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CES 2013: Hands on with Canon's PowerShot N

Canon's PowerShot N isn't your typical point-and-shoot camera. It features a squarish design and very few physical controls - it's a camera that is aimed squarely at photographers who want to take good photos without having to know the intricacies of photographic technique.

Upon picking up the N for the first time, I found myself confused as to the best way to hold it. With a standard point-and-shoot I'd use my right hand to control the zoom rocker and shutter release, and the left to steady the camera. On this camera the zoom is a ring around the lens and the shutter is, well, another ring around the lens.

I ended up holding the N just like I would a Rolleiflex TLR, my right hand cupped around its LCD tilted up at a 90-degree angle, just like a waist-level viewfinder. It was easy enough to control the lens zoom in this orientation, although I still struggled a bit when firing the shutter - you have to push the firing ring up or down, which felt a bit awkward to me.

Thankfully the rear display is touch-sensitive, and I was able to shoot a photo simply by tapping that screen with one of the fingers on my left hand. Canon says that you can wear the camera around your neck on a lanyard, a configuration that would lend itself well to the technique of holding the camera by cradling its underside.

There are a few switches and buttons hidden on the sides of the camera. On the right, you'll find a switch to toggle between standard shooting and the N's unique Creative Shot mode, a button to launch Wi-Fi connectivity, and the Playback button. On the left side, the only control is the On/Off button.

I took a few photos using the Creative Shot mode, including the one of Canon's Ben Thomas pictured below. The N takes a photo and creates six versions, one without any type of filtering and another five with various crops and filters applied. The camera didn't fiddle too much with the crop, although the shot on the bottom left seems to be a square crop rather than the 4:3 photos that the camera normally captures.

The camera has an LED flash, just like the one found on an iPhone, and doubles as the autofocus assist beam. It can be left on as a steady light to brighten your video recordings too. The LED is effective to only about three feet according to Canon, much less than a traditional strobe.

Wi-Fi is built in, but we had trouble getting the N to connect to an Android phone running the yet-to-be-released update to the Canon CameraWindow ap - it will be released to the public before the camera's launch. This is likely due to the ridiculous number of Wi-Fi networks that are clogging the airwaves in the halls of CES, so we'll have to speak more about actual performance of the network functions when review the camera. Canon promises that you'll be able to transfer photos to your smartphone, or post them directly to your favourite social networking site when connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot.

The PowerShot N is priced at £269.99 and will be available in April.