Canon PowerShot A3100 IS Review

The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS is an entry-level digital camera that keeps shooting functions basic, yet delivers great quality images for a camera of its size and price range.  There are no shiny bells and whistles to go along with the camera, but it makes good on its fit into the category of “point and shoot.”

To see whether the Canon A3100 IS delivers enough for your needs, read on.

Canon PowerShot A3100 IS Key Features

  • 12.1MP CCD Sensor
  • 4x Optical Zoom (35-140mm equivalent)
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • 2.7-inch LCD
  • ISO 80-1600
  • Face Detection Autofocus
  • Low Light Shooting Mode
  • VGA-Quality Video Recording

Canon PowerShot A3100 IS Handling, Ergonomics and Control

The A3100 IS offers a basic feel.  The buttons and controls are simple and rather large as far as compact point and shoot cameras go.

On top of the camera, you get a nice mode dial (and you know I love a good mode dial), along with an on/off button and shutter release.  All are well designed and placed. The mode dial gives you quick access to a number of shooting modes, including Auto, Program and Movie modes.

Canon has left off shooting modes like Shutter-priority and Aperture-priority, which provide more creative user input into the camera’s exposure.  Instead, the A3100 IS only gives users a modicum of control through Program mode by allowing some manipulation of flash options and exposure compensation.

On the backside of the camera, you find the decent 2.7-inch LCD, along with zoom controls and a number of basic buttons.  While I prefer to see a zoom rocker switch wrapped around the shutter release, Canon has placed the zoom controls on the back of the camera for access with your right-hand thumb.

Of course, this location probably makes more sense for the beginner audience since they’ll be looking for visual cues on where to press for zooming.  That said, I don’t care too much for the crowded icons on the zoom buttons, which seem like they could be a bit confusing to beginners.

Additional controls on the rear of the camera include a 4-way controller button that serves to navigate the menu system and allows quick access to macro focus mode, flash settings, self-timer and EV compensation.

The crowded buttons on the rear of the camera make it a little difficult to hold with one hand and not rest your thumb on a button.  Fortunately, the camera is light enough that it can be controlled one-handed if you can get your pinky to lay along the bottom of the A3100 IS.

There is a slight ridge on the right side of the camera which helps with grip – but not by much.  Again, a two-handed approach with the A3100 IS would be preferred.

All in all, the A3100 IS handles about as well as one would expect from an entry-level compact camera.  It’s a bit boxy in terms of its form factor, but it won’t intimidate novice camera users with complex controls or design.

Shooting with the Canon PowerShot A3100 IS

The A3100 IS was a pleasure to use in that it focused rather quickly and gave me what I expected out of it.  The biggest quibble that I had with the A3100 IS was that it was a little sluggish between shots.  It left me waiting 2-3 seconds from shot to shot, which is difficult to accept when I was trying to capture kids in action.  Albeit, when in continuous mode, it cuts down to around a second, which is still on the slow side.

However, shutter lag seemed minimal once focus was acquired, and the power on time was acceptable for a point and shoot camera.

The zoom action of the A3100 IS was more than acceptable, even if I didn’t like the location of the zoom buttons.  It covers the full zoom range in a fairly quick fashion.

The A3100 IS easily fits in to ordinary jeans pockets for casually carrying the camera about.  The lightweight of the A3100 IS also adds to the pocketability of the camera.

One thing I was surprised to find on the A3100 IS was a metal tripod mount, which made it easy (and safe) to tighten the camera down on a tripod head for stationary shots.

Canon PowerShot A3100 IS Image Quality

As noted in the intro, the A3100 IS impressed me with the image quality that it delivered as such and affordable camera.  While you can’t expect to make large prints at high ISOs with the A3100 IS, it will deliver 4 x 6 prints for your family album or Facebook-sized images at any ISO setting.

In the sample images below, you can see a few candid photos, as well as a series of images taken at each ISO setting in order to demonstrate the noise performance of the camera.

I have noted the basic shot info below each image. Feel free to download any of these sample images for your personal inspection (not for republication). You can get the original files by right-clicking on any of the images and choosing “Save link as…”

ISO 800 – f/5 – 1/20s

ISO 400 – f/4 – 1/60s – on-camera flash

Macro Mode – ISO 1600 – f/2.7 – 1/30s

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

Canon PowerShot A3100 IS Accessories

Canon NB-8L Battery – The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.

Memory cards – I’ve used the basic Kingston SD cards in the A3100 IS, which worked just fine. No need to go all out on fast memory cards with the A3100 IS. Cheap cards from reputable brands will work just fine. The A3100 IS is compatible with all SD, SDHC and SDXC cards.

Memory card reader – If you don’t own a memory card reader, they make transferring images to your computer a world faster. I highly recommend picking one up with the Canon A3100 IS. They’re cheap and big time saver. Lexar makes a good card reader for about $15.


In closing, I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by the capability of such an affordable camera.  I imagine that there will be quite a few Canon A3100 models handed out as gifts to new digital camera users in the coming months and in the 2010 holiday season.  As such an affordable option, it will be tough to pass up.

Anyone who is intimidated by technology, is new to digital cameras, or just simply needs a basic camera to go in a pocket or purse would do well with the Canon PowerShot A3100 IS.  While it won’t knock your socks off in terms of features, bells and whistles, the A3100 will serve the right crowd in just the manner they need.

The Canon PowerShot A3100 IS is available from Photography Bay’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following link:

Canon PowerShot A3100 IS at B&H Photo

The A3100 IS is also available in RED and SILVER.

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