Lauren Goode

Canon’s Square PowerShot N Is a “Tweener,” but a Keeper

It’s hip to be a square digital camera.

That’s the case with the new Canon PowerShot N, which blends some features of a smartphone with a digital camera, and breathes some new life into almost-forgotten point-and-shoots.

For starters, this digital camera is square — not oblong, like most point-and-shoots.

It also has a unique shutter and zoom function, and a simple, one-touch video-recording option. It connects to Wi-Fi quickly and easily.

Last, but not least, the PS N has an extendable, touch-friendly viewscreen that can be adjusted to a 90-degree angle. This is so you can shoot images low to the ground, or do what I did: Prop it up like a mini-tent on the table while you view your photos.

So this $299 12-megapixel Canon stands out. But is that enough to make it worth the dough, when smartphone cameras are getting better and better?

I’ve been using the Canon PS N for the past week, and it’s a mixed bag. Overall, I like it. It ditches superfluous buttons and features. And its design is — dare I say it — cute.

The majority of the hundred images I captured with the 12-megapixel PowerShot N were crisp, and there are a few fun features to play with. But in terms of sensor size and maximum aperture, it still isn’t as powerful as its PowerShot siblings — like the PowerShot S100 or S110 — or some of its competitors from other camera makers. Some photos lacked a professional-looking depth of field, and pictures captured in low light weren’t great.

It’s probably best suited for a consumer who likes some flair in product design, and wants a handful of easy-access, creative features, but isn’t looking for an overly complicated camera.

The Canon PS N measures 2.4 by 3.1. by 1.2 inches — so, not technically square, but close — and weighs 6.9 ounces. It fits nicely in the palm. It also fits well in most pockets and purses. At a recent wedding, I asked my date to tuck it in his suit, and he said he forgot he was carrying it.

The camera is available in matte black and shiny white. I tested the latter.

The entire backside of the camera is a 2.8-inch diagonal LCD touchscreen. There are no buttons on the back, which is part of the reason why the camera is so compact.

I liked this. I found I didn’t miss having buttons on the back. The power button is on the left side of the camera; on the right side, there are dedicated Wi-Fi, playback and creative mode buttons. Otherwise, I accessed all functions through the touchscreen.

The PS N works with microSD memory cards, and claims a 200-shot battery life.

Its 8x zoom lens occupies almost the entire face of the camera, like some sort of cartoon character with an extra-large mouth. The camera doesn’t have a shutter button or zoom dial. You control the zoom using the rings around the lens, which will feel comfortable for experienced photographers.

More interestingly, you snap pictures by gently pressing the ring around the lens. (If you’re not aware of this, you’ll at first spend some time staring at the camera, wondering where the heck the shutter button is.)

The camera also has a touchscreen shutter option. Some photographers may scoff at touchscreen capturing, but to me it felt familiar — like shooting pictures on a smartphone — and I preferred that over pressing the lens ring.

That’s not to say either option was perfect. With the touchscreen, I sometimes snapped a photo when I only meant to tap the function or menu button. And left-handed people might find that if they use the lens ring to capture photos, they’ll block the flash. So the camera takes some getting used to.

Full HD video is also captured by tapping a red record button on the right-hand side of the touchscreen, as you would with a smartphone.

The PowerShot N has a 12.1-megapixel sensor, but the sensor is a little smaller than the one in the PowerShot S100 and S110, which lessens the camera’s ability to capture good digital images in low light. Other camera makers are also starting to add larger sensors to compacts, to increase the appeal of digi-cams in a smartphone era.

Pictures taken at night in my dim apartment were yellowish and a little noisy. Pictures taken in daylight or in well-lit settings, however, were good.

A picture of the Empire State Building taken with the Canon PowerShot N, which has an 8x zoom lens.

But the camera also has some limitations when it comes to range. I maxed out the zoom when taking pictures of the Empire State Building from a New York City rooftop several blocks away, and the pictures didn’t blow me away.

“Smart” modes and Instagram-y filters are becoming standard in high-end point-and-shoots. So to differentiate, Canon has added a physical button on the right-hand side of the camera body that enables a “creative shot” mode. This captures a total of six images in one shot — the original image, plus five that have been altered with fun filters.

So, when I snapped a picture of a pizza (yes, just what we need — more “what I ate for lunch” pictures), one image was a close-up of a slice, another included the whole pie, another added a glow to the picture, and so on.

The “creative shot” mode on the Canon PS N creates a handful of filtered photos in one shot, like this image of the Brooklyn Bridge.

These filters are preset and can’t be adjusted, but, again, this dedicated button makes it super-simple for even novice photographers to apply effects.

Like many newer consumer cameras, the PS N is equipped with Wi-Fi. You have to first connect the camera to a Wi-Fi network, and then to an iPhone or Android device running the free Canon CameraWindow app on the same Wi-Fi network.

In the past, I’ve experienced glitches connecting Canon cameras to the app, but I didn’t have any problems with the PS N. Canon says it has improved Wi-Fi capabilities in its newer cameras.

I was able to send photos from the PS N to my iPhone within seconds, and then share the photos to Instagram and Facebook. (Here I was able to compare photos of a group shot taken at the wedding — mine taken with the PS N, and a friend’s shot from her smartphone. I definitely noticed a difference in quality.)

The Canon PowerShot N won’t have huge appeal for pros or camera enthusiasts. But, for average photo-takers looking for something small and eye-catching to carry next to their smartphones, the Canon PowerShot N makes a good play for your pocket.

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