Support me by shopping at Amazon!
Canon PowerShot A3500 IS Ken McMahon, November 2013
 
 

Canon A3500 IS review

The Canon PowerShot A3500 IS is a 16 Megapixel point-and-shoot camera with a 3 inch screen and 5x zoom. Launched in January 2013 it's the numerical successor to last year's PowerShot A3400 IS, but the older model remains in the range due partly no-doubt to its touch-screen, a feature strangely absent on any of the 2013 Canon point-and-shoots including the newer A3500 IS.

Aside from losing the touch-screen, the A3500 IS retains the same 5x optical zoom with an equivalent range of 28-140mm and Intelligent IS image stabilisation. This is augmented by Zoom Plus, which uses interpolation to digitally double the zoom range to 10x. The PowerShot A3500 IS also gains built-in Wi-fi connectivity and the ability to tag photos with location information via the GPS in a smartphone. The best quality video mode remains at 720p, so there's no upgrade to full HD, but you can now use the optical zoom during movie recording, which was one of the big disappointments of its predecessor, the A3400 IS. There's also an Eco mode to help squeeze more life from the battery.

The PowerShot A3500 IS isn't widely available in North America, but it is almost identical to the next two models down in the range, the PowerShot A2600 and PowerShot A2500. The difference is that both these models lack the optical image stabilisation on the A3500 IS and the built-in wi-fi. Additionally, the A2500 has 2.7 inch screen and is consequently a little lighter (though, not, as you'd expect smaller, it is in fact just over a millimetre thicker).

In my review I've compared the PowerShot A3500 IS against two models from the more up-market IXUS / ELPH range. The IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS, shares the same 16 Megapixel CCD sensor as the PowerShot A3500 IS, but has a longer 8x optical zoom and a higher resolution 3 inch LCD panel. The IXUS 255 HS / ELPH 330 HS has an even longer 10x optical zoom, Canon's 12.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor and the newer Digic 5 processor, offering full HD video and a wider range of shooting modes. Read my full review to discover how much the PowerShot A3500 IS has to offer over the lower end A series models and whether the IXUS / ELPH models are worth paying the extra for.

   
 

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS design and controls

It seems that with every year that passes the design of the PowerShot A-series compacts gets closer and closer to the IXUS / ELPH range and 2013's PowerShot A3500 IS continues the trend with a body shape that's slim and stylish and belies the 'economy' label implied by the price. The A3500 is available in black, a particularly lurid purple, red, and silver. The split-tone styling - a light coloured front panel contrasts with darker top, sides and rear panels - is one of the biggest styling differences between the PowerShot A-Series and IXUS / ELPH ranges. The PowerShot A3500 IS has a metal casing, another unusual quality feature for what is essentially a budget point-and-shoot compact.

 
 
Support me by
shopping below

 

The PowerShot A3500 measures 98 x 56 x 20mm and weighs 135g. The most striking thing about those dimensions is how thin it is compared with its predecessor, the PowerShot A3400 IS, which is 4mm thicker and 10 grams heavier. Of course, the earlier model's touch screen would have been responsible for some of that extra girth, but even the non-touch-screen models of the earlier generation were considerably thicker than the 2013 models.

From the front, the PowerShot A3500 I doesn't look a lot different to the IXUS / ELPH models. The lens sits in a dished indent and doesn't protrude so much, but the flash is in the same place on the top left corner, there's an AF illuminator on the other side of the lens and the rest is badges, running horizontally, rather then vertically as on the IXUS / ELPH. There's the familiar raised Canon logo which doubles as a gripping surface for the fingers of your right hand.

Round the back, the button layout is exactly the same as on the older A3400 IS. There’s a four-way controller, Menu and Playback buttons, a dedicated movie record button and a dedicated Help button that launches the on-screen help pages. One difference, though, is the markings on the four-way controller where the topmost position activates wi-fi functions in playback mode and the left position activates the new Eco mode. I'll talk in more detail about both of those a little later.

A small flap at the top of the right side panel covers the combined USB / AV port. Canon supplies a USB cable to connect the camera to your computer to download photos and video, but if you want to connect it to your TV you'll need the optional AVC-DC400 cable.

On the bottom of the camera is the combined battery and card compartment. The PowerShot A3500 IS takes the same NB-11L battery as other A-series models (with the exception of the AA-powered PowerShot A1400) which provides enough power on a full charge for 180 shots. However, the A3500 has a Eco mode which conserves battery power by dimming the screen after a two-second delay, then turning it off after a further 10 second delay. Eventually, after three minutes of inactivity the camera turns itself off completely.

The built-in flash can be used in Auto, manual on, off and slow synchro modes and has physical red-eye reduction which illuminates the AF lamp when the shutter is half-pressed. There's also built-in red-eye firmware correction which can be applied during shooting or subsequently. The maximum range of the flash is 3 Metres at the wide angle lens setting, the same as its predecessor.

 

Canon PowerShot 3500 IS lens and stabilisation

The PowerShot A3500 has a 5x optical zoom with a range equivalent to 28-140mm on a full-frame 35mm camera and a maximum aperture of f2.8. This is the same lens as on the earlier A3400 IS and indeed on the A3200 IS before that. It's also the same lens that's used on every other PowerShot in the A-series range below the A3500 IS, only the flagship PowerShot A4000 IS has a longer 8x optical zoom.

Though more expensive, another option if you prefer a longer zoom is the IXUS / ELPH range with all of the lower end models from the entry-level IXUS 132 / ELPH 115 up to the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 offering 8x zooms.

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS coverage wide
Canon PowerShot A3500 IS coverage tele
5-25mm at 5mm (28mm equiv)  

5-25mm at 25mm (140mm equiv)

As it stands, though, a 5x zoom is a respectable, if pedestrian range for a camera in this price bracket. It starts at 28mm and extends to 140mm which means it's good for wide-angle shots of groups and interiors and will also let you get good head and shoulders portraits without being too intrusive.

The PowerShot A3500 includes Intelligent IS optical stabilisation which reduces the risk of camera shake at slower shutter speeds by physically moving the lens elements to compensate for camera movement. This is an important distinction between the PowerShot A3500 IS and lower models in the range which don't carry the IS suffix - the A2600, A2500 and A1400. These models have what Canon calls Digital IS. Rather than the A3500's physical system, Digital IS is a stacking mode that takes a fast burst of three images and combines them to produce a sharp result. I'll explain how this works in more detail in a moment, first let's take a look at how Intelligent IS performs on the A3500 IS.

As the name suggests, Intelligent IS chooses the appropriate stabilisation by using scene detection. There are three settings, Off, Continuous and Shoot only, which applies stabilisation just before the shot is taken to conserve battery power. Intelligent IS can tell if the camera is mounted on a tripod, if you're panning, taking macro shots, or if you're at the maximum zoom setting, and applies the appropriate stabilisation to achieve the best result. Additionally, it has two different kinds of stabilisation for movies, one for ironing out the usual handheld wobbles and a stronger mode for more substantial movement caused, for example, by recording while walking. As with the stills modes, these are applied automatically.

To compare the two systems I shot the same scene with the PowerShot A3500 IS and the PowerShot A2600. With the Powershot A3500 IS I first made a comparison between shooting with Intelligent IS turned off and then turned on in Continuous mode. I zoomed the PowerShot A3500 to its maximum 140mm equivalent focal length, set it to Program Auto mode and took a series of shots in diminishing light at progressively slower shutter speeds, with and without stabilisation.

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS Intelligent IS Continuous/Off
100% crop , 5-25mm at 25mm, 100 ISO, 1/10th, IS off.
  100% crop , 5-25mm at 25mm, 100 ISO, 1/10th IS Continuous.

As you can see from the crops above, the PowerShot A3500 can produce sharp hand-held results at speeds as slow as 1/10. That's nearly four stops slower than conventional wisdom says you should attempt, so it's pretty effective.

On the PowerShot A2600 (and the A2500 and A1400) the Digital IS scene mode takes a sequence of three shots in quick succession and produces a composite image corrected for camera shake. Digital IS was introduced on the 2012 PowerShot A2300. It's good to see Canon taking the initiative and providing an alternative to optical image stabilisation for its budget A Series models, having said that, Digital IS is a much less effective system than the optical Intelligent IS system on the PowerShot A3500 IS. Firstly, it's a reduced resolution mode, producing 4 Megapixel images with a size of 2304 x 1728 pixels. Secondly, it automatically sets the ISO sensitivity quite high so as to minimise the effect of camera shake to start with.

The next comparison shows results from the PowerShot A2600. This time, the crop on the left is from a shot taken in low light conditions in Digital IS mode. The PowerShot A2600 selected a sensitivity of 3200 ISO (only available in the Digital IS shooting mode) for this shot which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/160. For a comparison, I shot the same scene a few moments later with the camera in Program auto mode set to the highest available 1600 ISO sensitivity, which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/80.

Canon PowerShot A2600 Digital IS / Program Auto
100% crop , 5-25mm at 25mm, 3200 ISO, 1/160, Digital IS
  100% crop , 5-25mm at 25mm, 1600 ISO, 1/80th, Program Auto

This is quite an interesting comparison, because it shows both what you gain and what you lose with Digital IS. What you gain is an easy-to-use mode that guarantees good results in low light. What you lose is a lot of pixels - the 100% crop on the left shows a larger area with smaller detail because the Digital IS mode is limited to 4 Megapixels. You also lose control over the sensitivity, but that won't be a big issue for people considering a budget point-and-shoot compact, particularly as the stacking process eliminates a lot of high ISO noise as well as blurring caused by camera shake.

In the right conditions, Digital IS can be a useful tool, but in some circumstances, like the one above, you might just be better off in Program or even Smart Auto mode. The 1600 ISO crop above is noisier than the Digtial IS crop, but it's no less sharp and uses the sensor's full 16 Megapixel resolution. Finally, it's worth noting that, unlike Intelligent IS on the PowerShot A3500 IS, Digital IS doesn't provide the flexibility of working in whatever shooting mode you choose and it won't help keep things steady when you're shooting movies.

 

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS shooting modes

Since it shares the same 16 Megapixel CCD sensor and Digic 4 processor as both it's predecessor and the entry-Level IXUS / ELPH range including the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS, the PowerShot A3500 IS also shares the same range of shooting modes.

The PowerShot A3500 IS lacks the Mode switch of the IXUS / ELPH models so the shooting mode selection is relegated to the top position on the four-way controller. This toggles between Auto mode and either Program mode or whatever the current alternate shooting mode is. In Auto mode the Digic 4 processor uses scene detection to determine the best exposure. It works by dividing scenes into those that either do or don't contain people, and determines whether there's any subject movement before then analysing the lighting conditions. The Digic 4 can tell if the subject is backlit, spotlit, if there is blue sky in the frame and if you're shooting a sunset. It can also determine if you're shooting in the dark and whether you have the camera attached to a tripod. Finally it keeps track of focus as well as exposure so can tell if you're lining up a macro shot.

Switch out of Auto mode and you have the choice of Program mode with control over ISO sensitivity, Exposure compensation, White Balance, and image size among other things. Novice shooters might feel more comfortable with Live View control, which provides three sliders for control of exposure compensation (Dark/Light), saturation (Neutral/Vivid) and white balance (Cool/Warm).

Other modes include Face self-timer, which starts the count down when a new face enters the frame and provides a more reliable option for self-shooting than a timed delay, though there's also a conventional self-timer mode with 10-second, 2-second and custom delays.

Creative Effects are also included on this menu with the choice of Fish-eye effect, Miniature effect, Toy Camera effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, and Poster Effect,(but not the Colour Accent, and Colour Swap effects available on the IXUS / ELPH models). There's also a handful of conventional scene modes including Portrait, Low Light, Snow, and Fireworks.

Though the PowerShot A3500 IS lacks any kind of manual exposure control it does include a long shutter mode which allows you set the shutter speed manually at preset intervals from one to fifteen seconds. That extends the potential for night shooting beyond what's offered by the Fireworks mode. Below you can see examples of the Fish-eye effect, Toy camera effect and Super Vivid filters.

     




Canon PowerShot A3500 IS movie modes

The PowerShot A3500 IS can shoot HD movies at 720p resolution at 25 frames per second. Movies are encoded at an average bit rate of 18Mbits/s encoded in the H.264 format and saved as Quicktime.mov files. The longest single clip recording time in HD mode is a second shy of 30 minutes for EU models, but you'll probably run up against the 4GB file size limit just before that. Canon recommends using an SD card of Class 4 or faster.

None of the earlier A series PowerShots had an optical zoom that worked during movie recording, but you can use the zoom on both the A3500 and A2600 while recording. I didn't test the A2500 or the A1400, but I would imagine the same applies to them. All A Series PowerShots have built-in mono mics.

They do allow use of some Creative Effects during shooting, though, the best of these being Miniature mode with speeded up playback at 5x, 10x, or 20x. These modes record at 720p HD resolution, but only if you remember to switch the still image resolution from 4:3 to 16:9 first, which is a convoluted way of doing things, and one which most people probably won't even be aware of, as if you're shooting at the default 4:3 shape for stills, the Creative Effects movie modes default to VGA (640 x 480).

In an upgrade to the earlier model, which only offered Program Auto for movies, Smart Auto with scene detection is now an option for movie recording, and you can use both exposure compensation and Live View Control to alter exposure and colour settings prior to pressing the record button.


Canon PowerShot A3500 IS sample video 1: outdoors, cloudy bright, handheld pan
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)
 

This clip, like the others below was shot using the PowerShot A3500 IS's best quality 720p25 video mode. The quality is as good as on the more expensive entry-level ELPH / IXUS models with which it shares the 720p best quality mode as well Intelligent IS image stabilisation.

 

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS sample video 2: outdoors, overcast, tripod pan
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)
 

For this tripod mounted pan the image stabilisation was turned off. The overcast conditions present few challenges for the A3500 IS which does a good job with the exposure and white balance. The mono mic is susceptible to wind noise, though, and you can just hear the buzz of the zoom motor.

 

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS sample video 3: indoors, low-light, handheld pan
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)
 

There's very noticeable levels of noise in this indoor low-light panning shot, but the PowerShot A3500 IS makes a good job of the exposure and the autofocus also does a good job in quite demanding conditions.

 

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS sample video 4: indoors, continuous AF
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)
 
To test the continuous AF performance of the PowerShot A3500 IS I zoomed the lens in a little and panned from the close-up coffee cup to the bar and back again several times. It does pretty well here, transitioning the focus from near to far and back almost as soon as the camera starts moving. In part, the job is made easier because, despite the low light, the depth of field isn't that shallow. Notice how the containers behind the in-focus coffee cup aren't really all that blurred.

 

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS sample video 5: Miniature mode
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)
 
Finally, here's an example of the PowerShot A3500 IS with the Miniature effect. It's quite versatile, with the option to choose the size and position of the focus zone and the choice of three speeds. This is the slowest 5x setting which plays back a minute of real time shooting in a 12 second clip. For an example of the middle 10x speed see my IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS review and for an example of the fastest 20x mode see my IXUS 255 HS / ELPH 330 HS review.

 

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS handling

The PowerShot A3500 IS not only looks very similar to the entry-level IXUS / ELPH line-up, it offers very similar handling, from the screen, which is the same size though not as high resolution as the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS, to Intelligent IS, via a very closely matched range of shooting and video modes. In terms of physical controls the only difference is the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS's mode switch, though its absence isn't something I found that much of a problem; changing shooting modes on the PowerShot A3500 is quick enough, if you're going from, say, Smart Auto to Program Auto, or Live view. Like all other recent Canon compacts, though, it does suffer from an overly lengthy shooting mode menu.

     
     

 

The PowerShot A3500 is equipped with built-in wi-fi which can be used to wirelessly transfer photos and video to a PC or smartphone and to upload to sharing and social networking sites, but to do that you need to register and go via Canon's ImageGateway site, which makes things a little more complicated than they need be. You can also use your smartphone's GPS to keep a track log and use the Canon CameraWindow app to add the geopositional data to your photos. The wi -fi functions on the PowerShot A3500 IS work in exactly the same was as on other recent Canon Compacts including the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS, check out my review of that model for a more detailed explanation of how they work in practice.

Canon no longer provides a PDF manual in the box, something few people are likely to miss, you can download it from the Canon Website, but the PowerShot A3500 IS has a built-in help guide, which might prove more immediately useful. It provides a brief explanation of the controls and features including the current scene that you're shooting in auto mode.

 

Canon PowerShot A3500 IS Sensor

The PowerShot A3500 IS has a 16.1 Megapixel 1/2.3in CCD sensor that produces images with a maximum size of 4608 x 3456 pixels at a single JPEG compression setting producing JPEGs around 3 - 5MB in size. The shutter speed range is 15 - 1/2000 (1-1/2000 in Program Auto mode) and the sensitivity range is 100 - 1600 ISO.

To see how the quality of the PowerShot A3500 IS measures-up in practice, take a look at my PowerShot A3500 IS quality and PowerShot A3500 IS noise results pages, browse my PowerShot A3500 IS sample images, or skip to the chase and head straight for my verdict.

 

If you found this review useful, please support me by shopping below!
 
Living Landscapes eBook
By Todd and Sarah Sisson
Price: $29.99 USD (PDF download)
More details!

Todd and Sarah Sisson are two of my favourite landscape photographers and in this superb ebook, they'll reveal the secrets behind their wonderful photos. Over 130 pages, it combines tutorials, field guides and technical advice, using the beautiful scenery of New Zealand as a backdrop. An informative and attractive ebook that's highly recommended for anyone wanting to improve their landscape photography! Well worth the price.
     
All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

/ How we test / Best Cameras / Advertising / Camera reviews / Supporting Camera Labs