Canon Powershot A310 Review
The ergonomics of the A310 are great. Controls are well placed and functional, and the menu system is easy to navigate. The LCD works very well, even on the brightest of days, and when used in low-light it "gains up" to brighten the subject. A feature of the A310 that is a Canon (not industry) standard is the Focus-Assist Illuminator for shooting in low-ambient lighting conditions. There's nothing more aggravating than attempting to shoot a picture in low light and discovering that the camera can't focus. The A310's focus-assist illuminator is a big help and I wish more digicam manufacturers would take a hint from Canon who uses these illuminators on nearly every digicam they make.
The A310 offers two exposure options; "Auto" (Point and Shoot) and Manual where you can adjust exposure compensation, white balance, and image adjustments like Vivid or Natural color, Low Sharpening, Sepia toned or B&W. Image size can be adjusted to : 640 x 480 for use on a web page or e-mail attachment, 1024 x 768 for 4 x 6 inch prints or 1600 x 1200 size for great 5 x 7 inch prints and 2048 x 1536 for 8 x 10 inch prints and up. There are three quality levels for each image size; SuperFine, Fine or Normal. You can also select a flash mode; Auto fires whenever more light is needed, Red-eye reduction is ideal for "people" pictures, slow-synchro can be used for night pictures where you want to illuminate a foreground subject but not lose the detail in the background and the always-on or fill mode is useful for eliminating harsh shadow in bright outdoor or back lit situations. Flash range is somewhat limited with a maximum range of just 6.7 ft / 2m (at ISO AUTO.)
The shooting performance of the A310 was impressive for a camera in this class. From power up to first image captured measured approx. 3.7 seconds. The all important shutter lag measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 6/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot-to-shot delay averaged 2.5 seconds without the use of the flash and just under 8 seconds including the flash (the LCD blacked out while the flash was recharging.) Using the Continuous mode, I was able to capture 10 frames in approx. 5 seconds (note, you can only use continuous mode in manual mode.) Switching from record mode to playback takes just over a second, and scrolling through the images on the CF card takes less than a second. Our tests were done using a Transcend 256MB CF card, Auto mode (unless noted), Large/Superfine size/quality, preview off, flash off (unless noted), and all other settings at default. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
I was pleased with the overall image quality in Large/SuperFine mode. The majority of our samples were nicely saturated and the white balance was on the money. Indoors you will have to work within the limited range of the flash (about 6.7 ft.) and 33mm fixed focal length, it's sufficient for shooting group portraits in small to medium sized rooms, but lacks the power to illuminate any large open rooms. Our outside test shots were sharp and well exposed, and the sky detail was beautiful. I noticed very little noise in high/low contrast areas, but there was an average amount of barrel distortion. Most of the cameras we have reviewed that feature a fixed wide angle lens show this. Focus was sharp and well defined especially when shooting closeup objects. Canon's AFiF autofocus system is accurate and fast even when shooting macros at TWO inches or in total darkness thanks to its focus assist lamp. The camera was also very effective at throttling down its flash during closeup macro-photography.
I was happy to see that Canon continued the use of standard AA type batteries to power the A310. Too many cameras these days use proprietary battery packs which are expensive and difficult to find. It's nice to be able to use rechargeables or "off the shelf" batteries in an emergency. There's a multitude of brands of NiMH rechargeable batteries to choose from as well as fast AC or portable chargers. In a bind you can even use a set of one-use alkalines but they always end up in your local landfill. Battery life when using high-capacity 2100 mAh NiMH was very good even when using the LCD and flash frequently.
Bottom line - the PowerShot A310 will make a great choice for anyone who is just entering the digital world or someone who wants a simple point-n-shoot camera. It produces sharp and beautiful, true to life, 3.2 megapixel images with plenty of resolution to create photo-quality prints up to 8x10-inch or larger. Not bad at all for just $149 (as of 07/2004) if all you need is non-zoom camera.
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