Canon N £269
23rd May 2013 | 10:46
We get our hands on Canon's smartphone companion
As it doesn't have the essential telecommunication features the Canon PowerShot N clearly isn't going to take the place of a phone, but the manufacturer hopes that we will use it in conjunction with one.
Thanks to its manufacturer's camera making know-how and its 1/2.3-inch 12.1MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5 processor, the N should be capable of taking better images than the average smartphone.
Furthermore, because its lens has a focal length range equivalent to 28-224mm, it should also prove to be much more versatile than a phone when composing shots. And, if the 8x optical zoom isn't enough for you this can be extended digitally to 16x to produce the equivalent of a 448mm lens.
Although it's not app enabled, the PowerShot N has Wi-Fi technology built-in so that it can be connected to a computer or a smartphone to enable you to share images quickly. There's even a dedicated button that, after initial set-up, can be used to connect to a smartphone or tablet with one touch.
Unfortunately, we haven't been able to test this aspect of the camera yet. But judging by the options in the Wi-Fi section of the menu, it should be pretty straightforward to set up.
For those who want to let the world know where they've been taking photographs, Canon has a free smartphone app that enables location data to be added to images from a smart device.
The PowerShot N is all about creating images quickly and easily, so naturally all the exposure modes are automatic. Program mode provided the most control, with aspects such as exposure compensation and white balance being adjustable. Alternatively, there are some creative shooting options with filter effect such as Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Toy Camera Effect and Monochrome.
There's also Creative Shot mode, in which the Canon N produces six versions of an image, one untreated and the rest adjusted in a variety of ways depending upon what the camera makes of the image. The camera looks at aspects such as composition, focus, white balance, gradation and contrast and generates five alternative versions automatically.
It produces a variety of fun effects, with some dramatic crops, extreme colour and brightness and contrast shifts that replicate old film, cross-processed and black and white images. While it's a hit and miss process, it's fun, and it sometimes produces interesting images that will be a hit on Facebook and the like. We noticed that when shooting a couple of people, the camera often produces shots of both people by themselves as well as one with them together.
We have seen the Hybrid Auto mode before, but Canon has made it more easily accessible via the shooting mode menu screen. When this option is selected, the Canon N records four seconds of 720p footage before each shot. The camera uses the information from the clip to determine the best settings to use for the still image.
But the fun part is that the camera merges all the four second clips captured during the day to create a short movie. It should make for amusing viewing when the Canon N is used at parties.
Build and handling
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about Canon N is that it's almost square rather than rectangular. It also has a 2.7-inch tilting LCD screen that is touch sensitive. This capacitive device enables you to take control over key features such as the focus point and trip the shutter with a touch of the screen, and we found that it's nice and responsive.
With the lens collapsed, the Canon N is fairly compact and can be slipped into a jacket pocket, or in some cases a jeans pocket, so it's easy to transport and can be carried everywhere. It's also fairly light yet feels solid and well built, so you'll be happy to take it everywhere that you'd normally take your phone.
There are two rings around the lens. The first is used to zoom from one focal length to another – no great surprises there – but the other is the shutter release, and pushing it up or down trips the shutter. It takes a few moments to get used to it, but it means that the camera can be fired from a range of angles because you can always reach the shutter release.
As most setting selections are made via the touchscreen, there are only three buttons and one switch on the Canon N. One button turns the camera on and off, another switches to playback mode, while the third is the One Touch Wi-Fi button mentioned earlier.
The switch is used to select either the normal shooting mode with access to Program, Auto, Hybrid Auto and the filter effect options or Creative Shot mode. When Creative Shot mode is selected, touching the shutter release or using touch-shutter mode triggers the camera to take a sequence of shots that are then processed to create the six variations mentioned earlier.
Although it has flat sides and will stand upright on a tabletop or similar when the screen is folded home, when this is flipped out for easier viewing from above, the camera becomes unbalanced. This means that you need to hold the camera up to get a shot, so it's not quite as stable.
The Canon N's small size, smooth sides and flip-up screen mean it takes a few moments to work out how to hold it. It can be held up level with the eye or down at waist level. Some may find it easy to hold and use one-handed as the fingers of the right hand curl around the body and onto the lens rings (one of which is the shutter release). But it feels a bit strange with no real grip, and you may find your fingers slipping up behind the screen when it is tilted.
One disappointment with the screen is that it can't be flipped right up above the camera for viewing from in front to help you take self-portraits. Canon UK's David Parry tells us that making screens that flip through 180 degrees or more as strong as Canon wants them to be is difficult – and that means expensive.
Canon has also put large lugs on the left and right of the camera to attach the strap. As a result, the N cannot rest level on a flat surface when shooting portrait orientation images. This is a shame as it seems a logical way of shooting in some low light conditions. The problem could have been avoided if the strap was more like a lanyard and only attached on one side of the camera.
However, we are told that the company is planning on making a feature of the strap, with the possibility of users customising their straps or choosing decorative versions.
The technology inside the Canon N, including the sensor, has all been used elsewhere in Canon's compact camera range.
This means that the image quality should be respectable and on a par with the results from the manufacturer's other 12MP compact cameras such as the impressive Canon SX50 HS and Canon SX260 HS. These two cameras performed well when we tested them, and this bodes well for the PowerShot N's image quality.
Check out our Image quality and resolution charts, sample images and sensitivity and noise images on the following pages to see how the camera performed.
The Canon N will be available from early April, and is set to retail for around £269 in the UK (around AU$412) and $299.99 in the US.
It isn't intended to take the place of a DSLR or even a phone, but to complement them as a 'take-everywhere' type camera. And features such as the back-illuminated 1/2.3-inch sensor, tilting touchscreen and the ring shutter release should mean that it helps you get better shots than you'd normally get on your phone.
Despite the simplicity of the touchscreen interface and the high build quality, some may find its size and shape makes it a little awkward to hold. This could be a deciding factor for some, but we think there will be others that love it, and for these people it may help put some fun and spontaneity into their photography.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Canon N, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 80 the Canon N is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO 80, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)
The Canon N had no problem focusing on this relatively uniform subject, and it captured plenty of detail across the frame. The colours are also natural.
In Creative shot mode the camera takes a sequence of shots in quick succession and generates six different images of the scene - as shown above. The first image is a 'straight' version while the others have a variety of effects or crops applied.
Another Creative shot mode sequence. The photographer has no control over the effects or crops that are applied.
Sensitivity and noise images
Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)