Canon Powershot A70 Review
Canon's PowerShot A70 is an excellent choice for those wanting an easy to use, fully
featured yet compact three-megapixel camera. If you want the same feature set in a less
expensive, two-megapixel model then check out the Powershot A60. Many of us find
today's ultra-compact cameras too small to comfortably handle. The Canon "A" series is a
mid-size compact that's positioned between the tiny Digital ELPH and the full-size G3.
We liked the size and ergonomics of the Powershot A40
, the A60 and A70 takes that to the next level. The hand grip is even larger now
which makes it very easy to operate with just one hand. The A40 was a point-n-shoot
automatic, the A60 and A70 can also be a point-n-shoot but at the turn of
a dial they offer a multitude of advanced exposure modes.
The A60/A70 features a high-quality and sharp 3x optical zoom lens, 5-point AiAF auto focus with a low-light focus assist illuminator, Canon's robust DIGIC image processor, a 640 x 480 resolution movie mode with audio, a 1.5-inch color LCD that is highly readable, CompactFlash memory cards, powered by standard AA-type batteries and direct print to Canon CP-100, S820D, S830D and S850D photo printers.
Still image capture options are "Auto" (Point and Shoot mode), Program ("Auto" with all the override options), Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority, Manual, Movie and the Scene modes: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Fast Shutter and Slow Shutter. And the Stitch Assist mode lets you create a panorama with up to 26 individual images taken in left-to-right or right-to-left orientation. A great panorama requires that the exposure and white balance is locked after the first shot and that each picture has about 20-35% overlap from the previous picture. The camera automatically locks the exposure and using the onscreen prompting makes the overlapping process very easy. The final step is to use the included Photo Stitch software to merge the sequential shots into a wide and gorgeous panorama.
The A70 image size choices are 640 x 480 for use on a web page or an e-mail attachment, 1024 x 768 for 4 x 6 inch prints, 1600 x 1200 size for 5 x 7 inch prints and 2048 x 1536 for excellent 8 x 10 inch prints. There are three JPEG quality levels for each image size; SuperFine, Fine or Normal. There is no uncompressed TIFF mode but nowadays nobody misses it, the SuperFine JPEGs use very little compression and produce excellent prints. You can also select a flash mode; Auto fires whenever more light is needed, Red-eye reduction is ideal for "people" pictures, slow-syncro (in Night Scene) is 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 backlit situations.
The image quality of the A70 is very good. The color saturation and white balance is excellent under most average shooting conditions. When needed, the "one-push" white balance feature makes it quick and simple to manually set the proper color temperature in mixed lighting conditions. Indoor people pictures shot with the flash seemed a little under saturated but you can enable the Vivid color effect if you like them more colorful. Other color effects include Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia tone and Black & White. There was little need to post-process the vast majority of the pictures that we shot. The focus is sharp and well defined especially when shooting closeup objects. If you like movie mode then you'll love the VGA resolution (640x480) motion video capture. You can record up to 30 seconds worth of VGA video with sound or up to three minutes of 320 x 240 or 160 x 112 resolution video. As with most digicams that record video with sound, you cannot zoom in or out during recording. You can preset the desired focal length before you begin recording though. Those big VGA movies look great but they do use up a lot of storage space, a ten second clip is about 8.5MB in size.
Timing and performance was impressive, it's obvious that Canon's new DIGIC processor does its job well. It takes about three seconds to power up and be ready to take the first shot. In the Large SuperFine mode it takes about four to five seconds to process and store the three-megabyte image. And going from Record to Play or vice-versa also takes about two to three seconds. The all-important shutter lag (delay from pressing shutter until picture is actually captured) is about 0.6 to 0.7 seconds, a little faster than average thanks to the robust autofocus system. Sequential shooting wasn't quite as fast as the specs, we achieved about 2 frames per second as the camera captured eight frames in just a fraction over four seconds. This mode always varies depending on the shutter speed and will most likely be used outdoors with good lighting and faster shutter speeds. Our timing was with the Preview option disabled and the LCD turned off. The buffer flush after a burst of eight shots was less than ten seconds and the camera was able to take another shot in just under two seconds and could maintain that pace indefinitely.
The Canon zoom lens is sharp and relatively fast with a maximum aperture of F2.8 in wide angle. There is a little barrel distortion at full wide angle but almost no pincushioning at full telephoto. The zoom mechanism is smooth and quiet. Canon has auxilliary wide angle, telephoto and super-macro lenses that are easily attached after removing the dress ring around the lens barrel. The lens adapter used to mount these lenses can also be used to hold 52mm filters in front of the lens. The Canon AFiF autofocus system is accurate and fast even when shooting macros at eight inches or in dim light to total darkness thanks to its focus assist lamp. Canon is one of the few digicam manufacturers that has "seen the light" (sorry about that) and realized that these cameras need help focusing in low light conditions. This same lamp also serves as the red-eye reduction light and the selftimer warning light.
I was happy to see the continued the use of standard AA type batteries to power the A60/A70. Many of Canon's other cameras use a proprietary lithium battery pack but all the recent "A" series cameras have used AA cells. It's nice to be able to use rechargables or "off the shelf" batteries. There's a multitude of NiMH rechargeable batteries to choose from as well as rapid AC or portable DC chargers. You can use alkalines in this camera but they only yield about 1/3 the number of pictures that you can get with high-capacity NiMH. The battery life when using high-capacity 2000mAH NiMH was very good even when using the color LCD all the time and frequently reviewing the pictures and making menu changes.
The bottom line, this is an excellent camera for those who just want to take good pictures without much fuss -- but it's also for those that want more than just a fully automatic point-n-shoot. Beginners can just turn it on, frame the shot, press the button and capture the shot. When you feel the urge just turn the Mode Dial and take as much control of the image capturing process as you want. Not bad at all for a compact, durable and fairly high performance camera capable of making photo-quality 8 x 10 inch prints (or larger) at this price point. If your budget is lower or you don't have a need for 8 x 10 inch sized prints then look at the 2-megapixel Powershot A60 for about a hundred dollars less. The only difference between these two cameras is the image resolution and the price.
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