation very simple, and the menu system is for the most part logical and easy to navigate. Happily, a quick menu eases alteration to shooting modes, ISO, white balance, drive mode, and the like.

Since there is no optical viewfinder, we felt extra-grateful for the comfy 3-inch, 230k-dot LCD.

Hardware is mostly basic, but the LCD is above average for the class. Since there is no optical viewfinder (no surprise there), we felt extra-grateful for the comfy 3-inch, 230k-dot LCD, though it did struggle in direct sunlight. A Canon-brand 5.0-20.0mm (28-112mm equivalent) lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 sits on the front of the body. Its optical zoom can be combined with 4x digital zoom for a maximum 16x magnification, though at a significant loss of image quality—as with any digital zoom.

Features

Budget is the name of the game, but somehow, features still don't exactly seem sparse.

Beginners will enjoy the ELPH 100 HS, seeing as most functions are automated, but they won't necessarily get bored either, because there's a fair amount of user control too. There's one Auto mode, one Program mode, and about a dozen scene modes, but the 100 HS does most of the heavy lifting. A mode switch on the top toggles between Auto and "everything else." Non-auto shooting modes are all grouped into a single sub-menu, along with effects and filters. This approach keeps the top level of the quick menu uncluttered, but it can be a hassle to dig for specific modes and settings.

The 100 HS even offers a custom timer that lets the user choose a number of shots and the interval between each fire—like a carry-anywhere photo booth!

The 100 HS scores relatively low in the way of creative effects, compared to competition, but there is still an ample selection. Those who are brave enough to dig through the kitchen-sink list of scene modes will find most of the usual suspects, like Portrait and Beach, but there are also Underwater (don't forget the underwater housing!), Handheld Nightscene, and several other interesting modes to liven things up. As for effects modes, these offer fun choices such as Fish-Eye and Poster Effect, and 11 color modes are up for grabs too, with everything from Monochrome, to Skin Tone, to Super Vivid. Compared to most point-and-shoots in this price range, this is a generous helping of the fun stuff at a great price. The 100 HS even offers speedy burst modes and continuous drive settings, not to mention a custom timer that lets the user choose a number of shots and the interval between each fire—like a carry-anywhere photo booth!

Performance

The ELPH 100 HS captures great shots.

We're happy to report that the ELPH 100 HS takes clear, attractive shots in a variety of situations. It aimed at fine image quality on a budget and it hit the mark. This is one of the most color-accurate point-and-shoots we've ever tested, and 11 color modes are icing on the cake. You won't get better color performance for this price point. And if color accuracy is the icing, then noise results are the cheery, glowing candles. Noise performance is about average for the class, but smart noise reduction helps to produce great-looking shots through most of the ISO range. Images are generally eye-pleasing all the way up to ISO 800, arguably even ISO 1600. Additionally, the 100 HS offers snappy continuous and burst modes to help you catch subjects in motion. This is fine work for such a budget device.

It's uncommon for a sub-$200 point-and-shoot to offer legitimate 1080p video, let alone nice quality 1080p video.

The 100 HS also shoots sharp, color-accurate HD video, though this feature offers almost no manual control. It's uncommon for a sub-$200 point-and-shoot to offer legitimate 1080p video, let alone nice quality 1080p video. This is excellent by compact-camera standards.

Conclusion

Everyone wants to put some bang in their buck, and that's exactly what the ELPH 100 HS is here to offer.

The 100 HS takes arguably the best photos of any sub-$200 camera on the market. It can capture decent shots even in challenging settings, and in ideal conditions—outdoors on a bright, sunny day—its images are bright and clear with true-to-life colors. Any pocket camera obviously has its limitations, but this Canon's versatile sensor and its smart processor put it a few steps ahead of the budget-compact pack.

This little ELPH is also one of the fastest cameras in its price range.

Fans of budget point-and-shoots will love the 100 HS for more than just its picture quality though. Auto mode is almost always spot-on, and if you ever need to dive into the menu system, it's easy to navigate and easy to understand. This little ELPH is also one of the fastest cameras in its price range. Autofocus is quick and the continuous shooting mode is nearly twice as fast as the average camera in this class.

Other point-and-shoots have more bells and whistles, and some offer more user control, but as a pocket-sized point-and-shoot retailing for under $200, the 100 HS packs some of the best bang for the buck that we've ever seen. It's an affordable and reliable carry-anywhere camera that makes great photography easy. For casual photographers, this is highly recommended.

Science Introduction

The Canon ELPH 100 HS may not look like much, but it braved the storm of our test lab with gusto. From color accuracy, to noise, to sharpness, to video mode, this little device has got it going on.

Noise Reduction

Noise performance is just about average for the class, but smart noise reduction helps to produce good-looking shots through most of the ISO range.

The 100 HS produces slightly less noise than we typically see in this class. Across all ISO settings and lighting conditions in our tests, the 100 HS produced an average of 1.25% noise, which is respectable. Base ISO shows more noise than we'd like to see, and the levels consistently increase throughout the range (as expected). But at the top setting of 3200, noise is well controlled—it never crept past 2% in any of our test images. And thanks to a smart noise reduction algorithm, shots are generally eye-pleasing up until ISO 800, arguably even at ISO 1600.

It's tough for a camera with a small sensor and an average lens to gather light in dim settings, so we weren't surprised to find that the 100 HS produces more noise in poor lighting than in strong lighting. Shots showed an average of 1.19% noise in our 3000 lux test and 1.28% in our 60 lux test. That's about 8% more noise in low light—enough to be noticeable.

Color and Sharpness

The 100 HS aced our color tests, and scores weren't too shabby in terms of sharpness either.

The Canon ELPH 100 HS shoots some of the most accurate colors we've ever seen from a budget-friendly compact camera. The best color error recorded in our tests was 2.48, which is an excellent score for any camera, especially for a sub-$200 pocket shooter. It outperforms every comparable camera we've seen this year, even its more expensive sibling, the 500 HS, and the Panasonic FP5, which we praised mightily.

The 100 HS is pretty sharp for a little shooter. It yielded a higher sharpness score than any current sub-$200 point-and-shoot that we've tested, including the Panasonic FP5, Samsung PL120, and Nikon S4100 (though just barely). The 100 HS doesn't hold detail as well as models with bright lenses or over-sized sensors, but it's also a chunk cheaper than any "premium" point-and-shoots.

On an amusing note, we should add that—believe it or not—the 100 HS shot blurrier images with the image stabilization turned on. We ran the test a few times just to be sure, and we ended up with similar results each time: with IS activated, the 100 HS always returned a net-negative result. The difference is probably imperceptible to the human eye, but according to our testing methods, the 100 HS's stabilization system does not work.

Video

The 100 HS shoots sharp, color-accurate 1080p HD video, though offers almost no manual control.

It's still uncommon for a sub-$200 point-and-shoot to shoot legitimate 1080p video, and it's even more surprising when that budget-friendly pocket cam actually shoots legitimately great 1080p video to boot. While the 100 HS lacks just about any manual control over video mode—no optical zoom, very few adjustable settings, and poor autofocus—it takes excellent video by compact-camera standards.

Video color is almost as impressive as its photo color. It's by far the best among our comparison group, and as accurate as many DSLRs. The 100 HS takes very sharp videos. Our tests measured a maximum sharpness of 575 LW/PH—both horizontal sharpness and vertical sharpness—which is one of the best results we've seen from a compact camera, even compared to the similar (and more expensive) Canon 500 HS.

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