The Canon PowerShot Zoom doesn’t neatly fit into any specific category. It’s sort of a camera, though Canon doesn’t call it that. It’s sort of a monocular, though it has an electronic viewfinder and can take photos and videos. It’s bigger than an action cam, but still fits easily into your pocket.
Canon calls it a “compact telephoto monocular” and a “portable imaging tool.” I wrote about the specs already, but the basics are 2.1 megapixel images (4,000×3,000 pixels) and videos at 1080p30. There are three zoom settings, 100mm and 400mm optical, and 800mm digital (all 35mm equivalent). The lens is a little slow, at f/5.6 in 100mm mode, and f/6.3 at 400mm.
After spending a few weeks with the Zoom, I have a few thoughts.
Big Zoom, Little Package
I feel like you either see a use for the Zoom right away, or you don’t. I think some people will look at it and go “yes! I need that!” and others will, for any number of reasons, go “huh?” Honestly, I think that’s fine. Not everything needs to be for everyone.
One of its best attributes is how easy it is to use. It can fit in just about any pocket, or hang from a lanyard. Turn it on as you bring it to your eye and it’s ready to go by the time it gets there. The OLED viewfinder is excellent, with great contrast and high resolution. The biggest button on top, right where your index finger falls, is the zoom button. It cycles through the three modes quickly.
There are separate photo and video buttons, and they’re a little more awkward to reach if you’re only using one hand. Hold down the photo button part way and it focuses/adjusts exposure. The 4-axis image stabilization is welcome, of course, but don’t expect it to work miracles.
You can also use Canon’s Camera Connect app. This works as “fine” as it does with their other cameras. You get a live image, which is great, but you don’t get much to adjust. That’s one of the Zoom’s oddest quirks. Despite ostensibly being a camera, you don’t get nearly as many camera adjustments. For instance, you can’t change the shutter speed.
Image quality is fairly average. If you take the zoom aspect out of the equation, the better mobile phones will have better colors and detail. However, no phone offers the zoom reach of the Zoom, so that does have to play into it. The image might not be perfect, but it’s an image you couldn’t have gotten otherwise. There’s value to that.
Part of the, well not “issue” per se, is that the Zoom’s images are far less processed than what most phones and many cameras provide. While this makes them a bit bland straight from the camera, it does give you some range to manipulate them in Photoshop or whatever photo editor you use.
For example, here’s an image of the moon with some minor and simple tweaks in Photoshop. Could you get a better image with a DSLR and telephoto lens on a tripod? Sure, but this is handheld, $300, and definitely better than what you’d get from pretty much any cellphone.
You can see more examples of the image quality in the video linked above.
While I understand its narrow purpose, sports fans, nature fans, parents with kids who are sports or nature fans, I feel like very slight changes could have made the Zoom interesting to a wider audience. The lack of a tripod mount is a huge oversight, and one that couldn’t possibly have added much to the build cost. Being able to adjust shutter speed and traditional picture settings is another odd lack when these must be baked into Canon’s DIGIC 8 processor and consciously deleted from the Zoom’s abilities.
I can’t, however, fall down the trap of hoping for more. I need to judge the Zoom as it is. The image quality is fine, but it’s super easy and handy to use. Would I get one myself? Actually, maybe. I don’t travel with a telephoto lens, as after several years on the road I found I almost never used it. While I could probably buy a used telephoto for $300, it’d be a heavy and bulky addition to my kit. With the Zoom, however, I could have something that I could have in my back pocket on a shoot to capture the occasional closeups or distant interesting bits.
So yeah, it’s not for everyone, but it was never meant to be. Neat for some, weird for others, a must-have for a few.
The PowerShot Zoom is shipping in late November.
PowerShot Zoom: $300