The Exciting Return of Spy Tech! Canon Powershot Zoom Review

The Canon Powershot Zoom harkens to the return of the spy camera in 2020, and I’m so excited!

If you’ve read our Declassified series, you’ll know how much I geek out about spy-tech. The Canon Powershot Zoom probably wasn’t meant to be that kind of tech. In fact, Canon specifically referenced to that as a viewer in our meeting. It takes photos (rather bland ones at that), but it’s a camera that isn’t much larger than a stick of lip balm. You can stuff it in your pocket and shoot photos to your heart’s content. And when you’re ready, just connect it to your phone and beam the images over. All that aside, the fun behind the Canon Powershot Zoom is the innocent spy-type feel you can get with it. Boasting a 100-400mm zoom lens in front of a super small sensor, it’s incredibly fun!

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Super small
  • Dude, you’re packing a 100-400mm zoom camera in your pocket!
  • A very novel concept
  • It keeps you focused on just shooting
  • You can shoot and keep moving
  • Great for people who are legally blind, like me!

Cons

  • It should come in black
  • The menu interface isn’t easy to work with because of the controls
  • Face detection isn’t that great
  • Image quality isn’t the best at all
  • No weather sealing

Gear Used

We used this camera by itself.

Tech Specs

  • 12MP 1/3rd inch sensor
  • 1080 30p video
  • 0.39 dot EVF
  • 60fps basically through the viewfinders
  • Autofocus
  • Face tracking
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Wifi and Bluetooth
  • 100-400mm f5.6-6.3 zoom and 800mm digital. No shooting in between the focal lengths
  • ISO 100-3200
  • No manual controls
  • 1 hour and 20 mins of battery life, approximately
  • Microphone included
  • MicroSD card slot
  • 10fps
  • USB C charging
  • No weather sealing
  • $299 price point

Ergonomics

Here’s the Canon Powershot Zoom. It’s a tiny camera. If anything, it looks like a pack of mints or something. On this side, you’ll find the port door. It protects the Mini SD card port and the USB C port.

Here’s a closer look. Notice how the edge near the viewfinder is a different material. This material is more textured for a better grip. But that material should be all around this camera.

On top of the camera, you’ll find these buttons. The zoom/set button will also help with navigating the menu. Plus, you’ll zoom in and out with this button. There’s also the menu button and power button here.

Towards the bottom is where you’ll keep your thumb. Here you’ll find the diopter and the two types of media capture settings. You can shoot movies or photos.

To change menu settings or shoot, you’ll use the tiny viewfinder. Despite it being small, it’s very bright and detailed well enough.

Build Quality

Let me get the bad stuff out of the way first. The Canon Powershot Zoom isn’t weather sealed. Couple this with the super-slick exterior, and you’ve got yourself a problem. If your hands get sweaty, it will probably slip out of your hand at some point. So, always carry the Canon Powershot Zoom with the strap. Second, I wish that it came in black. Something this small should be stealthy. (And I never say that!) There are way too many black cameras on the market, but this one really needs it! You might also want to be cautious of the front of the lens. It’s prone to fingerprints.

And now for the plethora of great things about the Canon Powershot Zoom. It’s super small. Here in the photo, you’ll see it next to lip balm. It’s incredibly tiny, as you can tell. That also means that it’s pocketable. In fact, I stuffed this, the lip balm, my passport, and two wallets into one pocket of my jeans, and I could walk around just fine. As you hold it up to your eye, your thumb and index finger will control the camera. Ergonomically speaking, this is very comfortable, but you’ve got to wrap your mind around the interface.

Ease of Use

The Canon Powershot Zoom isn’t the simplest thing to use. Yes, there aren’t many buttons. Shooting photos is simple. Zooming in and out is also a breeze. But other things are just annoying. Those of you brave enough to venture into the menus may regret it. Navigating back and forth is annoying. You’ll have to wire your brain around it. But it’s the most challenging navigation I’ve ever used. That’s sad too! Canon has been known for its fantastic menus for years now. And these are the same menus from their cameras. But they don’t translate well to the Canon Powershot Zoom’s interface. This camera needs its own fully redesigned menu.

While reviewing this camera, app support wasn’t available. But, I’m sure it’s pretty straightforward. Canon has always been just that.

Autofocus

Treat the Canon Powershot Zoom like you would any small sensor point and shoot. In good lighting, it’s snappy. You’ll have no problems with accuracy. We tried this when shooting out windows, walking around during the day, etc. When the lights go down, you’ll have issues. In fact, Canon stated that this isn’t meant to be used in low light (but we’re sure folks will try to do so anyway). As we walked around the neighborhood, we spied into barbershops, restaurants, etc. As we walked down the streets, the autofocus had a questionable performance.

The camera has a 100-400mm f5.6-6.3 zoom lens. At the widest end, you’re not letting in a lot of light. And that gets worse the more you zoom in. Most of the reason why you use the Canon Powershot Zoom will be to zoom in on stuff. But 6.3 at ISO 3200 and 400mm isn’t that great. There is optical image stabilization in the lens, but that’s not going to help much with the autofocus performance. If you’re going to use this, stick to daytime.

Image Quality

Well, here’s the skinny on the Canon Powershot Zoom. The lens has two settings: 100mm and 400mm. There’s nothing in between. At the more telephoto end, you can use the digital zoom to get to 800mm immediately. You can’t configure the rest at all, and that’s fine for most use cases. Of course, this camera will only really be usable with ample lighting. Personally, I found there to be better results when in daylight white balance scenarios. Here are a bunch of sample images.

Oh, and it doesn’t shoot RAW, so don’t bother asking. Personally, I don’t think we need RAW all the time.

I’ll be very blunt here. The Canon Powershot Zoom isn’t offering fantastic image quality with good lighting. It’s good enough in some situations. But your phone will still do better with its lenses. In bad lighting, the Canon Powershot Zoom delivers images that I’d have expected from cameras a decade ago. I’m a bit shocked that Canon isn’t using better in-camera processing techniques or even more crisp lenses. It has to be a bit embarrassing to know there’s potential that your phone could do a better job in some situations. Again though, this is for telephoto work.

Conclusions

For $299, the Canon Powershot Zoom is an enjoyable toy camera that was crowdfunded. You’ll really need to wirelessly port the images to your phone and edit them there using Lightroom or RNI films. So, who’d use this? Well, there’s a list. Folks who like spy gear will really appreciate it. Those who go to sporting events often will like it too (but during the pandemic, there aren’t many of those). Folks who love birding might also really like it. But it’s not going to replace a camera and an interchangeable lens at all. Instead, it’s designed for folks who don’t want to bring around a big, bulky camera. This fits into your pocket just fine. But Canon should have gone further with the image quality. Still, it’s an entertaining toy. I just don’t think it’s anything beyond that. I really hope it gets refreshed soon because this is a very exciting concept.

The Canon Powershot Zoom gets three out of five stars.