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Canon PowerShot Zoom lands to show the Galaxy S20 Ultra how space zoom is done

Canon PowerShot Zoom
(Image credit: Canon)

Smartphones may have killed off all but the best compact cameras, but that doesn't mean compacts can't reinvent themselves – as the intriguing new Canon PowerShot Zoom proves.

Only a month ago we were bemoaning the fact that the PowerShot Zoom – a monocular-style camera that puts a 400mm telephoto lens in your pocket – wasn't available to buy outside Japan.

But Canon clearly heard our pleas, as the pocket camera will now officially go on sale globally from November. Considering it was first shown off as a concept in 2019, that's quite a long wait, but that hasn't dampened our enthusiasm for this intriguing little camera.

So what exactly is the PowerShot Zoom? Like a cross between a monocular and a compact, it's a one-handed 12.1MP camera with an electronic viewfinder that lets you instantly switch between 100mm and 400mm focal lengths and take long-distance snaps or Full HD video.

In some ways, this makes it Canon's answer to the 'Space Zoom' seen in phones like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. Only this time, the image quality should be superior and, well, actually usable.

The reason for that is because the PowerShot Zoom has a large optical zoom lens that lets you toggle between 100mm and 400mm focal lengths (or 800mm if you're prepared to use inferior digital zoom). This is a 'step zoom', so you will only be able to instantly switch between the different focal lengths, rather than gradually zoom in on subjects.

Canon PowerShot Zoom

(Image credit: Canon)

But the bonuses of this approach are speed and what should be superior image quality to smartphone zooms. While phones like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra have delivered impressive 5x optical zoom and 10x hybrid zoom recently, pesky physics means they can't go much further without cropping into a high-resolution image, and degrading the photo quality.

The PowerShot Zoom isn't withouts its limitations – it has a 21.1MP 1/2.3-inch sensor, but only uses a smaller 12.1MP 1/3-inch portion of it – though its superior lens should theoretically outclass the folded optics seen in phones like the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

It also packs other handy features like 4-axis optical stabilization into its 145g body, along with features like Face recognition AF and 10fps burst shooting to help you nail snaps of wildlife or people, if you're practicing extreme social distancing.

Zoom for improvement

Naturally, the Canon PowerShot Zoom can only pack so much into its tiny form factor. The fact that it's using a crop from an already small sensor (the same as the one you'll find in the Canon PowerShot SX70 HS) means it still won't trouble larger mirrorless cameras in the image quality department.

With the older Digic 8 processor on board, video quality is also limited to 1080/30p, so you won't be able to shoot 4K video. It's also a shame to see no weather-proofing, given the PowerShot Zoom looks ideal for taking out on hikes into the forest for a spot of bird-watching.

Canon PowerShot Zoom

(Image credit: Canon)

Still, we're certainly intrigued by this new take on the compact camera. Smartphone cameras might be great all-rounders, but there are still some weaknesses that dedicated devices can cater for – the DJI Osmo Pocket does this for video, so perhaps the Canon PowerShot Zoom can do a similar job for compact zoom.

With very simple controls (just zoom, menu, shutter and movie buttons) and a 2.36-million dot OLED viewfinder, taken from the Canon EOS M50, it could well find its niche as a useful little smartphone accessory. While the PowerShot Zoom has a microSD card slot, the appeal will surely be in pairing it to the companion app on your phone and flinging your zoomed snaps to social media.

The PowerShot Zoom will be available to buy from November for £299 (around £390 / AU$540) and we'll bring you a full review very soon.