Revisiting the Quirky Canon PowerShot N Camera 10 Years Later
In January of 2013, Canon announced a weird compact camera called the PowerShot N. A decade later and with “vintage” point and shoots making a comeback, how well does this strange little camera hold up?
While the smartphone camera can be blamed for the all but complete collapse of the point-and-shoot category, Canon has tried different things to make its small cameras stand out.
At first glance, the tiny rectangle-shaped PowerShot N appears to be nothing more than a lens and a screen, which was and continues to be a huge departure from traditional camera design. While this camera wasn’t a huge commercial success, it didn’t stop Canon from trying new things. Even in recent years the company has released the PowerShot Zoom, the PowerShot Pick, and the IVY Rec, all takes on the camera that significantly deviate from the traditional design.
Surprisingly, the PowerShot N has aged relatively well and is capable of producing really nice photos in a compact form factor that’s still fun to use.
What an Odd Little Camera
The PowerShot N is not intuitive to use in the least. Because it lacks a standard shutter button (the only visible buttons are the on/off, playback, and smartphone share), if you handed this camera to someone you are basically guaranteed to confuse them. From a modern perspective, you would probably expect that since it doesn’t have a shutter, photos can be captured by tapping the rear screen.
Nope. While it is a reasonably responsive touch screen (especially considering its age), the only option there is to record a video. To actually take a photo, you have to click the down on one of the two rings that surround the lens system. The ring that is closest to you zooms the lens in and out while the ring that is closest to the front of the lens doesn’t spin at all, but only clicks.
It’s a strange design choice because I would never think to push down on what looks like the zoom ring.
As you might expect, the settings are quite limited. It has a tiny, measly flash that is what I would describe as “fine,” can shoot in JPEGs that max out at 12 megapixels, or 4,000 by 3,000 pixels, and it can’t capture in RAW. What it can do is shoot video, which is shockingly 1080p Full HD resolution. Is it “good” Full HD? Absolutely not. The pixels lack detail, the colors are weak, and the footage has a distinctly “old” look. I love it. It’s a blast from the past. The camera records all these options to a microSD card, but you can probably connect it directly to a computer if you can find a miniUSB cable — I could not.
The PowerShot N can also capture in multiple selectable styles, and one of its settings will create a set of photos across all those styles from a single click, which is a quick way to see which version of the photo you actually like rather than needing to manually capture them all individually. This setting is called “Creative Shot” and is initiated by a switch on the right side of the camera.
Technologically, the PowerShot N was pretty advanced. Since it was designed to combat the growing threat of smartphones cameras, Canon equipped it with the ability to connect to devices via WiFi and there is even a quick-share button on the side of the camera. I don’t know what the app is that was supposed to work with this thing, so I couldn’t tell you how well that still works –if at all.
One last thing to note is that while the rear LCD articulates, it doesn’t fully flip up. Canon was so close, but lacking this feature is a huge letdown. Think of the selfie machine this could have been. Alas, Canon only thought about shooting from behind the camera, not in front of it.
These Photos Aren’t Half Bad
Objectively, the options in the PowerShot N are pretty much in line with what I expect from a majority of smartphones even today. Sure, most have a RAW photo option now and pretty much all of them shoot at least 4K, but let’s be real: most average people aren’t shooting in RAW on their iPhone. They’re also uploading compressed videos to Instagram, so it’s not like that 4K is really being put to use.
From that perspective, the PowerShot N continues to hold up surprisingly well.
I took the PowerShot N with me when I ventured down to San Diego last year to evaluate the Canon R6 Mark II and I was repeatedly surprised by what it was able to do and how people reacted to seeing it.
Objectively, photos that don’t over-challenge the camera look pretty darn good. Images can be sharp and detailed and while I wouldn’t expect it to be able to capture action, it does manage to get the general gist of a situation for the sake of memory.
While the filter options are a neat addition, several of them degrade the quality of a photo pretty badly as they involve some level of digital zoom. These photos don’t have a lot of resolution to begin with, so these types of effects don’t have much to work with.
Also, it automatically artistically chooses some crops, which can be neat but also strange. Like, below, is an original:
But in addition, the PowerShot N decided that a zoom of a foot was going to strike my fancy. This was generated with the “Creative Shot” multi-photo capture setting.
Other times, the effect can be really nice, though:
Overall, I’m really pleased with the photos out of the PowerShot N and if you showed some of these to me without telling me what camera took them, I would not have guessed they came out of a weird point-and-shoot that was released a decade ago. I would instead think they were shot on a relatively recent smartphone, which I think is pretty high praise.
An Attention Grabber
While this isn’t something a street photographer would be happy with, I was pleasantly surprised by how much attention this little camera got. Every time I pulled it out of my bag, someone would comment on it and usually laugh. Point-and-shoot cameras like this have all but vanished, so seeing one in the wild is quite the oddity.
The college-aged students at the tennis court thought it was the coolest little thing ever and it sparked a conversation about “vintage” cameras and how popular they currently are.
Aside from making me feel like an ancient fossil of a human after hearing them consider the PowerShot N “vintage,” it goes to show that Generation Z really has a soft spot for the camera technology we took for granted back then. I don’t really know what that says about me or them, but it is something that puts a smile on my face.
Look, I’m not going to go so far as to say that the PowerShot N is a good camera, but it is without a doubt an interesting one. A decade ago it was weird and that hasn’t changed fast-forwarding to today. Another thing that’s remained consistent? It’s fun.
And photography should be fun.