Canon's budget PowerShot line-up has received a boost with the arrival of the A3100 IS, which boasts a 12.1-megapixel resolution, a 4x zoom and a new, slimmer, lightweight body. The A3100 replaces the chunkier PowerShot A1100 IS and comes in at around £160.
A satisfying handful
This camera has a slightly larger LCD display than its predecessor, measuring 67mm (2.7 inches) rather than 64mm (2.5 inches). It also has a smaller, metal-clad body and runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion cell rather than a pair of AA batteries. It looks quite smart and the slimmer profile makes it easy to fit in a pocket, yet it's still big enough for those with large hands to work it comfortably.
Canon's gone for straightforward four-way navigation buttons, rather than the spinning dials found on other models, and this actually makes the A3100 a good deal easier to use. All the buttons are big, as are the markings. They're also shaped to follow the curvature of the camera back at the edge, which is a neat touch.
On top is a mode dial, which is inset from the edge of the body and has very firm click stops, so you're not going to move it by accident. The control layout is clear and efficient, and anyone who's used Canon compacts in the past is going to feel right at home.
For this model, Canon's introduced a new 'low light' mode (which only produces 2-megapixel files, alas), a 'super vivid' mode and a 'poster effect' mode. Interestingly, the A3100 is compatible with the latest SDXC cards, although, with only a VGA-quality movie mode, it's not likely to need huge-capacity cards anyway.
Otherwise, this camera is very much like the A1100 before it, with the same 12.1-megapixel sensor and 4x optical zoom.
And that's the problem. The enhancements are largely cosmetic, and the technology itself is pretty old hat. It's hard to get excited about the swap to a lithium cell, since AAs are actually rather practical, especially if they have a good life (the old A1100 could take around 140 shots on a single set, which is alright).
Also, the results are actually rather disappointing, mainly because of the lens. A 4x zoom range in a camera at this price is okay, but you'd hope for a wide-angle zoom at the very least, and you don't get one. Worse is that the A3100's lens suffers from some pretty soft definition at the long end of the range, and some horrible barrel distortion at the other end. The pictures themselves are fine when you're shooting on a sunny day, but they look quite flat and under-saturated when you're indoors or under overcast skies.
This wouldn't be so bad if the A3100 were a genuine budget model, coming in at under £100, but it's not. At £160, it's in mid-range-compact territory, and it's just not good enough for that.
The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS makes a good first impression. It looks smart and has clear, straightforward controls. But the 4x zoom is both slightly limited and not very good, and neither the technology nor the results justify the price. Canon needs to make the A3100 cheaper or better, or both.
Edited by Charles Kloet