Being an A-series camera, the A4000 is built for simple operation. The idea is for you to focus on framing that perfect shot, and letting the camera handles the rest. To achieve this, Canon has implemented their proven Smart Auto exposure control into the A4000. It chooses the appropriate exposure settings (ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Metering, Focus, etc) for the shot being framed; while at the same time it analyzes the subject at hand and applies one of 32 pre-defined scene mode settings to the shot. This is designed to help enhance the look of your photos, giving them a bit of extra pop over your typical exposure. For those who want to specify the scene they are trying to capture, you can choose from Live View Control, Portrait, Face Self-timer, Low Light, Fisheye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter, Discreet, and iFrame Movie.
Live View Control is a newer option found on PowerShot cameras, which lets you adjust brightness, color saturation, and color tone right on the screen while you watch the changes Live on the LCD; before you actually snap the shot. This helps you tweak the look of your photos, without as much trial and error. For those who want a bit more control, the A4000 does offer Program mode. While it still uses the auto exposure system, Program mode gives you access to more advanced camera settings like sensitivity (ISO), white balance, focus mode, metering, etc.
The body of the A4000 is quite compact, and it fit into the pocket of my jeans without any discomfort. It measures 3.75 x 2.22 x 0.96 inches, which is just a tad longer than a deck of playing cards. The exterior appears to be made from mostly metal (with the exception of the port doors), which gives the camera a well-built and durable feel. It's metallic finish is quite stylish, and the color choices are sure to be popular among the younger crowds.
The controls are simple, and very familiar if you've ever owned or used a PowerShot camera. On top you have the power button and the shutter release with the zoom control mounted around it. This is our preferred type of zoom control for a point-n-shoot as it just feels so much more comfortable than using a rocker switch on the back. The remaining controls share a limited amount of real estate on the back of the camera due to the large LCD. All of the controls are well labeled, and easy to access with your right thumb. While they are on the small side, they worked great during our use, and never posed any issues due to their size.
The 3.0-inch LCD screen is the camera's only viewfinder, meaning it's used for framing your shots, navigating the menus, and playing back images. With 230,000 pixels, it's not the most resolute display out there, but it does offer a nice picture. While we had no problem seeing the display indoors or out thanks to its auto gaining and anti-glare features, we did notice that the white balance was a bit off. It showed photos being a bit cooler than they actually were. Basically, some pictures had a blue tint to them on the LCD, when they looked perfectly normal on a computer screen.
One of the more impressive features on the A4000 is its lens. The days of 3x optical zooms on cameras of this size seem to be behind us, with the A4000 IS boasting a powerful 8x optical zoom lens. Covers a 35mm equivalent range of 28mm - 224mm, the A4000 offers a great deal of framing versatility. The wide angle extreme will work out great for landscapes and group shots, while the telephoto capabilities allow you to tightly frame subjects for portraits or macros, or bring far off objects a bit much closer. To help keep things nice and steady in both still and video modes, Canon included their proven optical image stabilization system in the A4000. The maximum aperture range is from f/3.0 at wide angle to f/5.9 telephoto; which is actually pretty fast for a lens of this magnification.
The A4000's image quality is actually quite good for a camera with a $199.99 MSRP (see our buy box below, looks like $169 now at most online retailers). The 16-megapixel images it renders are sharp, show good exposure, and colors look awesome when using Smart Auto mode. Albeit, the colors are a bit more vivid than the scene being framed actually looked like to the naked eye; but this helps your images really "pop". Program mode seems to produce more natural looking colors, however when viewed side by side to the same image taken in Smart Auto, they look almost dull. This is camera is made to be used in Smart Auto, and because it performed so well I don't see why you'd want to shoot with anything else. The only real issue we saw in our photos was some edge softness along the left hand side of the frame, which was only visible when viewing images at 100%; aka pixel peeping. When viewing files at full screen resolution on my Dell 24" wide screen monitor, all of our samples looked really good; to the point that I was surprised they were captured with this inexpensive point-n-shoot.
Noise levels are very acceptable, especially for a camera in this category. At full screen resolution, images look great all the way up to the ISO 400 setting. Fine detail is retained, and there are only average amounts of speckling caused by some luminous artifacts. ISO 800 still looks great, however you start to see some softness come about due to the noise reduction processing; however images at this setting are quite usable. Once you reach ISO 1600, the maximum sensitivity setting, you see a great deal of softness to the entire photo that is easily seen at full screen. While I personally would keep the ISO set to a maximum of 800 on this camera, in a bind 1600 could be used and results would be better than various cameras on the market; many of which are more expensive.
Another area where the A4000 IS excels is indoors. The built-in flash is quite powerful, and worked great for various indoor shooting. Canon notes a maximum effective range of 9.8 feet at wide angle. Normally that sounds about right, if not a bit overrated, however with the A4000 I think this is a conservative number. Even with the ISO at 100, it was able to illuminate our M&M man scene great; which is not the norm for point-n-shoots, some require boosting the ISO to 400 or so. When shooting people, the camera illuminated faces well, and the Face Detection system was fast and accurate. You can see this for yourself by looking at our indoor portrait on the samples page. Red-eye was not common in our photos, however the camera does offer a Red-eye Correction option in the menu.
While the A4000 does not sport a full 1080p HD option, the camera can capture some nice 720p video. You shouldn't expect a digicam to perform as well as a camcorder, so if you can get past that you will see that the A4000 does well for a tiny point-n-shoot. Our videos show sharp focus and good detail. Audio is typical, with the camera's mic being so sensitive it picks up all kinds of noise in the background or foreground that you would not have noticed while recording. I was bummed that you can't use the optical zoom while recording; it has to be preset before you press the movie mode shutter release. There is a 4x digital zoom option available while recording video, however it will degrade image quality so we recommend you use it sparingly.
Battery life is nothing to get excited about. Canon claims you can get about 175 shots out of the NB-11L (680mAh) battery pack; which seems pretty accurate. While that is sufficient for most shooters to last them throughout the day, we highly recommend you pick up a spare pack to keep charged and ready at all times; especially if you're going on vacation or so some big event. With the pack being charged out of camera thanks to the included AC charger; this is not a problem.
Bottom line - The Canon PowerShot A4000 IS really impressed us for a camera sporting a $199 USD price tag. This camera comes loaded with some appealing features, however not every bell and whistle you'd find on a 2012 digicam; namely full HD video. With excellent image quality, class standard shooting performance, and a proven Smart Auto exposure system, the A4000 would make a great choice for those wanting a compact and easy to use camera that snaps great photos; without breaking the bank.
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