The Canon PowerShot Elph 330 HS ($179.99 direct)( at Amazon) is one of the best compact cameras that you can buy for under $200. It’s easy for anyone to use, has a generous 10x zoom range, and allows you to share photos via built-in Wi-Fi. Most importantly, the images it captures are sharp and the 12-megapixel CMOS sensor lets you shoot at ISO 1600 without introducing too much noise into photos. It’s not perfect—the 1080p video frame rate is locked at 24fps, you’ll need to record in 720p to capture footage at the more common 30fps. But aside from that, there’s not much bad to say. It earns our Editors’ Choice award for mid-price compact cameras, ousting the aging Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150( at Amazon) from its perch.
Design and Features The Elph 330 HS is part of Canon’s midrange line of compact cameras. It’s got a sleeker look than the budget A series, with an all-metal exterior and curved lines that make it comfortable to hold. Available in black, pink, or silver, the Elph 330 HS measures just 2.2 by 3.8 by 0.9 inches and weighs a mere 5.1 ounces, so it’s easy to slide into a shirt pocket. It’s a bit smaller than the 4.8-ounce 10x-zoom Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7( at Amazon).
The lens is a 10x zoom design, covering a 24-240mm field of view with a variable aperture that starts at f/3 and closes down to f/6.9 when zoomed all the way in. The Samsung DV150F($299.95 at Amazon) has a lens that opens up to f/2.5 at its widest angle, but doesn’t do as well at higher ISO settings and its lens dwindles to f/6.3 when zoomed all the way in. These conspire to negate the roughly 50 percent advantage that f/2.5 enjoys over f/3.0 in terms of light-gathering capability.
The 3-inch rear LCD is reasonably sharp thanks to a 461k-dot resolution, but it isn’t the best we’ve seen on a compact camera. The Nikon Coolpix P310 packs roughly twice as many pixels. That camera is a bit more expensive, and has a wider aperture lens, but a shorter zoom range. The Elph’s display is plenty bright, so you should feel confident using it outdoors. It’s viewable from almost any angle, which will help when shooting photos from an off-kilter point of view.
There aren’t a ton of control buttons squeezed into the Elph’s small frame, but you get what you need to make quick adjustments; more knowledgeable shutterbugs will find themselves turned off by the lack of full manual, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority modes. You can shoot in Canon’s Hybrid Automatic mode, which takes most of the control out of your hands. You’ll be able to set the self-timer and decide whether the flash is on or set to automatic mode, but that’s it.
Switching to program shooting via a toggle switch gives you a bit more control. When in this mode the rear control button that adjusts EV Compensation, which lets you easily make your photos appear brighter or darker, works. Also coming alive is the flash control—you can now force it to fire, or set it to fire properly when using slower shutter speeds—and manual control over macro focusing. Other shooting controls are accessible via an overlay menu, activated by the Function/Set button. These include the metering pattern, ISO setting, white balance, continuous drive mode, and image aspect ratio. In addition to Program, there are a number of scene modes—ranging from old standards like Snow and Fireworks to more artistic filters like Toy Camera, Miniature Effect, and Smooth Skin. There’s no dedicated mode for sports; to get the fastest shutter speed possible to capture action you’ll want to boost the ISO as high as you feel comfortable and shoot in Program mode.
Canon’s Wi-Fi implementation here isn’t as simple to configure or as full-featured as you see on Samsung cameras like the WB250F($249.95 at Amazon) or the Android-powered Galaxy Camera($399.95 at Amazon). Those models let you to post photos to social networks right out of the box, and even control the zoom and shutter via your smartphone. Canon doesn’t go that far. First, you’ll have to configure Web services like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook through Canon’s Image Gateway software. This requires you to plug the Elph into your PC or Mac via the included USB cable. It’s a pretty painless process, thankfully. You can pair the camera with your smartphone or tablet via a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection to transfer photos. If you leave the Camera Window app running while you shoot you can enable location logging, which will add GPS data to photos upon transfer. The app is free for Android and iOS devices.
You can also transfer photos directly to your computer. Some shooters may use this to download images, but we still recommend using an SD card reader. It’s quicker and won’t drain your camera’s battery. You can send photos directly to or from another Canon camera with Wi-Fi, and you can send a photo directly to a compatible wireless printer. The former doesn’t seem like a use case that would be all that common; the latter, well, you’re printing without cropping or performing any retouching—it seems like you’d want to take more care before using the paper and ink.
Performance and Conclusions The Elph 330 HS starts and grabs a photo in just about 1.8 seconds. Shutter lag is an impressive 0.15-second, and it fires off shots at 2 frames per second. It’s not the absolute fastest compact that we’ve tested, but it’s no slouch. The Sony WX150 is a bit speedier—it starts and shoots in 1.4 seconds, has an almost nonexistent shutter lag, and and can fire off a 10-shot burst at about 6.7 frames per second, but will make you wait about 8 seconds before you can shoot another photo after the burst is captured.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the Elph’s lens. A score of 1,800 lines per picture height, calculated using a center-weighted average, is required for a photo to be considered sharp. The 330 HS scores 2,069 lines, an impressive result for a compact. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 only scored 1,563 lines on the same test.
Imatest also checks for noise, which can really hurt image quality when the camera’s sensitivity to light, measured in ISO, is increased. The Elph keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 1600, a good result for a camera with a small image sensor. Close examination of photos shot at ISO 1600 show that there’s a very good amount of detail, although some very fine textures are not captured. Images show 1.9 percent noise at ISO 3200, and some details start to disappear, but the camera is still very useable at that setting—especially if photos are destined for web sharing. Compare this to the Samsung DV150F; it keeps noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 800, but excessive noise reduction kills image quality at ISO 400 and above. You’ll always want to shoot the Elph 330 HS at the lowest ISO you can manage and still get a sharp, in-focus shot, but don’t hesitate to push it to ISO 1600 when the lighting calls for it. You can go as high as ISO 3200 in a pinch, but you’ll likely want to avoid ISO 6400 as images are noisy and detail is lacking.
Video is recorded in QuickTime format in 1080p24 or 720p30 quality. The footage looks very good, but the 24fps frame rate is a little slow for capturing fast action. It’s often used in Hollywood films, and using it in your home movies can give them a cinematic look, but you’ll want a faster frame rate if smoother motion capture is what you crave. You can reduce the resolution to 720p to hit 30 frames per second, but some cameras, like the rugged Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS( at Amazon) can shoot at 1080p60.
You can zoom in or out when recording, but the sound of the lens moving is quite audible on the soundtrack. Autofocus during video is quick, quiet, and accurate. There’s a mini HDMI, so you can connect the camera directly to an HDTV, as well as a mini USB port to plug it into a computer. Standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported, and a rechargeable battery is included. Canon still includes a plug-in wall charger, while many other recent compact models require you to charge the battery in the camera itself. A second battery is always a good idea, especially during vacations, and having an external charger on hand makes it possible to recharge a spent battery while shooting with your spare.
The Canon PowerShot Elph 330 HS is a compact camera with a standard 1/2.3-inch image sensor, so don’t expect it to compete with a D-SLR in terms of image quality. But when you compare it with its peers, it’s an excellent performer. The lens packs a 10x zoom range, and it’s sharp. The image quality holds up through ISO 1600, the camera is a speedy performer, and Wi-Fi makes it easy to share photos online. The video mode is a bit disappointing, and a wider aperture lens would go a long way to letting you use lower ISO settings in dim light. But despite these flaws, the Elph 330 HS is worthy of our Editors’ Choice award for midrange compact cameras. It’s an excellent value at its asking price, and to get a significantly better camera you’ll need to spend quite a bit more.