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Canon PowerShot A470 Review
by David Rasnake -  3/17/2008

Ok, I'll admit it. The Canon PowerShot A470 is far from the smallest camera on the market, and it's certainly not the sexiest. What, then, are we to make of Canon's latest, lightly updated but clearly aging super-budget offering? In spite of a look and feel that keeps the A470 looking a bit like a throw-back, when it was announced at PMA this year I'll also have to admit that I was impressed, in spite of its low-price billing, with how much new stuff Canon claimed to have packed into the A470.

Canon PowerShot A470
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Short of no-name rebrands and $30 drug store digicams, this is about as far down the entry-level ladder as you can climb in the photographic world, but don't let the price fool you: there's a surprising amount of camera here for such a small stack of cash.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The Canon PowerShot A470 is a 7.1 megapixel entry-level compact camera. Replacing the 5 megapixel A460, the new 470 features a 3.4x zoom lens and a 2.5 inch LCD seen on previous Canon A models. Canon has also added its current-generation Digic III processing to every model entering its lineup, and the A470 is no exception. With improved processing power come several new soft features, including a face detection system that is also able to lock on to and track a particular face.

Sadly, the A470 was also the only new model in Canon's 2008 PowerShot lineup to not get an image stabilization option. What it does have is Canon's newly released Motion Detection technology, which works like conventional ISO-boosting digital stabilization systems, but uses sensors to detect camera shake and boosts sensitivity accordingly rather than setting the camera to a higher ISO (and thereby negatively impacting image quality) when it may not be necessary.

Unlike the rest of Canon's A-series cameras, the A470 doesn't include any advanced manual controls. Instead, basic shooting mode choices are limited to:

Playback options on the A470 are basic as well, though (as noted below) the camera does come with an in-camera red-eye correction tool. If you're looking for fun image editing toys or lots of slideshow options, however, look elsewhere.

For a detailed list of specs and features, see the full specifications table at the bottom of this review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

While performance of the A400-series cameras has improved incrementally over the years, very little has changed visually. By contemporary standards, the latest A470 is heavy, bulky, bulbous, and dated looking. Still, for a camera in this price bracket, we'll take better function over improved form any day.

Styling and Build Quality

As noted, the A470's basic shape looks straight out of the mid-1990s.

While the general form is the same, Canon has done some work to round off the edges (a la the new A590) and give the latest entry-level model a more retro (and not 1990s "retro") vibe.

Canon PowerShot A470
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Metallic color inserts – the A470 comes in four flavors, including our orange version – also add a little bit of visual interest and should make the camera somewhat more appealing to kids and teens.

Canon PowerShot A470
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Construction is plastic all around, but seems generally robust. The battery door is typical of the PowerShot A cameras, requiring some force to close until you know the trick.

Canon PowerShot A470
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In spite of the styling differences, button layout is roughly the same as the previous model in this line. Buttons all feel solid enough, if just a touch clicky, but given the price point we're not going to nitpick.

Canon PowerShot A470
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Overall, the look is a little kitschy, and the basic shape is definitely starting to show its age: it's certainly not as sleek looking or as tiny as, say, a competitive Nikon Coolpix L camera, but the design is basic, rugged, and user-friendly.

Ergonomics and Interface

Were it not for the perpetuation of a slightly odd zoom toggle arrangement (the up-down buttons on the four-way controller serve as the zoom control), one-handed shooting would be an absolute breeze with the A470. Even as it stands, the overall feel sits well in hand.

The interface is a slightly stripped version of the same layout seen across Canon's point-and-shoot lineup. If you're familiar with the system, navigation within the menus is fast and simple, despite the lack of dedicated buttons to change values like ISO.

Canon's recent move to allow the Print/Share button to have a user-selected function in shooting mode is also nothing short of brilliant. Users can select from a list of options, including quick access to the ISO or white balance settings, exposure compensation, face selection, and even (my personal favorite) a vertical shutter control for easier portrait orientation shooting.

Canon PowerShot A470
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Display/Viewfinder

With only 115,000 dots of resolution, the A470's 2.5-inch screen is not particularly crisp. It's also a little jumpy when tracking rapidly moving subjects. The screen loses most of what fluidity it had in low light, though automatic gain-up seems to work well from all indications.

Overall, the screen, which makes an appearance on other A models as well, looks just alright at best when examined closely, though in most normal shooting situations it's more than adequate. It does, however, lack the contrast or the power to handle bright outdoor shooting very well, and sadly, there's no optical viewfinder on the A470.


PERFORMANCE

Leaving its less than impressive physical specs behind, in use it quickly becomes apparent that the A470 is just as nimble, reliable, and easy to shoot with as any of the pricier PowerShots.

Timings and Shutter Lag

We were favorably impressed with how fast the A470 tends to feel in actual use. When pre-focused, press to capture takes just under .1 seconds. Starting without pre-focus, the Canon's AF system takes around .4 seconds to lock and fire, though in shooting our test target it seems that the system (in default AiAF mode) isn't always consistent – something about our timing setup disagreed with the A470's multi-point focus system about a third of the time. Switching the camera over to center-point AF made the problem disappear and sped things up slightly.

We were actually able to come in just under Canon's advertised 1.9 fps full-res continuous shooting speed with the A470 as well, firing off 5 shots in right at 2 seconds.

Overall, given how laggy even the current-generation bargain basement compacts tend to feel, I can't help but be a little impressed with the numbers here. While the A470 won't consistently beat most top-shelf compacts in this area, it will frequently outpace some mid-priced models we've used. In the circa $100 class, especially, this kind of performance is hard to knock.

Lens and Zoom

My general dislike of the zoom control arrangement already noted, the A470's 3.4x zoom lens lives up to budget camera expectations. With only 6 steps from one end to another, the zoom feels notchy and not particularly smooth in use.

Operation is quiet enough, but I was also somewhat disappointed by the amount of movement and slop exhibited by the zoom's plastic barrel – especially at the wide end of the range. The fact that the lens sticks out a fairly long way and seems somewhat thinly built may be an issue for those worried about possible lens damage.

Having a bit more reach (even if just a bit...) than you get with the ubiquitous 3x zoom is a nice addition, though at f/5.8 at the long end, the A470's zoom certainly isn't fast in terms of aperture performance.

Auto Focus

Focus acquisition with the A470 proved to be quick and generally predictable. Making the system hunt usually took an active attempt to induce poor performance on our part, and other than a slight and expected performance fall-off in low light, acquisition speed was rarely a problem.

Canon's nine-point AiAF system as implemented here can behave a little strangely in complex compositions, but probably no more so than any other multi-point AF system (though we did have a slightly odd AiAF issue in timings testing as well, as noted above). As suggested, Center AF speeds things up slightly.

The A470 gets Canon's new Face Detect and Track feature, which locks on to a selected face and follows it. Not surprisingly, performance was identical to the last A model we checked out with this functionality, the A590, with acceptable tracking abilities and better off-axis recognition than the previous generation of Canon face detection systems.

Macro performance is limited by a merely adequate 2-inch minimum focusing distance in normal macro mode, though a somewhat slower Super Macro setting brings distances down to less than half an inch. Overall, while budget cameras aren't usually the place to look for great macro performance, between a consistent focusing system, Super Macro capabilities, and an adequately sharp lens, the A470 is surprisingly good for grabbing shots of bugs, flowers, and the like.

Flash

I've yet to find a budget compact camera that even earns what could be called "good" marks for its flash performance. This seems to be a common place to make compromises on cameras in this price class, and combined with the fact that Canon PowerShot A cameras aren't known for rapid shot-to-shot times (AA batteries are somewhat to blame, though Canon's li-ion SD models aren't always much better), expectations were admittedly low.

Flash performance is predictably weak and still a bit slow – complete with the seemingly eternal flash recharge blackout periods we've come to know and hate in these cameras. With conventional alkaline AAs, flash recycle times in single shot mode hit just under 2 seconds at best, over 12 seconds at worst, and usually somewhere in the 4 second range. Interestingly, the flash is not disabled in burst mode, and manages to recycle in this mode in around 1.3 seconds (though at a noticeably weaker max power, it seems).

In-camera red-eye reduction is an option with the A470, though shooting in the red-eye reduction flash mode I didn't encounter any issues requiring post-shot correction. Still, many consumers find this to be a handy feature to have on hand.

Overall, then, in spite of its position at the bottom of the order, the A470 seems to do a little better and feel a little quicker in real world shooting than some of its more powerful siblings.

Battery Life

The A470 uses a pair of AA batteries for power, though good quality NiMH rechargeables improve flash performance slightly and provide a few more shots per charge. On a set of alkalines, I was able to take roughly 130 stills with just a few flash shots before the batteries finally gave up. With 2300 mAh NiMHs and much heavier flash use, the A470 (barely) topped Canon's specified 150 shots.


IMAGE QUALITY

It's often the case with less expensive cameras that statements about image quality are always qualified with "for a camera in this price range." While there's plenty to be picky about with shots from this camera, one of the most refreshing and compelling aspects of the A470 is its overall image quality. With strong colors, good sharpness, and acceptable metering, in most typical picture taking situations this camera simply takes good pictures.

General Image Quality

The look of shots from the A470 is expectedly "consumerish," with lots of blue saturation, especially, but colors are nearly spot-on across the spectrum.

Canon PowerShot A470
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Sharpness, as discussed below, is not bad at all – and not just for a budget camera. Details are crisp with lots of definition.

Canon PowerShot A470
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The A470 is a touch on the contrasty side of neutral, which promotes a bit of loss on both ends of the spectrum. Overall dynamic range with the A470 looks a little bit compressed when compared side by side with some other compacts, though it's not enough of an issue to earn much notice, even in wide-ranging outdoor scenes.

While the lens on this camera is, from all indications, more than adequate, a combination of oversharpening, a bit too much saturation, and some inherent noisiness make the overall image quality less clean than some other compacts. For general shooting and prints of moderate sizes, however, none of this deep-level messiness will likely matter much.

Exposure, Processing, and Color

I found that 1/3 to 1/2 EV of negative exposure compensation often helped the A470's multi-area metering system, as it tends to overexpose fairly consistently outdoors. This is true of at least half the compacts we test, but it's still worth noting.

As noted, color reproduction is generally accurate with a couple of exceptions. While there's an overall saturation bump, the rendering of reds, especially, under the default color mode settings skews a bit toward magenta. With the color mode set to vivid, the results are actually somewhat more hue-accurate, though saturation becomes especially heavy and tends to bring out the A470's inherent noisiness.

The A470 also tends to show the telltale signs of oversharpening, with some halos popping up in boundary areas (check out the letters on the blue playing card box for the clearest example in the studio shot). For a camera built almost exclusively for taking casual shots and family photos, the issue certainly isn't intrusive enough to be a deal breaker.

White Balance

As with the A590 we recently looked at, automatic white balance on the A470 is acceptable if not great, showing more shift under incandescent lighting than has become the norm for more expensive compacts. Likewise, incandescent presets didn't balance our 3700K indoor lighting test as well as I would have liked, but use the right preset and the A470 gets close enough that all but the pickiest users will be perfectly happy with the results.

Though you might not expect it at this price, the lowliest PowerShot A model packs in a custom set white balance option as well.

Lens Faults

What impresses most in this area is how little sharpness drop-off the A470 exhibits at the edges of the lens.

Canon PowerShot A470
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Canon PowerShot A470
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While it's still not perfectly sharp, this level of performance (which clearly outpaces a fair number of compacts costing $100 more) is truly impressive.

Counter this, however, with some of the strongest purple fringing I've seen in awhile. In the following shot, the thicker tree branches, especially, have an edge that looks like it was painted on.

Canon PowerShot A470
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Canon PowerShot A470
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Likewise, high-contrast scenes tended to induce some flare and ghosting, though with lots of snow on the ground during our testing, outdoor shooting conditions may have been more difficult than usual.

Canon PowerShot A470
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Canon PowerShot A470
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Barrel and pincushion distortion were both better controlled than expected – evident in test shots designed to evaluate lens performance, but rarely intruding in actual, "normal" images.

Sensitivity and Noise

The A470 uses a 7.1 megapixel, 1/2.5 inch CCD imager – presumably, the same sensor found in the soon-to-be-retired A570 IS. Not surprisingly, the A470's noise levels look very similar to what we've seen before from Canon.

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 80
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Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 80, 100% Crop

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 100
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Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 100, 100% Crop

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 200
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Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 200, 100% Crop

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 400
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Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 400, 100% Crop

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 800
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Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 800, 100% Crop

Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 1600
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Canon PowerShot A470
ISO 1600, 100% Crop

Any area with high blue-channel content, especially, takes on a mottled look as early as ISO 200 – slightly aggressive sharpening and saturation probably don't help in this regard. There's not a terrible amount of either patchiness or noise reduction smearing until at least ISO 800, though, with the noise reduction really only proving intrusive at ISO 1600, and even at the highest ISO setting, fine detail is still discernible.

Additional Sample Images

Canon PowerShot A470
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Canon PowerShot A470
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Canon PowerShot A470
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Canon PowerShot A470
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CONCLUSIONS

When I first saw the A470, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it: how to reconcile a good specs sheet with some heavy corner cutting in a few places, including the styling? Trying to sum up this camera after shooting with it for a couple of weeks, I'm left with much the same dilemma. The PowerShot A470 lives up to expectations, such as they are, for the most part and really exceeds them in a few places. Considering the price, serious disappointments are almost nonexistent, and even taking cost considerations out of the equation, there's not that much to complain about

Ultimately, much of what I said in a recent review of the functionally similar, comparably priced Nikon Coolpix L15 applies here as well. If you can only spend just over $100, the A470 does about everything a casual snapshooter needs a camera to do. Serious shooters looking for a bargain, however, would do better moving up one level. With some incredibly powerful, formerly mid-priced compacts falling below the $150 mark of late, there are probably better deals for users looking to learn the picture taking ropes – many of these step-up models also have optical/mechanical image stabilization, which the PowerShot A470 lacks. But if a simple camera is all you want, all you need, or all you can afford, the A470 is an easy choice to feel good about.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Canon PowerShot A470 Specifications:

Sensor 7.1 megapixel, 1/2.5" CCD
Zoom 3.4x (38-128mm) zoom, f/3.0-5.8
LCD/Viewfinder 2.5", 115K-pixel TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 80-1600
Shutter Speed 15-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Manual, Super Macro, Movie, Special Scene
Scene Presets Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Sunset, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
Metering Modes Multi, Center, Spot
Focus Modes 9-Point AF, Face Detection AF, Spot AF, Face Select and Track
Drive Modes Normal Only
Flash Modes Auto, Forced On, Slow Synchro, Forced Off, Red-Eye Reduction
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
None
File Formats JPEG, AVI, WAV
Max. Image Size 3072 x 2304
Max. Video Size
640x480, 20 fps
Zoom During Video Not Specified
Battery 2 AA batteries
Connections USB, AV output
Additional Features Face Detection, Improved Auto Focus, Motion Detection Technology