Canon Powershot A640 Review
Building on the success of last year's very popular PowerShot A620 and A610, Canon has refreshed these models for 2006, with the A640 and A630. While they still include many of the same options as found on their predecessors, resolution has been increased as well as many other new and exciting features. The A640 offers a whopping 10-megapixels of resolution, a larger 2.5-inch vari-angle TFT LCD, as well as increased ISO sensitivity (up to ISO 800). While this is a versatile model that can be used as photographic tool with Aperture priority, Shutter priority and full Manual exposure modes, it also offers a more tamer side for the less experienced with Auto, Program AE and 14 pre-programmed scene modes.
I was very pleased with the ergonomics of these models. They are by no means a compact camera that can be tucked away in your pocket, however you can still get away with hiding them in a small bag or purse. The controls are well placed and easily accessed by your fingers, and we love the zoom controls mounted around the shutter release. This allows for effortless zooming and leaves your thumb free to change other settings. The onscreen Menu system allowed for quick and easy access to camera functions, especially when using the Function shortcut menu. All settings are logically organized, witch added to the ease of menu navigation.
Both the A640 and A630 feature a high-quality 2.5-inch vari-angle LCD, which offers a great deal of versatility over conventional "fixed" LCDs. There are so many different angles that can be achieved, allowing you to have more of a chance to capture a good shot while standing in a crowd, looking down over the dug out, etc. While testing these cameras, I found this display works excellent outdoors, even with the harsh sunlight beating directly onto it, thanks to the non-glare coating. When trying to conserve battery life, you can rotate the display inward to protect the screen and opt to use the eyelevel, zoom-coupled optical viewfinder; just remember it only views about 80-85% of the captured image. In lower lighting, like your typical living room at night that is lit by incandescent 65 - 100 watt light bulbs, the LCD "gains up" well, allowing you to accurately frame your subject. The Focus assist lamp also helps illuminate your subject when shooting in these lighting conditions.
While your typical consumer model in this category only features a 3x optical zoom lens, these models were equipped with a 4x zoom, which offer a bit more versatility for composing shots. Its 35mm-equivalent zoom range of 35-140mm favors the telephoto end, providing more magnification for distant subjects and allowing you to better fill the frame when snapping portraits. Overall, the lens produced tack sharp results throughout its zoom range, with noticeable barrel distortion at full wide angle but no apparent distortion at telephoto. Chromatic aberrations were well controlled, with very little instances of purple fringing present in high contrast areas. If you need to broaden the zoom range, both the A640 and A630 have the ability to use auxiliary lenses. Simply press the button just below the lens to release the dress ring and attach the optional LA-DC58F Conversion Lens Adapter. You can then use either the Canon WC- DC58N 0.7x Wide Converter lens, TC-DC58N 1.75x Tele Converter lens or 250D 58mm Close-up (Macro) Lens. The Lens adapter also accepts 58mm filters and lens.
Shooting performance is very robust. From power up to first image captured measured just 1.7 seconds. This includes the time it takes to extend the lens and boot up. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing an image, was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, and only 3/10 of a second including autofocus. Using single drive mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.6 seconds without use of the flash, slowing to 2.8 - 3.5 seconds with the flash firing, depending on how far away your subject is. Burst mode was also very robust, allowing me to capture 8 frames in approx. 4.2 seconds, about 1.9 fps; a bit faster than Canon claimed 1.5fps. Unlike most cameras that force the flash off in burst mode, the A640 allows you to use the flash during continuous shooting. Doing so, I was able to capture 8 frames in only 6.2 seconds. While recording the LCD briefly displays the last image captured, making it possible but difficult to follow a moving subject; this is when the optical viewfinder comes into play. Our tests were done using a PQ1 High-speed (150x) 4GB SD card, Program mode, Large/SuperFine quality, Preview On, Flash off and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Images were very pleasing when using the 10-megapixel Large SuperFine quality mode. Outdoors it captures beautiful pictures that show nice exposure and rich color saturation. I also noticed that sky detail was beautiful when there are clouds visible. Our samples were sharp from edge to edge, thanks in part to the fast and accurate 9-point "Smart" AiAF autofocus system. Image noise is very low when using ISO speeds of 200 or less, with noise becoming more noticeable at ISO 400, and very clear at ISO 800. However, when viewing these higher ISO images at 23% (the typical fit size for a 19-inch monitor set to 1024x768), they look good and still are capable of creating nice prints. The ability to use faster shutter speeds in lower lighting, and the ability to capture that special moment, makes up for the lost image quality, in my opinion.
Indoors you'll be able to focus on your subject, even in complete darkness, thanks to the Focus assist lamp. This is a very useful tool that we feel should be included on all models. Luckily Canon (along with other manufactures) get this point. The built-in "Light-guide" zoom flash has an above average range of about 14 feet (at wide angle.) This was quite sufficient when shooting in mid sized rooms, and worked great for close- up portraits from about 5 or 6 feet away. However, do not expect it to illuminate your subject(s) in large open rooms; either increase the ISO sensitivity to achieve fast shutter speeds or hope there is plenty of ambient light so you will not need to use the flash. While red-eye was very scarce in our people photos when using the Auto flash mode, the A640 does feature a red-eye reduction flash mode that will help eliminate any signs of it in your shots. And because the A640 features an orientation sensor, your vertical portraits will always be displayed properly.
Movie mode produced above average results for a consumer model. You can choose a resolution of 640x480 or 320x240 at either 15 or 30 fps in standard mode. The length of a clip is limited to 1GB. Other movie modes are also available, like Compact (160x120, 15 fps) for emails or posting movies on the web when file sizes need to be small, and Color Accent and Color Swap for more creative recording. Movies can be played back and edited in-camera. If you plan on shooting a lot of movies at 640x480 (30fps), be sure to get a spacious SD memory card; about 1.8 MB of memory is consumed per second of recording.
Power is supplied by the readily available AA type cells that can be found just about anywhere and NiMH rechargeable technology is getting better by the year. You can also use one-use lithium or in a jam Alkalines. However these just end up in your local landfill and will yield a much lower amount of images. Canon claims using four alkalines cells will power the camera for up to 280 pictures, while NiMH cells extend this like to 500 shots. I found the A640 was remarkably power efficient, using a set of 2700 mAh NiMH cells allowed me to capture our sample images (over 100 shots and several movies) and conclude all other tests using the LCD 100% of the time.
Bottom line - last year we said "Canon has struck gold" with the A620 and A610, and this year they have done it yet again. These models continue to be some of our favorites in this class, offering style, versatility, excellent image quality, speedy performance, and a wealth of exposure modes, all in a rugged metal/plastic shell. With an MSRP of just US$399, I feel the Canon PowerShot A640 offers an outstanding value for such a capable 10-megapixel model. And with so much resolution, you can create poster prints without a problem. If you loved this model, and can settle for only 8-megapixels of resolution and no remote capture feature, check out the A630, which can be acquired for about $100 less.
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