Pros: Image quality, features, 6x zoom, battery life, uses 2 AA batteries, resolution, easy to use
Cons: Slow flash recycle time, no image stabilization
It is difficult to go wrong with pretty much any digital camera from Canon. Canon cameras have no significant shortcomings and their A-line of compact cameras sells in huge numbers to happy customers. The A610 and A620 are a huge success with excellent performance and ease of use. Now, there is a new model that fills the gap between other Canon A-line offerings.
I dislike cameras that use 4 AA batteries. Four batteries are heavy, bulky, inconvenient to replace. But I like cameras that use 2 AA batteries. Previous Canon A-series top-of-the-line cameras (A610 and A620) used 4 AA batteries. They performed very well, but now Canon released a new model: Canon PowerShot A700.
The A700 uses 2 AA batteries, features 6-Megapixel resolution, 6x optical zoom and a 2.5-inch LCD screen. I promptly ordered one for $291. Unfortunately, although the A700 is a great camera overall, it has the same issue that other 2 AA battery equipped cameras exhibit.
The pictures of the Canon PowerShot A700 and the sample photos taken with it are available at the address below (copy and paste it into your browser's address area):
What is Canon PowerShot A700?
The Canon PowerShot A700 is a compact 6-Megapixel digital camera that features 6x optical zoom (35-210 mm equivalent), large 2.5-inch LCD screen and optical viewfinder. The camera is powered by two AA batteries (alkaline batteries included) and stores images on compact Secure Digital cards (SD).
The camera has full automatic as well as manual modes, including Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. It has a built-in flash, a tripod mount and is compatible with lens adaptors.
Once the camera arrived, I opened the box eager to try it. I have two of my NiMH rechargeable batteries and an SD card ready. The camera has a conventional shape with a lid in the bottom panel that opens to reveal the battery and the memory card slots. It also had something else underneath, something that looked like a small lid.
I had dinner just prior to getting the camera out of the box. An integral part of my dinner is some kind of decent California Pinot Noir, which was 2004 Castle Rock Pinot Noir in this case. I will blame my desire to open that little lid on it. In any case, once I pulled the little tab it turned out that the little lid is actually a cartridge that holds the compact watch-type battery that serves to power the camera clock and calendar. The cartridge fell out and the battery separated from it and rolled away. Fortunately not far. You draw your own conclusions. I will be more careful next time.
The battery compartment lid is relatively sturdy. The battery polarity is clearly marked as is the direction in which the memory card should be inserted. I wish the memory card had a separate lid/slot, because if you open the camera to remove the card only, the batteries will be trying to escape, unless the vertical axis of the camera is held horizontally or even closer to the camera being upside down. Not a problem to do most of the time, but not when the camera is on a tripod or if you forget.
Once the batteries and the SD card were inserted, the camera was ready to be used. You have to set the date and time first, since otherwise the camera will bother you asking for the date and time every time you power it on.
The camera is quite impressive when it comes to features. If has powerful 6x optical zoom (most compact cameras have 4x or less), large 2.5-inch LCD screen, real aperture control, shutter speeds 15-1/2,000 sec and maximum apertures f/2.8 at wide angle, 1/4.8 at telephoto. You set the mode of operation by rotating the mode selection dial on the top deck. Along with full Auto mode there are Program mode, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and even Full Manual mode.
In other words, you can set the camera to Auto mode and then just point and shoot. Easy to use and very good results. Or you can use more advanced modes to the the effect you want.
The camera lets you select some parameters (or just leave them in Auto/Default settings): ISO, White Balance, resolution, compression/quality, drive mode, color settings. There is a separate button for exposure compensation that lets you make your photos brighter or darker. There is a macro mode (available at a touch of a button).
The camera is switched from shooting to review mode and back by the switch on the back panel. The zoom control and the shutter release button have well-calibrated feel. Buttons have good tactile response. The buttons are located logically and the ergonomics are great.
The menus are easy to use and appear fast. The camera uses the latest Canon Digic 2 processor that provides fast operation and low power consumption.
The camera takes less than 2 seconds to power up. Zooming is responsive and takes about 3-4 seconds from wide angle to full telephoto or back. Impressive, considering that the zoom is 6x.
The camera has a focus-assist light that helps it focus in low light. I was impressed by the focusing speed: the camera focused in under a second at either wide angle or telephoto, even in dim light. Even at dim light at telephoto focusing on objects 15 feet away took less than a second.
The camera shows you where it focused by displaying green rectangles over that area. Sometimes it fails to focus in dim light at telephoto, which is not a unique issue among compact cameras.
You can also use manual focusing, during which the center portion of the screen gets magnified to help you obtain better focus and the distance scale is displayed.
The camera can take photos at about one every two seconds without flash. There is a burst mode that lets you take photos at about two per second. But taking photos with flash is very slow. Once you take a photo with flash, it takes 7-10 seconds for the camera to recycle its flash. The photo you took appears on the LCD briefly, then the screen goes blank until the flash is charged. Which means you cannot frame the next shot or focus for 7-10 seconds. This is, undoubtedly, a result of using only 2 AA batteries instead of four (Canon A610 and A620 recycle their flashes faster).
You can select resolution and quality/compression. I used full 6MP resolution and played with all three quality settings: Normal, Fine and SuperFine. 6MP Fine JPEGs were close to 2 Megabytes in size, whereas Standard were just under 1 MB. I was surprised to see very little artifacts in Standard mode. The Standard mode is definitely a good choice for prints up to 5x7, perhaps even 10x8.
I usually take photos that contain all primary colors at different focal lengths, apertures and compression ratios. Some photos are taken outdoors, some indoors with and without flash.
Oftentimes, I take a bunch of photos from my balcony. Those photos features all colors: blue sky, green foliage, red curbs, yellow fire hydrant and cars of different colors.
Taking photos at different focal lengths and apertures reveals the camera's optical quality: corner sharpness, chromatic aberrations, overall sharpness.
Taking photos at different ISO settings shows how well a given camera can keep noise levels low in dim light. I mostly evaluate the image quality using my computer monitor, but I also print some photos at different sizes using either my printer or online services like Shutterfly, Snapfish and Sam's Club's online photo center.
The Canon A700 is very impressive. All photos are sharp, contrasty, have pleasing colors and saturation. The photos are sharp from corner to corner with only very minor amount of softening in the very corners, which are cut-off when printing anyway.
Take a look at the sample photo at http://www.review-shop.com/Canon_A700/Canon_A700_Samples_1.html (click for full view). You can even see individual blades of grass. There is virtually no chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in areas of high contrast. The lens is sharp even at its full telephoto setting of 210 mm (full 6x optical zoom).
The situation with noise is quite typical for a compact digital camera. The noise at ISO up to 100 is virtually invisible, increases slightly at ISO 200 and becomes worse at ISO 400 and higher. ISO up to 100 lets you print good-looking photos at up to 13x19, sharp at 11x17 or smaller. ISO 200 is good up to 10x8, whereas ISO 400 is good up to 5x7.
Overall, the A700 provides excellent image quality.
LCD and Viewfinder
The A700 has a large 2.5-inch LCD, which is fluid in good light, slightly less so in dim light. The LCD coverage is 100%. The viewfinder has a smaller coverage (80-90%).
Canon claims 100 shots with supplied alkaline batteries, more than 300 with high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries. I have no reason to doubt this claim. I shot more than 110 photos, some with flash, and my NiMH batteries still had power left.
The 6x optical zoom is useful in bright light, at higher ISOs or indoors with flash. Or if you use a tripod. When shooting handheld, you have to make sure that the shutter speed is faster than a reciprocal 35mm-equivalent focal length. Which means shooting at speeds faster than 1/200 sec at full telephoto, which is not always possible. I wish the camera had optical image stabilization, which would help it be used handheld at slower shutter speeds with no blur. Example of 6x optical stabilized zoom: Panasonic LZ3 and Panasonic LZ5.
Also see Canon A540, Canon A610 and Canon A620. The latter two use 4 AA batteries each, which gives them better flash recharge time. None of the above has 6x optical zoom of the A700. For optically-stabilized 6x zoom (but less manual control), see Panasonic LZ3 and Panasonic LZ5.
The Canon PowerShot A700 is an excellent camera with one exception. Its flash recycles slowly (up to 10 seconds), meaning you cannot take photos with flash in sequence as fast as with some other cameras. If you mostly intend to use the camera indoors with flash, check out Canon A610 and Canon A620 instead. They use 4 AA batteries and have smaller articulated LCDs and their flash recycling time is much better. Otherwise, the A700 is an excellent, easy to use and inexpensive camera with great 6x optical zoom and lots of useful features.