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Canon Powershot A720 IS Review
by  -  10/15/2007

The Canon Powershot A720 IS came onto the scene late this summer to replace its popular predecessor, the A710 IS.  This time around, the A720 IS still sports a 6x optical zoom, an increase in resolution ( to 8 megapixels), similar 2.5 inch LCD, and new imaging processor, the DIGIC III.  Also like its predecessor, the A720 IS is powered by AA batteries - the signature of the Canon Powershot A line.

Canon Powershot A720 IS
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NUTS & BOLTS  

Sensor

The 1/2.5" CCD captures an effective 8 megapixels.  At full resolution, the image size is 3264 x 2448 pixels.  At full resolution and Superfine compression, you can fit approximately 139 images on a 512MB SD memory card.

Viewfinder/LCD

The 2.5 inch LCD has 115K pixels of resolution.  It would have been nicer to see more resolution, but I assume that Canon made this choice to keep the cost down.  Besides that, colors are accurate, it refreshes quickly enough to provide smooth viewing, and the preview gains up and down well, depending on ambient lighting conditions.

Canon Powershot A720 IS
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There is also an optical viewfinder that you can use, if you prefer, but its coverage area is not great, especially in close-up shots.  If you tend to use the optical viewfinder a lot, spend some time practicing with it to get a feel for the coverage area.

Lens/Zoom/Focus

The lens on the A720 IS extends from the camera body when powered on.  Once powered off, the lens retracts and the built-in lens cover extends to protect the front lens element.  The lens has a 6x optical zoom (35-210mm in 35mm equivalent), with a maximum aperture of f2.8 at wide angle and f4.8 at telephoto.

Canon Powershot A720 IS
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As this camera is an "IS" model, it has Canon's optical image stabilization system.  You can disable IS, use continuous IS, have IS only enabled at the time you shoot, or use "Panning" IS.  Each mode has its strengths - continuous IS can help with previewing a shot, but is not as effective as shoot-only IS, which also uses less battery power.  If you're trying to shoot a moving subject while you pan, like in a race of some sort, the panning IS mode stabilizes vertical movement, but allows horizontal movement.

Lens performance was good overall.  There was some fairly noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, but pincushion distortion was minimal.  Details across the frame were excellent.


Wide angle - barrel distortion sample (view large image)

Telephoto (view large image)

The A720 uses a TTL autofocus system and can focus on subjects as close as 1.8 feet in normal mode and 0.4 inches in macro mode, at wide angle.  If you use manual focus, you can focus between 0.4 inches and infinity at wide angle and 1.8 feet to infinity in telephoto.  If you use the Kids & Pets mode, the focus range is between 3.3 feet and infinity.

There are a few options as far as focus methods.  You can turn on Face Detect if you shoot a lot of portraits, the AiAF multiple area (9 point) system, center area (you can adjust the size of the frame), or Flexizone.

Flash

The built-in flash can bet set to auto, always on (fill), and disabled.  In auto and fill modes, red-eye reduction can also be enabled.  The A720 also has a few other features that may come in handy - there is a flash exposure lock (FE lock), ability for slow synchro, ability to change flash method between first-curtain and second-curtain, ability to adjust flash output, and Safety FE that adjusts shutter or aperture settings depending on flash output.

The specifications for the camera state that the range, with auto ISO, at wide angle is between 1 feet and 11 feet.  At telephoto, this range is 1.8 to 8.2 feet.  Flash exposure can be adjusted plus or minus 2 stops in 1/3 stop increments.

Memory Media

The A720 IS can accept SD, SDHC, MMC and MMCplus memory cards.

Image/Movie File Format(s)

Images are saved as JPEG only.  There are three compression levels: Superfine, Fine, and Normal.

Movies are captured as AVI files, with monaural sound.  Sound memos are stored as WAVE files.

Connectivity

The camera has a USB2.0 Hi-speed connection through a mini-B jack to transfer images to your computer.  There is also an AV output so you can display your images on a TV.  There is a DC in jack if you get an optional power adapter.

Canon Powershot A720 IS
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Power

The A720 IS is powered by 2 AA batteries.  Using alkaline batteries, with the LCD monitor on, you can expect up to 140 images.  Using NiMH rechargeables, this number gets up to 400.  Getting up to 400 would be pretty impressive in real life, but based on my experience, you could get at least 300 shots with high capacity NiMH batteries. 

Canon Powershot A720 IS
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EXPOSURE  

The A720 IS has a full complement of shooting modes, from fully automatic to fully manual, and everything in between.  Auto mode does everything for you and limits the options that you have for changing exposure options  For example, you can either set ISO to auto or "hi".  You can also adjust flash modes, timer modes, capture resolution, and focus mode. 

Once you're ready to leave auto mode and experiment more, we get into program auto, which gives you more control over white balance, ISO, metering modes, and access to the My Colors menu.  Next comes aperture priority mode (Av on the dial) where you select the aperture and the camera sets the correct shutter speed.  Shutter priority (Tv on the dial) is the opposite of this, where you choose the shutter speed (between 15 seconds and 1/2000 of a second), while the camera sets the aperture to the right setting.  Finally, manual mode (M on the dial) lets you set the shutter speed and the aperture until you get the shot that you want. 

Moving on, there are a few scene modes available directly on the mode dial: portrait, landscape, night snapshot, kids & pets, and party.  For access to the rest of the scene modes, just turn the dial to the SCN position.  There, you can access night scene, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, and underwater.

Also available on the mode dial is Canon's stitch assist mode that helps you take impressive panorama shots, and the movie mode. 

Movie Mode

Movies can be captured at resolutions up to 640x480 and at a framerate of 30fps.  There is a 4GB maximum on file size or once you reach one hour.  Optical zoom is not available during movie capture since you would hear the zoom motor on the clip.  However, image stabilization is available.

Metering

For metering options, you can use evaluative (evaluates the entire frame), center-weighted metering, and spot metering.  If faces are detected by the camera in face detection mode, metering also works to expose the faces well.

White Balance

For white balance, you can leave the camera set to auto, or you can choose from Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, or Underwater.  For best results in mixed lighting, you can set a custom white balance very easily.

Sensitivity

The A720 IS has different ISO settings available in different modes.  For example, in Auto mode, you can only choose between auto and a high mode.  Once you switch to program auto or the other manual exposure modes, you can choose auto, or from ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 1600, and High ISO Auto.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

Besides changing the exposure options, you can adjust image capture using the My Colors mode.  In this mode, you can set the color mode to vivid, sepia, B&W, and neutral.  You can also set a "custom color" and adjust the sharpness, saturation and contrast.

During image playback, you can apply red-eye correction, resize, and add a sound memo.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

The design of the A720 IS is no real surprise - it essentially looks like all of its predecessors.  The design is compact and has a nice pronounced handgrip that you'll find on the entire line of Canon A series cameras. While the camera may be a stretch for some pockets, it's definitely easy to throw in a backpack or purse.

Canon Powershot A720 IS
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The construction of the camera is mostly plastic and not terribly rugged.  The camera doesn't necessarily feel cheap, but it certainly won't take too many drops without showing some damage.  The controls, however, do feel quite solid.  The mode dial moves well and clicks assuredly into each slot on the dial.  The other buttons and switches are solid as well.  The controls are also organized well, with shutter button and the zoom control right at your finger tip.

Canon Powershot A720 IS
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Included

In the box, you'll find 2 AA alkaline batteries, 16MB SD card, wrist strap, USB cable, AV cable, CD-ROM of software and printed documentation, including the manual.

Optional

There is a removable ring around the lens that lets you mount a wide angle converter lens and tele converter lens, available from Canon.

PERFORMANCE

Using the Canon A720 is very similar to the rest of the A series cameras, if you've used them before.  They're very straightforward and capable cameras.  Having the 6x optical zoom in this class of camera is also a very attractive feature.

I was very pleased with the camera except for one fairly major thing - the flash cycle time.  I typically shoot with the flash disabled, but occasionally will turn on the fill flash.  I would take my shot with flash and then try to return to a disabled flash.  While the flash was charging, however, I was unable to make any changes since the camera became unresponsive, with the screen blanking out completely.  The flash charge time would take 8-10 seconds.

Other than the flash, usability was good.  The mode dial provides easy access to the various shooting modes, and button usage is intuitive.

Image Quality

Overall, image quality was excellent.  Colors were reproduced accurately.  Details were nice and crisp across the entire frame.  In their point and shoots, Canon typically tweaks the image processing parameters to provide pretty crisp, hard-contrast images and the A720 IS is no different.

The white balance system did a very good job.  The auto white balance handled some mixed interior lighting well.  It's also easy to set a custom white balance if you ever see a color cast when you are using the automatic white balance.

Default exposure was excellent, handling some difficult lighting conditions well.  During my time with the camera, I pretty much stuck with the evaluative metering mode and it did a very nice job.

As far as noise performance at higher ISO settings, I saw a fair amount of noise in shots at ISO 200, but only when viewing at 100% magnification and only in certain cases (like portraits).  In a typical display (print or computer screen), the noise is not readily apparent at ISO 200.  Above that, and noise starts to become obvious.


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

Timing/Shutter Lag

Overall, camera performance was excellent, especially if you leave out the flash cycle time.  Startup was quick.  Shutter lag, with pre-focus was less than 0.1 seconds.  If you don't get a focus lock first with a partial press of the shutter, the click to capture time was around 0.4 seconds.  Focus time in ideal conditions was excellent.  In dimmer conditions or when you're at the telephoto end of the zoom, focusing was taking a bit longer, up to about a second.  The cycle time, between shots with flash disabled, was also very good.

Sample Images

Canon Powershot A720 IS sample image
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Canon Powershot A720 IS sample image
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Canon Powershot A720 IS sample image
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Canon Powershot A720 IS sample image
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Canon Powershot A720 IS sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
Canon Powershot A720 IS sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
Canon Powershot A720 IS sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
Canon Powershot A720 IS sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)

A Few Concerns

By far, my biggest concern is the flash cycle time.  Waiting for 8-10 seconds, during which you can't change any settings on the camera, is a pretty big mark against this camera.

Where To Buy

 

Conclusion

The Canon Powershot A720 IS provides excellent images and excellent features for an equally excellent price.  Image quality is top notch as far as compact point and shoots go.  The inclusion of a 6x optical zoom, with image stabilization, is a great selling point, especially for people buying their second or third digital camera who are looking for a bit more than the typical 3x optical zoom.  With the exception of the flash cycle time, camera performance is good and battery life is good and even excellent if you use high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries.  There are other cameras that will beat the A720 in particular situations, like low-light shots, but this Canon can handle a wider variety of shooting conditions, overall, than other cameras in its class. Bottom line, even with the 8 second flash cycle time, the Canon Powershot A720 IS is an excellent all-around compact digital camera and excellent value

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