Technologies come and go in waves. Take, for example, the outgoing wave known as pocket cameras. No wonder nobody is buying them any more. Your phone takes pictures nearly as well and is far more convenient.
You always have your phone with you, and you can transmit the photos wirelessly as soon as you take them.
But the Canon N ($300) attacks the cellphone threat on three fronts.
First, it emphasizes the features that a smartphone can't match, like a zoom lens. Second, it imitates the workings and design features of a smartphone. Third, it can transmit new photos to your phone for immediate sending or posting online. The result, is half pocket camera, half photo-taking accessory for your phone.
It has a powerful zoom lens — 8X, compared with zero X on a smartphone. The screen flips out 90 degrees, so you can take photos at interesting angles.
Like a cellphone, it has no external battery charger; you charge the battery in the camera, by connecting a USB cable to your computer or a wall adapter. It takes the same kind of memory card used on many cellphones, a microSD card, rather than the SD cards used in most cameras.
Wi-Fi is the third unusual feature. On the Canon N, you can do three things with Wi-Fi.
First, you can send your photos from the camera to the phone; from there, you can send them wherever fine photos are sent. The setup requires you to install an iPhone, iPad or Android app and connect your phone to the camera — that's the purpose of the Connect button on the side — which now impersonates a Wi-Fi hot spot. Almost instantly, the thumbnails of your photos and videos show up on the phone.
If the camera is in a Wi-Fi hot spot, it can also transfer photos to Twitter, Facebook and so on directly, without requiring a phone. Finally, you can send your pictures from the camera to the computer over Wi-Fi instead of using a cable or transferring the memory card.
The N takes very good pictures. The videos are stable, clear and quick to refocus as you shift to subjects different distances away. At the same time, this $300 camera is no $500 camera. The bright areas in the N's photos are sometimes blown out, and low-light shots can be grainy.