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Canon PowerShot A80 Digital Camera
Point and click mid-range class, compact flash digital camera.

By Jon Deragon, Visca Consulting
Tuesday, November 17, 2003; 3:00pm EST

When we originally reviewed the Canon PowerShot A20 camera a number of years ago, we were generally impressed with the features and quality of the budget point-and shoot entry from Canon. Now Canon brings the latest addition to its PowerShot line into the decidedly competitive market of 2003 and we take a look at what the latest innovations at Canon have brought to this highly successful product line.

The A80 is positioned on the top of the PowerShot line, with the lesser powered A60 and A70 also available as less costly alternatives. For the most part all there are somewhat similar with exception to the mega pixel count and "nicety" features. The distinguishing features of the A80 include a respectable 4 mega pixel CCD sensor; 3X optical zoom; multi-angle LCD screen; metal body; a new imaging processor coined "DIGIC"; 9 point focusing; orientation sensor; manual override of photo settings; vice memo capability; PTP support and movie mode with full audio and streaming video. In all regards, this feature set justifies its price, and let me tell you, it certainly is a price sensitive market to be in.

Popping in the four AA batteries, 32MB included compact flash card and firing the unit up are a snap. We like the universal compatibility of the AA batteries, but we HIGHLY recommend that you invest in some rechargeable NiHM batteries, and only use regular batteries as a last resort. The camera has a quality finish feel to it, if not heavy body (250g excluding batteries), it is quite a pudgy design, similar in size to the original A10 and A20 models. Buttons and switches are generally of good quality with solid feedback. Exceptions to this are the zoom lever which almost feels like it has friction with the body of the camera, and the rather annoying switch that lets you toggle between, record and playback mode. It's one of those difficult slider selectors that feels like its never quite in one mode or the other. Those faults aside, I still believe that the rest of the inputs are above the "typical quality level" of others in its class.

When turned on the, the zoom mechanism takes an "average" amount of time to deploy and the 1.5 LCD screen blips to life. Its contrast and image quality for the most part is acceptable, but not mind boggling, and to be honest a bit small. The increasing trend to have larger, brighter screens is leaving this little guy behind. However, its refresh rate is acceptable and it does its job. Also against the trend is a lack of EVF (electronic view finder). The standard "straight through" viewfinder is very lacking. All three of these points are most likely cost cutting to keep it in the price range it is in. On a positive note, we are very pleased with being able to tilt and adjust the angle of the screen, similarly to a camcorder. This is immensely useful when, for example, on timer mode. You can then see the screen and be able to properly center yourself and others in the picture. It is also great in movie mode if you don't have someone available to operate the camera. The mechanism that allows you to move the screen is well build and has solid clicks that lock the screen into various positions.

Menus and settings take a little bit to get used to, and things like the volume are unfortunately buried in menus rather than being easily during playback of movies and pictures. A nice feature for families is that you can assign different configurations of the camera to different users. After acquainting yourself with its buttons and usage, it ends up being somewhat easy to use, although at times confusing with some of its processes for doing things. Reviewing pictures you have taken on the camera is easy. The zoom control lets you zoom into pictures, and also lets you see multiple pictures in a "picture wall" format. Deletion of pictures is performed by hitting a multifunction button and confirming to delete.

When taking pictures, the camera generally feels comfortable and ergonomic, the battery compartment which protrudes from the left side of the unit makes it easy to hold. Viewing through the screen rather than the viewfinder is highly recommended as the viewfinder disappointingly does not display the entire picture and hacks off a fairly significant amount around all sides of the picture. When pointing a clicking, a strong point of this camera compared to others in its price range is the users ability to manually control settings. Auto picture settings and pre-set settings for pictures like action shots, night time shots and portrait shots are available for amateurs. While camera enthusiasts can tinker away at the more advanced settings to get their pictures just right.

The time to fully extend or retract the zoom lens is relatively quick within a couple of seconds, the location of the zoom lever is excellent. When taking pictures, focusing time is average, sometimes delaying pictures by a couple of seconds. We noticed that the LCD flickers a number of times between depressing the trigger and the actual picture being taken. Under darker, typical in-door lighting, the flash was quite strong, disabling the flash usually resulting in more realistic color and picture quality but was much more prone to blurring. Under well lit, more ideal conditions, the camera performs well and produces quality pictures of good color, brightness and focus. Pictures are stored in JPEG format. Macro mode (close up shots) also works works well in good lighting conditions, and rather poorly in low lighting conditions.

Movie mode is a nice feature to have included in the camera, but capping each clip to 3 minutes puts it behind some of its competitors that are starting to allow sizes that are only limited by the size of the memory card. It also does not allow zoom functionality and seems to not transition at all between dark and light environments. In our test we made a recording of a typical bedroom, and when we pointed it to the window, it never adjusted, causing a completely white screen. It is also very easy to inadvertently make the video appear to jump around a lot if you do not work hard to make very fluent motions with the camera. Videos are recorded in the commonly supported AVI format, and is recorded at either 320x240 or 160x120 resolution. We were quite impressed with the quality of the audio it captures, it was much less tinny than expected, and captured voice extremely well. Since this is only a secondary "add-in" feature of the camera, it does a decent job of capturing quick moments when brining a camcorder is less than convenient. The playback and limited editing controls of the movie mode are enough to get you by.

It has all the usual video out, USB and power connection ports. Direct connection to Canon printers and photo printers makes for easy computer-less printing. Camera also includes all the relevant software to get it working on your Windows or Mac based computer. The package includes the camera, wrist strap, disposable batteries, 32MB compact flash card, video cable, USB cable, software CD-ROMs, quick start guide and comprehensive manual. The PowerShot A80 has a recommended retail price of $599CAD, and is available immediately at most popular camera and electronics stores.

PROS - Durable metal body and solid feel; comfortable to hold; 4 mega pixels; generally decent picture quality; variable angle LCD screen; inclusion of a movie mode; universally compatible AA batteries; sound quality of audio; full auto mode for armatures or more control for enthusiasts; competitive pricing.

CONS - Small LCD screen; movie mode disables zoom, deficient in auto exposure and jitters easily; annoying record / playback toggle; a bit on the heavy side; viewfinder does not match LCD output; low light blurring of images.

About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm specializing in web site design, development and usability for businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services, this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.


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