Canon Powershot A400 Review
Ergonomics were good. As with all of the Canon cameras we have seen this year (2004), the A400's 1.5-inch LCD works great, even in bright sunlight. Indoors it "gains up" which is crucial for framing a subject in low-ambient lighting. The controls are well placed and useful, especially the FUNCtion button which lets you quickly change the settings for white balance, ISO, color effects, etc. The menu system was very easy to navigate and is logically organized. I am glad to see Canon has continued the use of focus-assist lamps on most of their camera models. There's nothing more agitating then trying to take a portrait of someone indoors and having the camera's auto focus fail. The flash range is somewhat limited (according to Canon's specs) with a maximum range of just 6.6 ft / 2m, but I found that range to be grossly understated.
The A400 offers two exposure options; "Auto" (Point and Shoot) and Manual where you can adjust exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, and image adjustments like Vivid or Natural color, Low Sharpening, Sepia toned or B&W. Image size can be set 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, 2048 x 1536 for 8 x 10 inch prints and up, and Postcard (1600x1200) mode which is a 3:2 aspect ratio that's perfect for printing 4x6-inch prints without having to crop the image. There are three quality levels for each image size; SuperFine, Fine or Normal. You can also select the flash mode; Auto fires whenever more light is needed, Red-eye reduction is ideal for "people" pictures, and the forced-on or fill mode is useful for eliminating harsh shadow in bright outdoor or backlit situations.
The shooting performance of the A400 was average. From power up to first image captured measured approx. 4.3 seconds. Shutter lag measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 7/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot-to-shot delay averaged 2.7 seconds without the use of the flash and about 8 seconds including the flash (the LCD blacked out while the flash was recharging.) Quick Shot mode was slightly faster with a shot-to-shot delay of approx. 2.2 seconds. Using the Continuous mode, I was able to capture 10 frames in approx. 7.3 seconds (note, you can only use continuous mode in manual mode.) Switching from record mode to playback takes about a second, and scrolling through the images on the SD card takes less than a second. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra II 512MB SD card, Auto mode, Large Superfine quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
I was pleased with the overall image quality in Large/SuperFine mode. Indoors it did very well, flash pictures were well exposed and nicely saturated. The Auto white balance mode works very well, even when shooting available light photos in mixed lighting conditions. You can see a sample of this by looking at image img_0054.jpg on our Sample Photos page. Outdoors it produced similar results. 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, with slight barrel distortion at wide angle and moderate pincushioning at full telephoto. Focus was sharp and well defined especially when shooting close-up 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 output during macro photography.
I was happy to see that Canon continued the use of standard AA type batteries to power the A400. 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 A400 will make a great choice for anyone who is just taking the plunge into the digital world and wants a stylish, compact and affordable camera with great image quality. Its Large/Superfine images yield beautiful 8x10-inch prints. The Postcard mode will not only create high-quality 4x6-inch prints, but saves you tons of space on your memory card. For 2004 Canon offers a complete lineup of entry-level cameras for every budget and resolution need. Be sure to read our reviews of the 3-megapixel PowerShot A75, 4-megapixel PowerShot A85, and the 5-megapixel A95.
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