Canon A3500 IS verdict
The Canon PowerShot A3500 IS is a 16 Megapixel point-and-shoot compact with a 5x stabilised optical zoom, a 3-inch 230k dot LCD screen and built-in wi-fi. It's the second from top model in Canon's PowerShot A Series, the flagship PowerShot A4000 IS is identical in most respects, but has a more powerful 8x zoom and lacks the built-in wi-fi.
Lower down the range are a bunch of models which are variations on the A3500 IS, all sharing the same 16 Megapixel sensor and 28-140mm equivalent zoom lens, but none include optical image stabilisation or wi-fi. Aside from those two differences, the PowerShot A2600 is identical. The PowerShot A2500 is identical to the A2600, but with a smaller 2.7 inch LCD screen. Finally, the PowerShot A1400 is also equipped with a 2.7 inch screen, is powered by a couple of AA batteries and has a small optical viewfinder.
In terms of what's new, the story with the PowerShot A3500 is primarily about connectivity and sharing. Built-in wi-fi allows you to wirelessly upload photos and videos to your PC, phone and, more usefully, to photo and video sharing and social networking sites as well as harnessing your Smartphone's GPS to location-tag photos. Other than that, the improvements are modest. The PowerShot A3500 IS is appreciably thinner and a little lighter than its predecessor, the A3400 IS. It also offers a power-saving Eco mode, a new Zoom Plus interpolated digital zoom finction, and you can use the optical zoom during movie recording. I doubt those changes will have A3400 IS owners rushing to upgrade, though, particularly as it would mean sacrificing the earlier model's touch-screen.
Compared to Canon IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 HS
The PowerShot Range has been growing progressively closer to the IXUS / ELPH design ethos over the years and, at a casual glance, you be forgiven for mistaking the PowerShot A3500 IS for an IXUS / ELPH. The size and weight are almost identical and the shape and styling differences are fairly minor.
And that's not all these two models have in common, they both share the same 16 Megapixel CCD sensor and Digic 4 processor. In my image quality test the two turned in a similar performance, though the PowerShot A3500 fared less well at higher sensitivities, probably as a consequence of its more highly compressed JPEGs - it lacks the Superfine compression option of the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS.
As a conseqence of sharing the same sensor and processor, the two also have a lot of features in common. Both offer Smart Auto with scene detection, they share the same sensitivity range with a maximum of 1600 ISO. The PowerShot A3500 IS lacks the Smile shutter options of the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS, but does have face self-timer and can also offer Live View control for simple jargonless exposure and colour control. Bar a few scene modes, though, the shooting modes are broadly the same. Video capabilities are also the same with both models providing 720p25 HD and VGA resolution modes.
Both models have a 3 inch LCD screen, but the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS has a higher resolution 461 dot panel compared with a 230k dot screen on the PowerShot A3500. With the PowerShot A3500 also sharing the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS's wi-fi features you may by now be wondering whether there are any substantial differences between these two models beyond a higher resolution screen, a few scene modes, superficial design differences and branding. The answer is of course the lens. The Powershot A3500 IS's 5x zoom, lacks the telephoto reach of the 8x IXUS 140 / ELPH 130. Both start at a 28mm equivalent wide angle, but the Powershot A3500 extends to 140mm while the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 keeps on going to 224mm - a substantially longer focal length that'll get you much closer to distant action. Both models feature Intelligent IS optical image stabilisation.
So, if you can live with a shorter zoom range, the PowerShot A3500, the A2600 (without IS and wi-fi) or the A2500 (no IS, no wi-fi and a smaller 2.7in screen) offer a very similar package to the IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 (or the IXUS 135 or IXUS 132 / ELPH 115) at a substantially reduced price.
See my upcoming IXUS 140 / ELPH 130 IS review for more details.
Compared to Canon IXUS 255 HS / ELPH 330 HS
External similarities aside, there are two key differences between the IXUS 255 HS/ ELPH 330 HS and the PowerShot A3500 IS. The 10x optical zoom on the IXUS 255 HS/ ELPH 330 HS has twice the range of the PowerShot A3500 IS and is both significantly wider and longer. It's 24mm equivalent wide angle fits more in than the 28mm of the PowerShot A3500 IS and its 240mm maximum telephoto will get you significantly closer to the action than the A300 IS's 140mm.
The 12.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor in the IXUS 255 HS/ ELPH 330 HS produces better quality images and performs better in low light at higher ISO sensitivities than the 16 Megapixel CCD sensor in the PowerShot A3500 IS. Furthermore, the newer Digic 5 processor in the IXUS 255 HS/ ELPH 330 HS provides a wider range of scene detection modes, the Handheld Nightscene stacking mode, faster low resolution burst shooting, and a higher upper sensitivity limit of 6400 ISO.
It also provides the IXUS 255 HS / ELPH 330 HS with full HD video at 1080p24 compared to 720p25 on the PowerShot A3500 IS. Futhermore, the IXUS 255 HS / ELPH 330 HS has built-in stereo microphones and an HDMI output, so it's a more capable video camera than the PowerShot A3500 IS which has a mono mic and no HDMI port. And for the video icing on the cake, there's the IXUS 255 HS / ELPH 330 HS super Slow Motion video mode as well as Hybrid auto which automatically compiles a movie digest of the day's shooting.
The PowerShot A3500 IS is around half the price of the IXUS 255 HS / ELPH 330 HS, but you're giving up a lot of features for that cost saving including a longer zoom, better image quality, full HD video and some really useful shooting modes. If your budget won't quite stretch to the IXUS 255 HS / ELPH 330 HS, you could go for one of the older IXUS / ELPH models from 2012 which remain in the line up like the 8x IXUS 230 HS / ELPH 310 HS or the older entry level model, the IXUS 125 HS / ELPH 110 HS which also has a 5x zoom.
See my Canon IXUS 255 HS / ELPH 330 HS review for more details.
Canon PowerShot A3500 IS final verdict
The PowerShot A3500 IS is one of the more compelling options in the Canon's 2013 compact range. The decision to fit entry level IXUS / ELPH models with the same 16 Megapixel CCD sensor and Digic 4 processor means that there's less of a gap than ever between high end PowerShot A models and lower end IXUS / ELPH ones. The A3500 IS, along with the flagship A4000 IS are the only two A series models to feature Intelligent IS optical stabilisation; it's far superior to the Digital IS on the less expensive A series models and is well worth paying a little extra for.
Built-in wi-fi is a step in the right direction, but Canon still has some way to go to make it as easy and seamless as it needs to be. And while it provides a good range of features, there isn't exactly a yawning chasm between the PowerShot A3500 and the previous generation. With the touch-screen PowerShot A3400 IS still in play, not to mention older IXUS / ELPH models, there are plenty of bargains to be had. The PowerShot A3500 IS has plenty to recommend it, but if you're prepared to shop around you might pick up a touch-screen model (see my PowerShot A3400 IS review), or one with 1080p video and a higher resolution screen (see my IXUS 125 / ELPH 110 HS review), for less.
5x stabilised optical zoom.
Built-in Wi-fi, and GPS via a smartphone.
Optical zoom works in movie mode.
Eco mode extends battery life.
Lacklustre image quality.
Poor high ISO noise performance.
Complicated wi-fi operation.
Lengthy shooting mode menu.
(relative to 2013 budget compacts)
17 / 20
15 / 20
17 / 20
16 / 20
15 / 20