Canon PowerShot A3200 IS review

Looking for an inexpensive yet not unimpressive snapper to slide into your pocket this summer for casual use? For somewhere around the £100 mark, if we go by street/online pricing rather than the manufacturer’s own, the 14.1 megapixel, 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor Canon PowerShot A3200 IS (sibling to the 16 megapixel S3300 IS) resembles a capable and stylish contender for those looking for a slightly more expansive/better range of point and shoot options than their phone’s built-in camera allows.

Design

Dimensions are a pocket friendly 95.1 x 56.7 x 24.3mm and it weighs 149g including lithium ion battery and optional SD card, framing composed via the aid of a 2.7-inch, 230k dot standard 4:3 aspect ratio LCD in the absence of an optical viewfinder and with five brightness settings at the rear. Surprisingly at this price, the construction is mostly metal rather than the expected plastic, befitting our metallic silver coloured sample (pink, orange or “aqua” are also available).

Affording decent operational response times such as a 1-2 second power up from cold is a DIGIC4 processor, as found in cameras higher up the range, such as the enthusiast G12. Also featured is a 5x optical zoom starting out at a wide angle 28mm equivalent in 35mm terms, and supported by lens shift optical image stabilisation to avoid blur when shooting at the 140mm equivalent telephoto end (which largely appears to work), or in low light (up to ISO 1600 light sensitivity manually selectable). Maximum lens aperture is a so-so verging on bright F/2.8.

Video capture is included here too, at a high definition 720p and at 30 frames per second, recorded in H.264 compression format rather than the less widely accessible but increasingly common AVCHD. It’s slightly disappointing but not wholly unexpected that the optical zoom is disabled when shooting video and a digital alternative kicks in instead; doubtless to dampen the mechanical whirr of the lens making its adjustments, though it’s hardly the noisiest we’ve encountered. Otherwise, in stills shooting mode, the lens take around 3 seconds to travel from extreme wideangle to maximum 140mm equivalent telephoto. No HDMI output is provided: just regular USB 2.0/AV out port.

Canon further flags up the A3200 IS as the first A-series model to feature its dynamic optical image stabiliser, which counteracts any wobble resulting from shooting whilst walking at the same time.

Control

As we’d expect, Smart Auto mode features as the default setting. This compares scenes and subjects before the lens with no fewer than 32-on board settings, and, using the likes of face/subject detection technology, hopefully selects the most appropriate one. If that sounds too mind boggling, then there’s an easy mode that removes most of the icons from the screen and deactivates various options to make taking a picture as straightforward as possible. So this is a camera for complete beginners as well as those looking to update an old snapshot model.

A half press of the shutter release button and after a brief moment’s adjustment, focus and exposure is determined with a definitive bleep, AF point/s indicated on screen via the familiar green box. Press down fully to take the shot and a maximum 14.1-megapixel resolution JPEG takes 3-4 seconds to write to memory; not the fastest performance ever but forgivable here. 

Also de riguer for a point and shoot these days are a smattering of creative effects filters, which get their own setting on the eight-option top plate shooting mode dial. On the PowerShot A3200 IS we get six to choose from. These are the pinhole-camera style “toy camera”, plus monochrome, tilt and shift lens-apeing miniature effect, fish eye, saturation-boosting super vivid and poster effect. Here they’re enough to stop occasional snappers getting bored. 

As with past PowerShots, miniature effect can also be applied to video recordings, whereby the camera records either 1.5, 3 or 6 frames per second to create the impression of a start-stop, time-lapse video, which is pretty funky. 

New here and found on the familiar bottle top-like shooting mode dial part sunk into the top plate, though with its right hand edge exposed for easy adjustment, is a Live View control. Forget the name for a moment: what this allows is the individual adjustment of brightness, colour and tone, via three separate exposure compensation-type sliders that appear on screen, with the results of your tweaks shown in real time before the shutter release button is actually pressed. It’s another hand holding feature for those who occasionally want to do more than point and shoot, and welcome too as such adjustments are more usually buried away within the menus. So it’s interesting that Canon has chosen to bump some form of manual control to the fore on what is a camera via which most users will purely point and shoot.

Also of interest is a new “discreet” mode that automatically disables the flash and operational bleeps for shooting in places where flash is often banned - such as in cathedrals, museums and stately homes, off the top of our head. The AF assist lamp is also disabled at the same time however; something that’s arguably more crucial seeing as most such places are by their very nature dimly lit. 

The S3200 IS is further powered by a lithium ion battery offering 250 shots from a full charge, which is okay and falls roughly into line with other point and shoots. 

Performance

In terms of image quality the Canon PowerShot S3200 IS delivers an above average performance for its inexpensive price tag. We particularly enjoyed being able to adjust settings on the fly and see the results working or otherwise for any given subject via the sliders accessible in Live mode, boosting saturation there and then for example rather than waiting to see the results from say Super Vivid or Vivid “My Colors” option.

And given the relatively small lens and sensor results were surprisingly sharp, though obviously no match for a compact system camera nor DSLR. But then neither of those will fit in your pocket for that spur of the moment snap like the S3200 IS will. In terms of naturalistic low light shooting without flash, the S3200 IS produces largely noise free results up to and including ISO 800 unless you’re scrutinising files particularly closely. At ISO 1600 noise/grain is visible across the frame without zooming in to check, but not at all to ruinous proportions, so we’d be happy to use this top setting if pushed.

Verdict

With the compact camera market static in terms of growth and lower range models being picked off by mobile phones with built-in cameras, the Canon PowerShot A3200 IS seeks to buck that trend with a fair price, a solid construction and design that stops just short of upstaging the IXUS range. It sports just enough features to stop you from getting bored, and few enough for the camera to remain easy to use. Thus we don’t get 3D shooting nor automatically stitched Sweep Panorama modes now a staple of cameras £200 and above, but these functions are arguably inessential for day-to-day use.

The A3200 IS comes across therefore as the digital camera equivalent of a bacon butty: it may not be fancy but it certainly fills a gap. If your budget is low(ish), the S3200 IS comes recommended as one of the best of its current class.