The Canon Powershot A700 is at the top of the three Powershot "A" digital cameras announced in February of this year. It was announced along with the A530 and A540. The A700 sets itself apart from the A540 by having a 6x optical zoom (the A540 has a 4x optical zoom). The A700 is positioned well for someone looking for excellent image quality and manual controls in a camera that takes AA batteries.
Quick rundown of the latest Canon Powershot A digital cameras:
In the Box
Included in the box, along with the camera, are 2 alkaline AA batteries, a 16 MB SD card, wrist strap, software CD, USB cable, and A/V cable.
The A700 has the typical look of the rest of Canon's A series of digital cameras. The camera is pretty much rectangular, with a larger hand grip that allows space for the 2 AA batteries that power it. The lens, when retracted, is bumped out a bit, about even with the hand grip. Since the A700 will accept some optional lens add-ons, the ring around the lens is removable.
The camera is very well built, despite being mostly plastic. It feels solid and nothing rattles. The buttons and dials are positioned well and easy to operate. Buttons stick up far enough out of the body that people with larger hands will have no problem.
The front of the camera features the lens, flash, optical viewfinder port, microphone, and focus assist / red eye reduction / timer lamp.
The top of the camera has the power button, shooting mode dial, shutter release, and zoom control (ring around the shutter).
The left side of the camera (when looking at the back) has a plastic flap, covering the area where you can connect the USB cable, AV cable or an optional DC power source.
The bottom of the camera provides access to the battery/memory media (SD or MMC) compartment and has a tripod mount.
The back of the camera has the 2.5 inch LCD, optical viewfinder with status LEDs next to it. Also, you'll fine a slider switch to toggle between capture and playback modes, the Delete/Exposure button, DPOF button, directional pad with a enter key in the middle, the Display button and the Menu button. Looking at the camera, you might think that it's pretty odd that the capture/playback slider switch is oddly positioned, but it actually works out well. In addition to providing a resting spot for your thumb while you shoot, it also makes the switch easier to operate.
The A700 is currently the top A model (without flip-out screen) from Canon. Its younger siblings, announced at the same time, the A530 and A540, are the same size. The A700 sets itself apart from the A540 with a 6x optical zoom and 6 megapixel capture resolution. (The A540 has a 4x optical zoom and 6 megapixels. The A530 has a 4x optical zoom, smaller screen, and 5 megapixels).
Lens fully extended (view large image)
The A700 also has a 2.5 inch LCD with 115K pixels of resolution. It has good color representation and refresh rate, but I wish that the resolution was higher as the display looks a bit grainy. It automatically gains up and down, depending on lighting conditions. The A700 also has an optical viewfinder that will work in a pinch.
Images can be captured at resolutions of: 2816x1584 (widescreen), 2816x2112 (large), 2272x1704 (medium 1), 1,600 x 1,200 (medium 2), and 640 x 480 (small). There are three settings for quality, SuperFine, Fine, and Normal. At Widescreen resolution and SuperFine compression file size is approximately 2,026KB so you can fit 235 shots on a 512MB memory card.
Movies can be captured in several modes: 640x480 and 320x240 at 30 fps and 15 fps up to 1GB, 320x240 at 60fps for 1 min, and 160x120 at 15 fps for 3 min.
For storage media, the A700 accepts SD and MMC memory cards.
For power, the camera takes 2 AA sized batteries. I used high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries and experienced excellent battery life. Under heavy usage during my review (lots of menu navigation, reviewing, etc) I got between 150 and 200 shots on a single charge of my 2400mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries. I highly recommend that you use NiMH batteries as you'll get better battery life than with alkaline batteries. Also, real world use (the typical snapshooter) will get more out of a single charge than I did.
The A700 provides the full complement of exposure modes, from fully automatic, to full manual control. On the mode dial you have the following options:
The auto focus system on the A700 can focus as close as 1.8 feet while in normal AF. When you switch over to macro, you can get as close as 0.39 inches. The default AF "area" is to use Canon's AiAF system, a multiple area system. You can also use a center AF area, or the "Flexizone" area when you're in P, Tv, Av, or M exposure mode. The flexizone AF area mode lets you set the focus point manually, using the directional pad.
The self-timer and other drive modes are easy to access, just by pressing the "func set" button in the middle of the directional pad and scrolling down to the right mode. For delayed shot timers, you can choose between a 2 second timer, 10 second timer, and a custom timer. The custom timer lets you modify the delay (up to 30 seconds) and the number of shots (up to 10). The continuous, or burst, mode which will capture images at a rate of about 2 frames per second is also available in the same menu.
Flash modes are accessible by using the "up" direction on the control pad. You can choose auto, auto with red eye reduction, fill (always on), fill with red-eye reduction, and disabled. At wide angle, the flash has a range of 11 feet. At telephoto, the range is up to 8.2 feet.
Camera Performance and Image Quality
The camera performed well in the speed department. Shutter lag was minimal, and cycle time when not using the flash was good. If you do use the flash, the flash cycle time can take up to 10 seconds, depending on battery condition. The continuous mode provides a capture rate of approximately 2 frames per second.
The camera was comfortable to hold. The larger hand grip provides a way to get a nice, stable handhold. All of the buttons were easy to access with good size and positioning. While it may be a bit large for a shirt pocket, it can easily slip in a pants pocket.
I really enjoyed the 6x optical zoom on the camera. It moved through the focal range smoothly and provided fine control over the framing. It's nice to have the longer zoom in this line of cameras.
Wide angle (view medium image) (view large image)
Full telephoto (view medium image) (view large image)
The flash was above average for this class of camera. The specifications state the flash range as 11 feet at wide angle. During real world use, the flash performed very close to the claimed range. The only flash complaint, as is usually the case in small cameras, was that red-eye appeared pretty easily.
Auto focus was achieved quickly and usually accurately. The focus assist light is a tremendous help when shooting in dark conditions. Please note that if you use the AiAF system for achieving a focus, it's up to the camera to decide what to focus on and it's not always right. For more predictability, try to use the center AF mode.
Image quality was excellent. Images have a nice pleasing look, with edges that aren't too hard or too soft. Colors were accurate and the dynamic range was good. Images showed good detail and sharpness across the entire frame. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) was very well controlled and I had such a hard time finding any that it's not even worth mentioning.
Noise was very well controlled. In my opinion, it's acceptable up to ISO 200 but a little too much at ISO 400 and above. See the image below for comparison.
Macro performance was very good, allowing almost microscopic views of this brick.
I enjoyed using the A700. It's a very easy camera to just carry around to pull out to grab a quick snapshot. The image quality is excellent and having the 6x optical zoom is, in my opinion, worth the extra $50 compared to the Canon Powershot A540. Flash performance (except for cycle time) was good and battery life was average, so make sure you carry a spare set of batteries. I would have liked to see more resolution in the LCD, but it's not a deal breaker. If you're looking for a digital camera that's easy to use, takes great pictures, and has a little more zoom, I highly recommend the Canon Powershot A700.
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