Canon PowerShot ELPH 340 HS Digital Camera Review
A new point and shoot for a new year is all looks.
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The point and shoot market is evaporating quickly, and Canon's doing its best just to keep up. With better and better cameras getting dropped in mobile phones, it's tough to sell people on grabbing a second camera if you have something like an iPhone.
Canon made the case well with its ELPH 330 HS last year, but without major additions this year's model isn't as compelling. Though Canon's PowerShot ELPH 340 HS (MSRP $199.99) has a few new features, it also has extremely similar performance to last year's model. With smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 on the way with selective refocus and other features not found on any point and shoot, the future looks mighty bleak for the low-end point and shoot.
Still, there's always plenty of folks looking for a simple dedicated camera. The question is, is the 340 HS better than the dozens of other options on the market?
Design & Handling
The house that zoom built
Opening the box of the 340 HS reveals a rather milquetoast point-and-shoot camera. Really, it looks just about the same as any of Canon's other entry-level point and shoots. It can slip into a pocket as easy you could hope a camera could, but at the cost of a grip, and the camera is difficult for lefties to operate as well.
Instead of the metallic finish and hefty body of the 330 HS, a plasticine point-and-shoot chassis guards the 340 HS' innards. It's easy to hold, but a tad slippery once your hands get a bit sweaty. That's less of an issue than you'd think, though. Despite this camera's extra half-ounce of weight over its predecessor, the 340 HS is still svelte, easy to carry, and crams a 1/2.3-inch sensor into a tiny package. You'll also find an NFC antenna, WiFi, and SD card slot under the hood.
Controls are easy to get the hang of on the 340 HS—there isn't that many, after all. Because of this, you'll fly through learning the basics of your new point and shoot if you pick up the 340 HS. Most of the advanced stuff like shutter speed and aperture are taken care of by the camera itself without any need for user input, and the options that are there are more for adding effects and color changes than anything else. All three shooting modes are very forgiving, and even Program mode is very basic.
So why would you get this camera over sticking with your smartphone? The answer begins and ends with the 340 HS' zoom lens. Boasting a lens with 25-300mm (35mm equivalent) focal lengths, users of the 340 HS will enjoy a 12x optical zoom ratio. Though that isn't exactly super-zoom territory, it avoids the usual problems associated with those monster lenses. Usually you'll see loss of sharpness and stability at full zoom, and a comparatively short zoom in the 340 HS points to fewer issues taking video while changing focal lengths.
While there are starting to be smartphone options that can do exactly this, you're not going to be able to buy them for under $200 just yet. However, those cameras do offer integrated social media sharing over WiFi or your existing data connection, so you may want to make a checklist for yourself if you're looking for a camera to take snaps for sharing.
The last gasp of a dying form
To its credit, the 340 HS takes what the 330 HS had and doesn't complicate anything too much. The mode switch on the top gives you three very forgiving shooting modes, and there's very little you can to do mess anything up. The menu system is easy to navigate, and all the commonly-changed options are all in one place.
Because this is such an entry-level camera, many of the headlining features of the 340 HS are effects-related. In comparison to most other cameras, there's a comparatively huge amount of color modes and photo effects to choose from. Many of these can be found on mobile apps, but Canon made sure to tuck a few extras in there to give you a little something more than what you'd find on Instagram or VSCO Cam.
Though the 340 HS uses NFC to pair your phone with the camera, you may find it more trouble than it's worth. You still have to download Canon's app—which needs some developer love—and make your phone use the camera's WiFi instead of a shared network. This means needing to connect and disconnect from your home network, connect the camera to the phone, then reconnect to your home network after you've finished sharing your photos. As you can imagine, this is a super huge pain in the neck.
To be honest, it's a problem that's not limited to Canon's plucky little point and shoot. Few—if any—cameras do WiFi pairing well, and chances are good that sharing photos online is done easiest with a computer with an SD card reader unless your camera is running Android.
However, if you're just showing off your photos at a party, never fear: HDMI is here! It's not exactly the most common thing to have a microHDMI to HDMI cable on your person, but if you do you can hook your camera directly into the nearest flatscreen. After hitting the playback button, you can show off your pictures on a screen far larger than the 3-inch, 461k-dot LCD on the back of the 340 HS.
One baffling thing—and it's a really bad one—is the decreased battery life. Though the standard way of listing battery life (CIPA ratings) aren't always representative of how real people take photos, what we saw in our labs was absolutely appalling. Though we typically subject point and shoots to about 100 shots in our tests, we weren't able to complete one full day of testing. Whether that was due to the live view or some other reason, the battery life is just plain bad. If you buy the 340 HS, you're going to want to grab a couple spare batteries to go with it.
It's a point-and-shoot, through and through.
When you talk about a value point-and-shoot, you're generally not talking about a camera that can take the greatest shots. That being said, we were hoping for a little bit more that what we found in our testing. After all, it's virtually identical in every way to its predecessor—except for the fact that its shots are quite a bit noisier overall.
First the good—the Canon PowerShot ELPH 340 HS is one of the most color-accurate cameras we've ever tested in terms of white balance. Similarly, the included color modes are extremely spot-on: No matter what you want to do, you'll get shots that look natural, similar to how your eyes see them. With the notable exception of incandescent light, the camera can handle just about anything you throw at it and still give you accurate shots in ever-changing lighting conditions. Auto white-balance is fantastic, though you can take a manual reading by yourself if you are so inclined.
From here on out, the results are more mediocre. Taking a bit of a risk in giving the 340 HS a wider zoom ratio than its predecessor, this camera suffers some of the ill effects of a longer lens' geometry. Light reaching the sensor has to bend in unusual ways in longer zooms, so we typically see some sharpness loss and chromatic aberration at the edges of sample shots. The same is true with the 340 HS: The extra focal length is great, but if you zoom in all the way your image quality will suffer.
To combat this, the 340 HS uses its software to oversharpen high-contrast edges quite a bit, meaning sometimes you'll see halo-like smears near hard lines in your shots. It still won't get rid of some blueish coma near the edges of your frame, but problems like this would be much worse without the camera's corrective hand.
Video quality is passable, but not great. Because the sensor is so tiny with a somewhat limited ISO range, you'll find that taking cinematics in low light is a bit difficult to do well with the 340 HS. Even in bright light, the "FHD" setting—which captures 1080p at 30 frames per second—has some trailing and frequency interference issues. That said, it'll be perfectly fine for well-lit casual gatherings—for a $200 camera likely falling in price as the year goes on, the 340 HS is up to par.
It works, but for how long?
It's probably a bit unfair to set the bar very high for a point-and-shoot camera under $200, but with smartphones more than good enough for most people, treading water is a recipe for disaster. Though its marks are adequate for the price today, how will the 340 HS stack up tomorrow? Six months in the future?
Now that entry-level cameras are having the rug ripped out from under them by smartphones, it's becoming harder and harder to justify shelling out for a bargain point-and-shoot. Not only can smartphones share just about everything they shoot almost instantly, but they also don't take up any extra space in your pocket if you want both camera and phone. You also don't have to carry around a lot of extra batteries if you take a lot of photos.
But for those who want some optical zoom with their shots, the 340 HS has you covered. Though there are a couple smartphone/camera hybrid offerings from Samsung out there, mobile devices right now can't use an optical zoom all that well. You won't find a smartphone at the same price as a 340 HS with a 12x optical zoom— yet. Though Canon did a great job at cramming in a bunch of features and options for their bargain camera to attract new shooters, that zoom lens is really the biggest thing the camera has to offer.
If you're looking for other options, you may still be able to find last year's Canon PowerShot ELPH 330 HS at a discount. It offers many of the same features, sacrifices the NFC antenna, and only has a 10x zoom. If you're okay with paying a few extra bucks for a longer zoom, you may want to see about grabbing a PowerShot SX600 if you're a fan of Canon's features, or a Nikon Coolpix S9500. You could always hold out on the 340 HS until later this year. Cameras like this may hit shelves in spring for $200, but they typically leave stores for $149 on Black Friday.
By the Numbers
After kicking the tires on the 340 HS, we can come to the conclusion that this camera isn't a massive upgrade over the older 330 HS. In fact, it's virtually identical when it comes to performance, save for a higher overall noise level in its shots. Though we often see cameras replacing older models to have at least an iterative upgrade, but that's not the case here.
Color Accuracy and White Balance
Let's get the best news out of the way first
After testing both the color and the white balance of the 340 HS, we came away satisfied. Say what you will about a point-and-shoot camera, but this one is very good with color and white balance.
First up is the color accuracy. The camera has a large number of color modes, but in "My Colors Off," the 340 HS posted a ∆C00 saturation error of 2.47. That result is for all practical purposes perfect to the human eye. To cap it all off, despite the normal oversaturation put in by cameras to make pictures appear more "real," the 340 HS keeps its saturation level at 100%—exactly where it should be.
Switching between color modes will alter your pictures in different ways, so rather than exhaustively wax poetic about each and every one, why don't I just post the charts?
Although it's more academic than earth-shattering, the 340 HS' white balance posts some seriously impressive numbers. Though the automatic white balance is quite terrible in incandescent light (~2000 Kelvin errors), in virtually every other lighting situation the auto setting was able to keep color temperature errors down to below 100 Kelvin: Which is virtually unheard-of.
Limited ISO range, but low noise
Whether due to the new processor, or just more efficient guts, the 340 HS has a passably low amount of noise for a point-and-shoot. It's not SLR low, but posting only 0.95% noise at ISO 100.
Even at the highest ISO speed (3200), you'll never see any more than 1.89% noise in your shots. That's notably good for an entry-level point and shoot, but saying that is like saying something is king of the ant hill. It's nothing spectacular, but you'll be hard-pressed to find something that good at under $200.
I will say that having extremely little noise reduction means fine details don't get lost easily. Though the 340 HS will always yank out a bit of fine lines at high ISO speeds if you look closely, it's not always obvious when that happens.
Zoom at your own peril
The Canon 340 HS takes some decently sharp shots, but it isn't perfect. Sharpness tends to fall off around the edges of the photo pretty quickly, and there are some chromatic aberration errors introduced when you zoom out all the way. Though distortion is kept to a relative minimum, you'll notice barrel distortion or pincushion distortion in your shots if you zoom all the way out (or in).
Some issues are also introduced by the camera's software "oversharpening" high-contrast edges. When this happens, you may notice a sort of halo around the line or edge you would normally expect to see just black and white. It isn't always a problem, but sometimes it can get downright annoying if your images rely on a predictable pattern for their effects to work the way you want them to.
It's honestly not all that surprising that there are some issues with a 12x zoom lens in front of a tiny sensor. Because of the geometry of the light entering the lens, the 340 HS will always struggle with this, and there's only so much Canon could have done to prevent the issues present with the camera.
Not ready for any close-up, Mr. DeMille
When you grab the 340 HS, you're not exactly grabbing something capable of capturing serious cinema. I don't think anyone's expecting a point-and-shoot to rival a Vixia HF G30 or anything, but what if you're looking to grab short videos?
To that end, the 340 HS does a passably good job, but again—there's only so much you can expect from it. High-frequency patterns generate a lot of interference, and the highest video quality settings even show strobing in things like moving bike spokes or a passing chain link fence.
Otherwise, video is reasonably sharp. In our labs, we recorded 600 lw/ph horizontally and 650 lw/ph vertically. Dropping the light level to 60 lux also dropped the sharpness to 500 lw/ph horizontally, and 550 lw/ph vertically. Speaking of low light, the 340 HS needs 12 lux of ambient light to record a picture that maintains 50 IRE—the modern broadcast quality standard.