Canon Powershot A720 IS Review
Canon's A720 IS is an affordable point-n-shoot model that offers a very nice variety of features for all users. As the big brother to the A710 IS from last year, there were only a few major changes. There is now an 8-megapixel imaging sensor, higher sensitivity up to ISO 1600, metering can now adjust to the brightness of light on a face when face detection is on and it weighs just under 1/2 oz. less. The other features consist of a 2.5" LCD screen, 6x optical zoom lens, Canon's OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) system, along with a multitude of shooting modes (Auto, Manual, Tv, Av, and several scene modes). With all this crammed into one camera, it is perfect for use by any level photographer.
The body of the camera is very comfortable to hold, as it was designed with an enlarged grip on the right side. The plastic construction not only makes for a tough, durable body, it also keeps the weight of the camera down. Featured on the grip of the camera are the camera controls. They allow for easy navigation of the camera's features, as well as easy navigation of the camera's shooting and playback menus. The menu system is logically organized, making it easy to find the settings that you are looking for. The screen works well indoors "gaining" up in low light. However, it does give some reflections in bright sunlight, but not enough to stop you from using it outside. If you do not want to use the LCD or need to conserve battery power, there is also a zoom-coupled optical viewfinder. There will be no information displayed here like you will find on the LCD, but you can switch back and forth with just one push of a button to change settings.
One of the main features of the A720 is the image stabilized 6x optical zoom lens. With a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 35-210mm, this will put you right in the middle of the action, or allow you target a subject off in the distance. The lens does produce some barrel distortion at full wide angle, but clear, crisp images on the telephoto end. To assist you in using this powerful zoom lens, there is Canon's exclusive OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) system. While you are shooting, the camera will detect slight movements in your hand and adjust the lens accordingly to reduce motion blur in your images. This is very important with the large zoom because the zoom will magnify the amount of movement that you create. In our testing, the A720 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 A720's powerful zoom lens.
The shooting performance was outstanding for a camera in this class. It was able to power up and capture an image in just 1.7 seconds. The shutter lag was normal at 1/10 of a second, but fast when including the auto focus at just 4/10 of a second. When shooting in single shot mode, you can capture an image once every 1.9 seconds without a flash and 3.5 to 6 seconds with the flash, depending on the subject distance and battery life. You can also shoot in continuous or "burst" mode. In this mode the camera will capture an image once every 7/10 of a second. While using burst mode, it is easier to use the optical viewfinder, as the LCD will briefly show the last image captured and not what you are currently looking at. The other down side to burst mode is there is no use of the flash. All tests were done using a San Disk Extreme III 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 A720's 8-megapixel Large Fine and SuperFine modes. Our outdoor samples were beautiful, showing good exposure and vivid colors. The combination of the Canon 6x optical zoom lens and accurate AF system produced consistently sharp images with no noticeable noise at lower ISO settings (80, 100 and 200), but does become more noticeable as the sensitivity is increased. While ISO 1600 produces a quite a bit of noise, they are usable if the high ISO is your only option for the shooting situation. Because of the A720's IS feature, you'll be able to capture blur-free images at lower shutter speeds, reducing your dependence on ISO 1600 in marginal lighting.
Our indoor results were also pleasing. Although the built-in flash is only rated at about 11 feet at wide angle and 8 feet at telephoto (ISO AUTO). 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 A720's movie mode produced terrific results. There are several modes to choose from (Standard, Compact (160x120), Color Accent and Color swap), as well as resolutions of 640x480 or 320x240. The frame rate when using standard mode is 30fps. 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. The onboard mic captures sounds that are close to the camera very well but does not adjust when you are using the 6x zoom, so don't count on picking up sounds from far away.
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. 400 shots (LCD on), or 660 minutes of continuous playback time. Using a single set of 2700 mAh cells, I was able to conclude my tests as well as capture all of my sample pictures and videos at several events without having to charge the batteries. This makes only having one or two spare sets of batteries more than enough for most sporting events.
Bottom line - Combining beginner-friendly AUTO and Scene settings, along with the full Manual mode and everything in between, makes this a terrific consumer digicam. The 6x optical zoom and Image Stabilization add to its versatility, let alone the overall fun factor. It is perfect for the home or office as it is easy enough for anyone to pick up and start shooting. With a MSRP of US$230, this is an outstanding value for a digicam that offers power, functionality, and quality all wrapped up into one compact package.
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