As smart phones add more powerful camera features—such as, most recently, an optical zoom lens—camera manufacturers have replied by including wireless capabilities in basic cameras. The 12-megapixel Canon PowerShot N subcompact, $300, is one such camera: Though it doesn't have 3G/4G Wi-Fi connectivity, the type found on most phones and a couple of cameras, it offers several ways to wirelessly connect to various gadgets, Wi-Fi hot spots, and the Internet.
I've been using this PowerShot for a while. Here's what I've found:
Wireless features and apps. One versatile aspect of this camera is that you can connect it wirelessly in several ways: via a smart phone or tablet or a wireless laptop or desktop. You can also connect to the Internet via a wireless hot spot and use a Web service to upload your photos or video. Or you can connect the camera to a printer or another Canon wireless camera. While testing the PowerShot N, I successfully connected to a smart phone and laptop, but the experiences were different.
Connecting to a smart phone was easy. (And, since tablets are quite similar to phones, I'm sure the same process will work on tablets.) To connect and transfer photos to my iPhone 5, I first downloaded the CameraWindow app. Next, I searched the PowerShot N's menus to set the camera as an access point, and then went back into my phone's Wi-Fi settings, found the camera's access point, and typed in the encryption key (which was displayed on the PowerShot N).
At this point, the two devices were wirelessly connected. Last, I launched the Canon CameraWindows app: I could now view and transfer photos and videos on to my iPhone. Overall, this process was quick and relatively painless.
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Connecting the PowerShot N wirelessly to my Windows 8 laptop (via a wireless router), required quite a few more steps, more time, and a bit of trial and error. I also found that the process was more prone to error. I connected my laptop and the camera to two different wireless routers: Only one worked, even though I followed the exact same steps from the camera manual. It may be that the settings on one wireless router allowed my laptop to be recognized and the other didn't.
In Creative Shot mode, the PowerShot N captures six images of the same subject.
Camera features, interface, and ergonomics. I found the camera features on this PowerShot hit or miss. I enjoyed using the new Creative Shot button, which is Canon's attempt to include Instagram-type filter effects in this camera: When you snap a shot, the camera records six different shots. (Actually, it fires off a burst of three images, and copies each one.)
While the camera is recording the shots, it simultaneously applies various effects to each image: color adjustment, contrast, soft-focus, and cropping, among others. I found the feature easy to use. There was just something fun about the random selections the camera made. However, I wouldn't rely on this for my most important shots.
The camera can also be set in more traditional shooting modes, such as auto mode, or a variety of scene modes, in which you capture just one frame. You can also capture 1080p HD-resolution video (at 24 frames per second).
Some of the other unusual features on this camera impressed me less. For instance, the shutter button and zoom control are found on two rings that surround the camera lens. To zoom the 8x optical zoom lens in and out, you twist the outer ring left or right. To shoot a photo, you press down on the inner ring.
In most cases, I didn't mind using this unorthodox way of zooming and shooting, but I prefer more traditional shutter buttons and zoom levers. If you don't like to shoot using the inner ring, you can also set up the camera to shoot a photo by tapping on the 2.8-inch LCD (which also swivels, but only 90 degrees up). But to capture video, you tap the virtual red button on the LCD.
The PowerShot N comes with a colorful metal "jacket" that screws into the tripod mount (the blue element in the top photo). But if you need to remove the battery or the microSD memory card, you'll have to unscrew this jacket. I'm not sure exactly what the purpose of this jacket is, but I'd probably leave it off to allow quick access to my memory card.
Bottom line. My impressions of the PowerShot N are mixed. I liked its compact shape and found some features fun. But there were times when I found it a bit clunky to use, since I didn't find the unusual controls and features very intuitive. Sometimes, I couldn't zoom in precisely. Other times, I accidentally shot photos by pressing down on the inner ring or touching the LCD. I'm sure with time I would get accustomed to using these controls. But if you like traditional camera controls, this may not be the digital camera for you.
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