Canon Powershot A85 Review
The next generation of the highly popular "A" series from Canon, the PowerShot A85 incorporates a 4.0-megapixel imager with a high-quality 3x optical zoom lens. It also features a 9-point AiAF auto focus system with a low-light focus assist illuminator, Canon's DIGIC image processor, the ability to capture motion video at resolutions of 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120 with sound, and a 1.8 inch TFT color LCD that is very usable in almost any lighting conditions.
Many of us find today's ultra-compact cameras too small to comfortably handle, especially those of us with large hands. The Canon "A" series is a mid-size compact that's positioned between the diminutive Digital ELPH and the larger "G" series. We liked the size and ergonomics of the A70 and A75 and were glad to see that Canon retained them with the A85. We found the controls to be well positioned and the menu system is very easy to navigate. One thing I really like about these cameras is the FUNCtion or "short cut" menu. This is very useful when wanting to quickly change ISO speed, drive mode, color effects, etc.
Timing and performance was impressive, it's obvious that Canon's DIGIC processor does its job well. From power up to first image captured measures approx. 3 seconds. The all-important shutter lag (delay from pressing shutter until picture is actually captured) is approx. 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 6/10 of a second including autofocus. Shot-to-shot delay averaged 1.5 seconds without using the flash and 3 seconds with the flash. Sequential shooting was quite fast, I was able to capture 7 frames in approx. 3.7 seconds. This mode always varies depending on the shutter speed and will most likely be used outdoors with good lighting and fast shutter speeds. In the Large SuperFine mode it takes about three to four seconds to process and store an image. And going from Record to Play or vice-versa takes about one second. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra 1.0GB CompactFlash card, Program AE mode, Large SuperFine quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The A85's 3x optical 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 auxiliary 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. The AiAF 9-point autofocus system is accurate and fast even when shooting macros at two inches or in dimly lit rooms thanks to its focus-assist lamp. Canon is one of the few manufacturers that has realized that cameras need help focusing in low light conditions. This AF assist lamp also serves as the red-eye reduction light and the self-timer warning light.
I was happy to see the continued use of standard AA-type batteries to power the A85. Many of Canon's other cameras use a proprietary lithium-ion battery pack. It's nice to be able to use rechargeable or "off the shelf" batteries. There's a multitude of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries to choose from as well as rapid and portable 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 NiMH) was very good even when using the color LCD all of the time and frequently reviewing the pictures and making menu changes.
The overall image quality in Large SuperFine mode was excellent. Outdoors it produced well exposed images, in fact the color saturation and white balance is nearly bulletproof in most 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. Indoors, you'll find the flash has a good range of about 14 ft. (at wide angle), and its 35mm (equivalent) wide angle focal length is great for capturing large group portraits. When shooting in Macro focus mode, the flash does a good job of "throttling down" to ensure your subject is not over-exposed. With its pre-programmed scene modes, you're sure to get the proper exposure for unusual shooting conditions. The A85 has several color effects that include Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia tone and Black & White. The focus is sharp and well defined especially when shooting closeup objects.
Bottom line - the Powershot A85 is an excellent choice for anyone who wants an easy-to-use camera that captures high quality pictures and offers the advanced features to capture even more creative images. With an affordable price tag and combination of well-rounded performance, great image quality, and ease of use, the A85 is a definite winner! 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 A400 and PowerShot A75, and the 5-megapixel PowerShot A95.
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