Canon Powershot A80 Review
The A80 is the flagship of Canon's PowerShot A-series consumer digicam product line, it packs a four-megapixel imager, Vari-Angle LCD viewfinder, and PictBridge support into a rugged metal body along with a rich feature set familiar to users of its A60 and A70 siblings. In Automatic exposure mode, the A80 is a point-n-shoot simple enough for a beginner to use, yet it offers a range of creative exposure modes that the advanced user will appreciate. The A80 can also record movie clips at resolutions of 320x240 or 160x120 with sound.
The ergonomics of the mid-sized A80 are good. The camera falls easily into both large and small hands, and its controls are well-positioned so that they're not accidentally activated. The menu system is logically arranged, presenting choices that will not confuse the novice user, but allow the more experienced photographer to quickly make changes.
The Canon 3X optical zoom lens produces sharp results throughout its range, with some barrel distortion at extreme wide angle. The operation of the optical zoom is smooth and quiet, but not continuous; it moves through its 38-114mm range in 7 distinct steps, more than adequate for composing most shots. The A80's autofocus system complements the lens nicely, offering a choice of center point AF, or 9-point AiAF which allows the camera to focus on off-center subjects.
The PowerShot A80's shooting performance is good. From power-on to first shot captured took 3.5 seconds, quick enough to capture many unposed spontaneous moments, but you will miss some. Shutter delay, the elapsed time between releasing the shutter and capturing the image, measured a respectable 2/10 second when pre-focused, or 9/10 second including autofocus time. Shot-to-shot took just under 2 seconds. In high-speed continuous shooting mode, the A80 captured four images in 1.5 seconds, but the LCD viewfinder went blank during the entire image capture process; you'll be happy that the A80 is equipped with a zoom-coupled optical viewfinder so that you can follow the action while shooting in continuous mode. While high-speed continuous mode is fast, Super Fine image quality is unavailable when it is used; only Fine and Normal quality images can be recorded in continuous mode. This performance was measured using a 512MB CF memory card, flash off, review off, 2272x1704 image size, and super fine image quality, and includes viwefinder delay, photographer response time, and image capture; you can reproduce these results in real-world shooting situations. The A80's responsiveness will enable you to capture images of moving subjects, including childrens sports.
We were happy with the A80's indoor shooting results. The moderately-powered flash combines with the 38mm wide angle field of view to produce pleasing portraits of individuals through moderate sized groups, but don't expect to illuminate the entire dance floor at your niece's wedding. You'll be able to include yourself in group portraits because the PowerShot A80 is equipped with both a tripod socket and self-timer. The Vari-Angle LCD viewfinder will even show you a mirror-image of the self portrait as you are composing it, eliminating confusion when you move to the left but the viewfinder image moves right. The A80 is also equipped with a focus-assist lamp which was quite effective in low ambient light, as was the LCD viewfinder. The A80 also did a good job of squelching its flash during macro-photography, and would make a good camera for online auction product shots.
We were equally pleased with the A80's outdoor results. Images were consistently well-focused, well-exposed and richly saturated. We found the Vari-Angle LCD viewfinder a pleasure to use outdoors. Not only was it quite usable in nearly all lighting conditions, but you'll find that the ability shoot from any angle, including overhead and waist-level, provides alot of flexibility in composing your shots. You'll find the zoom-coupled optical viewfinder necessary to use only on the brightest of days with the sun at your back. In review mode, the digital zoom allows you to field-check your images on the LCD before you get home and perhaps find some unpleasant surprises.
The Canon PowerShot A80 goes a step beyond most of its rivals with advanced features. In addition to standard array of exposure modes for cameras of this class, the A80 offers a fully manual mode which allows you to directly set both shutter speed and aperture; the camera will inform you of the deviation, if any, from its recommended EV. In addition to its excellent autofocus system, the A80 allows you to focus manually, and assists you in that endeavor by enlarging the focus area of the LCD viewfinder as you compose your shot and focus. The Stitch Assist feature guides you through taking a series of shots to be joined into a panoramic image, but I was disappointed to find that it works only with the camera in landscape orientation. You'll find Stitch Assist useful for broadening the field of view of your travel landscape shots, but you'll need a tripod, level, and specialized bracket to produce good-quality 360-degree images.
We found the A80 to be quite power efficient; a set of four 2200mah NiMH batteries lasted through 275 shots, all with the LCD viewfinder on and much time spent exploring and testing the menu system. We recommend that you get two sets of NiMH rechargeable batteries and a charger - you'll have enough power to shoot all day! And speaking of shooting all day, you'll need a substantial CF memory card because a four-megapixel image of super fine quality will produce a JPG file of between one and two megabytes; we suggest a minimum CF card size of 128MB for the A80, good for between 64 and 128 images.
At a street price of under $400 at the time of this review (October, 2003), Canon's PowerShot A80 is an excellent value for those wanting an easy to use, fully featured yet compact four-megapixel camera. 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. And if you ever outgrow its capabilities, Canon offers accessories ranging from an underwater housing to auxilliary wide angle, telephoto, and close-up lenses. If you're looking for an all-around family digicam capable of producing high-quality images that can be printed at 11x14 or larger, be sure to include the Canon PowerShot A80 on your short list.
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