Hands-on with the Canon PowerShot Zoom

From clunky concept mockup to final shipping product, the Canon PowerShot Zoom has been a long time coming. We first saw an early working sample at the CP+ show in Japan, last February. Back then it was a boxy, colorful camera with a simple button-driven interface, which evolved over the course of a year into a slimmer, subtler and much more rounded design, last seen at CES 2020. The final product looks a lot like that last concept, but with some subtle changes.

Read on to learn more about this unusual camera.

Hands-on with the Canon PowerShot Zoom

The PowerShot Zoom is a 12MP compact camera, which can capture stills (JPEG only) and video (Full HD up to 30p.)

Where the last working concept of what is now called the PowerShot Zoom featured five buttons, all on the top, the final shipping camera (Canon is calling it a ‘monocular’) simplifies the top layout even further to just three buttons, none of which is a shutter control. The lozenge-shaped button is the zoom toggle, and sits perilously close to the power and menu buttons. I say ‘perilously’ because with your eye to the finder, they’re so close together that it’s easy to accidentally press the wrong one. Ask me how I know.

The Zoom can be used one-handed, but is more stable (and a little more usable) with two.

Hands-on with the Canon PowerShot Zoom

The shutter and movie-record buttons are positioned below the EVF, adjacent to a diopter control. Unusually (but logically) the shutter button is labeled ‘PHOTO’. The shutter button can be half-pressed to focus, and takes a picture when fully depressed. The shutter is electronic, and a brief flash of the outline around the EVF image is your only indication that a picture has been taken.

In use, I’ve found it easiest to use these controls with the thumb of my right hand (which holds the camera), with my left hand reserved for toggling the zoom control on the top of the camera.

The controls themselves are adequate, but the control interface (when you need to use it) is hard to get used to. When I unpacked the PowerShot Zoom for the first time I was really hoping that the diopter wheel was a control wheel, but sadly not. Menus are navigated and options selected using the buttons alone. The hardest thing is setting the date – I challenge anyone to do it without turning the camera off accidentally at least a couple of times (I did it five times, but perhaps I’m unusually stupid).

Hands-on with the Canon PowerShot Zoom

At the heart of the PowerShot Zoom is a 12MP 1/3in sensor, behind a 2-position zoom lens, which can be used at either 100mm or 400mm (equivalent). Early concepts included an intermediate 200mm position, but in the end Canon went with a simple 100/400mm toggle.

The lens is pretty complex, being made up of no fewer than 11 elements in eight groups, but there’s no specialty glass or aspherical elements. It is optically stabilized, and while Canon does not quote a figure for the exact amount of stabilization, it was easily capable of steadying compositions at 400mm on a very windy day here in Seattle.

Hands-on with the Canon PowerShot Zoom

Slightly surprisingly, the PowerShot Zoom records pictures and videos to a physical memory card. I rummaged around in my drawers for this fairly old 8GB Micro SD (good for almost 1,000 images according to the camera’s info display). Using the Canon Camera Connect app, images can be downloaded to a smart device and edited, shared or saved to your camera roll.

Hands-on with the Canon PowerShot Zoom

The battery, however, is non-removable, and is charged over USB C (a cable is included). The 800 mAh battery is good for 150 images (CIPA). A full charge from empty takes just under two hours.

Hands-on with the Canon PowerShot Zoom

Despite its tiny size, the PowerShot Zoom features a decent electronic viewfinder, featuring 2.36 million dots and an automatic switch to turn off the display when you take the camera away from your eye. The view is crisp and clear, but in common with a lot of cheaper compact cameras, the preview image doesn’t always match the final picture once you’re able to get it off the camera and take a closer look. Typically, I’ve found that captured images lack a little of the ‘bite’ of the preview image in the EVF.


When you first turn on the PowerShot Zoom, the lens is set to 100mm (equivalent). While technically this is the ‘wide’ setting, 100mm is still pretty long, and the minimum focus of 1m (3.3 ft) precludes closeup work. There is no macro setting, either.


Image quality at 400mm is slightly lower than it is at 100mm, but when shooting distant objects, as always, air quality and thermal haze can also be a factor when it comes to sharpness. At 400mm minimum focus is 4.5m (14.6 ft)

Autofocus performance is pretty good with decent light, but prone to hunting in lower light levels. You have two AF modes: face detection + tracking (a sensible default, which works reliably well for most subjects) and single point AF as an option. Continuous AF can also be toggled on/off.

800mm (digital zoom)

Like all digital zoom options, the Zoom’s ‘800mm’ setting is handy, but not great from a critical image quality point of view. It’s basically just a crop, upsized in-camera to 12MP. Convenient (and good enough for sharing over a text message or on Facebook) but nothing special.

Final thoughts

With an MSRP of $299, the PowerShot Zoom falls outside of the realm of ‘impulse buy’ for most people, but there are some definite use-cases. I can see it being a hit among birders, for example, and for casual documentation of garden wildlife. Similarly, if package cruises ever become a thing again, I can imagine a pocketable 400mm lens being pretty handy for taking pictures of penguins on melting ice sheets etc., from the comfort of a 7-story high floating hotel.

The still image quality of the PowerShot Zoom is no match for a more conventional camera, or even for a smartphone, but that’s really not the point. What it offers is a telephoto lens in a small, lightweight and hand-holdable form factor. No current smartphone can offer true telephoto without a digital zoom, making the PowerShot Zoom a powerful companion for anyone who regularly wants to share images of (for example) birds, boats or aircraft without the need for bulky, expensive gear.

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