Canon Powershot A710 IS Review
The A710 IS is an affordable point-n-shoot model that offers 7.1-megapixels of resolution, 6x optical zoom lens, high-quality 640x480 movie mode, 2.5" LCD, 20 shooting modes and Image Stabilization, a first among Canon's A-series digicams. Its Auto mode is perfect for the newbies, while its Program AE and creative scene modes let novice users be a bit more adventures. And, Canon didn't forget about the photo enthusiast either, with Shutter priority, Aperture priority, and even a full Manual mode.
Ergonomics are good, the body offers a well built feel in your hands, with the controls being placed right at your finger tips. The enlarged hand-grip that we have seen on past "A" series models, ensures a firm grip and makes one handed shooting a breeze. As usual, the menu system is logically organized, and thanks mostly to the FUNCtion menu, making changes to camera settings is quick and easy. The A710IS features a beautiful 2.5-inch color LCD. While the surface is a bit more reflective than we have seen on many of Canon's models, I found it works very well outdoors in bright sunlight as well as in marginal lighting. There's also an eyelevel optical viewfinder, something that you don't see on many models having greater than 3x optical zoom lenses, effective for conserving battery life or when shooting burst sequences of fast moving subjects (the LCD briefly shows the last image captured, making it difficult to use.)
One of the first things you'll notice when you pick up this camera and start playing with it is the powerful zoom range. The A710IS features a Canon 6x optical zoom lens that covers a 35mm equivalent rage of approx. 35-210mm. While it does favor the telephoto end, at the 35mm wide angle extreme, you'll have no problems capturing pleasing landscapes as well as group portraits at family or sporting events. And, the 210mm telephoto end will help bring your distant subjects much closer and offers a great deal of versatility for shot composition. This is a nice piece of glass that helped produce tack sharp images throughout the zoom range. I noticed slight barrel distortion present at full wide angle as well as slight pincushioning at the telephoto extreme, respectively. Purple fringing, also know as Chromatic Aberrations, was very well controlled, with minimal amounts around brightly lit objects.
While powerful zoom lenses are fun to use, they can be problematic when it comes to obtaining blur-free images in marginal lighting. The general rule of thumb for avoiding camera-shake blur is to use a shutter speed that is the inverse of the 35mm-equivalent focal length of the lens - 1/200 second at the A700's full 210mm telephoto. In difficult lighting that may be difficult to achieve without increasing the camera's ISO setting and suffering increased image noise. The A710's Image Stabilization feature reduced the occurence of camera-shake blur by detecting camera movement and shifting the lens to accomodate it. In our testing, the A710 consistently produced blur-free images at shutter speeds 2EV slower than the 1/focal-length rule of thumb, ie. at 1/50 second at the camera's full 210mm telephoto focal length. While IS can't resolve blur that may result from subject movement, the feature works very well and complements the A710's powerful zoom lens.
Shooting performance was awesome for a point-n-shoot in this class. From power up to first image was captured measured just 1.8 seconds, and waking the camera from sleep mode to image capture took only 1.3 second. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing an image, was 1/10 second when pre-focused using the LCD viewfinder, less using the optical viewfinder. Lag including autofocus with the Center AF point measured 4/10 second; with AiAF it took 1/2 second. When using single drive mode and shooting a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged approx. 1.6 seconds without the flash, and between 5-12 seconds when using the flash, depending on subject distance and battery condition.
The A710IS also offers a continuous (burst) mode, that Canon claims can capture images at a rate of 1.7fps. I found it was a bit more impressive than their claim, capturing images continuously at nearly 2 frames per second. This means you will have no problems when taking burst sequences at your kid's sporting events. And thanks to the inclusion of an optical viewfinder, you won't have to deal with the problem of the LCD briefly displaying the last image captured, which makes it difficult to follow moving subjects. All tests were done using a Lexar Professional 133x 1GB SD card, Large/SuperFine image quality, Program AE mode, review off, flash off, and all other settings at default, unless noted otherwise. Times may vary depending on camera settings, lighting conditions, media, etc.
I was very pleased with the overall image quality of the A710's 7.1-megapixel Large SuperFine mode. Our outdoor samples were beautiful, showing good exposure and color saturation. The combination of the Canon 6x optical zoom lens and accurate AF system produced consistently sharp images. Noise is nonexistent at the lower ISO settings (80 or 100), but does become more noticeable as the sensitivity is increased. While ISO 800 produces a noticeable amount of noise even in highlight areas, the resulting images are quite usable. You can see the noise for yourself by looking at the ISO examples on our samples page. Because of the A710's IS feature, you'll be able to capture blur-free images at lower shutter speeds, reducing your dependence on ISO 800 in marginal lighting.
Our indoor results were also pleasing. Although the built-in flash is only rated at about 11 feet, I found it worked very well in small to mid sized rooms. When shooting individual portraits, it produced well exposed images with natural skin tones. The camera also controlled the flash output well when using the Macro focus mode, by "throttling down" to ensure the subject was not overexposed. You can also adjust Flash Compensation in Program, TV, and AV modes or even change the flash output power in Manual mode.
The A710's movie mode produced terrific results. There are several modes to choose from (Standard, Compact (160x120), Fast Frame rate, Color Accent and Color swap), as well as resolutions of 640x480 or 320x240. The frame rate when using standard mode is selectable between 30 and 15fps. Overall, our movie samples were great. There was minimal amounts of compression noise, and the AF system did well at keeping up with fast moving subjects.
Battery life was surprisingly good when you consider that it uses only two AA-type cells. Canon claims that NiMH batteries will allow you to capture approx. 360 shots (LCD on), 900 shots (LCD off), and 10 hours of continuous playback time. Using a single set of 2700 mAh cells, I was able to capture nearly 300 shots and several movie clips as well as conduct some of our other tests without observing a low battery indication, this despite full-time use of both the LCD and IS in its Continuous mode; the A710 really sips power!
Bottom line - The Canon PowerShot A710 IS is a terrific consumer digicam. Its 6x optical zoom is far more versatile than the typical 3x zoom, and the IS feature makes the 210mm telephoto end usable even in marginal lighting conditions. The A710 combines beginner-friendly automatic and scene modes with the aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual exposure modes demanded by advanced users; it's truly a camera that everyone in your family will enjoy using. Producing very good still and moving image quality and having an MSRP of US$399 (street price in the low $300's), it offers an excellent value and is sure to be a very popular model this holiday season.
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