In a year full of weird, unending news cycles, we deserve a camera to match. Canon is stepping up to the plate, bringing its crowdfunded PowerShot Zoom to market. Launched last month in Japan, the Zoom looks like a downsized camcorder, but that description doesn’t quite do it justice.
In reality it’s a hybrid, good for stills and 1080p (not 4K) video. The lens is purely telephoto, swapping between 100mm and 400mm optical settings, and stretching to 800mm with a digital zoom. That means you’re not going to use it to snap selfies, and lens has a pretty narrow aperture, so it’s best used in bright light.
A Camera Phone Complement, Not a Replacement
None of these are really drawbacks if you have a good smartphone in your pocket, though. The days of buying cheap compact cameras and expecting them to deliver results better than your phone are well behind us. Galaxies, iPhones, and Pixels have wide angle and low light covered.
Where phones suffer is at the telephoto end. Their flat bodies aren’t suited for long lenses, and while some have gone with folded optics to net some optical zoom power, there’s a practical limit to to what’s possible. It’s not just about the lens and sensor, but ergonomics come into play—the tighter the angle of view, the more hand shake affects image quality.
Enter the PowerShot Zoom. Its 100mm setting is like the “4x” option on most smartphones, and it swaps to a 400mm (“16x” on phones) view with a button press, both optical settings. There’s also an 800mm angle available via a digital zoom effect—it hurts photo quality more than video, but can be handy.
It’s a camera you can take to the zoo, a baseball game, or on a wilderness hike, and walk away with better photos than you’d ever get with a smartphone.
Zoom In the Hand
I’ve had a little time to use the camera, though only on its own. It works with a companion app, so you can use your phone as a remote control and viewfinder, as well as to offload images, but I wasn’t able to try the app out before the official announcement. That’s okay, though, because the OLED viewfinder is very good, and the camera is meant to be held to your eye.
Because of this, the controls are all placed near the eyecup—and you can press them without taking the camera away from your eye. There are only three to keep track of—the zoom toggle is on the top, so you can tap it with your index finger, and the Photo and Record buttons are below, under the thumb.
It’s intuitive enough, though as a left-eyed, right-handed photographer I found it a little bit awkward to use, and I’m not sure if that’s why my first couple test videos show some evidence of hand shake, or if we’re just seeing the limits of what Canon’s digital stabilization can do.
For stills or video, you’re best using the PowerShot Zoom outdoors, under the sun. The small sensor image sensor and f/5.6-6.3 lens are not low light mavens. It’s also very much an automatic camera—menu navigation is a pain, requiring you to tap buttons with the viewfinder at your eye.
Photos are saved at 12MP resolution, in JPG format, on microSD memory. There’s a USB-C port to recharge the battery—Canon estimates you can shoot 150 images or capture an hour of video recording. In bright light, image quality is on par with a smartphone, but the Zoom’s photos fall apart in low light, and there’s no flash.
Is the PowerShot Zoom For You?
Canon is bringing the PowerShot Zoom to market in November for $299. We’ll have a full review before then—I’m eager to spend more time with the camera, it seems a good fit for autumn scenes, backyard wildlife, and songbirds. Even though it’s not a do-anything camera—what most point-and-shoots strive to be—that’s less of an issue when you’ve already got an iPhone in your pocket.
For now, just enjoy a breath of fresh air—an old school camera company making something different.