Wi-Fi, 12.1 megapixels and an 8x zoom are a lot to squeeze into a camera around 80 x 60 mm in size. It’s smaller than you might imagine, too, with a footprint to match a very thick credit card and a fold-out touch screen behind. The screen itself only flips up by 90 degrees, and it doesn't twist, but that shortcoming is largely overcome by the fact that the PowerShot N is designed to work both right way up and upside down. See all compact camera reviews.
The familiar shutter button has disappeared in favour of a ring surrounding the lens, and there's a second ring behind the shutter control for the 28–224 mm zoom. Each works in either orientation, so you can use them upside down for overhead shots, or right way around for candid street photography. Take a look at Group test: what's the best compact camera?
Image quality is good, but the lens did exhibit some barrel distortion when shooting a test target at wide angle, and there's a fall off in the level of focus when comparing the centre of the frame with the corners, even at narrower aperture settings.
However, detail is clearly rendered, and although there is some very light noise at ISO 400 you'll need to push it a long way beyond that before it starts to have a detrimental impact on your images. At ISO 6400 – it's highest setting – you'll still be able to read fine writing in your images, but you'll start losing detail in the darker areas, and sharp contrasts won't be as crisp as they are at lower settings.
You can set the sensitivity yourself, along with exposure compensation, by switching from Auto to Program mode. However, most of the other common shooting settings, including aperture and shutter speed – which runs from just one second to 1/2000 second – remain firmly out of reach, so you'll have to rely on the built-in scene modes if you want to get creative. These supplement the standard shooting modes, and include monochrome, toy camera, fisheye and miniaturisation.
The latter simulates a tilt shift lens in place of the captive glass, and using it when shooting video rather neatly lets you select the speed at which the movie should play back to more accurately simulate a miniaturised world.
You can shoot movies from any of the regular stills modes, and as with the stills the results are good, with punchy colours, plenty of fine detail, and no compression artefacts or issues with fast motion.
Images are recorded at best at 1920 x 1080 and 24fps, but you can choose lower resolutions either to save memory, or for easier sharing.
The captured soundtrack is full of detail, although the built-in mic picked up wind noise in our tests and we could also hear the lens mechanics when zooming.
Its closest rival is the Nikon Coolpix S01 which is around half the weight, and 10 mm shallower and narrower. However, that’s been achieved by integrating the memory and battery, which in the Canon can both be swapped out, courtesy of an AA-sized battery that's recharged in situ, and microSD memory slot.
The Nikon also loses the fold-out screen and built-in Wi-Fi, which Canon offers for managing your images from an iPhone or Android. It also lists 20% fewer pixels, its chip instead squeezing in 10.1 megapixels.