DigitalCameraReview.com
GE A730 Review
by Mary Margaret -  8/15/2007

New to the market at the beginning of this year, the GE brand is now competing in the realm of digital cameras.  Born from a new company, General Imaging, the GE A730 is a 7.0 megapixel 3x optical zoom point and shoot.  The features are there, but I am not sure they have developed quite yet.  Let’s all take a look at the new kid in school. 

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CAMERA ELEMENTS: Body, Features, Design 

The A730 Body

The A730 is black with silver accents.  It is lightweight (only 120g without the 2 AA batteries), but has a boxy dressed up disposable camera feel.  Other point and shoot (P&S) cameras pride themselves in their sleek, sexy, fit-in-the-hand (or pocket) designs, but the A730 does not quite meet those standards.  The front of the camera consists of the 3x auto focus zoom lens, flash, microphone (for video capture), AF assist beam/timer indicator, and of course the GE logo—just like the one on your kitchen appliances!

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The back of the A730 features a 2.5" color LCD screen with a column of buttons down the right side. At the top, right where your thumb rests, is the zoom (T & W) button.  Below the zoom is the face detection button, which can be turned on when using most of the shooting modes.  Underneath is the menu key, followed by a navigation pad with easy access to: exposure compensation, macro mode, self-timer, flash settings, and the function button.  In the bottom right hand corner is a trash button, which allows you to easily erase unwanted pictures (and preserve memory space) when the camera is in Play mode.

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The power button is in the middle of the top of the camera.  To the right you will find the shutter button encircled by a mode dial (Auto, Manual, Image Stabilization, Movie, Scene, Panorama, and Portrait).

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The bottom of the camera has the slot for the AA batteries and the SD memory card, as well as a plastic threaded tripod mount. 

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The right side of the A730 has a metallic silver strap holder.

The left side contains a speaker, USB/AV port, and DC in port.

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LCD Screen

The A730 is built with a 2.5 inch LTPS (low-temperature polycrystalline silicon) TFT color LCD screen. While this camera may boast the latest technology, its mere 153,600 pixels results in a highly pixelated image lacking any kind of smoothness.  You might confuse the image you see with your old-school TV suffering from bad reception.  With no optical viewfinder, it can sometimes be difficult to get a lucid picture of what you are shooting—especially in poorly lit places, bright sunlight, and images you want to zoom in on from afar.  The refresh rate is slow (depending on the settings/battery newness), and sometimes freezes when you try and take several consecutive pictures.   

Lens/Zoom/Focus

With 3x optical zoom (35mm equivalent to 36mm-108mm) and 4.8x digital zoom, the A730 has 14.4x combined zoom capabilities.  The A730 has a normal focusing range of 60cm. In the macro function one can get as close as 5cm at wide angle, and 40cm at telephoto.  When you zoom in close, the image on the LCD screen is extremely pixelated (see images below of a cabinet and duck that I zoomed in on from far away), and only after you focus and snap the shot, can you tell if the picture is in focus or not. Don’t mind the clicking noise you hear, that is just the A730 struggling to focus.

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The camera has a face detection feature that looks for faces to focus on in order to expose for the best result.  This feature is used by pressing a smiley face button on the back of the camera before you focus on your subject.  I tried taking a photo of my friend reading the newspaper—but the feature only works when the subject is, of course, easy to detect. So, when she smiled and looked directly at the camera, it detected her (verifies detection by putting a white rectangle around the subject’s face).  The resulting photo was only slightly less washed out than a photo I took of the same friend in auto mode. Also, when I turned the camera on its side to take a vertical shot, the face detection would not activate as the A730 does not have the capability to know it has been rotated.

Memory Media

The A730 uses either a SD card or a SDHC card (up to 4gb) and has 26MB of internal memory. 

Image File Formats

The camera saves images as JPEGs in the following sizes: 7MP (3072x2304), 3:2 6MP (3072x2048), 16:9 5MP (3072x1728), 3MP (2048x1536), 2MP (1600x1200), 1MP (1024x768), .3MP (640x480).

Connectivity

The A730 has USB2.0 (AV-OUT) and DC-IN capabilities.  I had difficulty downloading pictures onto my laptop.  I downloaded the software and followed the directions, but the camera gave me the error message "connection failed" several times before my computer actually acknowledged the camera. 

Power/Battery Performance

The camera uses two AA batteries with the option of an AC adapter (does not come with the camera).  I was disappointed that I constantly had to replace the batteries during the three weeks I shot with the camera.  While GE claims the A730’s battery performance will let you shoot 100 pictures, I had to change them more frequently (maybe because I mess with the settings a lot and often shoot lots of pictures in a row).  One day I forgot to bring spare batteries when shooting the cows and windmills of rural New York—I was using my personal Canon Powershot SD850 IS and the A730 that day—the A730 ran out after a half day of medium/heavy shooting and my SD850 (uses rechargeable battery) still had power at the end of the day.  Additionally, the battery icon does not provide consistent information on the actual power left until it has no power left. One moment it will report 1 bar of power, then 2 bars, and a few minutes later it is fully charged.  Plan on packing several spare batteries. 

Included

The A730 comes with 2 AA alkaline batteries, User Manual and Guide, Wrist strap, USB cable (for downloading pictures to computer), AV Cable, CD-ROM (software for downloading images to computer), and Warranty card.

THE PICTURE TAKING EXPEREINCE & PERFORMANCE 

Auto Mode

Auto mode is a convenient way to take still pictures using the camera’s default programmed automatic settings.  In other words, the camera chooses the flash, exposure, and ISO settings—you can still choose the image quality and size (if you want).  The auto mode tends to wash out subjects—often overexposing subjects.  But, if you have enough patience, take enough shots, from enough angles, you can shoot some decent photos using Auto.  Below are several pictures taken in varying conditions using the A730’s Auto mode.

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Alternate Modes and Settings

Other shooting modes on the camera allow you to choose pre-set modes for different types of scenes and shooting conditions.   In addition to Auto (and video), the mode dial has: SCN, Manual, Image Stabilization, Portrait, and Panoramic. In the SCN mode on the dial, you can choose from Sport, Children/Pets, Indoor, Leaf, Snow, Sunset, Fireworks, Glass, Museum, Landscape, Night Landscape, and Night Portrait.  I took the pictures below using the Sport function, which adjusts the settings to capture fast moving subjects.

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The Leaf mode enhances the green tones.  I took the first image in Auto mode and the second one in SCN-Leaf mode.  Notice how the green tones are more vibrant in the SCN mode.

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I took several shots in the landscape mode and was pleased with the results compared to shots I took simply in Auto mode.

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The A730’s image stabilization mode is meant to combat hand shake and subject movement - especially in less-than-ideal conditions where hand shake would cause a blurry image.  I found it inconvenient that I had to switch into image stabilization—rather than being able to turn it on when in other modes.

For taking close up pictures, the A730 features a easy-to-access macro focus button on the navigation pad on the back of the camera.  I engaged macro focus when taking the close up shots below.  

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Image Quality

Increasing the image quality by adjusting the compression ratio of images is possible in the Auto, Portrait, SCN, Image Stabilization, and Manual modes.  There are three image quality settings: Best (BQ), Fine (FQ), and Normal (NQ).  I took three pictures of some flowers (see images below) in Auto mode using all three quality settings, but noticed only slight differences in the images when viewing them on my laptop.

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Movie mode

The A730 can take movie clips.  Movies are saved as MPEG4 in two pixel sizes: 640x480 (30fps/15fps), 320x240 (30fps/15fps).  Movie audio is saved in G.711 (Monoaural) format.  You can zoom in and out while filming, turn on/off set continuous auto focus and set metering mode (spot, center weight, or AiAE (artificial intelligence AE)).  In addition, image stabilization and macro mode can be engaged in movie mode. 

Exposure Compensation

With the A730, you can manually adjust brightness within the range: -2 to +2 in steps of .3.  This function is available in the manual, image stabilization and auto modes (other modes use preset values).

Light Metering

Three exposure metering settings are available on the A730: spot AE, center-weight, and AiAE.  AiAE, or Artificial Intelligence AE is the default setting on the camera.

White Balance

Several WB options offer the user various color temperature settings to use when shooting in different light conditions.  This feature is only available to the user in the manual mode, as the camera automatically sets the white balance in the other modes.  There are 7 WB settings including: Auto, Day light, Cloudy, Incandescent, Florescent, Florescent H, and Manual.   

Sensitivity

In Manual mode, you can set the ISO (sensitivity to light).  Choosing from Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600, lower ISOs are generally used in bright sun/clear days, whereas higher ISO can help compensate for darker conditions/overcast skies.  It is important to remember that increasing the ISO also increases noise in images.  Furthermore, 800 and 1600 ISO are only available when in the Best quality (BQ) setting.

Flash

The A730 is equipped with a built-in flash.  Users can simply let auto decide if flash is needed, chose red-eye reduction, or turn it off.  These settings are accessible in the Auto, Manual, and Portrait modes on the mode dial.  The only time I had a problem with red eye was when I took picture of my dog in the SCN (kids and pets) mode and was not able to turn on the red eye reduction. 

Color

Although this P&S offers very little in terms of creative control, it has some color tones options to choose from including: black & white, sepia, and vivid.  These are accessible through the function button when in the Manual mode.  In the picture of the flower below, I used the black & white feature with macro engaged.

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In-Camera Image Adjustment

Before you even download pictures to a computer, you can make some edits on the camera itself.  In the A730’s playback mode, you can press the menu button to zoom in and trim, resize, rotate, and remove red eye from images.  It also gives you the option to pre-select certain images you want to print directly from the memory card (DPOF) using the A730’s PictBridge feature.

Timing

The start up on the A730 will might make you giggle. A friend with a stop watch timed me starting up the camera.  From the time I pressed the button—to the camera becoming operational—took 4 seconds.  Nothing actually happens until the fourth second—during this time, you can make bets on whether you think the camera will actually power up, or if it has run out of juice…again.  Using the camera is no less annoying—it often takes the camera several seconds in between pictures and modes.  At least the team at GE/General Imaging was not oblivious to this fact and felt the need to include an hourglass display (reminiscent of the one on a first generation Macintosh) when the camera is "thinking". 

Additional Images


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CONCLUSION

While the A730 offers several features of today’s top P&S cameras, I was not impressed with my overall experience.  Indeed, its features are overshadowed by the fact that they often do not perform the functions they are meant to.  I felt like I was constantly combating the camera’s poor battery life, the LCD screen’s graininess, and the camera’s overall sluggishness.  And when I finally found subject matter I wanted to capture, I would have to take several pictures before the camera performed like I thought it should. 

I was pleased with some of the pictures I shot with the A730, but conditions had to be almost completely ideal for it to produce a good image.  Furthermore, I spent a lot of money buying AA batteries to keep it powered up—if you consider purchasing this camera, you might as well buy a reliable point and shoot that costs a bit more.  It has many of the marks of a top-of-the-line digital P&S, but it is more fa├žade than function.

Pros

Cons