Canon PowerShot E1 digital camera review

4 out of 5
£159.99

For

Easy to use, feels good in the hand, face detection, Easy shooting mode does what it says, price

Against

Slightly bulky, some focal point issues, miserly SD card supplied

Canon tells us that the PowerShot E1 is "designed by women for women". But besides a selection of bubblegum colours, is this a pocket snapper worthy of consideration?

Canon have produced a range of good compact cameras and we’ve always been fans. At the core of the new E1 lies a 10MP sensor and Canon’s DIGIC III processor - now superseded by the DIGIC IV - but still a very competent piece of kit. With this sort of pedigree sitting at the centre of the camera, it is difficult to go far wrong.

At first we questioned exactly what the female angle was, although as soon as Mrs Pocket-lint saw it, there was an exhilarated gasp as she cradled the little camera in her hand like a newborn baby. Whatever the X factor is, it certainly worked, as Mrs Pocket-lint has dismissed the hard metal lines of many Canon cameras in the past.

From a practical point of view the E1 is a good size for taking pictures. The two AA battery housing provides a sturdy grip on the right-hand side, giving a stable shooting position. Ok, it does mean the camera is a little larger than many other compact cameras, but you do get a quality feeling camera in your hand. Some of the extra size it put to good use around the back as you get a 2.5in LCD, giving you 115,000 dots, which isn’t the best, but certainly adequate. You also get a zoom viewfinder, making this a versatile camera for shooting in all conditions.

Controls are divided between a top dial and a four-way controller on the back and Canon users should feel right at home with a few minor exceptions. The main dial on the top picks the shooting mode and gives you a Program mode, Auto and the usual scene selections of Portrait, Landscape, Night, Kids & Pets and Indoor which clearly labels this as an everyday family snapper.

You also get a new Easy shooting mode, which is similar to scene detection in other cameras and works fairly well at optimising the settings for you. If it struggles there is the normal Scene selection mode, giving you a further selection via the four-way controller on the back, such as Sunset, Snow, Aquarium and so on.

Also around the back you have a dedicated face detection button which works will with the face focus setting and will track faces to keep them in focus. It doesn’t quite work with a rampaging toddler, but otherwise the tracking works well. Face detection ties in well when in playback too, meaning you can preview detected faces in your picture to check for focus, closed eyes and so on. It is not infallible, but a convenient feature none the less.

On the back of the camera you also get the normal Display and Menu buttons, so you can have a grid overlay for lining up the perfect rule of thirds shot as well as histogram and settings feedback when you preview the images. Another neat trick that the E1 has lurking up its sleeve is an accelerometer so it knows what orientation your images were taken in and allows you view in portrait or landscape and rotates the images accordingly to make best use of the screen.

Other features include the normal PictBridge options, for printing direct to a compatible printer and in support of this you get some decent editing options onboard. There is the normal red eye removal, which works very well, should you choose to not use the anti red eye flash option. You can also capture video at 640 x 480.

So what of the actual performance? Without diving into the settings, the Auto and Easy modes will give you some great shots. There is plenty of detail to images and the camera works well at keeping the exposure in check. Focusing is sometimes an issue as the camera has a tendency to go off hunting people, so it is worth fiddling with the menu options if you are taking any number of landscape shots - often we found it picked the wrong focal point.

Colours are good and rich, perhaps a touch warm, but nothing to complain about. Shadows do sometimes show a little noise, something that plagues the Hi ISO setting, giving you ISO 3200 whilst the sensor drops down to 2 megapixels. It will allow you to get those lower light shots indoors if you need too, but better be close up, as noise is much worse on smaller distant subjects.

Flash recycling is sometimes a little slow and you’ll also find that there is a sight delay whilst buffering, even with a fast memory card. We found we got about 300 shots from the batteries before the low power indicator kicked in. The batteries live inside the afore-mentioned right-hand grip, along with the SD card, with SDHC support (and MMC, MMCplus, HC MMCplus, although we didn’t test these formats). A 32MB memory card is supplied, standard Canon fare, and as always, we wish they’d offer more.

The lens gives you 4x optical zoom, with an equivalent focal length of 35-140mm, so not the widest of angles. At the widest angle you do also get some barrel distortion, but otherwise we had no real complaints. You also get image stabilisation which is rapidly becoming an "as standard" feature.

Verdict

So it all sounds really good. Well yes, it is a very competent little camera. There is a compromise in terms of size, as this won’t slip into your pocket as easily as, say, one of the IXUS models, but then you have to glance at the price. The E1 was launched in the UK as an Argos exclusive at £159.99, although it is now available elsewhere. However, Argos have slashed the price of the camera to a very commendable £129.99, making this something of a bargain.

Coming in three candy colours - white, pink and baby blue - we are left wishing they’d make a black version because it’s a simple and affordable camera, which gives you some great results. Canon have been criticised in the past for not being good value for money, but the E1 bucks that trend.