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Powershot A510 A520 A60 A70 A75 A80 A85 and A95 Test Review
You'll need CF memory cards. Here's my page on them.
This page will always be a little behind because Canon introduces new cameras faster than I can write about them. As of April 2005 the A95 is the best of this lot, the A520 is middle of the road and the A510 replaces and improves on the A70 I love and report about below. By all means if you want a great little camera that's also inexpensive go get an A510 or A520 and forget the rest of this page and consider it as historical info. The A510 and A520 are a little smaller, take SD instead of CF cards, and run on two, not four, AA cells compared to the rest of the series. Also the Casio EX-S100 is a great camera.
I bought my A70 in October 2003 for $300 and love it. It was introduced in February 2003. In 2004 the A75 was an even better camera that retailed for $199. As of October 2005 the A510 is better still, and sells for only about $170. Most of the details below about my A70 still apply. My A70 had a weid problem in 2005 when it was 2 years old and out of warrenty, so I bought something else. Lo and behold, Canon had a problem with the CCD and is making good on it, for free, here!
As of December 2004 the entire line up from Canon has changed. Two generations of newer, better versions have been introduced. I'm going to start off with suggestions of what to buy today, all of which are better than my A70, and then get back to the historic details of my A70 and its old cousins the A60 and A80.
It changed again in February 2005. Now the base model is the A510 (3MP, 4x zoom, 2-AA batteries), mid model is A520 (4MP, 4x zoom, 2-AA batteries) and top remains the A95 (5MP, 3x zoom, 4-AA batteries).
All these cameras have 3x optical zooms, take four AA batteries, alkaline or your own rechargeables, take standard Compact Flash (CF) cards just like professional DSLRs, make movie clips with sound, also provide manual controls and are very easy to use. They all come with a memory card that only holds a few photos. You'll need to provide your own CF cards which I cover here. I prefer to use rechargable batteries since I use mine so much, I have a set like these here.
If you're shopping for a camera today just get an A75, or maybe an A85 or A95 if you don't mind spending more for a little more resolution. I can make fantastic 12 x 18" prints from any of them. They all run a long time on a set of batteries and are easy to use. In fact, Consumer Reports just rated the A75 a Best Buy in their November 2004 issue. The more expensive ones might make slightly sharper images, but don't worry if cost is important to you. I'm going to buy an A75 for my brother, for instance, for Christmas. (He doesn't read my site so I'm not spoiling anything.)
If you want to learn specific tricks to the A70, most of which ought to apply to all the cameras, read on to the end. Otherwise I don't mention any more specific to the latest cameras after the "Specifications" section. You can get all the specs on the newer cams at the Amazon pages to which I link where you see the cameras highlighted in blue throughout this article.
I no longer recomend the older A60, A70 and A80 models since the newer A75, A85 and A95 models are better for the same or less price. I suggest the A75 for almost everyone. The A85 and A95 are similar and have more resolution for higher prices.
Here's what they sell for with links as of December 2004:
(There were earlier models A10 through A50 I'm not covering)
(there is no A65)
A75 $199 (3MP, intro Feb 2004) BEST BUY December 2004
A85 $250 (4MP, intro c. Aug 2004)
(there is no A90)
A95 $325 (5MP, intro c. Aug 2004)
The A70 and A60 were introduced at PMA in March 2003. You can see a few of the thousands of images I made with it in Italy in October 2003 here, some from a wedding here and the prettiest photos from Grand Cayman Island here. I even made the panoramic 360 degree QTVRs with the A70 and the included software.
The A60, for only about $157, is exactly the same fantastic camera with just a little less resolution. Since you can get a new A75 today for not much more I suggest it instead, however if you can get an A60 for $100 go for it. I talk about the A70 below because that's what I own. Since the A60, which I've also used, is almost identical except in resolution you can apply almost everything I say below to it. They are the same camera except for the sensor. The resolution difference is very minor, if price is important to you get the A60 and you should just LOVE it.
The A75 introduced in February 2004 replaces the A70 I own and write about in depth below. The A75 has a bigger screen and some extra helpful presets compared to the A70. All of these cameras are excellent and very similar.
The A80 came out in November 2003 and has already been replaced by the A85. Avoid the A80 since you can get the A85 for the same price. I'm unsure if it's worth the extra money over the A75, probably not if you worry about cost. The A80 has the sweet advantages of a negligible increase in resolution (2,272 pixels wide vs 2,048 in A70), a sturdier case made of more metal than the A70/A60, a bigger CCD sensor for cleaner images, a swiveling flip-out LCD and the most important feature, two apparently programmable custom mode settings on the big mode wheel.
SPECIFICATIONS (now I'm getting back to my historical A70 and its old cousins the A80 and A60)
A70: 3.2 megapixels, or 2,048 x 1,563 pixels. Also gives 1,600 x 1,200, 1,024 x 768 and 640 x 480 images. (A60 is only 1,600 x 1,200, 1,024 x 768 and 640 x 480) (A80 is 2,272 x 1,704 maximum, essentially the same as the A70.) See the Megapixel myth for more info about why this means so little.
A70 has a 1/2.7" CCD sensor (5.27 x 3.96 mm)
Tiny: 4 x 2.5 x 1.7" (103 x 65 x 43mm). This is what mine really measures, not what you read elsewhere. This discrepancy is because Canon lies and measures "excluding protrusions" which means they don't bother to include the permanently attached lens or hand grip! Other sites just copy what they read from Canon, unlike myself who actually measures these things.
11.5 oz (325g) including my Ni-MH batteries (everyone else measures it empty).
The A80 seems a tad bigger than the A70 and A60.
All four models have a 3x optical zoom (great) and 3.2x further digital zoom (total 10x; digital zooms are generally useless except at lower resolution settings). Fast f/2.8 at wide end, f/4.8 at long end. The A60 has a little less digital zoom, the A80 a little more.
Excellent multi-point AF system.
Focuses to 1.5 feet. Macro mode gets to 2" at wide setting, 10" at tele setting, but unfortunately Macro mode does not focus beyond 1.5 feet, so you need to remember to return it to normal mode.
Takes four AA batteries. I suggest you get rechargeables, for instance, these here.
JPG format only. Three levels of compression. No TIFF or RAW mode, which is unnecessary since the SuperFine JPG mode gives the same quality.
OK, it also makes AVI movie files with sound. (640 x 480 (A70 only), 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels). I'd rather it made .MOV or .MPG files since the AVI files need to be converted with something like iMovie (comes free with all Apple computers, good luck if you are still stuck on Windows) into the other formats so they are useful on websites.
There are optional adapters to allow you to use regular 52mm threaded filters and accessories including wide and tele adapters. I'd skip the wide and tele adapters.
Ease of Use
The A70 is super easy to use (no need to read the manual), works fast and makes great images under any sort of light. This is the main reason I own it. It works fast with very little delay or waiting. It's still too slow for real-time photos of moving people; for this you want a DSLR like the Nikon D70. I shot a wedding with my A70 but next time the D1H is the way to go. It has a buffer, just like my pro SLR, that allows it to keep shooting while it writes to the card. It can run at over 2 frames per second, even faster than the $5,000 Kodak 14n. Like all fixed lens digicams the A70 does make you wait a bit for focusing and shutter release, which is still one reason I keep my D1H. Tip: the mode dial often will get knocked if you use a holster-style hip case worn on a belt as I do. Check the settings when you draw your camera.
I love it. You can make photos very fast, in fact, you actually can make a new photo even before the LCD lights up again after making the first photo. In the regular modes this means if you keep your finger on the release halfway (so the camera saves its focus setting) you can make photos at over 1FPS!
There is a trick continuous mode that runs at about 2FPS, which is better than some very expensive DSLRS like the $5,000 Kodak 14n.
It's great for what it is, but not as fast as a pro camera like the Nikon D1H. The A70 does take a moment to focus and lock in exposure, so you can't really shoot action with precise timing as you can with a DSLR.
Also the response to menu setting is slower than I'd like. Remember that I am always changing menu settings for almost every image I make, so I'm pretty tough here. Sometimes I can throw menu commands at the camera so fast that the poor little thing gets a couple of commands behind, which can fool me into making the wrong setting since I think I'm someplace else. Most people would not notice this unless you are a photojournalist or work in fast changing conditions as I do.
You can of course set it to manual focus mode at about 10 feet and just blaze away. Since the depth of field is so great with any compact digital camera you will almost always be in prefect focus and save all the time that otherwise would have to have been spent waiting for autofocus.
The lens is super sharp at every aperture at all points in the image. Other websites that are not run by photographers forget that the corners are often less sharp and forget to test there, thus they don't notice that the lens of the $500 Canon S50 was fuzzy in the corners while the A70 is perfect at the wide setting. I found The A70 at its longest setting will have a little bluish chromatic flare in harsh backlight, not quite what I get with my $1,500 telephoto lens on my $3,500 D1H, but pretty close. It is as sharp as my $1,500 wide angle lens on my D1H, so there. Of course the D1H is faster and takes all my lenses, but hey, I don't always need 800mm lenses.
Distortion and Image Rotation
There is some barrel distortion at the wide end and no distortion at the long end.
This is typical for all zooms, which regardless of price usually have barrel distortion at the wide end. This is easy to fix in Photoshop, and almost impossible to fix optically. Some people freak out when they first learn to see it even though it's been there all the time. I have seen Panavision zoom lenses we use in Hollywood with 20:1 zoom ratios that might sell for $500,000 if they were for sale (they are for rental only) that have no visible distortion, but even the $1,500 SLR zooms have distortion. It's normal for your $250 digicam to have barrel distortion at the wide end.
Additionally many cameras, including my newest A70 and even Nikon D70, oddly have CCDs or LCDs a rotated degree or two off. I never saw this in film cameras and it's common in digital. No big deal, just get used to it and work around it.
To fix rotation see the trick listed here.
To fix distortion see here under "distortion."
The lens is sharp at every aperture, especially in the corners, which is better than the lenses on some more expensive cameras, even by Canon!
One flaw, which every small camera has, is that you can't zoom the lens directly. Instead you have to use an idiotic electric zoom control. Because of this it takes longer to set the lens. The Japanese love to overcomplicate these things, and all small cameras and consumer camcorders have this problem. Personally I prefer a direct zoom ring as on regular SLR lenses and hate these motorized zooms. The zoom has only one speed, which is a little too slow for full wide - tele slews, and a little too slow for precise framing. This leads to another observation:
It is not really a zoom lens. You cannot set it at every possible intermediate focal length. A small point in the store, but an annoyance in the field is that you can only set seven discreet focal lengths. You cannot get the camera to stop in between. This bugs me every once in a while, and when it does you have to stand up and move the camera a little to get exact framings just like with fixed lenses.
I have not tried these personally. All the other external conversion lenses I have tried are unsharp in the case of telephotos, and have a lot of barrel (bulging) distortion in the wide converters. I therefore don't recommend these. If you need longer or wider lenses you are better off with a different camera. Of course if you really have your heart set on these, for $90 to 100 you can get the equivalent of a 250mm tele or 24mm wide angle. You need another small $20 adapter (particular to your camera) to attach the converter. The adapter also allows you now to use regular 52mm screw-in filters.
Here are the converters:
TC-DC52 Tele Converter for the A-10, 20, 30, 40, 60 and 70 here
TC-DC52A 1.75x Tele Converter for the A80 only here
Wide Converter 0.7x WC-DC52 for all the A- series here
And here are the adapters:
Conversion Lens Adapter LA-DC52D for the A80 here
Conversion Lens Adapter LA-DC52C for the A70 and A60 here
Conversion Lens Adapter LA-DC52B for use with A30 & A40 here
Conversion Lens Adapter LA-DC52 for use with A 10 & A20 here
Hint: If you get one of these 52mm filter adapters and put a 52mm UV filter on the front you now have made the camera more resistant to being dropped or even from being sprayed with water!
Hint: These cameras have great macro abilities built in. The only purpose of getting an external close-up lens like the one here is so you can get closer at the telephoto setting. I'd skip it; it won't make that much difference unless you really need closer focusing at the tele setting.
As most digital cameras, all this does is give you a fuzzier photo. Avoid this at the large resolution settings. If you are at the smaller settings like M (1,024 x 768) or S (640 x 480) go ahead and use it.
GREAT! Canon could have used only two AAs to get a smaller camera, but thankfully they opted to swallow four AAs and get almost eternal battery life.
The camera comes with 4 throw-away alkaline batteries I have not tried. I use rechargeable Ni-MH like these here. (The Sony BCG34HNB2 charger here is great for worldwide use.) My 4 Ni-MH AAs run about 4 - 1/2 hours just playing back, or an hour or two of heavy shooting with a lot of flash. I get almost exactly 300 shots per charge for regular shooting like I did in Italy. I pitied my cute little plastic A70 when I shot a couple of hundred flash photos in an hour at a wedding, and then I made a few thousand in Italy. Being digital there is no reason not to shoot so hard; just that I doubt this little champ is intended for this sort of use but it sure seems to take the beating I give it.
Tip: I always keep a spare set of charged AA Ni-MH batteries in the bottom of the same little belt case. When the set in the camera dies (the camera only gives you about two shots' notice), just swap them out and recharge the dead set when you can.
Memory / Image Storage Media
The A70 takes industry standard CompactFlash. This is the only card type used professionally, thus a big plus about the A70 is that it takes the same cards used in my pro D1H and every other pro DSLR. Thus you can mix and match cards between the A70 and other DSLR cameras you may have. With other brands of digicams you may get stuck buying some soon-to-be-obsolete media like smart digital or memory stick or whatever.
Canon only sells Canon-branded CF cards up to 256MB and says nothing about how big a card you can jam in it.
It only takes the thinner CF card type (CF type I), which means it won't take the fatter microdrive (CF type II). Lexar's 2GB cards will fit in it, although the biggest card Lexar tried for me for compatibility in their lab is the 1GB card which worked fine. Lexar thought me a little nuts for wanting to put such a huge card in a camera with only 3MP. Forget the showy Lexar 4GB card; it is the fatter type II which won't fit mechanically.
My A70 works great with my 2 year old Microtech 256MB card and other Delkin 512MB cards.
See more about these cards here.
Files Sizes and JPG Quality
At any one quality setting the file size varies automatically with subject complexity to maintain the same image quality. For example, the A70 at full 2,048 x 1,563 resolution in Fine JPEG setting normally makes an 800kB file, which may be as little as 400kB with a blank subject and 1.5MB with a very contrasty busy subject.
This is different from my $4,000 Nikon D1H which retains the same file size regardless of subject, thus the quality on the D1H can vary with subject complexity. I prefer the way the A70 works. You may ignore this academic point. (More complex subjects, like a field of flowers, require a larger JPG file to retain the same quality as a flat image, like a blank sky.)
JPEG normal is OK, but really should be called JPEG small or basic. JPEG FINE is what I'd suggest as normal, and is the default. JPEG SUPERFINE really is, and gives the same quality as TIFF with less file size and much faster download speeds.
It only makes JPGs, which is just fine with me since I get the settings right the first time. My page here explains why you really don't want TIFF or RAW anyway, which none of the A60, A70 or A80 does.
Files and Folders
The camera makes a new folder every 100 images. There is no way to create your own new folders to separate jobs into their own folders as you can on pro cameras like the Nikon D1H.
Thus when you have a card with images on it you've downloaded and make new images you'll have to figure out which are the new ones manually.
Even though the ads say "metal," it's just another plastic camera made in Malaysia as I recall. There is a metal front cover for looks and everything else is plastic.
There is a plastic cover over the LCD screen on the back. This is good since it will be hard to smash the LCD of the A70, unlike the ELPHs where the back of the camera is the glass of the LCD and easy to crack. The bad news is that this clear plastic scratches easily and there is no easy way to replace it if it gets too worn.
A fan from the Netherlands says that he's had great results polishing the plastic with Brasso Brass Polish. Good luck!
The battery cover appears well designed. A weak spot of other cameras that take AA batteries is that the battery doors often break off the tabs that hold them closed. This requires you to use duct tape to hold them in. The A70 looks pretty sturdy here.
The tripod socket is plastic and not very deep. It doesn't really suck up the whole stud from my tripod head.
The manual is excellent. Unlike many Oriental manuals it is written by someone who understood some English. It is 227 pages long, all in one language. By reading it you will discover how to do many useful tricks like how to keep the image displayed a long time after you make a shot without having to use play mode. (Keep the shutter release pressed down after you make a shot, or press the SET button down while the preview is still displayed, and now you also can use the zoom control to zoom the just-captured image!)
You even can edit movies right in the camera!
I always suggest reading manuals, at least once to know what you can do with your new camera.
No, as all manuals it won't help you know when or why to use the features or understand why you even care since that's part of learning to be a photographer (see here for that) but will help you learn what features the camera has.
In P mode it tends to stay wide open till you get to about 1/1,000. This is OK, since even wide open you usually have plenty of depth of field and the lens is commendably sharp. This way you'll reduce motion blur to a minimum while still having lots of depth of field.
Grain and Noise
The A70 gets noisy (grainy) at ISO 400. This is a huge advantage of the much larger CCD image sensors used in true digital SLRs: my D1H is cleaner at ISO 1,600 than the A70 is at ISO 400. At the usual settings (ISO 50) the A70 is pretty clean and free from noise, although I my D1H is still cleaner at ISO 200. Here's the lowdown:
50: Very Clean
This is the other are in which a DSLR wins. My D1H set to ISO 3200 or 6400 is only as noisy as the A70 is at ISO 400. My D1H at ISO 400 is as clean as the A70 at ISO 50. This is because DSLRs have huge sensors that suck up light, and likewise, fixed-lens digicams have teeny sensors to make compact cameras but are all much noisier at any given ISO setting.
I have not tested directly, however the A80 has a slightly bigger CCD sensor and is a little bit less noisy than the A70 and A60.
Exposure is fantastic. It's even better than my $4,000 Nikon D1H. The A70 almost always seems to be right on, regardless of weird lighting conditions. I do have my exposure compensation set to -2/3. If I didn't it would overexpose most of the time. No big deal, just set the compensation and forget it.
Even the fill-flash seems to be more consistent than my D1H/ SB-28DX combination. Bravo, Canon!
Focuses pretty well even in the dark with its little orange illuminator.
Color and White Balance
I like the "Vivid" (saturated) color mode available along in the trick mode settings menu. This is the menu also with the Sepia and B&W modes.
I'm still happier with the color from my D1H. The A70 doesn't have the flexibility to allow precise color adjustment if you want something other than the few white balance settings it offers. White Balance, abbreviated WB, are color adjustments that allow you to eliminate orange, blue or other color casts from your photos. Selecting these correctly are the key to getting great photos. Pro DSLRs offer the ability to trim each preset with several choices each a little different from each main "DAYLIGHT," "CLOUDY," "INDOORS" etc. setting. The A70, like most digital compact cameras, only offers you the preset and no variants for precise adjustment as professional SLRs do.
Also similar to most compact digital cameras, the A70 lacks the important "SHADE" white balance setting. This is an important setting missing from most non-pro digital cameras. This setting is required for good color outdoors when there are blue skies and your subject is in shade. Otherwise on AUTO or CLOUDY or DAYLIGHT or OUTDOORS your picture will be too blue or cyan, since your light source is now the blue sky. Using the SHADE setting in other light will give a warm orange tint, something I will do as a special effect. TRICK: The good news is the range of the preset setting of the A70 is wide enough to make your own SHADE setting! I trick the A70 into a SHADE setting by using the manual preset white balance. I set it from a piece of white paper in the same shade as the subject. I leave this set as my one preset WB setting. Thus I wish the A70 offered more manual presets, but hey, this is all the the other compact cameras offer. (Note I'm extracting pro performance out of a $299 camera here, and so can you with a little work.)
Like most digital cameras, the range over which the default AUTO (AWB) white balance is too narrow to correct for shade and for tungsten. You have to set these manually.
I find the AUTO setting works much better than it does in my D1H and in many cases I just leave the camera in AUTO, especially in mixed light, and am often very happy with the results.
The built-in flash is very even for a teeny camera and teenier flash. It has all the power and reach I need, surprisingly so. It will take a while to recycle after a good dump, but remember, I expect to be able to shoot in a half second just as my pro camera lets me.
In manual mode there are only three power settings and no auto flash control. I dislike this; the three settings (on my A70 anyway) are not precise enough to allow exact setting, and more importantly I don't want to set this manually anyway. I want the flash to be TTL auto even in manual exposure mode, just as I can set on a pro DSLR. Tough.
Flash fill outdoors is usually OK.
I rarely can get flash to balance well indoors for fill. I have to go to manual exposure mode and, well, never really get what I want. I get the best results with manual setting the hard way, for which my subjects just don't have the patience. Let me know if you find a good setting for this.
Great for long exposures to 15 seconds. Great color in night photography and built-in automatic noise reduction for exposures longer than a second. You have to set it in Manual or Tv (shutter-preferred automatic) mode for exposures longer than 1 second.
With Ni-MH batteries it works just great out shooting at 30F / 0C. I have not put it in my freezer overnight yet.
The buttons and all controls are big enough to work great with gloves. This is better than my huge D1H which has some teeny buttons on the rear panel.
For normal use you don't need any of the included software. I remove the CF card from the camera and get the photos into my Mac using an external card reader.
You can read directly from the camera with the cord provided with Mac OS 10.1 and newer. It might with Windows XP, personally I don't care. With earlier operating systems you'll have to load some of the software that comes with the camera. I have not tried reading directly from the camera myself.
The A70 comes with "Remote Capture" software included free, so supposedly you can control your camera from your computer. I have not tried it. Nikon charges about the same as I paid for my A70 alone just for their version of this software for use with my D1H.
Canon also includes a panoramic stitching program with which you can assemble several images into larger panoramas. The camera also has a special setting making the collection of appropriate images easy. I tried it and it's a lot of fun. You easily can create and save long skinny TIFFs, JPGs or even QTVR files with it. These effects are similar to a rotating pan camera like the Noblex. You also can use it to create effects similar to a 6 x 17 rectilinear camera like the Linhof or Fuji. This is fun and comes with the camera for free. An advantage to this is that the program stitches at full resolution, so the resulting files are much higher resolution than any single image. I get Tiffs of about 25 - 60 MB with this process.
There are other digithead things you can do with other pieces of software that come with it. I'd rather be out shooting, but remember, I live in California for the same reason the movie industry is: we can shoot in sunshine almost every day so we rarely get stuck indoors unless we want to be.
Just buy an A520 or A510 now! They give the same image quality as my $4,000 Nikon D1H did, run twice as long on a charge and fits in my pocket. I see little to no difference in image quality between these and 5 megapixel cameras that cost over twice as much, and are easier to use than the more complex cameras. They run forever on a charge of AA batteries, it's fast, and just about perfect.
If you want to spend $100 more to get 15% more camera (a tiny bit more resolution and a fold-out screen) get the A95.
Of course if you need a camera with instant response for photographing moving kids you'll be happier with the Digital Rebel or Nikon D70 which is several times bigger and several times more expensive. The delays in operation of these pocket cameras are among the best there are for this class of compact camera, however compact digital cameras are well known for how annoyingly slow they are to operate.
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