The PowerShot A3300 IS represents the high-end of Canon's budget series for the year, go one class higher and you have the premium performers like the PowerShot SX230 HS which cost more than $200 extra. Interestingly though, the A3300 IS is the first Canon compact camera to break the 14-megapixel barrier, shooting at a staggering 16 megapixels which is higher than the PowerShot SX230 HS at just 12-megapixels (but brings a host of other features like geo-tagging and 14x optical zoom).
It's a delight to see how Canon evolve their compact cameras' industrial designs year on year – kind of like a fashion show for camera geeks. This year's PowerShot A3300 IS doesn't disappoint; it's a beauty of a compact, with decidedly masculine lines and futuristic angles, with a bold silver rim outlining the lens.
The Mode dial is exposed right to the edge, which adds an interesting circular edge to the top end of the camera, giving the camera more texture. The aesthetic exposure is also functional; giving your fingers freer access to the dial, making it easier to manipulate. Unlike Mode dials on some cameras, the one on the A3300 IS can turn round and round without stopping, so you'll never end up stuck on the last icon.
The sides of the A3300 IS flare in the middle, creating a curved front and back first seen reminiscent of the distinctive IXUS 300 HS. The detail to design is such that the loop for the camera strap is in the shape of an arrowhead which complements the rest of the camera frame; a small, blink-and-you'd-miss-it mound beneath the circular Mode dial completes its shape.
Canon has added an interesting mix of new modes onto the Mode dial. There's your standard Auto and P modes, but there's also an excessive (to us, at least) Easy mode, which strips away all displays and is meant for "worry free shooting even for beginners". How this differentiates itself conceptually from the already user-friendly Auto mode is beyond us.
It points to a disturbing recent trend from compact camera manufacturers who are pushing out additional modes to Auto like Premium Auto. How much more automatic should Auto mode be? We know manufacturers want to find more points of differentiation to make products stand out, but is making what is already simple more complicated the answer? End rant.
There's also a Live mode, which lets you adjust the look of the picture by adjusting three sliders, from Dark to Light, Neutral to Vivid and Cool to Warm. A Scene mode with ten different specific situations like Portrait and Long Shutter shots, a Creative Filter mode with six effects like Toy Camera and Monochrome, a Discreet mode which switches off all sounds and flash so you can shoot discreetly, and lastly the Video mode, which shoots 720p video and comes with a Miniature effect.
The controls are beautifully and functionally laid out. The d-pad is small and requires finer fingernail pressing but nothing too frustrating. Canon's menu system for its compact cameras has always been user friendly and the A3300 IS continues with this fine tradition. Auto mode has far less controls available now, only letting you set the image size and quality. To adjust settings like white balance and metering mode, you now have to be in Program mode. The overlay menu which appears when you press the Func. Set button lets you easily change settings without taking your eyes off the scene. If there's one thing we'd change, it's that the camera lets you exit this menu quickly by half depressing the shutter release, instead of having to hit the Func. Set button again. In other words, we prefer a shooting-priority camera.
We also like the dedicated face recognition button (found besides the Play button). If you want a certain face in focus amongst a sea of faces, press the button to select between the different faces the camera recognizes.