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There's a flood of budget-friendly point-and-shoots out there, but the fact that they're affordable doesn't mean you have to sacrifice dearly in terms of picture quality. Exhibit A: the Canon PowerShot ELPH 330 HS (MSRP $179.99), a camera that punches a bit above its weight class when it comes to capturing off-the-cuff snapshots.
By the numbers, the camera may not stand out in a crowd of great point-and-shoots, but consistently decent scores make it a great value option if you're looking for an inexpensive camera. Anyone looking to get DSLR-level performance should look elsewhere, of course, but this is definitely a great portable option to have if you're tired of your smartphone's lack of zoom or image quality.
In all honesty there's nothing really extraordinary about the design of the 330 HS. That's not to say that Canon skimped or cut corners—on the contrary—it's just that if you've seen any of their other point-and-shoots, you've seen the PowerShot 330 HS. While it lacks a dedicated mode dial, the 330 HS has all the standard buttons, features, and even the appearance of the other members of the PowerShot line.
What does set the 330 HS apart is the picture quality available at a sub-$200 price point—the PowerShot 330 HS has a lot of camera packed into that tiny case, and it's not going to crumble away if you look at it the wrong way. It's a bit on the slippery side, though, so that included strap should be the first thing you put on the camera after opening the box.
Otherwise, it's a pretty standard camera—the 330 HS is slim, pocketable, with a telescoping zoom lens that collapses neatly into the camera itself when turned off. Showoffs will appreciate the presence of HDMI out and proprietary USB ports on the side (cables not included). Want to show your snaps on your flatscreen? Just plug in and hit the playback button. Additionally, the menu system is clear, legible, and easy to navigate with a ton of options for novices looking for a camera with fun effects.
Of course, the real reason to go with the 330 HS over sticking with your smartphone is the 10x optical zoom. While it's not as extreme or impressive as the zoom on last year's Canon SX280 HS, the 330 HS will let you grab snaps of subjects that are just out of reach. Though the tiny 1/2.3" 12MP sensor is very small, it's right in line with most of the other compact camera competition—especially those that provide extended zoom.
Canon loaded up the PowerShot 330 HS not only with a wide range of creative and sharing options, but post-processing adjustments as well. The range of choices may seem like a bit much to take in all at once, but Canon went out of their way to make sure there's not much you can do to screw anything up. Exposure compensation is limited, the ISO range is somewhat wide, and the autofocus can usually grab anything you want—it doesn't always do the trick in low light, but generally speaking it's fine. For the more enterprising and artistic-minded of you out there, the PowerShot 330 HS also offers a bunch of color modes and artistic filters for you to try. These include the standard scene modes, as well as Canon staples such as color swap and color accent.
As you'd expect from a quintessential point-and-shoot, this camera is very forgiving to users who just want to take their new toy and start using it right out of the box. While there's plenty of extras to keep things interesting, nothing is ever that complicated. Even if you're handing the 330 HS off to a friend who is unfamiliar with the camera, there's a physical switch on the back of the camera that instantly triggers the intelligent auto mode, allowing your compatriot to simply take a photo without fear of screwing up your settings.
Our one reservation here is battery life, as it is with most compact cameras. The included NB-4L battery is rechargeable, but you may want to buy a second one because you're going to burn through it if you take a lot of snaps. Though it's rated with an estimated battery life of 220 shots, you'll be left high and dry on a long trip if you don't have a backup charged and ready to go.
Like any entry-level point and shoot, there's a certain amount of tradeoff that you have to expect with a reduced pricetag. These certainly aren't unusual or even deal-breakers, but it is good to know where your camera excels and where it struggles.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is how the 10x zoom lens affects image quality. When zoomed in fully, your images won't be quite as sharp as when shooting at the widest field of view. You'll also be allowing less light into the camera, making low light photography more difficult. To date, nobody has really figured out how to cram a lot of zoom into a small camera without this issue, though it's less a matter of cost-cutting than it is simple physics.
In short, your pictures will suffer if you max out the focal length—you'll definitely notice the fringing if you look closely—but web or small prints will look perfectly fine. This is a problem that we found on the Canon PowerShot SX260, though its zoom was a far bigger 20x. For the most part, however, any snaps you take with the 330 HS will be fairly sharp, and acceptably accurate from a color standpoint. It's easy to coax what you want out of both pictures and video, but this camera has fairly aggressive noise reduction.
Part of the problem is just an inherent issue with higher ISO speeds in general. In low light, ISO needs to be ramped up, but with this causes image quality to drop due to increasing noise. To counteract this, cameras apply noise reduction algorithms that tone down noise, but at the expense of fine detail. While the 330 HS does a better job at this than most smartphones, you're still not going to be able to get print-quality photos in extreme low light.
When most people already carry around a competent smartphone camera in their pocket, it might seem a little silly to shell out for a second dedicated camera. But with the 330 HS you're getting the advantage of a 10x optical zoom and acceptable all-around image quality in a compact form factor. The Canon PowerShot 330 HS may not set any performance records, but it does offer enough to justify its affordable sub-$200 price tag.
Despite the fact that each camera comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, we feel the Canon PowerShot 330 HS is a happy medium for most consumers. You can shop around for cameras that have more features, zoom, or control, but realistically you're looking at spending $400 or more for a camera that's going to have a noticeable step up in picture quality.
If you're looking for more zoom, Nikon S9500 gives you double the zoom ratio, but at a hefty pricetag of $350. If you're looking for a lower pricetag, the Sony DSC-WX80 offers comparable performance, but far fewer post-processing options and a shorter zoom for $149. If you're looking for the Goldilocks camera—where zoom, performance, and price are just right—then the Canon PowerShot 330 HS might be the best of the bunch, and it should be available for well below its $199 MSRP before long.
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