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The point and shoot market is evaporating quickly, and Canon's doing its best just to keep up. With better and better cameras getting dropped in mobile phones, it's tough to sell people on grabbing a second camera if you have something like an iPhone.
Canon made the case well with its ELPH 330 HS last year, but without major additions this year's model isn't as compelling. Though Canon's PowerShot ELPH 340 HS (MSRP $199.99) has a few new features, it also has extremely similar performance to last year's model. With smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 on the way with selective refocus and other features not found on any point and shoot, the future looks mighty bleak for the low-end point and shoot.
Still, there's always plenty of folks looking for a simple dedicated camera. The question is, is the 340 HS better than the dozens of other options on the market?
Opening the box of the 340 HS reveals a rather milquetoast point-and-shoot camera. Really, it looks just about the same as any of Canon's other entry-level point and shoots. It can slip into a pocket as easy you could hope a camera could, but at the cost of a grip, and the camera is difficult for lefties to operate as well.
Instead of the metallic finish and hefty body of the 330 HS, a plasticine point-and-shoot chassis guards the 340 HS' innards. It's easy to hold, but a tad slippery once your hands get a bit sweaty. That's less of an issue than you'd think, though. Despite this camera's extra half-ounce of weight over its predecessor, the 340 HS is still svelte, easy to carry, and crams a 1/2.3-inch sensor into a tiny package. You'll also find an NFC antenna, WiFi, and SD card slot under the hood.
Controls are easy to get the hang of on the 340 HS—there isn't that many, after all. Because of this, you'll fly through learning the basics of your new point and shoot if you pick up the 340 HS. Most of the advanced stuff like shutter speed and aperture are taken care of by the camera itself without any need for user input, and the options that are there are more for adding effects and color changes than anything else. All three shooting modes are very forgiving, and even Program mode is very basic.
So why would you get this camera over sticking with your smartphone? The answer begins and ends with the 340 HS' zoom lens. Boasting a lens with 25-300mm (35mm equivalent) focal lengths, users of the 340 HS will enjoy a 12x optical zoom ratio. Though that isn't exactly super-zoom territory, it avoids the usual problems associated with those monster lenses. Usually you'll see loss of sharpness and stability at full zoom, and a comparatively short zoom in the 340 HS points to fewer issues taking video while changing focal lengths.
While there are starting to be smartphone options that can do exactly this, you're not going to be able to buy them for under $200 just yet. However, those cameras do offer integrated social media sharing over WiFi or your existing data connection, so you may want to make a checklist for yourself if you're looking for a camera to take snaps for sharing.
To its credit, the 340 HS takes what the 330 HS had and doesn't complicate anything too much. The mode switch on the top gives you three very forgiving shooting modes, and there's very little you can to do mess anything up. The menu system is easy to navigate, and all the commonly-changed options are all in one place.
Because this is such an entry-level camera, many of the headlining features of the 340 HS are effects-related. In comparison to most other cameras, there's a comparatively huge amount of color modes and photo effects to choose from. Many of these can be found on mobile apps, but Canon made sure to tuck a few extras in there to give you a little something more than what you'd find on Instagram or VSCO Cam.
Though the 340 HS uses NFC to pair your phone with the camera, you may find it more trouble than it's worth. You still have to download Canon's app—which needs some developer love—and make your phone use the camera's WiFi instead of a shared network. This means needing to connect and disconnect from your home network, connect the camera to the phone, then reconnect to your home network after you've finished sharing your photos. As you can imagine, this is a super huge pain in the neck.
To be honest, it's a problem that's not limited to Canon's plucky little point and shoot. Few—if any—cameras do WiFi pairing well, and chances are good that sharing photos online is done easiest with a computer with an SD card reader unless your camera is running Android.
However, if you're just showing off your photos at a party, never fear: HDMI is here! It's not exactly the most common thing to have a microHDMI to HDMI cable on your person, but if you do you can hook your camera directly into the nearest flatscreen. After hitting the playback button, you can show off your pictures on a screen far larger than the 3-inch, 461k-dot LCD on the back of the 340 HS.
One baffling thing—and it's a really bad one—is the decreased battery life. Though the standard way of listing battery life (CIPA ratings) aren't always representative of how real people take photos, what we saw in our labs was absolutely appalling. Though we typically subject point and shoots to about 100 shots in our tests, we weren't able to complete one full day of testing. Whether that was due to the live view or some other reason, the battery life is just plain bad. If you buy the 340 HS, you're going to want to grab a couple spare batteries to go with it.
When you talk about a value point-and-shoot, you're generally not talking about a camera that can take the greatest shots. That being said, we were hoping for a little bit more that what we found in our testing. After all, it's virtually identical in every way to its predecessor—except for the fact that its shots are quite a bit noisier overall.
First the good—the Canon PowerShot ELPH 340 HS is one of the most color-accurate cameras we've ever tested in terms of white balance. Similarly, the included color modes are extremely spot-on: No matter what you want to do, you'll get shots that look natural, similar to how your eyes see them. With the notable exception of incandescent light, the camera can handle just about anything you throw at it and still give you accurate shots in ever-changing lighting conditions. Auto white-balance is fantastic, though you can take a manual reading by yourself if you are so inclined.
From here on out, the results are more mediocre. Taking a bit of a risk in giving the 340 HS a wider zoom ratio than its predecessor, this camera suffers some of the ill effects of a longer lens' geometry. Light reaching the sensor has to bend in unusual ways in longer zooms, so we typically see some sharpness loss and chromatic aberration at the edges of sample shots. The same is true with the 340 HS: The extra focal length is great, but if you zoom in all the way your image quality will suffer.
To combat this, the 340 HS uses its software to oversharpen high-contrast edges quite a bit, meaning sometimes you'll see halo-like smears near hard lines in your shots. It still won't get rid of some blueish coma near the edges of your frame, but problems like this would be much worse without the camera's corrective hand.
Video quality is passable, but not great. Because the sensor is so tiny with a somewhat limited ISO range, you'll find that taking cinematics in low light is a bit difficult to do well with the 340 HS. Even in bright light, the "FHD" setting—which captures 1080p at 30 frames per second—has some trailing and frequency interference issues. That said, it'll be perfectly fine for well-lit casual gatherings—for a $200 camera likely falling in price as the year goes on, the 340 HS is up to par.
It's probably a bit unfair to set the bar very high for a point-and-shoot camera under $200, but with smartphones more than good enough for most people, treading water is a recipe for disaster. Though its marks are adequate for the price today, how will the 340 HS stack up tomorrow? Six months in the future?
Now that entry-level cameras are having the rug ripped out from under them by smartphones, it's becoming harder and harder to justify shelling out for a bargain point-and-shoot. Not only can smartphones share just about everything they shoot almost instantly, but they also don't take up any extra space in your pocket if you want both camera and phone. You also don't have to carry around a lot of extra batteries if you take a lot of photos.
But for those who want some optical zoom with their shots, the 340 HS has you covered. Though there are a couple smartphone/camera hybrid offerings from Samsung out there, mobile devices right now can't use an optical zoom all that well. You won't find a smartphone at the same price as a 340 HS with a 12x optical zoom— yet. Though Canon did a great job at cramming in a bunch of features and options for their bargain camera to attract new shooters, that zoom lens is really the biggest thing the camera has to offer.
If you're looking for other options, you may still be able to find last year's Canon PowerShot ELPH 330 HS at a discount. It offers many of the same features, sacrifices the NFC antenna, and only has a 10x zoom. If you're okay with paying a few extra bucks for a longer zoom, you may want to see about grabbing a PowerShot SX600 if you're a fan of Canon's features, or a Nikon Coolpix S9500. You could always hold out on the 340 HS until later this year. Cameras like this may hit shelves in spring for $200, but they typically leave stores for $149 on Black Friday.
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