Taking pictures is a fantastic way of retaining memories through the years, and nowadays, technological advances have made it possible to take decent photos with your smartphone.
However, if you take the trouble to use a digital camera, you’ll often find that they have a lot more to offer. We’ve picked up the Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS as an affordable camera that people may want to get, and reviewed it.
At the end of this review, you’ll also have a chance to win a camera for yourself!
About the Camera
The Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS is a compact digital camera which retails for $249.99, but it can be found on Amazon for around $134 at the time of writing. The design of the PowerShot hasn’t changed much in the past few years. They have gotten slimmer but the overall look is still quite distinguishable as a Canon product. It’s compact and weighs just 130 grams — so it’ll fit in your bag or even your pocket quite easily.
The PowerShot ELPH 320 HS sports a 16 megapixel High-Sensitivity CMOS sensor, powered by Canon’s DIGIC 5 image processor which is also used in the Canon T4i digital SLR we reviewed last year. The DIGIC 5 processor provides sufficient power for the 320 HS to take up to 5 images per second in burst mode, and 30-fps 1080p full HD videos. So just because it’s a compact camera that fits in your shirt pocket, it’s by no means crippled.
As you can probably tell, the “HS” in the camera’s model refers to the Canon’s HS or High-Sensitivty system. This means that the 320 HS is capable of performing well in low-light environment. Shooting in the dark is never ideal, but if you have to, the 320 HS will be able to take pictures with minimal noise and reduced blur; assisted by the full 2.7 maximum aperture, however wide that may be for a compact camera.
Skimming over other details — its 4.3 – 21.5 mm focal length, f/2.7 – 5.9 — the 320 HS has a standout feature: wireless file transfer which supports 802.11 b/g/n wireless networking, and we’ll briefly cover that feature later on in the review.
While there are a large number of competitors, only a few appeal to the same audience. Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-WX50 ($104) includes a 16.2 megapixel sensor, a 2.8-inch touchscreen, and 5x optical zoom. The Canon PowerShot A3400 IS ($110) includes a 16 megapixel camera, a 3 inch touchscreen, 5x optical zoom, 720p video recording, and a 28mm wide angle lens. Finally, the Nikon COOLPIX S6200 ($110) includes a 16 megapixel camera, a 2.7 inch touchscreen, 10x optical zoom, and 720p video recording. The Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS is somewhat better than these units due to a marginally higher-megapixel camera, the capability to shoot 1080p video, and the largest touchscreen. It is also the only camera out of these four to offer any sort of Wi-Fi features.
Unboxing the PowerShot ELPH 320 HS
The packaging with which the camera came in was rather minimalistic, and only included the 320 HS within an antistatic pouch, the NB-11L battery, and the battery charger. There are also a few manuals which you can read through, but there’s not much else included. As such, you’ll need to get an SD card in order to save the photos and videos that you take, even if you plan on using the camera’s Wi-Fi features.
Design and Build Quality
The top of the camera houses the power button, a switch between manual and automatic settings, the shutter button, the zoom ring around the shutter button, and a microphone. The side facing towards you while taking photos has the touchscreen, a play button to look at already-taken pictures and videos, and a Wi-Fi indicator. The bottom of the camera offers the battery and SD card compartment, and a place to attach the camera to a tripod or other fastening device. The left side does not offer anything, but the right side has mini-HDMI and mini-USB connections.
The PowerShot ELPH 320 HS seems to be built very sturdily. Applying pressure to random parts on the body doesn’t cause any creaking or other signs of lower built quality. The body itself is made of a matte, hard plastic that should hold up to plenty of abuse. The only glossy part is the shutter button. Overall, I like the design of the camera. All the buttons are, in my opinion, placed appropriately and make the camera a joy to use as long as I don’t invoke the touchscreen too much — more about that later. The only concern that I have is that your fingers may be blocking one of the microphones if you’re shooting video — but there seem to be two microphones in the front as well.
The camera is capable of taking very nice shots. I’ve used the camera to take pictures for a few other reviews, including the Nexus 10, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii U, and Roku 3. These were taken with the automatic setting, so it really was a matter of point, tap on the touchscreen to set the focus, and shoot. With a 4608 by 3456 pixel resolution, you’ll definitely be able to take some high-quality pictures with this camera. The camera also offers a high usable ISO range — image noise remains negligible up to ISO 1600.
The PowerShot ELPH 320 HS is also capable of taking 1080p full HD Video at 24 frames per second. Lower resolutions allow you to record up to 30 frames per second. While I’d prefer to have 30 frames per second at 1080p resolution as well, I’m still satisfied as the videos produced are of high quality. The camera saves the videos in .mov format with H.264 (video) and Linear PCM (audio) compression, and a single video recording can go as long as there is still space on the SD card.
While the touchscreen’s user interface isn’t very difficult to operate as the camera’s functionality is organized fairly well, the touchscreen itself is a bit annoying to use. More specifically, it’s not easy to know where you have to tap to achieve something. Tapping on the touchscreen to set the focus before shooting a picture isn’t always accurate as it sometimes chooses a spot near where you tapped.
Navigating the user interface is also made more difficult because tapping on an item does not select it while in a scrollable menu, but instead scrolls up/down by one or two menu items depending on how far away from the current menu selection you tapped. This is sometimes controlled better by placing your finger on the touchscreen and then sliding your finger up or down. The touchscreen is also quite hard to view in bright sunlight, as can be expected from a glossy screen.
When connected to a home wireless network with other devices, you can transfer pictures and videos over to a PC, iOS device, or Android device. Of course, you’ll need to have appropriate software installed on all of these devices which can be found on Canon’s website or in the respective app stores. With the camera, you can even transfer pictures and videos to other PowerShot cameras, as well as upload them to online albums hosted on Canon’s servers. This functionality can be quite handy because it avoids some of the painful issues related to taking the SD card in and out and requiring a PC to download all the captured media.
Program AE Mode
When you switch to the Program AE Mode (also called “P” mode), you have a number of options which you can configure for the perfect shot. These options include:
- exposure compensation
- automatic exposure (AE) Lock
- changing the metering mode: evaluative, center weighed average, spot
- changing the ISO speed: Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
- correcting image brightness
- adjusting white balance
- changing image colour tones
- continuous shooting: continuous, continuous shooting AF, continuous shooting LV
- Macro mode
- Infinity mode
- changing the AF frame
Of course, like I mentioned earlier, it is a bit difficult to navigate the menus, so I’d rather stick with the automatic mode as the camera does a good job of controlling those settings by itself so I don’t have to fumble around with the menus.
There’s a number of available shooting modes to choose from which tells the camera what settings to apply automatically for any particular scenario. These include:
- Movie Digest
- Smooth Skin
- Smart Shutter
- High-speed burst
- Handheld NightScene
- Low Light
- Fish-eye Effect
- Miniature Effect
- Toy Camera Effect
- Soft Focus
- Super Vivid
- Poster Effect
- Color Accent
- Color Swap
- Long Shutter
- iFrame Movie
- Super Slow Motion Movie
Along these, my favorites include Smart Shutter and High-speed burst. Smart Shutter can automatically take a picture whenever it detects a smiling face, and High-speed burst can take multiple pictures in one long press of the shutter button — at 5.2 pictures per second.
Should you buy the Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS?
So would this camera be right for you? It’s definitely a simple yet high-quality camera which can cater to those who want to point and shoot as well as to those who want a little more control of their shots. With a $134 price tag on Amazon, it’s also reasonably affordable. Therefore, it would be a good fit for most people based on features.
However, the ELPH 320 HS would be a bit nicer to use if either the touchscreen was easier to navigate or if the camera included a physical buttons. There are other models from other manufacturers that offer similar features and specs for less money, which may be better if you don’t really care about the camera’s make. Overall, it’s a solid camera that can serve you well.