NOTE: see update at end or review
I have a bunch of digital cameras, from older-and-low-resolution-but-still-useful to newer and fancy. Most but not all have been from Canon, since in my evaluations they have the best all around combination of quality company, support, features, build quality, price, user interface, etc. In the middle of my has been my trusty Canon PowerShot A510, a camera I bought years ago for the sole purpose of quickly shooting images from projected slides (a project to create a quick catalog of slides I had stored in carousels). But over the years the old A510 has been starting to get a bit long in the tooth, although it still takes good everyday pictures and remains reliable enough.
I decided it was time to replace the A510 because I need to manually fiddle with the automatic lens cover mechanism, almost every time I turn the camera on, to get it to open fully.
I did not want to sped a lot of money, but I wanted something with a similar level of utility to the A510. After a lot of evaluating, I settled on the Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS. Like the A510, it has similar optics, and the zoom is also an optical 4X. The size in the hand is almost identical, although the new one is about half as thick.
One thing I always thought Canon did very well with their digital cameras is the user interface. And that interface was pretty consistent across their lineup, so that most functions were done the same way on all my Canons, using the same or at least very similar buttons and controls. The new ELPH 100 dispenses with the older tradition, and does some things differently.
On the older system there was a thumb operated knob on top for selecting AUTO plus several common modes such as Portrait, Landscape, Night, Sports/Action, Panorama, and a few variations of Manual mode. The new system replaces the knob with a two position selector on top which is essentially AUTO and ALL ELSE. When in AUTO, the camera evaluates the composition of your picture and decides which mode to use automatically. When in ALL ELSE, the LCD screen presents those other modes for your manual selection using the Up/Down/Left/Right navigation control on the back of the camera. This is slightly more difficult than using the knob, but not too much more so.
An improvement over the older system is that the Movie button is a separate control, so you can start shooting your movie immediately by pressing the button, instead of needing to turn the knob of navigate through a menu. Unlike some of the bigger Canon cameras, the ELPH 100 does not allow simultaneous movie and still photo shooting. But if you are shooting a movie and press the shutter button twice, the first press cancels the movie and the second press takes the still photo. You could then press the movie button again and resume shooting the movie with only a couple seconds lost. Also, the ELPH 100 does not allow changes to exposure after the move shoot has started, although it does allow zoom and auto focus changes during the shoot.
In AUTO, the ELPH 100 automatically goes into macro mode when you get close to an object. In ALL ELSE, you can select several options in this regard.
The ELPH 100 uses the red/orange lamp on the front as a surrogate flash bulb for red-eye reduction, as opposed to firing an early flash to close down the subject person's pupils. The lamp is very bright in this case, but at other times is is less bright for other indications such as timer mode count down.
The ELPH has several combinations of photo quality/resolution, and allows you to select between four movie quality settings; two are widescreen HD, and two are stand aspect ratio video. The various ALL ELSE modes that apply to still photos can also be applied to movies.
As will all Canons, the still photo trigger control (shutter release) is both a button AND a rotating, spring return to center zoom control. Using the zoom while in picture taking mode will zoom optically first, then will adjust digital zoom if held for a longer time. Using the zoom while in picture viewing (playback) mode will allow close inspection of pictures you already took (use the navigation control pad to pan around inside the zoomed in view), and will also turn the LCD viewfinder into a photo gallery of taken pictures and movies, allowing for quickly jumping around in your collection.
Another departure from some older models is that there is no longer a clear-cut selector switch for choosing picture taking mode versus picture viewing mode. Instead, there is a button that puts the camera into viewing mode, and pressing the shutter release trigger button puts it back into picture taking mode.
The ELPH 100 comes with a video cable that has both HDMI and standard PCD audio and composite video connectors for connecting to your TV. It also comes with a USB cable, although the camera manual does not indicate that the battery can be charged via USB; it only mentions charging by way of the included AC wall charger that the battery fits into (i.e. you must remove the battery from the camera).
The ELPH 100 takes standard SD memory cards as well as SDHC and SDXC and MultiMedia cards, MMC-Plus cards, and Eye-Fi cards (the latter is not guaranteed to work). NOTE: the ELPH 100 does NOT come with a memory card, and you cannot use the camera without the card. In the old days, digital cameras came with a small memory cord just so you could at least play around with it before buying a larger card, but this is no longer true. The camera is often bundled with a memory card by the retailer, just keep your eyes open when buying.
A big departure from the older A510 and its relatives is the use of a proprietary rechargeable battery as opposed to standard AA batteries. I really liked being able to travel with a couple sets of AA's and a wall charger, and be able to use those charged batteries in any of the cameras I had according to need. With the new camera I will be locked into the special battery. It is easy to get this camera bundled (by Amazon and by stores) with a second battery, so at least I can have a charged spare on hand. The newer batteries DO allow for a thinner and lighter weight camera, and the Lithium-Ion technology charges very quickly and lasts a long time.
I will not go into specifics of 'how good are the pictures'. The pictures are very good, and you can make them even better by going into manual mode(s). At the price range of the ELPH 100, the photo quality is at least competitive with other brands and models.
UPDATE: (July 2012)
After using this camera for a longer period, I have more observations:
- The camera has a slick, low friction surface. It also has no bumps or other protruding things to help you get a grip on it. Trying to shoot one-handed, I have dropped the camera many times. It really needs to be held two-handed to avoid drops.
- While the camera has not taken any out-of-focus still photos that I can recall, it HAS taken many out-of-focus videos. They are not greatly out of focus, not enough so that you can tell there is a problem in the viewfinder LCD screen, just out of focus enough that you swear loudly when viewing them later at home. I find it useful to, while keeping composition unchanged, to half-press the trigger button before pressing the video start button. I think this is a flaw in the design of the camera.
- Needing to go into two menu layers deep to select all of the non-auto shooting modes is a real pain. I wish Canon would go back to a thumb wheel for selecting these modes.
- While there is a tiny speaker on the camera for playing back audio from videos you shoot, the volume is so soft that it is hard to hear anything. My other Canon cameras that are capable of shooting videos had much better speaker volume. I don't see any place in the menus to change the speaker volume.
-Beware of batteries from other companies besides Canon. I have tried some, and even with the same ratings, they seem to actually last for much less time than the Canon one.