Canon PowerShot N

Quality images and quirky settings from a phone-connecting camera

Image: Hugh Threlfall

Before Japan cornered the market in cute, it was the world leader in unusual, interesting gadgetry. In the 1980s, you could find amazing, novel devices that couldn’t be obtained in the west. Some were just bonkers, many were badly made, but there were plenty that were innovative, beautifully designed and of near-German quality.

The serious and conservative brand Canon is the most visible high-end camera maker today. And its PowerShot N design is a rare reprise of Japanese technology’s salad days. It’s eccentric, clever, tricky to get used to, technically rather incredible and, above all, stylish. That may be reason enough to carry it in a handbag or pocket, but the PowerShot N is also special and unique. It’s a smooth, near-symmetrical enamelled metal box measuring 79mm x 60mm x 29mm. It has barely any buttons, instead all the extensive controlling (if you choose to override the automatic settings) is done from the touchscreen. It’s a camera in its own right, of course, but it’s also a mobile-phone accessory. The cameras on devices such as the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S4 are extraordinary, but they’re limited. This, however, links by its own WiFi to your phone, allowing you the benefits of a full camera; you take the photos, then share them using the phone’s internet capabilities.

The PowerShot N has a proper 8x optical-zoom lens, a much bigger sensor than a phone, a dazzling (but not too dazzling to cope with) array of modes and options, and a hinged screen that allows you to shoot at different angles – such as upside down or above a crowd – without being level with the screen. To take a photo, you squeeze a strange little ring shutter that seems to be just a slightly loose part, but actually works in a rather satisfactory way.

The N is ridiculously adaptable; I had fun just shooting in monochrome but you can easily switch to an amusing setting that makes everything look like a model village, or to a toy-camera style, fish-eye or soft focus (for making the morning after seem a little kinder on your subject’s features). It’s great fun, and takes excellent photos.