With the PowerShot N, is Canon mimicking smartphones or beating them at its own game?

20 Feb 2013

David Parry, product intelligence professional, Canon UK & Ireland

Coming to Ireland this April, the PowerShot N is Canon’s latest innovation in the compact camera market sporting a design and features that are built for a market hooked on image sharing. Though users tend to use a smartphone to do so, product intelligence professional for Canon UK & Ireland David Parry believes there’s still a place for high quality compact cameras among the Instagram generation.

In a sense, the square design of the PowerShot N seems to mimic the camera mobile app icon we’ve all become familiar with in recent times and, though Parry concedes that the latest technology has brought smartphone photography a long way, there’s still no beating a good dedicated camera.

“In good lighting conditions, if you haven’t got fast-moving subjects or anything like that, the smartphone takes a very good photo. But it’s only when you come into more challenging conditions where the dedicated DSC really comes into its own,” he explains.

It’s hip to be square

The PowerShot N is just one in a wide range of compact digital cameras available to fulfil this need, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own unique qualities. “The PowerShot N is a completely different camera for us,” says Parry. “We don’t have another camera in the range that looks like this.”

Parry is likely referring the device’s stand-out symmetrical design, which houses a 12.1MP CMOS sensor, advanced DIGIC 5 image processor, and a 28mm 8x optical zoom lens – all the things Canon believes bring its dedicated cameras above the level of a smartphone substitute.

The fast photo vs the slow photo

It’s not that Canon is ignorant to the prevalence of smartphone photography. In fact, it has even has its own term for its ideal use case. “When you’re out for a meal in a restaurant and you’ve taken a photo of your food or maybe a friend falling over, that would be classed as a ‘fast’ photo; something that at that moment is quite important and you want to share it.” says Parry. “And that, we find, is what people are using smartphones for.”

But what about the ‘slow’ photo, the family portrait that you took some time over to get just right? “Those are the images that you really want high quality from because in 20-30 years’ time, when you look back at them, you want to really have the best quality,” says Parry. “That’s really where the dedicated DSC cameras come in, because they’re going to give you that lovely image quality that you’ll be proud of in years to come.”

Share and share alike

However, Canon is not about to give up the entire ‘fast’ photo business to its smartphone rivals and with smart devices like the PowerShot N, the brand is looking to make cameras that can connect and share images just as easily as our trusted handsets.

Canon PowerShot N

“We’ve incorporated quite a sophisticated Wi-Fi system into the camera,” explains Parry. “It’s very quick and easy to set up but it gives you lots of functions.” These include the ability to send images from the PowerShot N to another Wi-Fi-enabled camera or any other smart device, connect wirelessly to printers, and upload directly to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts. You can even add tags and comments where appropriate.

Really, what Canon wants is for more people to fall in love with good photography, and the PowerShot N could help spread that love. “The whole idea of this camera, really, is to inspire people to take pictures and actually enjoy photography,” says Parry.

It’s not a difficult concept in the age of Instagram, either. “More people are actually into photography and taking pictures, which, as a photography brand, is amazing,” Parry enthuses. “OK, they might not be using our products now, but maybe when they come to the limitations of what their smartphones can do, they’ll want to move up to a product like ours.”

Smartphone limitations

While he’s preaching the brand message, Parry isn’t wrong about the limitations of smartphone photography. Granted, the technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, but the specifications simply don’t measure up when it comes to sensors and lenses. “Smartphones still have very small sensors and they still have very small lenses,” says Parry, arguing that dedicated compact cameras are designed to provide users with the technology they need to capture high quality images.

What’s more, though, smartphone cameras likely haven’t peaked yet, chances are they will forever be limited by the fact that the handset has to remain a smartphone first. “Obviously, you could make the smartphone larger so you can get a bigger sensor in there, or a bigger lens, but maybe that defeats the object of having a small and compact phone,” muses Parry. “Also you’ve got to think of things like battery life. When you’ve got a smartphone that tries to do everything, it can massively affect the battery life of the product.”

Exploring new platforms

But what of growing ever more like smartphones, such as in the case of Samsung’s Galaxy Camera launched last year? Going the way of Android is a no-brainer for Samsung, being the platform’s biggest vendor in the smartphone market, but, for Canon, choosing this route is trickier. “As a brand that isn’t loyal to iOS or Android, we feel the best way for us to go is to create products that will connect as easily to either platform,” explains Parry, though he admittedly enjoys seeing this kind of innovation within the industry, even when it’s not coming from Canon.

“It’s great to see something really innovative coming out like that because it creates a buzz in the camera market,” he says. “The compact camera – or photography, for that matter – has not gone stale, it hasn’t stopped evolving all the time for people’s needs. And it’s the public, the consumers that are driving this. It’s a very exciting time to be involved.”

Canon’s PowerShot N compact camera will be available in Ireland this April at an RRP of €349.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.